Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Stevenson, 10 March 1762

From Mary Stevenson

ALS and draft: American Philosophical Society

Wanstead March 10. 1762

Dear Sir

I did not think you had been so keen a Satyrist.5 I have not finish’d my Course of Philosophy, nor do I desire to be at full Leisure to improve myself in Cards. I confess you have just Reason to complain of me, and my Indolence merits your severe Rebuke. Your Letter fill’d me with Confusion, and I assure you it will be a Spur to my Industry. The Season is advancing that will admit of my rising early to have some Hours free from Interruption which I shall devote to the Improvement of my Mind. At present, tho’ we live more retir’d, I have less Time to myself: Yet I have not been idle. I have read the Letters you favour’d me with,6 and think I understand them. The Clearness of my Preceptor’s Demonstration and Expression appear tho his Words are put into a foreign Language.

I was about to ask a Question I find you cannot answer—How it happens that the Surface of the Bottle7 which contains less than it’s natural Quantity of Electric Fire does not immediately replenish itself from the Hand that holds it, unless the Fire which has a Communication with the other Surface is applied to something that will receive it’s superabundant Quantity.8

I was much pleas’d with your Conjectures upon Storms.9 The Clouds being positively electrified and communicating their Fire to Eminences that came within their Sphere of Attraction, seem to me a full Explication of the Effects of Storms. But when the Clouds were prov’d to be negative I was at a Loss to account for the violent Descent of Rain, tho all the other Effects I could easily conceive to be the same in both Cases. To explain what I mean—“You say that the Particles of Water being electrified mutually repel, and fly from each other; but when they are reduced to their natural State, their Distance is contracted, they run into Cohesions, and descend in Drops.” I did not consider that the Repulsion would be equal whether the Particles of Water were in a positive or a negative State. I am very ambitious of your Applause, and therefore carefully conceal my Defects; yet I would not erase what I had written, but proceeded in what I was about to say, tho’ I discover’d my Stupidity while I was writing. I am oblig’d to you for the Papers you sent me. I receive a very high Joy when my dear Friend gains the Fame he deserves; and secretly join, with the warmest Sensibility, in all the Praises bestow’d upon him. I am Dear Sir your grateful and affectionate Servant

M Stevenson

If you would chuse me to send your Books and Papers by the Post I will do it immediately upon the Receipt of a Letter from you; but I hope soon to have the Pleasure of bringing them to you.

I must beg you to entreat my dear Mother’s Forgiveness of my long Silence which I intended to have made some amends for to day, but have not Time.

Endorsed: Miss Stevenson

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

5See the document immediately above for many of the matters mentioned here.

6The second edition of Dalibard’s translation of BF’s Exper. and Obser., published in 1756.

7The Leyden jar.

8For BF’s answer, see below, p. 67.

9BF’s letter to John Mitchell on thundergusts, April 29, 1749, above, III, 365–76. In the 1752 edition of Expériences et observations sur l’électricité, pp. 91–127, Dalibard printed this letter as it had appeared in the English original without indication of the person addressed. In his 1756 edition, however, it appeared, combined with part of another paper, as part of the first letter in the second volume (II, 1–41), and at the top of the first page he repeated the title of the whole work in a shortened form which included the names of Franklin and Collinson. At a quick glance, therefore, a reader might assume that this letter was addressed to Collinson. Barbeu Dubourg (Oeuvres de M. Franklin, I, 38–50), published in 1773, made this mistake in attribution. All American editors until I. Bernard Cohen (Benjamin Franklin’s Experiments, 1941, pp. 200–11) repeated Dubourg’s error.

Index Entries