Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Caleb Whitefoord, 9 December 1762

To Caleb Whitefoord8

ALS: British Museum; draft: American Philosophical Society

Philada. Dec. 9. 17629

Dear Sir,

I thank you for your kind Congratulations on my Son’s Promotion and Marriage. If he makes a good Governor and a good Husband (as I hope he will, for I know he has good Principles and good Dispositions) those Events will both of them give me continual Pleasure.

The Taking of the Havanah, on which I congratulate you, is a Conquest of the greatest Importance,1 and will doubtless contribute a due Share of Weight in procuring us reasonable Terms of Peace; if John Bull does not get drunk with Victory, double his Fists, and bid all the World kiss his A—e; till he provokes them to drub him again into his Senses.2 It has been however the dearest Conquest by far that we have purchas’d this War, when we consider the terrible Havock made by Sickness in that brave Army of Veterans, now almost totally ruined!

I thank you for the humorous and sensible Print you sent me, which afforded me and several of my Friends great Pleasure.3 The Piece from your own Pencil is acknowledg’d to bear a strong and striking Likeness; but it is otherwise such a Picture of your Friend as Dr. Smith would have drawn, black and all black.4 I think you will hardly understand this Remark, but your Neighbour, good Mrs. Stevenson, can explain it.5

Painting has yet scarce made her Appearance among us; but her Sister Art, Poetry, has some Votaries. I send you a few Blossoms of American Verse, the Lispings of our young Muses; which I hope your Motherly Critics will treat with some Indulgence.6

I shall never touch the sweet Strings of the British Harp7 without remembring my British Friends, and particularly the kind Giver of the Instrument, who has my best Wishes of Happiness—for himself,—and for his Wife and his Children, against it shall please God to send him any.8 I am, Dear Sir, with the sincerest Esteem Your most obedient and most humble Servant

B Franklin

My Compliments to Count Brown.9 Will is not yet arriv’d. Perhaps he winters once more in your Happy Island!

Mr. Whitefoord

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

8Caleb Whitefoord (1734–1810), wine merchant, was born in Edinburgh and educated at the university there. His father intended him for the ministry, but he objected and instead he was placed in the countinghouse of a London wine merchant to learn the business. Then, after spending two years in France, he formed a partnership with Thomas Brown at 8 Craven Street, next door to Mrs. Margaret Stevenson. He apparently returned from a long business trip to Portugal in 1757, shortly before BF took up lodgings with Mrs. Stevenson. The two men became good friends, though their close proximity during the years of BF’s English missions made extended correspondence unnecessary. In 1782 Lord Shelburne took advantage of their intimacy, sending Whitefoord to France to arrange with BF for Richard Oswald’s peace negotiations and then appointing him secretary of the commission. He had a reputation as a wit, and contributed numerous light essays, poems, and epigrams to the London press, many taking the form of political persiflage. Samuel Johnson and Horace Walpole thought well of his writings, and he enjoyed the close friendship of the Earl of Bute and David Garrick. DNB; W. A. S. Hewins, ed., The Whitefoord Papers (Oxford, 1898).

9The draft is dated December 7. Sparks (Works, VII, 242–4), Bigelow (Works, III, 215–18), and Smyth (Writings, IV, 183–4) all printed from the draft and used the earlier date.

1See above, p. 168 n.

2In the draft the words from “if John Bull” to “Senses” are heavily canceled. So far as they can still be read, they do not seem to be materially different from what appears in the ALS. Sparks and Bigelow omitted the passage, Smyth did not.

3Whitefoord may have sent BF one of the last notable prints by William Hogarth (1697–1764), called “The Times” (plate I), which was issued Sept. 7, 1762. In a highly complex scene it depicts William Pitt with a bellows trying to keep the world in flames, Bute with fire fighters trying to quench the fire, and Newcastle supplying copies of John Wilkes’s paper, the North Briton, to serve as fuel. The print led to a violent quarrel in which Wilkes and the satirist Charles Churchill wrote scathing attacks on Hogarth, and the artist retaliated with devastating caricatures of the writers. On Oct. 25, 1764, Hogarth became seriously ill; he was said to have just received “an agreeable letter” from BF and finished the rough draft of a reply when he was taken with a violent seizure and died within two hours. Unfortunately, neither BF’s letter nor Hogarth’s draft reply has been found. DNB; [J. Nichols], Biographical Anecdotes of William Hogarth; with a Catalogue of His Works (2d edit., London, 1782), pp. 68–80, 84, 300–4; Robert R. Rea, The English Press in Politics 1760–1774 (Lincoln, Neb., [1963]), p. 31 and facing p. 86.

4Apparently Whitefoord, who was an amateur artist of sorts, had sent a pencil caricature or sketch of BF; it has not survived. Charles C. Sellers, Benjamin Franklin in Portraiture (New Haven and London, 1963), pp. 60–1, 408–9. William Smith, in England at the time, had been spreading reports of BF’s declining popularity at home. “Black and all black” seems to have been a favorite expression of Whitefoord’s. See Hewins, ed., Whitefoord Papers, p. 142 n.

5Mrs. Stevenson advised BF never again to receive Smith as a friend. See below, p. 234.

6See above, pp. 167–8 n.

7“Lyre” in the draft. Nothing further is known about this instrument, which seems to have been a parting gift from Whitefoord. It may be mentioned, however, that after BF’s return to England his ledger account book contains an entry (p. 28) dated May 21, 1765: “pd Hintz[?] for Stringing Harp £1 18s. 6d.”

8Whitefoord did not marry until 1800, when he was 66; thereafter he had four children.

9Whitefoord’s partner, Thomas Brown, appears to have been nicknamed “The Count.” Hewins, ed., Whitefoord Papers, pp. 144, 152.

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