Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Thomas Coombe, Jr., 24 September 1774

From Thomas Coombe, Jr.

ALS: Yale University Library

Philadelphia Saturday Sept: 24. 1774.

Dear and Honoured Friend

I take the earliest opportunity of acknowledging the receipt of your kind letter by Captain Falconer, and of thanking you for the present of books which accompanied it. Mr. Lindsey’s production was a curiosity that I had for some time been wishing to see. I had heard of his fame, but knew nothing of his particularities, till I saw his book, which appears to me to be the weak effort of a discontented and disordered mind. Dr. Clarke, you remember, proposed some alterations in our Common-Prayer Book; but the dreadful elisions which Lindsey has made, shew that he disapproves of the spirit of the whole.1 I question whether such another wholesale Reformer has had his foot in England, since the Russian Peter went out of it.2 The Heroic Postscript is indeed classical poetry. Pope, unquestionably, left his mantle with that Author, whoever he is. Dr. Goldsmith’s Retaliation abounds with original strokes of humor, and was the more acceptable from the circumstance of its being entirely new here. With respect to the good Bishop’s speech, it beggars all encomium. Never did I meet with so much native eloquence, copiousness of sentiment, and piety of thinking crowded into one performance. He seems to stand upon an eminence, and look down upon the knavish politics of the world below him. The speech is universally read and admired here, and I trust will give his virtuous memory to immortality, in spite of “the rough course of accidents”, or the persecutions of a court. Good Gentleman! I suppose he must henceforward look for no other translation but that of Enoch.3

You will no doubt hear by this opportunity from some of your friends, of a report which has been industriously circulated for 4 or 5 days past, to the disadvantage of Govr. F—n that he had written a letter to Mr. S—n, in which he had expressed his approbation of all the measures pursued by Hutch—n &c. This you will no doubt have heard, and the designs of these mutilators of letters can be no secret to you. Now (tho’ I studiously avoid meddling in the least with what are called Politics) I hold myself bound to inform you, that, as far I have been able to learn, the W—n family are the whole and sole movers in this affair, and are laboring by every subtle means to injure the man whom, but a year or two ago, they deified. Nay Sir, from hints dropped, I believe they would extend the reproach to yourself, if they could flatter themselves with the hope of being credited even by an enemy. I have the pleasure however to inform you, that the report was received with coolness, and that no decision has been given against the G—r by any that are worth attending to. A few days I expect will clear up matters to the confusion of such slanderers. In the mean time, my boundless affection would not suffer me to be silent about an affair which so much concerns you, for silence would be ingratitude, a more despicable vice (if possible) than calumny itself. I omitted mentioning that the Persons above-named, when relating the story, always added that they had it not from their Brother S, but from an “higher authority”, hinting at Mr. Walpole. My own private conjecture, and I will confide it with my honored Friend, is that S W—n is at the bottom of the whole.4 But, as I said above, you will no doubt have this matter at large from some of your own family.

I inclose a small pamphlet, said to be written by a Mr. Jefferson, of Virginia. If you have not seen it, I believe it will please you. The Suffolk resolves are firm to a noble degree, and the sentiments of the Congress upon them, no less so. I inclose them also, together with an hand-bill that made its appearance yesterday.5 My Father presents his respectful compliments: He is a much more healthy man than he was ten years ago. Your old Friend Mr. Inglis has been upon the decline for some time past. Mr. Rhoades continues to enjoy a good share of health and vivacity, and has but few marks of Age about him.6 He toasted you yesterday at your humble Parson’s table, and wished, with a sigh of friendship, that you were at home again. But not one of them all, reverences and loves you more than him, who, like Paul of Tarsus, was called in at the eleventh hour, to be a disciple and friend, who is proud to subscribe himself Your most obliged and affectionate humble servant,

Th: Coombe.

PS.  I think proper to mention to you, that none of the Bp of St. Asaph’s sermons were received by the Missionaries. It was said, that some of them were on board the Tea-Ship, and were sent back again in her.7 But I dont know on what authority this declaration was made, or whether on any. Admitting the fact, they were sent very late in the season.

I beg my affectionate compliments to Mrs. Stevenson and Mrs. Hewson. Mrs. Hewson has my most sincere sympathy!

Dr Franklin.

