Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from William Alexander, 19 June 1777

From William Alexander

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Dijon 19 June 17773

Dear Sir

I know it will give you pleasure to learn that by a letter received yesterday from Grenada My Brother has got two verdicts from Juries which I think reduced his and my adversaries to reason.4 I Expect Him here in a Couple of Months which will induce me to Continue, whereas I thought of giving the Girls a few Months of Italy for the Sake of the Language Drawing and Music. I mentiond to you A Surprising Piece of Philosophy which I had from the Comte of Rostaing. I have since spent a week with Him in the Country. What I further Gatherd there is That Some years ago a Person proposed to the French Court a feu Gregois, and after trial the Court bought the secret very Dear, and keep it as such. That when he heard the thing He conceived Immediatly what it must be, bought the Ingredients and made the Experiment, And thereafter Contrived methods of Conveying it the Result of which is That he can send it 200 to 250 toises so as no human means can prevent the Effect. The Execution is so simple That with what 50 Men Can Carry on their Shoulders a whole fleet will go, without knowing how or why, where the aid of Tide or stream concurs the Effect may be still more distant. He sends it entre deux eaux.5 From my knowledge of and Confidence in the Man I believe every word of it. My kind Compliments to your Son, we wait here with Impatience to learn the operations are begun in America. The Girls are well, and I am with the warmest attachment Dear Sir Your most obedient humble servant

W Alexander

Addressed: A Monsieur / Monsieur Franklin / a L’hotel d’Hambourg / Rue Jacob / a Paris

Notation: Alexander W. 19. June 1779.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3The “7” in the year is written over a “9” or vice versa. The address on the letter, and the references in it to Rostaing and the tour of Italy, convince us that 1777 is correct.

4Part of the prolonged litigation over the West Indian estates of the Alexander brothers, William and Alexander John; see Price, France and the Chesapeake, II, 699.

5His letter above of May 24 spoke of Rostaing’s development in general terms, without mentioning the feu grégeois or Greek fire. The secret of its composition was supposed to have been lost, and many eighteenth-century chemists were seeking to discover it: Larousse, Dictionnaire universel. Alexander is hard to follow, as so often; we take him to mean by “entre deux eaux” that the combustible travelled for 200 to 250 fathoms under the water, but not far under.

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