Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from John Baskerville, 7 September 1767

From John Baskerville

ALS: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Easy Hill, Birmm. 7 Sepr. 1767

Dear Sir,

After having obtained the Reputation of excelling in the most useful Art known to Mankind; of which I have your Testimony; Is it not to the last Degree provoking, that I cannot get even bread by it? I must starve, had I no other Dependence.6

I have offered the London Booksellers to print for them within 5 per Cent. as low as their common Currency, but can not get from them a single Jobb.

I offered my whole Apparatus of Letter founding, printing &c. to the Court of France by the Duke de Nivernois when he was Ambassador here7 for £8000. which was politely refused as being too large a Sum.

Mr. Godfroy,8 who may be heard of at Mr. Sayde’s Optitian to the King, lately told our good Friend Mr. Boulton, that France wished to be possessed of my printing &c. on moderate Terms, in which I heartily join.

The Intention of this is therefore, to beg the Favor of you to propose and recommend this Affair, as Mr. Godfroy may point out the Way. I want only to set on Foot a Treaty; if they will not come to my Terms, I may possibly come to theirs.

Suppose we reduce the price to £6000. Lewis the 14th would have given three times that Sum, or Czar Peter. Let the Reason of my parting with it be, the Death of my Son and intended Successor,9 and having acquired a moderate Fortune, I wish to consult my Ease in the Afternoon of Life, as I am now turn’d of 60. I am Dear Sir with the greatest Esteem your most obedient humble Servant

John Baskerville

Endorsed: Mr. Baskerville Sept. 7. 67

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6In recent years the distinguished printer, John Baskerville, had been experiencing difficulties and had been steadily losing money for a combination of reasons. Part, though only part, of his financial stringency arose from the fact that more than a third of the copies of his great Folio Bible of 1763 remained unsold, with a resulting loss of at least £1000. In June 1768 he entered into an arrangement by which Robert Martin, one of his former journeymen, took over the operation of his press at Birmingham. On this period of Baskerville’s career, see William Bennett, John Baskerville The Birmingham Printer His Press, Relations, and Friends (Birmingham, 1937–39), II, 9–14. His “other Dependence” was the manufacture and sale of Japanned ware.

7Louis-Jules-Baron Mancini-Mazarini, Duc de Nivernois (1716–1798), served as ambassador in several European capitals and was in London when peace was concluded in 1763. He was known as a classicist, essayist, and translator.

8Probably the same M. Godefroy (or Godfroy) from whom BF received two parcels of glass through Matthew Boulton in 1765; above, XII, 140. It may be presumed that he was a manufacturer of scientific glassware in France, connected in some manner with Sayde, optician to the King of France. The name “Sayde,” however, may be a misreading by Baskerville for “Gayde,” since an optician to the King by the latter name is mentioned (without specific dates) in Maurice Daumes, Les Instruments scientifiques aux XVIIe et XVIIIe Siècles (Paris, 1953), p. 353.

9This was John Eaves, the son of Sarah Eaves by her first husband, Richard Eaves. The parents formally separated in 1745, the father apparently absconding to the Continent for seventeen years to avoid arrest on a charge of forgery, while the mother and her four children joined Baskerville in his home at Easy Hill, Birmingham. John Eaves, Baskerville’s “intended Successor,” died Jan. 31, 1763, just over 30 years of age. His natural father, Richard Eaves, died May 1, 1764, and Sarah Eaves (who had for a number of years been called Mrs. Baskerville) and John Baskerville were married on June 7, 1764. Baskerville had no children of his own. Bennett, Baskerville, I, 58–63, 88, 131, 140–8, 152–3.

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