Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from William Brownrigg, 27 January 1773

From William Brownrigg9

Extract: the Royal Society

Ormathwaite, January 27, 1773.

By the enclosed from an old friend, a worthy clergyman at Carlisle, whose great learning and extensive knowledge in most sciences would have more distinguished him had he been placed in a more conspicuous point of view, You will find that he had heard of your experiment on Derwent Lake, and has thrown together what he could collect on that subject; to which I have subjoined one experiment from the relation of another Gentleman.1

Extract of a Letter from the Revd. Mr. Farish,2 to Dr. Brownrigg

I sometime ago met with Mr. Dun,3 who surprised me with an account of an experiment you had tried upon the Derwentwater, in Company with Sir J. Pringle and Dr. Franklin. According to his representation, the water, which had been in great agitation before, was instantly calmed, upon pouring in only a very small quantity of oil, and that to so great a distance round the boat as seems a little incredible. I have since had the same accounts from others, but I suspect them all of a little exaggeration. Pliny mentions this property of oil as known particularly to the Divers, who made use of it in his days, in order to have a more steady light at the bottom.* The sailors, I have been told, have observed something of the same kind in our days, that the water is always remarkably smoother in the wake of a ship that had been newly tallowed, than it is in one that is foul. Mr. Pennant also mentions an observation of the like nature made by the Seal Catchers in Scotland: Brit. Zool. Vol. IV. Article Seal.4 When these Animals are devouring a very oily fish, which they always do under water, the waves above are observed to be remarkably smooth, and by this mark the fishermen know where to look for them. Old Pliny does not usually meet with all the credit I am inclined to think he deserves. I shall be glad to have an authentic account of the Keswick Experiment, and if it comes up to the representations that have been made of it, I shall not much hesitate to believe the old Gentleman in another more wonderful Phenomenon he relates of stilling a Tempest only by throwing up a little Vinegar into the Air.5

Sir Gilfred Lawson who served long in the army, at Gibraltar,6 assures me that the Fishermen in that place are accustomed to pour a little oil on the sea in order to still its motion that they may be enabled to see the Oysters lying at its bottom; which are there very large, and which they take up with a proper instrument. This Sir Gilfred had often seen there performed, and said the same was practised on other parts of the Spanish Coast.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9The north-country physician and scientist, whom BF and Pringle had visited the summer before and with whom they had experimented in pouring oil on Derwent Water; see above, XIX, 170. BF responded to this letter with a long disquisition on the use of oil for calming waves: below, Nov. 7.

1The extract of Brownrigg’s letter, which is in Fevre’s hand, omitted this experiment.

2James Farish was vicar of Stanwix, a village just outside Carlisle. He “possessed more knowledge in several parts of learning than the generality of scholars possess in any one,” yet was so modest that he would publish nothing. William Jackson, ed., Memoirs of Dr. Richard Gilpin … by the Rev. William Gilpin … (London and Carlisle, 1879), p. 74.

3Possibly Samuel Dunn, the Londoner of whom BF spoke in his letter to Galloway below, Feb. 14.

4[Thomas Pennant,] British Zoology … (4 vols., London, etc., 1768–70), IV, 37–8.

5This and the preceding reference to Pliny the Elder’s Natural History are to Book II, respectively 132 and 234.

6Lawson (c. 1709–94) began his military career in 1732, and his regiment was stationed at Gibraltar until 1749; how long he stayed with it we do not know. He succeeded as ninth baronet in 1762. The Army List of 1740 … (Soc. for Army Hist. Research, Special No. III; Sheffield, 1931), p. 16; Chetwynd J. D. Haswell, The Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey) … (London, [1967]), p. 150; Burke’s Peerage, p. 1502.

Authorial notes

[The following note(s) appeared in the margins or otherwise outside the text flow in the original source, and have been moved here for purposes of the digital edition.]

º * Dr. Brownrigg’s Note to Mr. Farish’s Observations.

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