Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Hugh Roberts, 15 May 1760

From Hugh Roberts9

ALS: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Philada: 15. 5 mo. 1760

My Dear friend

I am convinced thou thinks it a Duty to pay those Debts, Custom as well as friendship has introduced, in answering Epistle from thy numerous set of Acquaintance; and tho’ thou art bless’d with a large stock, yet the great demands on thee, must engage a considerable part of that Time, which thou art endeavouring to employ in promoting a general Benefit. Then if there should be any merit in less’ning those demands; I have been entitled to as great a share as any one of thy real friends, either in Europe or America.

Some people here enquire do you know what B F is doing, we hear so little of his proceedings? these are such who are seldom satisfy’d without a Tumult or a Fray; and put me in mind that when we receiv’d the important news, that General Forbes by his prudent advances caused the French to retreat from Fort du Quisne some of these people appear’d gloomy and shew’d no marks of rejoycing, because it was a Campaign compleated without the Horrors of a Battle, Ravage and Bloodshed.

Thy friends here really wish to have a sight of thee, and thou almost stands singular in this, that those who are not so,1 would be extreamly pleased at thy return, but since thy presence is indivisible, we must rest as content as possible, who know thou cannot be absent from contributing to the real service of mankind, wherever thou art placed by Providence: yet I have sometimes considered the station of thy Debby and Sally who ardently wish for thee, and are in part deprived of so great a blessing; but from all my observations (and I frequently visit them), they bear thy long absence with a more resign’d and Christian Spirit than could be expected; and Sally appears to be a discreat young woman.2

The Wafers thou sent have been of great service to the Hospital,3 which hath lately received some considerable donations; and altho’ it struggles under the want of a sufficient support, yet by the liberality of the people, 2 or £300 a year hath been added, to make up the deficiency; and I wish it was prudent and possible to endeavour to prevail on some of the good people in England to contribute to its Capital. I know thy earnest desire for its promotion, but this I also know, your great Men are not often Tenants,4 nor formed for prosecuting the humble employment of begging to advantage.

The fine painting on the Birmingham Tile thou sent, was a great curiosity, and I had it set in a neat frame, but before it came to hand, we red it a File, which may be readily excused, considering my employ, and its coming from an Iron country.5

I have endeavoured to gain some knowledge of our Indian affairs, and from all my observations, am of opinion, the only way of treating with success, is by a Manly freedom, ever attended with sincerity of heart, and that using Cunning or Temporizing with them will have no better effect than an European millitary power; and that many Gentlemen who might make a considerable figure at Westmister Hall, would appear but feeble Managers at an Indian Conference.6

Pursuant to thy Order, I have 2 or 3 times revisited the ancient Junto (Gentlemen for whom I have a great esteem) and I found some relaxation from the anxiety which attends business,7 yet I cannot say, that the variety of trivial Chat (to which I am also inclin’d) affords satisfaction when under restraint so that in some respects there must be an Union of thought and affection to make Company altogether agreable, and the Hours glide with Ease and Pleasure. ’Twas with great anxiety I heard of a late attack against thee, by a malignant Fever,8 and wish thou would endeavour to purge off the relict of every disorder that might contribute to lessen that chearfulness of heart, with which thou hast been long and happily distinguish’d; and then we shall not be concern’d whatever Dregs remain, if none are worse [in their Conseque]nces9 than those [that] have appear’d in thee from the early [impressions of] P—btry.1

The Politics of our Gentlemen a[llied with “a certain] northern Climate”2 are now here at a low Ebb, and much [the g]reat[er pa]rt of the people think right (i.e allways as we do) and [al]tho’ Sm-th has gained [on] the rapid credulity of some of your Pr-lat-c-l Order,3 yet with men who do not aim at ingrossing of power, he remains as contemptible as ever, and is shun’d by many of those who formerly appeared some of his greatest advocates; and I believe his vacation from Scribling at present arises from the cautious manner of our G——ors conduct, since his last arrival among us.4

