Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Stevenson, 4 May 1759

To Mary Stevenson

MS not found; reprinted from Smyth, Writings, III, 478–9.3

Craven Street, Friday, May 4, 1759.

My dear Child,

Hearing that you was in the Park last Sunday, I hop’d for the Pleasure of seeing you yesterday at the Oratorio in the Foundling Hospital;4 but, tho’ I look’d with all the Eyes I had, not excepting even those I carry in my Pocket I could not find you; and this Morning your good Mama, has receiv’d a Line from you, by which we learn that you are return’d to Wanstead.5

It is long since you heard from me, tho’ not a Day passes in which I do not think of you with the same affectionate Regard and Esteem I ever had for you. My not writing is partly owing to an inexcusable Indolence, which I find grows upon me as I grow in Years, and partly to an Expectation I have had, from Week to Week, of making a little Journey into Essex, in which I intended to call at Wanstead, and promis’d myself the Pleasure of seeing you there. I have now fix’d this Day se’nnight for that Journey, and purpose to take Mrs. Stevenson out with me, leave her with you till the next Day, and call for her on Saturday in my Return. Let me know by a Line if you think any thing may make such a Visit from us at that time improper or inconvenient. Present my sincere Respects to Mrs. Tickell, and believe me ever, dear Polly, your truly affectionate Friend and humble Servant,

B. Franklin.

P.S. We have Company that dine with us to-day, and your careful Mama, being busied about many things, cannot write. Will did not see you in the Park. Mr. Hunter and his sister are both gone.6 God prosper their Voyage. My Compliments to Miss Pitt.7

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3Also printed in Jared Sparks, ed., A Collection of the Familiar Letters and Miscellaneous Papers of Benjamin Franklin (Boston, 1833), pp. 61–2, and in the general editions of Sparks and Bigelow. The Smyth text is used here because it follows BF’s usage in capitalization, spelling, and punctuation, as the earlier printings do not. Smyth had access to the ALS in 1905, it being then in the possession of Dr. T. Hewson Bradford, a descendant of Mary Stevenson. The text as printed in Stan V. Henkels, Catalogue, No. 1262, July 1, 1920, pp. 1–2, when the letter was sold, corresponds almost exactly in form and wording to the Smyth version.

4In 1749 George Frideric Handel presented the chapel of the Foundling Hospital with an organ, and the next year inaugurated the instrument with the first of a series of eleven benefit performances of his masterpiece, “The Messiah,” which in time brought the Hospital receipts of about £7000. Although totally blind by 1753, he continued to supervise the performances and to play the organ concerto included in the oratorio. The Public Advertiser, April 7, 1759, announced that he would direct “The Messiah” at the Foundling Chapel on May 3 at twelve noon, but on the evening of April 6 he had been taken ill at a performance of the same oratorio at Covent Garden. He died on the 14th (Easter Eve), but public announcements of the Foundling Chapel event were repeated, merely substituting the name of Handel’s protégé, John Christopher Smith, organist of the chapel, as the conductor. This memorable occasion, which BF attended, took place thirteen days after Handel had been buried in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey; it brought to the hospital receipts of £405 8s. In his will Handel bequeathed to the hospital a fair copy of the score and all parts of “The Messiah.” Robert M. Myers, Handel’s Messiah A Touchstone of Taste (N.Y., 1948), pp. 136–44, 151–3; R. H. Nichols and F. A. Wray, The History of the Foundling Hospital (London, 1935), p. 205.

5Polly Stevenson resided most of the time with her mother’s sister, Mrs. Tickell, in the London suburb of Wanstead. Neither Mrs. Tickell’s first name nor that of her deceased husband is known, but in some of Polly’s surviving correspondence a relationship is suggested to the poet Thomas Tickell (1686–1740). On Mrs. Tickell’s death Polly inherited her estate.

6See above, p. 324 n.

7Miss Pitt, probably a friend of about Polly’s age, is mentioned several times in the correspondence. Apparently her home was in Jamaica, to which she returned in 1763, but she is not otherwise identified.

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