Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Stevenson: Verses on Her Birthday, 15 June 1767

To Mary Stevenson: Verses on Her Birthday

AD (two copies): American Philosophical Society2

To Miss Stevenson, on her Birthday, June 15. 1767.3


You’d have the Custom broke, you say,

That marks with festive Mirth your natal Day;

“Because as one grows old,

One cares not to be told,

How many of one’s Years have pass’d away.”4

That Reason came not from your Heart;

’Tis given in earnest but by those,

The empty Belles and emptier Beaux,

Who justly may suppose

Their outward Frame to be their better Part

And therefore grieve that Time subjects it to Decay.


God, who values only Souls,

Has given yours that outward Case,

In which (as Time his Seasons rolls)

It may, while here below improve,

Till, fit for Heav’n above,

It shall be brought there, to increase

The Happiness of the Place,

Where all is Joy and all is Love.


No hospitable Man, possess’d of generous Wines,

While they are in his Vaults, repines

That Age impairs the Casks; for well he knows

The heavenly Juice

More fit for Use

Becomes, and still the older better grows;

He only keeps it there ’till it refines.

Then, when the Cooper can no longer

Hold the mouldring Wood together,

(Though he pretends with Hoops to make it stronger)

Bring, says the Master, Bottles hither:

Time hurts not Glass: This Wine must be preserv’d

And at my Table serv’d:

There thro’ the Chrystal Vase it shines;

The chosen Guests enjoy it and extoll it;

The happy Company are happier made;

This! This is Wine indeed! Pray what d’ye call it?

O! ’tis my Anno Domini! he said.

Then round and round the chearful Board it flies,

And turns to Wit that never dies.

Addressed: To / Miss Stevenson5

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2Of these two copies, both in BF’s hand, one survives among his own papers, the other among the papers of Mary Stevenson Hewson. The Hewson Papers were inherited by her descendants, James Sydney Bradford and Miss Frances Margaret Bradford, of Philadelphia, and transferred to the APS in 1956 by gift and sale. The text of the verses is identical in the two copies.

3Polly Stevenson was born in 1739, hence this occasion was her twenty-eighth birthday.

4BF’s letter to Polly of June 17th (below, p. 189), with which he appears to have transmitted these verses, indicates that she had written her mother or him a letter explaining that she would not visit them the day after her birthday, as promised. She may have expressed in that letter the sentiment quoted here.

5The address page belongs to the Bradford copy. The APS copy bears no address but is endorsed: “Verses to Miss S. on her Birth day 1767.”

Index Entries