Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Katherine French, 18 February 1771

From Katherine French6

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Monday 18th Febry. [1771]

My dear Sir

Your very valuable opinion is much desired upon the Work I now send for your perusal. A particular friend has requested this favor of me. He says, he thinks, you are not a Stranger to this performance, as it was shewed to you some time ago, in an incompleat state. By a Letter from the late Docr. Greg. Sharpe, which Letter I send you a Copy of, I conclude it must have real merit or should not have been prevailed upon to trouble you with it.7 Am your obliged and very Humble Servant

Kath. French

Addressed: To / Docr. Franklin

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6An acquaintance of BF since at least 1765. Our predecessors were unable to identify her with confidence, but suggested the remote possibility that she was the daughter of Richard Lloyd, Chief Justice of Jamaica, and the widow of Jeffrey French, M.P.; they were skeptical, however, because that lady’s first name was supposedly Catherine (XII, 96 n). This must have been a misspelling. Mrs. Katherine French in her later life (she died in 1791) appeared several times in Horace Walpole’s correspondence, under the sobriquet Old Brutus; by that time she had a house in Hanover Square and a villa at Hampton Court, and was an avid collector of objets d’art. Walpole ridiculed her taste and her collection, but bought several items from the latter when it was sold at auction. See Wilmarth S. Lewis and A. Dayle Wallace, eds., Horace Walpole’s Correspondence with Mary and Agnes Berry and Barbara Cecilia Seton (2 vols., New Haven, 1944), I, 57 n, 220–1. We are convinced that Mrs. French’s interest in art, as revealed in the letter below, clinches the identification of her as Jeffrey French’s widow.

7Our guess is that the particular friend was the author. The letter of endorsement came from the Rev. Dr. Gregory Sharpe (1713–71), prebendary of Salisbury, chaplain to the King, and master of the Temple, a distinguished classicist and orientalist as well as theologian, who had died the month before. DNB. His letter that Mrs. French copied for BF (APS) described the work in question as “singular and curious, instructive, elegant and magnificent,” but added that its merit would not be obvious at first sight and it would not sell on the ordinary market; Sharpe suggested circulating a prospectus to the nobility, all members of Parliament, etc., soliciting subscriptions at two guineas a set. The price in the actual prospectus was a guinea; see the following document. The work, The Senator’s Remembrancer, was dedicated to BF by the author, John Stewart of London; it originally consisted of thirteen copperplate prints on white satin. BF sent one set to Cushing and another to the N.J. Assembly; six years later he presented another, now containing fourteen prints, to the Pa. Council. Below, BF to Cushing, June 10, penultimate paragraph, and N.J. Assembly Committee of Correspondence to BF, Dec. 21; Pa. Col. Recs., XI, 232.

One of the few extant copies of this bizarre publication is in the British Museum, and we are most grateful to Mrs. Sallie McKee Warden for examining it and describing it to us. The prints are a series of charts, showing how a statesman should break down the problems he confronts in various areas—war, legislation, revenue, etc.—in order to arrive at a maturely considered decision. The underlying premise, that problem-solving can be divided into a series of steps in abstract analysis, is reminiscent of BF’s “Prudential Algebra” that he described to Priestley below, Sept. 19, 1772.

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