Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Stevenson, 1 May 1760

To Mary Stevenson

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Cravenstreet, May 1. 1760

I embrace most gladly my dear Friend’s Proposal of a Subject for our future Correspondence; not only as it will occasion my hearing from her more frequently, but as it will lay me under a Necessity of improving my own Knowledge that I may be better able to assist in her Improvement.9 I only fear my necessary Business and Journeys with the natural Indolence of an old Man, will make me too unpunctual a Correspondent. For this I must hope some Indulgence.

But why will you, by the Cultivation of your Mind, make yourself still more amiable, and a more desirable Companion for a Man of Understanding, when you are determin’d, as I hear, to live Single? If we enter, as you propose, into moral as well as natural Philosophy, I fancy, when I have fully establish’d my Authority as a Tutor, I shall take upon me to lecture you a little on that Chapter of Duty.1 But to be serious.

Our easiest Method of Proceeding I think will be for you to read some Books, that I may recommend to you;2 and in the Course of your Reading, whatever occurs that you do not thoroughly apprehend, or that you clearly conceive and find Pleasure in, may occasion either some Questions for farther Information or some Observations that show how far you are satisfy’d and pleas’d with your Author. Those will furnish Matter for your Letters to me, and, in consequence, of mine also to you.

Let me know then, what Books you have already perus’d on the Subject intended, that I may better judge what to advise for your next Reading. And believe me ever, my dear good Girl, Your affectionate Friend and Servant

B Franklin

Miss Stevenson

Endorsed: May 1—60

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9No written suggestion by Polly Stevenson of such a correspondence has survived; it may have been made in conversation. She had obviously been well schooled, her mind was active, and she seems to have had a real interest in study. Beyond all this, she may have proposed to correspond with BF about moral and natural philosophy in order to win his “friendship and respect,” believing that the pleasant, though “rather aimless” correspondence which she had hitherto carried on with him was not enough. Whitfield J. Bell, Jr., “‘All Clear Sunshine’: New Letters of Franklin and Mary Stevenson Hewson,” APS Proc., c (1956), 521–36.

1A paragraph in BF’s letter of June 11, 1760 (below, pp. 121–2), might be construed as such a lecture. “The Knowledge of Nature,” he wrote Polly, “may be ornamental, and it may be useful, but if to attain an eminence in that, we neglect the Knowledge and Practice of essential Duties”—and under this head he specifically mentioned being a good wife and parent—“we deserve Reprehension.”

2On May 17, 1760, BF sent Polly books on natural philosophy, probably the first volumes of the popular Spectacle de la Nature: or, Nature Display’d being Discourses … to Excite the Curiosity, and Form the Minds of Youth translated by Samuel Humphreys (8th edit., 7 vols., London, 1754–63) from the French of Noël-Antoine Pluche. The titlepage of his gift copy to her is reproduced in APS Proc., C (1956), 525. In Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania in 1749 BF had recommended this work before there was an English translation; see above, III, 417 n.

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