Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Joseph Priestley, 19 April 1771

From Joseph Priestley

ALS: Haverford College Library

Leeds, 19 Apr. 1771

Dear Sir

I am glad that you have received your Comm Bonon. safe.4 I thank you for the use of them, and think myself [fortunate] in having an opportunity of doing you the smallest favour. I told you I either had or expect very soon to be possessed of the memoirs of all the philosophical societies, of note, in Europe, and the following account of the price of them will, I fancy, be sufficient for your purpose.5

A complete edition of the memoirs of the Royal Society at Paris cannot, I imagine, be bought for less than £120. My Amsterdam edition at hand will cost about £30. NB The Memoires Anciennes are 11 Vols, and comprehend the Ouvrages Adoptés.

Memoires de Mathematique et de Physique 5 Vols 4to, about £5 5s. 0d. These are generally quoted by the name of Memoires Presentées or Memoires de Savans Etrangers.

Miscellania Berolinensia 3 Vols 4[to] £1 11s. 6d. Of the modern Berlin Memoirs, 23 Vols 4to have been published. The last is for the year 1767. They may perhaps cost 15s. at a medium, which is £17 5s. 0d. Commentaria Bononiensia 6 Vols 4to. I am told there are three or four more, and I think they will not be less than a pound a piece: £10 0s. 0d.

Miscellania Taurinensia 3 Vols 4to. £2 6s. 0d.

Of the Acta Helvetica I have 5 Vols 4to the last for 1762. I believe there are four or five more. They may perhaps cost half a guinea a Vol £5 5s. 0d.

The Dantzig Society in High Dutch, 3 Vols 4to. Mine, I think, cost me 18s. a Vol, at Hamburgh. I remember I thought them very dear: £2 12s. 0d.6 Of The Drontheim Society in High Dutch 8vo. I have three volumes. I think Mr. Heydinger7 told me there are 3 more. He charged me 5s. a Vol: £1 10s. 0d. Of the Royal Society in Sweden I have 17 Vols. 8vo the last for 1757 (a translation into High Dutch). I expect the remainder to the present time every day. They will then cost 5s. a Vol.: £6 15s. 0d.

The Petersburg Memoirs I have not yet received, but I remember I expected that they would cost me £30. Acta Hafniensia I have not yet got, and want much. They are 2 Vols 4to, and may perhaps be had for £1 10s. 0d.

The Acta Naturae Curiosorum Caesariensia have been published, with some change of title, for I believe near a century, a Vol 4to every year. The Acta Nova are 4 Vols. perhaps 15[s.]. I have 9 Vols of the title preceding them, but they are not the whole, and contain very little philosophical knowledge, consisting almost wholly of Medical articles. The Acta Nova and the 12 Vols (I think there are) of the title preceding them will probably cost £12 0s. 0d.

Of the Acta Upsaliensia I know nothing.

Of the Acta Chymica Holmiensia, by Hierni, I have 2 Vols in 12mo. I believe no more are published. 6s. 0d.

Essays Physical and literary of a Society at Edinburgh, 2 Vols 8vo 12s. 0d.

Of the Philosophical and Medical Society at Breslau I know nothing.

Of an Philosophical Transactions I need not say anything.

This, Dear Sir, is all the intelligance I am able to give you concerning these Societies, and the price of their publications, omitting the Acta Eruditorum, or Acta Lipsiensia, Journal des Scavans, and several others, which are chiefly accounts of books, tho’ they contain several Original Essays.

All the sums I have mentioned, you will find amount to £216 16s. 6d. Taking in the Philosophical Transactions, and those of which I have no information; and together with the old Acta Curiosorum Caesariensia, £300 will, perhaps, be about the sum requested for your purpose.

Commentarii Societatis Gottingensis 4 Vols quarto at 15s.: £3 0s. 0d.8

You give me pleasure by your account of the success of my subscription. If it indemnify me for what is past I shall be very happy; but that, I am afraid, is more than I can expect. We begin to print this week. I expect the first proof every hour. I print a thousand.9 You say nothing of the patronage of the king, which you thought it possible to procure. I am, with the greatest respect, Dear Sir, yours sincerely

J Priestley

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

4Priestley had apparently borrowed BF’s set of Commentaria Bononiensia, which is mentioned later in the letter.

5BF had suggested, almost two years before, that the Library Company of Philadelphia purchase the transactions of all the European philosophical societies; see above, XVI, 171–2. The Library committee had recently asked for an estimate of the cost: Hillegas et al. to BF above, Jan. 25. On receiving this request BF had consulted Priestley, who is here responding.

