Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Sir Alexander Dick, [5 October 1759]

To Sir Alexander Dick1

ALS: Mrs. Ailsa Joan Mary Dick-Cunyngham, Prestonfield, Edinburgh (1955)

Miln Square, Friday morning,
[October 5, 1759]2

Dr. Franklin and his Son present their respectful Compliments to Sir Alexander Dick, and shall attend him to Preston-field3 tomorrow with great Pleasure. They are extreamly oblig’d to Sir Alexander for his kind Invitation to spend some Days at his Seat in the Country, but doubt the short Stay they must make in these Parts will not allow them that Advantage.

Addressed: To / Sir Alexander Dick / Preston Field

1Sir Alexander Dick (1703–1785), who became one of BF’s warmest friends in Scotland, was a younger son of Sir William Cunyngham of Caprington, Bart., and his wife Janet, only child and heiress of Sir James Dick of Prestonfield, Bart. By the terms of its creation the Dick baronetcy passed in 1746 to Alexander Cunyngham, who thereupon assumed the surname of Dick. (The Cunyngham baronetcy descended through Sir William’s eldest son, but in 1829 it passed through a failure of direct heirs to Sir Alexander’s son Sir Robert Keith Dick, who changed his name in 1845 to Dick-Cunyngham.) Alexander studied medicine at Leyden, receiving the M.D. there in 1725 and again at St. Andrews in 1727. He practised in Edinburgh and traveled extensively on the Continent with the painter Allan Ramsay. He was president of the College of Physicians of Edinburgh, 1756–63, a member of the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh, and was one of the founders of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1783. In 1774 he received the gold medal of the Society of Arts “for the best specimen of rhubarb.” He married in 1736 Janet, daughter of his cousin Alexander Dick of Edinburgh; she died Dec. 26, 1760, leaving two daughters, and in 1762 he married Mary, daughter of David Butler of Pembrokeshire. DNB; G. E. C[okayne], Complete Baronetage, IV (Exeter, England, 1904), 273–4, 445–6; Mrs. Atholl Forbes, Curiosities of A Scots Charta Chest 1600–1800 (Edinburgh, 1897), pp. 76–321.

2Known dates during BF’s Scottish tour establish that this letter could have been written only on Friday, September 7, or October 5. If the former, then this letter must refer to a short, week-end visit to Prestonfield, which was followed in October by a second, longer stay, because subsequent correspondence indicates that the Franklins left for London immediately after a visit at Prestonfield. See below, pp. 443–4, and BF to Sir Alexander Dick, Jan. 3, 1760, N.Y. Pub. Lib. The weight of the evidence is in favor of only a single visit from Saturday, October 6, to about Friday, October 12. It was at this time that BF introduced the Dicks to his “Parable against Persecution”; see above, VI, 114–24.

3Prestonfield House, which Dick inherited with his baronetcy, is about two miles southeast of the center of Edinburgh and almost directly south of Arthur’s Seat.

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