Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Elizabeth Hubbart, 22 February 1756

To Elizabeth Hubbart

MS not found; reprinted from The Massachusetts Magazine, or Monthly Museum of Knowledge and Rational Entertainment, I (1789), 100.1

Philadelphia, February 22, 1756.2

Dear Child

I condole with you, we have lost a most dear and valuable relation,3 but it is the will of God and Nature that these mortal bodies be laid aside, when the soul is to enter into real life; ’tis rather an embrio state, a preparation for living; a man is not completely born until he be dead: Why then should we grieve that a new child is born among the immortals? A new member added to their happy society? We are spirits. That bodies should be lent us, while they can afford us pleasure, assist us in acquiring knowledge, or doing good to our fellow creatures, is a kind and benevolent act of God—when they become unfit for these purposes and afford us pain instead of pleasure—instead of an aid, become an incumbrance and answer none of the intentions for which they were given, it is equally kind and benevolent that a way is provided by which we may get rid of them. Death is that way. We ourselves prudently choose a partial death. In some cases a mangled painful limb, which cannot be restored, we willingly cut off. He who plucks out a tooth, parts with it freely since the pain goes with it, and he that quits the whole body, parts at once with all pains and possibilities of pains and diseases it was liable to, or capable of making him suffer.

Our friend and we are invited abroad on a party of pleasure—that is to last for ever. His chair was first ready and he is gone before us. We could not all conveniently start together, and why should you and I be grieved at this, since we are soon to follow, and we know where to find him. Adieu.

B. F.4

1MS copies of this letter, undated, perhaps taken from the original or made from early printed versions, are owned by Mr. John Franklin Carter, Washington, D.C., and Yale Univ. Lib. In an undated letter of 1765 Mather Byles, a Boston clergyman and poet, wrote BF that he had “just been reading a beautiful Letter of yours, written Feb. 22, 1756, on the Death of your Brother, which is handed about among us in Manuscript copies.” Many years later BF and his stepniece (now Mrs. Partridge) corresponded about an old letter of his to her. She wanted a copy because the mice had invaded a trunk and destroyed a number of his letters which she kept there. BF, believing that the letter she referred to was probably the one here printed, replied that he had no copy, but added that she might find one in Boston since he remembered Dr. Byles had once written him “that many Copies had been taken of it.” Elizabeth Partridge to BF, Dec. 3, 1787; Nov. 12, 1788; BF to Elizabeth Partridge, Nov. 25, 1788.

2Sparks, Bigelow, and Smyth use the February 23 date for this letter given in Jared Sparks, ed., A Collection of the Familiar Letters and Miscellaneous Papers of Benjamin Franklin (Boston, 1833), p. 39. The present editors have accepted the date used in Mass. Mag., the earliest known printing of the letter, and also that given by Mather Byles in the letter quoted in the note above.

3See above, pp. 400 n, 403 n, for the death of John Franklin, Elizabeth Hubbart’s stepfather.

4The Federal Gazette and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser reprinted this letter April 17, 1790, the evening of the author’s death.

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