1In his letter to Coombe above, July 22, BF enclosed but did not mention [Theophilus Lindsey,] The Book of Common Prayer Reformed According to the Plan of the Late Dr. Samuel Clarke … (London, 1774). This was the new liturgy that Lindsey devised for his Unitarian congregation in London; see the headnote on BF to Le Despencer above, April 17. The alterations by the Rev. Samuel Clarke (for whom see the DNB) were not “proposed” in the sense of being published; they were entered in MS in his Prayer Book. Lindsey examined them and amended them only slightly in his revision, so that in his opinion he was essentially following his predecessor. Thomas Belsham, Memoirs of the Late Reverend Theophilus Lindsey … (2nd ed., London, 1820), pp. 67, 75; Theophilus Lindsey, An Historical View of the State of the Unitarian Doctrine and Worship … (London, 1783), p. 235. How Coombe knew anything specific about Clarke’s proposals (if indeed he did) we cannot conjecture. For the resemblances and differences between Clarke’s views and Lindsey’s see idem., pp. 334–78.

2Peter the Great, during his tour of western Europe, had visited England in 1698. Coombe’s comments that follow are on works mentioned in the letter he is answering.

3Gen. 5:18–24. Coombe was right about Shipley in this world: he was never translated from St. Asaph’s.

4The fullest account of this episode leaves it obscure: William H. Mariboe, “The Life of William Franklin” (doctoral dissertation, University of Pa., 1962), pp. 414–16. WF wrote William Strahan on May 21, 1774, in a letter now lost, that he supported the government’s policy toward Massachusetts. Strahan seems to have broadcast this communication. On July 26 he sent an extract of it to Philadelphia; see his letter to William Hall, Jan. 5, 1775, APS. Samuel Wharton and Thomas Walpole soon heard in London of WF’s views and forwarded them to Thomas Wharton, who replied on Sept. 23 that they were the talk of Philadelphia, and that WF had written to RB and Galloway to learn what was being said and to justify himself: “Letters of Thomas Wharton …,” PMHB, XXXIII (1909), 447–9. WF’s letter to Strahan, as reports of it spread through the colonies, was transformed into one to Whitehall which gave BF enormous pain: Boston Gaz., Oct. 3, 1774. BF had heard a rumor in London, Thomas Wharton told his brother in late October, and had inquired of WF about it but had not blamed him for it. In the same letter Wharton described a long and tense interview in Philadelphia with WF, who believed that Thomas Walpole had started the whole story and asked to see what he had written to Wharton. The relevant passage, which apparently cited the letter to Strahan, was read before witnesses. The Governor was relieved that it was not so damaging as reports made out; he berated Wharton, nevertheless, for publicizing it without consulting him. His former friend counterattacked by asking “if His Father had taken that step with Govr. Hutchinson. … If the Liberties of America were to be Injured it was No Matter whether Hutchinson or He did it, but whoever did it Ought to be known.” On Oct. 12 Philadelphia newspapers—inspired, Wharton believed, by WF—assured the public that the report of a governor’s letter to the ministry was erroneous. Thomas to Samuel Wharton, Oct. 25, 1774, Hist. Soc. of Pa. Samuel Wharton could scarcely have been back of the whole affair, as Coombe supposed, but did put the worst interpretation upon it: WF’s defense, he answered his brother on Jan. 31, 1775, was that of a worthless wretch. Hist. Soc. of Pa.

5The pamphlet was the proposed instructions for the Virginia delegates to the Continental Congress, probably the Philadelphia edition: [Thomas Jefferson,] A Summary View of the Rights of British America … (1774); for the original text and the influence of the pamphlet see Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (19 vols. to date, Princeton, 1950–74), 1, 121–37, 669–76. The handbill, a reprint from the Pa. Packet of Sept. 19, was the text of the Suffolk resolves communicated by the Secretary of the Continental Congress: Joseph Sabin et al., Bibliotheca Americana … (29 vols., New York, 1868–1936), XXIV, 245. The resolves were the product of the county convention held on Sept. 6 and 9; Paul Revere brought them to the Congress, which unanimously endorsed them on the 17th. They breathed defiance. Williams summarized them at length, to BF below, Oct. 28, with a few omissions; for the complete text see Cont. Cong. Jours., 1, 32–9.

6Thomas Coombe, Sr., John Inglis, and Samuel Rhoads were BF’s friends of many years’ standing; see above, respectively XI, 107 n; III, 428 n; II, 406 n. Subsequent vols. contain only minor mentions of Inglis and only one letter from Coombe (XVI, 112), but Rhoads was a steady correspondent. He was about sixty-three at this time, and a delegate to the Continental Congress; but ten days after Coombe’s letter he was chosen mayor of Philadelphia and withdrew from the Congress. Henry D. Biddle, “Colonial Mayors of Philadelphia …,” PMHB, XIX (1895), 68.

7If the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel sent its missionaries copies of the sermon by the Polly (for which see above, XX, 488 n), they were returned with the rest of her cargo—including, to Thomas Wharton’s disgust, a carriage that he had ordered from London. PMHB, XXXIII, 324.

Index Entries