Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from [Johann David Michaelis?], [1772?]: résumé

From [Johann David Michaelis?1]

Copy:2 American Philosophical Society

<1772? In Latin with no date, salutation, or signature. Has decided, because of Franklin’s “most noble occupations” and involvement in public affairs, to consult him as little as possible. Wishes first to thank him for favoring the Society by taking with him twelve copies of its revived3 work; has arranged to have the volumes bound and sent to Hamburg at the Society’s expense (in excess of twelve thalers) in the hope that through them more buyers will be attracted; although the Society is not interested in making a profit, neither does it wish to lose money. Asks Franklin to select, perhaps with the advice of the illustrious Watson,4 the names of outstanding people who have recently died, particularly physicians, professors, and members of the Royal Society, and to have their biographies compiled and sent to ornament future volumes of the transactions. Encloses a few small literary gifts, to refresh Franklin’s memory of the Göttingen circle. May God return him unscathed to his fatherland. “Embrace in your friendship and favor those who love you and wish you well.”>

1Michaelis (1717–91), a professor at Göttingen, was a noted Biblical scholar and the foremost teacher of Semitic languages in Europe. Pringle and BF had met him during their German tour in 1766; see Michaelis’ Lebenbeschreibung … (Leipzig, 1793), pp. 102–3, 110–11. The German had corresponded with Pringle, who in 1769 had sent BF’s regards to him and the other members of his learned society. This was the local Königliche Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, of which Michaelis was director from 1761 to 1770. In February, 1772, Pringle acknowledged receiving two copies, for himself and BF, of the first volume of the Society’s transactions “renewed,” in other words the Novi commentarii Societatis regiae Gottingensis (Göttingen and Gotha, 1771); an earlier series had ended in 1755. For Pringle’s letters see Johann G. Buhle, ed., Literarischer Briefwechsel von Johann David Michaelis (3 vols., Leipzig, 1794–96), II, 230, 310. We conjecture that BF wrote Michaelis to thank him for the transactions and to ask for twelve more copies to take with him to America (in the spring of 1772 he referred several times to returning home), and that this letter was Michaelis’ reply.

2The copy is almost unquestionably in BF’s hand. Why he should have gone to the trouble we have no idea, unless the letter appealed to him as an exercise in torturing Latin. The language is so verbose and convoluted that a literal translation is unintelligible; we have therefore resorted to a résumé that we hope does justice to the central points.

3The adjective is recusi, which in context makes no sense. We suggest that it was BF’s misreading of renati.

4For William Watson, F.R.S., the noted physician and scientist, see above, III, 457 n.

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