Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Hugh Roberts, 20 May 1765

From Hugh Roberts

ALS: American Philosophical Society; draft: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Philada. 20 of May 1765

Dear Friend BF

Early to morrow Morning I intend for Chester where I have not been since thy departure,5 and when I consider’d, that was the last place I saw thee, I was spurr’d to Duty and must write. Imprimis, I frequently Visit thy little Family, thy Wife and daughter Sally are well, but not quite settled in the new House. My intended journey to Chester is to accompany my worthy Friend Samuel Neave6 who embarks from thence to visit his near Relations in England; his great integrity in the course of thirty years, has gain’d the Esteem of every honest Man among us, and tho’ at times his warmth in censuring our Clandestine and prohibited Trade, has not obtain’d the approbation of all, yet with high repute he has gain’d a plentiful Fortune and with that uprightness of heart, that if generally follow’d, would have caused the Characters of our Pennsylvania Traders, to have stood in a much fairer view at present, with our Masters in England; and distinguish’d us from the illicite Traders on the Continent of America; and when I shall hear that you, two of my honest hearted Friends have met, tho on the remotest part of the Globe, ’twill give me joy.

As to our contentious affairs; thine and the Governments Enimies, Enimies to that Truth which includes every Virtue, are in a decline, their Flame is expired, and no more than a feeble offencive Smoke remains, that has not strength enough to convey Fire; and altho’ thy Cool Reasons,7 delivered with Truth and Energy, appear’d to make little impression on them, they are foil’d nay drubb’d with weapons, shall I say, better adapted to their Genius, and much keener than their Own.8 So that the false Names of the Dove and the Ewe-in every appearance9 now show the Vulture and the Wolf—the Notes of the black Smith and All-in-song united,1 are become feeble, and their Countenances fallen, as if they had no other prospect than to be All-enterred with their, really-dejected Patron2—Excuse this Flight.

I somtimes Visit the worthy remains of the Antient Junto, for whom I have a high Esteem, but alas the Political Polemical divisions, have in some measure contributed to lessen that Harmony, we there formerly Enjoy’d.

In a late pamphlet called an Address,3 the Authors have portray’d a quondam Friend of ours in such strong Lines that no person to whom the Man is known, on this side of the Atlantic, is at a loss, even at first View: yet from any description I could give, thou would be ready to ask who Isse they have pictured with an air of Contempt. He is a person that has been long accustomed to an outward appearance of humility, and under that Cloak carries some pernicious points, which I think he could not do, under any other Mask; And is it not sufficient to give an honest Mind, an high an exalted Idea of Religion and Virtue that some of the most cunning and meanest part of Mankind, deem it the best Skreen for their Conduct? However my Dear Friend, by this time I think many more are convinced of the sincerity of thy Intentions, and tho some weak Politicians and Mad Zealots have not Candour enough to acknowledge it, I hope thou wilt ever stand above the reach of their Malice, and if they should continue to endeavour to depress thee by Calumny; I beleive thy Integer Vita will be thy preservation and Eclipse their Tinsel’d Glory.

When I began to Scribble, ’twas with some reluctance but when once engaged I scarce know when to bid thee Adieu. Thy real Friend

Hugh Roberts

NB a Seal for the Hospital4

Addressed: To / Dr. Benjamin Franklin / at London / per favour of / Samuel Neave

Endorsed: H. Roberts May 20. 1765

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

5Roberts was one of some three hundred friends who accompanied BF to Chester, where he embarked, Nov. 7, 1764, for London. See above, XI, 447–8.

6Samuel Neave (1706–1774) was a prominent Philadelphia merchant and partner in the firms of Neave & Harman and Neave, Harman & Lewis. His obituary in Pa. Gaz., Sept. 14, 1774, stated that “in him the poor have lost a kind benefactor, the industrious a generous patron, and the whole community a worthy member. In short, he was a gentleman of the strictest honour, probity and justice.” He may have been one of the Quakers who spoke out in meeting against clandestine trade with the French during the last war. Frederick B. Tolles, Meeting House and Counting House The Quaker Merchants of Colonial Philadelphia 1682–1763 (Chapel Hill, 1948), pp. 78–9.

7An allusion to BF’s pamphlet, Cool Thoughts on the Present Situation of Our Public Affairs, written in April 1764; see above, XI, 153–73.

8Roberts is probably referring to Isaac Hunt’s vitriolic anti-proprietary salvos, A Humble Attempt at Scurrility and the Exercises in Scurrility Hall, published early in 1765.

9David James Dove and the Rev. John Ewing, both proprietary penmen.

1William Smith and the Rev. Francis Alison. They were suspected by BF’s friends of having been members of the “Club of Geniuses” that composed the abusive Answer to Mr. Franklin’s Remarks; see above, XI, 486, 526.

2William Allen.

3Evidently An Address to the Rev. Dr. Alison, the Rev. Mr. Ewing, and others, Trustees of the Corporation for the Relief of Presbyterian Ministers, their Widows and Children; being a Vindication of the Quakers from the Aspersions of the said Trustees in their Letter Published in the London Chronicle No. 1223 … By a Lover of Truth (Phila., 1765). The Address was a long and often intemperate refutation of the Trustees’ putative letter in London Chron., Oct. 20–3, 1764, which attacked the alleged tyranny of the Quakers in Pa. and defended the Paxton Boys. The author of the Address, though a Quaker or a Quaker sympathizer, was no friend of that “officious, mischeivous and ambitious Man,” Israel Pemberton. According to the author, “the Task of reciting all the Mischiefs which he has brought on the Society, the Disgrace he has, and is continually subjecting them to, his wild Schemes to promote his own Importance, the Numbers his absurd Conduct has driven from the Society, and the other Effects of his fickle, yet headstrong impetuous Temper, would take up more Time than I can at present spare. …” Roberts obviously felt the same way about “Isse.”

4Roberts had apparently asked BF to have a seal made for the Pa. Hospital before he sailed for England, or else he had instructed Neave to sound him about the subject when he reached London. On July 7, 1765, BF wrote Roberts of the great expense in having a seal engraved, but by early in 1766 he had found a craftsman who would do one for four guineas. See below, p. 202, and BF to Roberts, Feb. 27, 1766, Univ. Pa. Lib.

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