Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to the Earl of Morton, [19–25 November 1767]

To the Earl of Morton

Draft: American Philosophical Society

[November 19–25, 17672]

My Lord

In Obedience to your Lordship’s Commands I have look’d over that Part of Dr. Priestly’s Work that contains an Account of the Experiments made by him.3 I find There are a great Number of them, mostly quite new, and some I think very curious and important, well deserving for that Reason and for the great Pains and Expence he has been at in making them, the Honour of the Society’s Medal. But I do not see that his Account of them can well be abridg’d, and as the Book has been long publish’d, and probably is in the Hands of all those of the Society who from their Acquaintance with the Subject are the best Judges of the Merit of such Experiments, I apprehend that any other Account is hardly necessary. I am however so engag’d at present that I could not possibly prepare any thing of the kind fit to be laid before the Council on Thursday, and hope your Lordship will [be so good] as to excuse me.4 With the greatest Respect, I am, My Lord, Your Lordships most obedient and most humble Servant

B F.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2This letter can be dated by its mention of Lord Morton’s efforts to obtain the Royal Society’s Copley Medal for Joseph Priestley and by BF’s begging off from preparing a report on Priestley’s experiments that could “be laid before the Council on Thursday.” On Thursday, Nov. 26, 1767, the Royal Society and its Council both met. At the meeting of the Council Priestley’s merits and claims to the medal were discussed, so that the present letter must have been written a few days before the Council meeting on November 26. See below, pp. 326–8, and Charles R. Weld, A History of the Royal Society (2 vols., London, 1848), II, 67 n.

3Part VIII, pp. 573–733, of Priestley’s History of Electricity (London, 1767) contains accounts of his electrical experiments.

4BF did, however, prepare a précis of Priestley’s experiments, which was read before the Royal Society on March 10, 1768, and which will be printed in the next volume of this edition. Robert E. Schofield, in his A Scientific Autobiography of Joseph Priestley (1733–1804) (Cambridge, 1966), pp. 48–9, 118, points out that at this time the scientific community did not fully appreciate the value of Priestley’s electrical experiments and that, therefore, his failure to win the Copley Medal was not surprising. He did win the medal in 1773, however.

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