Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Nicolas-Maurice Gellée, 14 April 1778

From Nicolas-Maurice Gellée1

LS:2 Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Au Petit hotel du St. Esprit, rüe du Chantre [?]
St. honoré. Paris. April the 14th 1778


I am unknown to you, and nothing but your fame of a friend of Mankind could imbolden me as much as to trouble with my petitions one of the greatest Philosophers and Politicks of our age.

France is my country; My family of a middle State; My age, twenty years. I know of Mathematicks enough to be employed as an officer in Artillery. I was destined to negotiations and therefore applied myself to the study of history, particular and public Right, Treatises of Peace &c. I understand the Latin, German, Italian, French and Englisch and am able to write tolerably in each of them.

Of two Men whereupon I did built my hopes, one is dead; the other being out of this land, it is for me as if he were no more. In such a state, Sir, I am unable by my want of fortune and my turn of mind to Spend my youth away in sloth or trifles. My wishes should be fill’d o’er, were I so happy as to be of some use to you and your country; and in this case, Sir, I will afford you competent witnesses about all whatever I may be concern’d with. I am with such sentiments as are due to great men Sir your most humble and most obedient servant


1He had just turned nineteen, despite what he says, for he was born in Châlons-sur-Marne on March 13, 1759; this information and his Christian names were kindly furnished us by M.G. Dumas, Director of the Archives de la Marne, Châlons. Something in the young man’s letter, or perhaps word-of-mouth information, induced BF to accord him an interview on April 30, followed soon by another, and a third on May 16; this appears from the letters of recommendation that BF received: from Gellée père, May 5; M. Brillon, May 15; and Juigné, Bishop of Châlons, May 17. The outcome by the end of May was that Gellée was BF’s second private secretary, along with WTF. Adams, who had not been consulted, thought the appointment a needless extravagance when he himself had no secretary at all; but he liked the young man, and appreciated his command of languages: Butterfield, John Adams Diary, IV, 120. Gellée was on a trial basis, for the following March he asked for a more formal arrangement and, now that BF was U.S. minister, more to do. Four months later he resigned, ostensibly because his duties were nil but actually, it seems, because a dispute with his tailor had brought him under a cloud. See his letters of March 24 and July 28, 1779, APS.

2He used two different amanuenses, we are forced to assume, one for this letter and another for that just cited of March, 1779; both are in English and neither hand resembles what seems to be his ALS, in French, the following July. A long memorandum in the same hand as the present letter, and also in English, was presumably enclosed with it; the subject is the political alignments in northern Europe, illustrated by a rough genealogical chart in another hand of the royal houses involved. APS.

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