Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Ferdinand Desrivières, 22 April 1778: résumé

From Ferdinand Desrivières7

ALS: American Philosophical Society

<Paris, April 22, 1778, in French: I am a man, and French; no wonder, then, that I am concerned with the Americans’ cause. At the start of their quarrel I wrote the Minister of Marine that I could take three to four hundred men to Canada without evoking British protests, but I was not listened to. Some ten months ago I printed a small pamphlet in which, by expatiating on England’s evil colonial policy and the unworthy trade of some German princes in their subjects’ blood, I tried to stir the sympathy for a people fighting to be free. The work, although it evoked some favorable response, was confiscated last September; the copies have not been returned to me.

You perhaps ask why I am not in the American army? My principles until now have stood in the way; bearing arms in a cause not endorsed by one’s country makes one a mercenary murderer. The present alliance rids me of my scruples, and I ask for service of any kind under the banner of Congress. I do not worry about recompense. Generals like yours will appreciate a soldier, and for years I have striven to show myself one by my actions and my writings. The latter have been praised by experts, and the most glorious praise came from Voltaire in 1767. His letter was headed by some verse that modesty prevents my quoting.8 Such noble words would have furthered my fortune, except that envy would have kept them from being heard; running a man down costs less than rewarding him. I am not complaining. I will gladly shed my blood for my prince, and I respect those in authority under him; they must judge by what they hear, without determining what is true or false, and I value myself too much to bother about the false.

Let me repeat the assurances of respect that I gave you publicly in the Journal de politique et de littérature of the 15th of this month.9>

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7Also called Bourguignon, a soldier and writer born near Mâcon in 1734. For his publications see Quérard, France littéraire under Desrivières. We have excluded his letter from our summary of those from commission-seekers (above, March 3) because it deals with a great deal more than his willingness to serve.

8Voltaire was acknowledging Les Loisirs d’un soldat . . . (Paris, 1767). His verse, and Desrivières’ résumé of the letter that followed, may be found in Theodore Besterman, ed., Voltaire’s Correspondence (107 vols., Geneva, 1953–65), LXVI, 179.

9Journal de politique et de littérature . . ., I (Brussels, 1778), 516: “J’ai vu Franklin, la gloire & l’appui de Boston.” On May 2 he writes again from Paris (APS): why has he had no answer when he revealed himself candidly as “un Bostonien”? He has incurred reproaches, but only about “dès affaires de femmes”; but now his hair is greying. Advancement is closed at home, where his writings are held against him, as witness the confiscation of his pamphlet; put him anywhere in the army and he will earn respect. He would send BF copies of his three books if he could afford to buy them.

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