Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Stevenson, 19 May 1761

From Mary Stevenson

ALS and draft: American Philosophical Society

Wanstead May 19th. 1761.

Dear Sir

In my last8 I communicated what occurr’d to me upon first reading your Letters.9 I receive so much Pleasure from what you say or write, and it is with such Facility I comprehend, or fancy I comprehend, what you mean, that attending to you is my Darling Amusement. I have not many Opportunities of conversing personally with you, but I make up that Deficiency by a frequent Perusal of your Writings.

I must beg the Exertion of your wonted Patience while I relate what occurr’d to me upon the Reason you give why there is no salt Rain.1 If the Vapours are rais’d from the Sea by Heat only, and the Salt does not rise with the Water because it is heavier, I imagine it would be easy to render salt Water fresh by Distillation; but if, as you say, the Air attracts the Water and will not take hold of the Salt, then something must be found to attract the Salt so forcibly as to separate it from the Water. Doc. Hales,2 I have heard, has discover’d a Method of making salt Water fresh, which if I was acquainted with might let me see my Conception is not entirely false, or convince me of my Ignorance.

I must not give the Name of Candour to the Manner you regard whatever I say or do, that being, according to my Acceptation of the Word, to signify a mild Justice: But you look upon me with a fond Partiality, and I am as proud that you do so as if I was really Mistress of the Excellence you ascribe to me. This appears like begging your Flattery, tho’ I only mean to give you my Sentiments of the fine things you say. I have been insensibly drawn from what I was going to say further upon that Passage in your Letter which occasion’d those Conjectures I have had the Assurance to trouble you with. I was greatly pleas’d with the Piety of your Expression. If the Knowledge I gain from your Instructions is small I am certain to receive one Advantage, I shall be taught to pay a grateful Adoration to the Great Creator whose Wisdom and Goodness are so manifest in the Operations of Nature. I would not have trusted myself in the Hands of a Philosopher who regards only Second Causes. There are indeed I believe none who entirely deny a First, but there are many who do not give him the Honour due as my Friend and Preceptor does. May that Almighty Being shower down Blessing on his Head!

I have read those Letters on Electricity, but I want to be a little better acquainted with that Branch of Philosophy to be able to say anything upon them. Before you leave England I hope to spend some few days with you, and then, if you think proper, I shall be glad to receive some Information. I find your Notion of Light the same as I had before met with in Spectacle de la Nature.3

My Mother tells me you are soon to be at Mr. Stanley’s,4 so I hope for a short Interview with you.

I am with the highest Esteem and Gratitude Dear Sir your affectionate obedient Servant

M Stevenson

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

8Above, pp. 308–9.

9The scientific letters, written in 1752–54, which BF gave Polly in April 1761; see ibid.

1In a letter to John Perkins, Feb. 4, 1753 (above, IV, 440–1), BF argued that there was no salt rain because it had “pleased the Goodness of God so to order it” that air, which attracted water and brought rain, would not “attract the Particles of Salt.” For this dispensation “Let us adore him with Praise and Thanksgiving!”

2Polly is probably referring either to Stephen Hales’s An Account of a Useful Discovery to Distill double the usual quantity of Sea-water (London, 1756), or to his Philosophical Experiments … showing how Sea-water may be made fresh and wholesome (London, 1739). BF apparently supplied her with both works later in the summer; see below, p. 338. For Hales, see above, IV, 315 n.

3Stan V. Henkels Catalogue, no. 1262 (July 1, 1920), 49–50, prints a document in a hand identified as that of an amanuensis which is called “Philosophical Queries and Answers in all probability written for Miss Mary Stevenson, as dictated by Dr. Franklin.” This document which contains quotations from letters of BF and his scientific correspondents begins with a question about respiration in humid air put by Jonathan Todd, March 6, 1753 (above, IV, 451–4). BF’s answer, May 3, 1753 (above, IV, 472–4), follows. Then comes a passage about “Damp Winds” from BF to Colden, Dec. 6, 1753 (above, V, 144–7). Next are Cadwallader Colden’s speculations about the transmission of heat, April 2, 1754 (above, V, 256–8). The document concludes with an expression of BF’s views about the nature of light, April 23, 1752 (above, IV, 299–300), and with a passage from Pluche’s Spectacle de la Nature on the same topic. While it is not impossible that BF strung these quotations together, Polly seems in fact to have been their compiler. She had been closely reading Pluche since BF gave her the first volumes in the spring of 1760; see above, p. 102 n. Moreover, during April 1761 she had read at least two of the letters quoted in the document here described, they being among the scientific letters which BF gave her earlier that month; see above, p. 308 n. The document appears, then, to have been written by Polly pursuant to BF’s advice “to read with a Pen in your Hand” and to record “short Hints of what you find that is curious or may be useful”; see above, p. 117. It was probably written during the spring of 1761—in any case no later than August 1761 when Polly returned the papers to BF.

4John Stanley (1714–1786), an accomplished blind organist and a composer of some of “the best English instrumental compositions of the eighteenth century.” In 1758 he advised BF about buying a harpsichord (above, VII, 383–4) and in 1770 he took Josiah Williams (C.5.3.1), BF’s blind grand-nephew, as a pupil. DNB. He was a member of the circle of friends which included Dr. John Hawkesworth (above p. 265 n) and Polly Stevenson.

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