6Even a great scientist could make an error in arithmetic.

7Probably C. Heydinger, a printer and bookseller in the Strand, for whom see Henry R. Plomer et al., A Dictionary of the Printers and Booksellers Who Were at Work in England... from 1726 to 1775 (Oxford, 1932), p. 124.

8These transactions, in the order of Priestley’s listing, were as follows: (1) The Histoire or Mémoires (the title varies) of the Académie royale des sciences ran to 70 vols. in the French edition (Paris, 1706–70). Priestley’s Amsterdam edition, also in French, was probably of the Histoire in 48 vols. (1706–55) and of the Mémoires in 6 (1735–36); the latter contained the works “adopted” by the Academy before 1699. (2) The Mémoires de mathématique et de physique, présentés à l’Académie royale des sciences, par divers savans... contained 5 vols. by 1770 but eventually ran to 11 (Paris, 1750–86). (3) The Miscellanea Berolinensia ad incrementum... scientiarum... (7 vols., Berlin, 1710–43) were the transactions of what is now the Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften; the Berlin Memoirs, published by the same society, ran eventually to 25 vols.: Histoire de l’Académie royale des sciences et des belles letters... (Berlin, 1746–71). (4) Priestley had all the volumes then published by what is now the Accademia delle Scienze dell’ Istituto Bologna: De Bononiensi scientiarum et artium Instituto... commentarii (7 vols., Bologna, 1731–91). (5) The other Italian publication, by what developed into the Reale Accademia delle Scienze, began as Miscellanea philosophico-mathematica and was continued as Mélanges de philosophie et de mathématique (5 vols., Turin, 1759–76). (6) The Basel Physico-Medical Society had published by this time 6 vols. of its wide-ranging Acta Helvetica, physico-mathematico-anatomico-botanico-medica... (8 vols., Basel, 1751–77). (7) Priestley’s expensive purchase in Hamburg was of Versuche und Abhandlungen der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft... (3 vols., Danzig and Leipzig, 1747–56). (8) His German translation of the Trondhjem Society was incomplete: Der Drontheimschen Gesellschaft Schriften aus dem Dänischen übersetzt (4 vols., Copenhagen and Leipzig, 1765–70). (9) The transactions of the Royal Swedish Academy were translated as Abhandlungen aus der Naturlehre, Haushaltungskunst und Mechanik (41 vols., Hamburg and Leipzig, 1749–83). (10) The Commentarii Academiae scientiarum imperialis Petropolitanae, in two series (St. Petersburg, 1728–76), eventually came to 34 vols., of which 28 had appeared by this time. (11) The Acta Hafniensia were the product of the Copenhagen Society of Fine Arts, Scriptorum... (3 vols., Copenhagen, 1745–47). (12) The Imperial Leopoldine Academy had been publishing for a century the Acta naturae curiosorum Caesariensia, in various series with various subtitles, but not a volume a year; Priestley had all the volumes then in print of the Nova acta physico-medica... (8 vols., Nuremberg, etc., 1758–91), and all but one of the preceding series, the Acta physico-medica... (10 vols., Nuremberg, 1727–54). (13) The transactions with which he was unfamiliar were the Acta Societatis regiae scientiarum Upsaliensis... (5 vols., Uppsala, 1740–50). (14) His Acta chymica Holmiensia were the papers and essays of Urban Hjärne or Hierne (1641–1724), edited by Johan G. Wallerius: Urbani Hierne Actorum chemicorum Holmiensium... (2 vols., Stockholm, 1753); for this information we are indebted to Professor Henry Guerlac. (15) The Philosophical Society of Edinburgh was just completing its Essays and Observations, Physical and Literary... (3 vols., Edinburgh, 1754–71). (16) We share Priestley’s ignorance of the society in Breslau, but a German translation of (2) above was published there in 1748–59. (17) Of the Phil. Trans. we also need not say anything. (18) The Acta eruditorum..., in two series, was published at Leipzig from 1682, and by this time came to 87 vols. (19) The Journal des scavans... began in Paris in 1665 and continued until 1792. (20) The final entry, which appears to have been interlined in BF’s hand, was the Commentarii Societatis regiae scientiarum Gottingensis (4 vols., Göttingen, 1752–[55]).

9The work printed by subscription was The History and Present State of Discoveries Relating to Vision, Light, and Colours (2 vols., London, 1772). Priestley’s hopes for it were disappointed: it did not indemnify him for the time he had spent on it, and he abandoned his plan to go on to an inclusive history of the experimental sciences. Schofield, Scientific Autobiography, pp. 52, 82–3, 99, 121–4.

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