Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to James Bowdoin, 15 December 1762

To James Bowdoin

ALS: The Royal Archives, Windsor Castle;9 transcript: Massachusetts Historical Society

Philada. Dec. 15. 1762

Dear Sir,

I have read with great Pleasure the College Poems you were so kind as to send me:1 I think, and I hope it is not merely my American Vanity that makes me think, some of them exceed in Beauty and Elegance those produced by the Mother Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, on the same Occasion. In return, please to accept some Poetical Blossoms of our young Seminary.2

I rejoice at this Renewal of our Correspondence. If any thing new in the Philosophical Way has occur’d among you in my long Absence, be so good as to communicate it to Dear Sir, Your most obedient humble Servant

B Franklin

J. Bowdoin Esqr.

Endorsed: Doct. Benja. Franklin’s Letter Decr. 15. 1762 [In another hand:] acknowledgd the Rect. of the College Poems. wth. his compliments,

[At the foot of the inside page:] Boston. 19 Octr. 1860. Presented to H.R.H. The Prince of Wales with the best respects of Robt. C. Winthrop.3

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9We have to acknowledge the gracious permission of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to make use of material from the Royal Archives, Windsor Castle.

1The volume Harvard College issued commemorating the death of George II and the accession of George III: Pietas et Gratulatio Collegii Cantabrigiensis Apud Novanglos (Boston, 1761). In addition to a prose preface addressed to the King, it contained 31 poems: 3 in Greek, 16 in Latin, and 12 in English; while all were anonymous, attributions of some have been made to Gov. Francis Bernard, Rev. Samuel Cooper, John Winthrop, and James Bowdoin himself. Copies were sent to England and Jasper Mauduit, who with Richard Jackson personally presented one to the King, reported that the verses were much approved. (He did not say what his Majesty thought of them.) The Monthly Review, XXIX (1763), 22–26, considered that many of the poems were indifferent performances, “but these, though they cannot so well be excused when they come from ancient and established Seats of Learning, may at least be connived at here; and what we could not endure from an illustrious University, we can easily pardon in an infant Seminary.” The Critical Review, XVI (1763), 289–91, however, supported BF’s “American Vanity” by concluding that “the verses from Harvard College seem already to bid fair for a rivalship with the productions of Cam and Isis.” A later American critic was less charitable; Moses Coit Tyler called the volume: “This magnificent effusion of provincial gush and king-worship … this premeditated and ostentatious torrent of adulatory drivel.” History of American Literature (London, 1879), II, 58–63. See also Justin Winsor, “Pietas et Gratulatio. An Inquiry into the Authorship of the Several Pieces,” Harvard Univ. Lib., Bulletin, I (1879), 305–8; Sibley’s Harvard Graduates under Cooper (1743) and Bowdoin (1745); the long note in Evans 8877; and 6 Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll., IX, 15, 17.

2See above, p. 167–8 n.

3During his North American tour in 1860 the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) visited Boston, October 17–19. Robert C. Winthrop, president of the Massachusetts Historical Society, was a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and later a senator. The ALS presented to the Prince was at the time among the Bowdoin Papers, then owned by Winthrop but now by Mass. Hist. Soc. For the presentation see I Mass. Hist. Soc. Proc., V (1860–62), 97–8.

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