Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to William Franklin, 5 October 1768

To William Franklin

Two extracts: one printed in The Pennsylvania Chronicle, December 26-January 2, 1769, the other a MS copy, American Philosophical Society.1

October 5, 1768.

The Harvest here is well got in, and is said to be a plentiful one; tho’ I never knew so wet a Summer. No great Matters have been in Agitation lately, this not being a Season of much Business. The sending a new Chief Governor to Virginia in the Place of Sir Jeffery Amherst, made a Noise for a while, but the Public seems generally satisfied that the Measure in itself was a right one, and that Sir Jeffery’s Friends are in the wrong to make such a Clamour about it, if indeed they are his Friends that make the Clamour. Something affronting in the Circumstances is however suppos’d by some but deny’d by others, and perhaps the chief Thing he has to complain of is, that the Change was made a little hastily, and before any Equivalent was given him.2 Wilkes is extinguished. I am sorry to see in the American Papers that some People there are so indiscreet as to distinguish themselves in applauding his No. 45, which I suppose they do not know was a Paper in which their King was personally affronted, whom I am sure they love and honour.3 It hurts you here with sober sensible Men, when they see you so easily infected with the Madness of English Mobs.

The King of Denmark at present engrosses all the Conversation. That young Monarch gains daily on the Affections of this Nation by his great Affability and Condescension, and the Pleasure he appears to take in every thing he sees, and in every Amusement and Entertainment contrived for him here.4 I had seen him at the Ridotto5 and had no Expectation of seeing him again; but on Friday last I receiv’d a very polite Card from Baron Diede6 his Minister here expressing that the Prince of Travendahl (the King’s travelling Name) desired much to make an Acquaintance with me, and had ordered him to invite me to his Table for Saturday at St. James’s. I went accordingly, and was most graciously receiv’d. He was pleased to say that he had long desired to see and converse with me. The Questions he asked were such as shew’d an inquisitive Mind and a good Understanding. I was placed near him at Table, only Lord Moreton7 being between us, who was so good as to be my Interpreter, I not chusing to speak in French, a Language that I do not speak well. The King had been at Greenwich that day by Land to see the Hospital &c. Lord Moreton as President of the Royal Society, and Dr. Matty the Secretary, met him there to shew him the Royal Observatory. Admiral Rodney brought him back by Water in the Admiralty Barge, to shew him the Shipping in the River.8 These with the Officer on Guard and myself, were all the English at Table: The rest were the Officers of the Danish Court. I inclose a Sketch of the Table and Company, with their Names and Situations as well as I can remember.9 After Dinner the King went into another room, and Lord Moreton and my self were shewn in after him, when he again asked me several Questions, and discours’d with me some time. Count Holeke1 came in too, and talk’d with me a little in English, which he takes pains to learn and has made a considerable Progress. The King was pleas’d to add, just as we came away, that he purposed to see me again before he left England, and I am told he will do me the very great Honour of a Visit in Craven Street. Abundance of People, during the second Course; were admitted to pass thro’ the Room, and see the King at Dinner. This is only for you and Betsy to read, with your Mother and Sister. For it will not be decent in us to talk of these kind of Things.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

1The division between the two is indicated below. The APS copy, together with BF’s sketch of the seating at the King of Denmark’s dinner, is said to have been sent by WF to Jane Mecom. Van Doren, Franklin-Mecom, p. 104.

2For Amherst’s dismissal and BF’s reaction see above, BF to Galloway, Aug. 20, and “On Absentee Governors,” Aug. 26, 1768.

3On Wilkes’ support in the colonies see Pauline Maier, “John Wilkes and American Disillusionment with Britain,” William & Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., XX (1963), 373–95.

4The extract in the Pa. Chron. ends here; the APS copy opens with the beginning of the paragraph. Christian VII (1749–1808), King of Denmark and Norway, visited England from August 10 to October 14 as part of an extensive European tour. Through his mother he was the grandson of George II and hence the first cousin of George III; he was also the latter’s brother-in-law, having married Caroline Matilda in 1766, the year of his accession to the throne. The London press reported his visit at great length and with enthusiasm, and popular acclaim may have combined with BF’s veneration for royalty to blind him to the King’s true character. Christian’s pleasure in entertainment, about which BF comments, focused largely on the bottle; and such intelligence as he had was rapidly decaying. Before long he lapsed into a state between idiocy and insanity, and even during his tour “sa démence se trahit aux yeux des étrangers.” Elie S. F. Reverdil, Struensée et la cour de Copenhague, 1760–1772 … (Paris, 1858), p. 137.

5A public spectacle with dancing and music, often in masquerade, which was popular at the time. BF may be referring to the entertainment of the King either at Ranelagh on August 12 or at Richmond on September 23, for which see Lond. Chron., Aug. 13–16 and Sept. 24–27, 1768.

6Wilhelm Christopher Diede (1732–1807), for whom see C. F. Bricka, Dansk biografisk leksikon (Copenhagen, 1933-).

7James Douglas, Earl of Morton, President of the Royal Society; see above, IX, 272 n and later references.

8For Maty see above, XIII, 451 n. George Brydges Rodney (1719–92), later first Baron Rodney, was one of the few distinguished admirals of the period; his excursion with the King was reported in the Lond. Chron., Sept. 29-Oct. 1, 1768.

9The other members of the King’s party that appear in the sketch and not in the letter were, with a few exceptions, minor figures. For Counts Ahlefeldt and Moltke, Baron von Bülow, and Christian’s private secretary, Andreas Schumacher, see Bricka, op. cit.; Passow was probably Christian von Passow, later Danish consul in England, for whom see ibid. Major Ernst Düring, royal aide-de-camp, had been in Russian service and still was: Russian influence had introduced him into the court to act as a spy. C. F. Lascelles Wraxall, Life and Times of Her Majesty Caroline Matilda … (3 vols., London, 1864), 1, 120. Baron Heinrich Schimmelmann had started as a boatman on the Elbe and risen to be a successful financier and Grand Treasurer; he was on the tour to keep the spendthrift King supplied with money, which he did from his own resources. Reverdil, op. cit., pp. 133–5. Count Johan Bernstorff, a veteran politician, was at the time the chief minister, “a grave old man,” in Horace Walpole’s words, “running around Europe after a chit, for the sake of domineering over a parcel of beggar Danes.” Wilmarth S. Lewis, Warren H. Smith, and George L. Lam, eds., Horace Walpole’s Correspondence with Sir Horace Mann (8 vols., New Haven, 1954–67), VII, 43. The only Englishman not previously identified was General Edward Harvey, M.P. and Adjutant General of the British army until his death in 1778, a man of great military influence with King George and in the army. Namier and Brooke, House of Commons, II, 594–5.

1Count Frederik Holck (1745–1800), the King’s boon companion and favorite of the moment. “A complete jackanapes,” was Walpole’s verdict: “a young fellow … who will be tumbled down long before he is prepared for it.” Wilmarth S. Lewis and Ralph S. Brown, eds., Horace Walpole’s Correspondence with George Montagu (2 vols., New Haven, 1941), II, 265. The prophecy was soon fulfilled, thanks to a member of the King’s entourage whom BF did not meet-Dr. Johann Friedrich Struensee, Christian’s newly appointed physician. Three years later Struensee was the Queen’s lover and, until his overthrow and execution in 1772, the virtual dictator of Denmark.

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