Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Stevenson, [1760–1762]

From Mary Stevenson

Draft (incomplete): American Philosophical Society


Dear Sir

Your last Letter3 gave me great pleasure though the thoughts of having laid you under a necessity of writing it fill me with Confusion, for it was so unreasonable to draw you in to write a third Letter after you had condescendingly written two, that you ought to have punish’d me for it; but you have us’d the most effectual method to make me sensible of my fault by obliging me more than I wish to be oblig’d. While we think the Pleasure of the Benefactor in bestowing is equal to ours in receiving, our pride is not hurt by obligations, but when we begin to fear he acts by constraint we wish not to be oblig’d. These sentiments arise from reading the first sentence in your Letter, what the second excites I am unable to express, and I can answer it only by telling you I will endeavour to deserve your compliments. I am afraid the generality of people will be apt to think my giving up my opinion to Dr. Hawkesworth4 is rather the effect of vanity than humility, for they will imagine I am not able to defend my argument, therefore chuse to come off with the appearance of having sense enough to be convinc’d.

You start a supposition that our Saviours fasting and temptation in the Wilderness was visionary, a supposition my mind is very ready to receive, for I have been always at a loss what to think of those transactions. The power of God I should not question, but there the power is Satan’s, who performs miracles upon the Son of God. Jesus consider’d as an omnipresent God had no need of being carried up into on high to see all the kingdoms of the earth, and as man he could not see really them from the summit of the highest mountain, therefore I think the fact appears to be visionary. Besides the shewing him all the Kingdoms of the earth and the glory of them must be visionary, for it is not possible to be real. St. Luke says Jesus, being full of the Holy Ghost, returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.5 I know the general acceptation of this expression is that he was guided by the Holy Ghost; but will it not bear interpretation of his being carried thither in a vision? Those who have read the Gospel in the original Language can determine that better than I can. I remember one day while I was at Bromley Mrs. Hawkeworth and I enter’d upon the subject of our Saviour’s temptation in the wilderness, but something prevented our discussing at that time, and we never resum’d it. Our dear little Friend you know is cautious of enquiring into subjects she holds sacred; we know and admire the piety of her sentiments, but I cannot help wishing she had not imbib’d some superstitions, that are prejudicial to that Religion she so warmly professes, and the duties of which she so devoutly practices. I have [remainder missing].

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3No letter from BF has been found to which this one seems in general to be a response, although the last sentence of the first paragraph recalls BF’s undated letter, above, VIII, 455–7, in which he thinks she had the best of a dispute even if she did give up the argument “in Compliance to the Company.”

4John Hawkesworth (1715?–1773), LL.D., essayist, editor, and playwright, lived at this time at Bromley, Kent, where he was in charge of his wife’s school for young ladies. With Samuel Johnson and others he produced and wrote essays for The Adventurer, 1752–54. He was a contributor to Gent. Mag., and in 1765 became its reviewer of new books. In 1754–55 he edited and published a twelve-volume edition of the works of Jonathan Swift and added other volumes during the next eleven years. In 1773 he published a three-volume collection of accounts of voyages to the South Seas, which was seriously criticized. In the same year he was appointed a director of the East India Co., but took little part in its affairs during the last months of his life. DNB. There are many references to Dr. and Mrs. Hawkesworth in Polly Stevenson’s letters to BF; she appears to have been on intimate terms with them and visited them frequently at Bromley.

5Luke 4:1.

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