Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Rudolph Erich Raspe, 14 August 1777

From Rudolph Erich Raspe

ALS: American Philosophical Society

London. Aug. 14. 1777. At Meadens circulating Library
Margaret Street Cavendish Square.


I have attempted to keep me in Your Kind remembrance by a Letter from Germany sent to London and dated Apr. 18. 1775 and by several others, directed from this place to Philadelphia under Aug. 31. 1775. and under March. 1. and 4. of last year.

With these last I took the liberty to present You a copy of one of my last literary productions, to which I added some accounts of my misfortune in Germany, and the undeserved ill use I have met in this Kingdom from people, whom I should have thought it a disgrace to myself to suspect of their dull, servile, and despicable meanness. I am sorry Sir! to say, that Your and my former friend Sir John Pringle stands foremost amongst them, some people are of opinion with true Scotch leaden and brazen head and heart, but I am rather inclined to think that he brought that disgrace upon himself in a fit of his crazy drowsiness.4

I do not know whether the above letters are come to Your hands. Give me leave therefore to desire You the favour of a line, whether I have leave to wait on You at Paris? and whether my coming over can in any means procure to Your benevolent heart an opportunity of rescueing me from that ruin, which Knaves have attempted to bring upon me? I Strugle against it with manly coolness and audaces fortuna juvabit.5

It is very material and will prove a great satisfaction to me, to give You some authenticated nearer account of that cruel German Court, which has sacrificed me, and of those Philosophers, who in spite of their antiquated Motto: Nullius in verba6 but in consequense of those degenerated illiberal times by superior cruel command could debase themselves to the villainous part of mastifs, let loose upon a defenceless injured man, to bite―when lo! they can but mumble and disgrace themselves. I heartily despise them as a body of Slaves, and muster up what Philosophy I can, to put theirs to the blush. A copy of my late english edition of Born’s mineralogical letters,7 and especially my Preface and Index to them, which will be delivered with these lines, will prove You that I am not entirely lost to myself, or absorbed in the Sense of undeserved unhappiness; and I desire You to receive them as the least mark of that true and warm regard, wherewith I wish You Success and have the honour to be Sir Your most obedient humble Servant

R E Raspe

P.S. The bearer of this Mr. Whitchurch an ingenious Mapengraver, and of an excellent character, wishes and aspires to be introduced to Your personal acquaintance and notice.8

Notation: Raspe

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

4Raspe’s work, translated from the German, was An Account of Some German Volcanos, and Their Productions ... (London, 1776). The “misfortune” to which he refers was theft, and the “ill use” that followed was ostracism in London. While curator for the Landgraf of Hesse-Cassel he had purloined and sold many of the treasures in his charge. When exposed he fled to England in the summer of 1775. In December proof of his peculations reached the Royal Society, and Sir John Pringle as its president took the initiative―at the King’s instigation, according to rumor―in having him expelled. He managed to retain some shreds of reputation, however, and spent the rest of his life in Great Britain. Robert L. Kahn, “Some Unpublished Raspe–Franklin Letters,” APS Proc., XCIX (1955), 128–9; above, XIII, 345 n and the sources cited there.

5A variation of audentis fortuna juvat, “fortune aids the daring”: Virgil, Aeneid, X, 284.

6The Society’s motto, “at no one’s dictation.”

7Baron Inigo Born, Travels through the Bannat of Temeswar, Transylvania, and Hungary in the Year 1770 ... (London, 1777).

8Alexander Dalrymple had already tried to introduce Whitchurch to BF in Philadelphia: above, XXII, 22. We said there that he tried again later in a second letter, but our source when re-examined suggests that the engraver delivered the original one, doubtless along with this from Raspe, in October, 1777.

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