Dear Friend I hope thou wilt receive the preceeding variety of short notes by the hands of my son George, who as far as a Parent can see, is a Lad of a steady behavour, and has always been an Obedient Child, his intention is to gain some further knowledge of the Iron Manufactures in England, and I think a few of thy useful hints respecting his conduct and journeyings thro’ that Country, might be of particular Service;5 and if I was to say ’twould lay me under an additional obligation, it must appear too much like a Compliment to a Gentleman whose time seems allotted to the service of the present and succeeding Age; and therefore in some similitude of the freedom of a former Address, in which thou wast concern’d,6 I am of Opinion, a small share of that time is the right of thy old Friend

Hugh Roberts

Give my kind respects to Billy

A Copy7

Addressed: To / Benjamin Franklin / at London

Endorsed:8 Copy of a Letter To Benjamin Franklin at London 15 5 mo 1760 per hands of Geo Roberts

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9This letter from BF’s old friend responds, somewhat belatedly, to one of Sept. 16, 1758; see above, VIII, 159–61.

1That is, members of the proprietary party.

2Sarah Franklin was in her seventeenth year.

3On June 1, 1758, Roberts, treasurer of the Pa. Hospital, had asked BF to send him a box of wafers, used for receiving the impression of the Hospital seal. He apparently employed them most often in acknowledging contributions. See above, VIII, 82–3. On Sept. 16, 1758, BF had sent the wafers.

4Apparently a reference to Rev. Gilbert Tennent, who was in Great Britain, 1753–54, raising money for the College of New Jersey; see above, V, 231 n.

5In his letter of Sept. 16, 1758, BF had written: “I send you a Birmingham Tile. I thought the neatness of the Figures would please you.” Apparently Roberts, an ironmonger, had read “Tile” as “File” in BF’s letter (BF’s T’s and F’s look somewhat alike) and so had expected this gift from the famous metalworking town of Birmingham would turn out to be a tool for filing iron, not a ceramic tile.

6As a Quaker, Roberts was probably hinting at his continued criticism of the Pa. administration’s Indian policy. Westminster Hall was the site of the higher English law courts.

7On Sept. 16, 1758, BF had gently chided Roberts for not having attended a meeting of the Junto since BF’s departure.

8BF had written DF about this illness in February 1760, and she had probably told Roberts; see above, pp. 25, 27.

9Here and in the next few lines holes in the MS have obliterated certain words. The letter was printed in PMHB, XXXVIII (1914), 290–3, and the words and parts of words inserted here in brackets are given there without indication of any mutilation of the original. While the present editors are not satisfied in every instance that the gaps in the MS are large enough to have included all the indicated writing, and while elsewhere in the letter as previously printed some minor errors in transcription are obvious, it has seemed advisable to give as is done here the earlier reading of these lines on the supposition that the MS was intact in 1914.

1If the indicated reading is correct, Roberts may have been referring to events as far back as 1735, when BF came to the defense of Rev. Samuel Hemphill, who was under attack by the orthodox leaders of the Synod of Philadelphia. See above, II, 27–33, 37–126.

2Probably a reference to the Scot William Smith and the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians William Allen and Francis Alison; see above, IV, 467–9 n; III, 296–7 n; IV, 470 n, respectively. The quotation marks may indicate an echo of BF’s use of “in the certain northern latitude” with reference to Scots in his letter to London Chron., dated May 9, 1759 (above, VIII, 340–56), where he defended the provincials against the slurs of Scottish officers in the British Army. Roberts may well have seen BF’s letter in print.

3Prelatical Order; that is, adherents of the Church of England, of which Smith was an ordained clergyman.

4James Hamilton had arrived and assumed office as governor of Pa., Nov. 17, 1759.

5While in Great Britain George Roberts (1737–1821) traveled some of the time with his friend Samuel Powel (1739–1793), later mayor of Philadelphia. Roberts was in Birmingham, apparently investigating the iron industry there, as late as December 1761. Some correspondence between the two young men, 1761–65, is printed in PMHB, XVII (1894), 35–42; XXX (1906), 244–5.

6Possibly a reference to the report of an Assembly committee, Sept. 11, 1753, of which both BF and Roberts were members. This report analyzed the Proprietors’ answer to an Assembly representation asking the Penns to share in the expenses of Indian treaties. Near the end the committee had commented: “We think the honest free Remarks in this Report, may be more conducive [to the public good and the true interests of the proprietary family] than a Thousand flattering Addresses.” Above, V, 56.

7While the document is an ALS, this was apparently a copy retained by Roberts, not the one his son delivered to BF.

8In another hand.

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