To Francis Hopkinson
Reprinted from William Temple Franklin, ed., The Private Correspondence of Benjamin Franklin, LL.D F.R.S. &c. …, (2nd ed.; 2 vols., London, 1817), I, 58–9.
Passy, March 16, 1780.
I thank you for your political Squibs, they are well made. I am glad to find you have such plenty of good powder.4
You propose that Kill-pig, the butcher, should operate upon himself. You will find some thoughts on that subject in a little piece called “A merry Song about Murder,” in a London newspaper I send herewith.5
The greatest discovery made in Europe for some time past is that of Dr. Ingenhausz’s relating to the great use of the leaves of trees in producing wholesome air; I would send you his book if I had it. A new instrument is lately invented here, a kind of telescope, which by means of Iceland chrystal occasions the double appearance of an object, and the two appearances being farther distant from each other in proportion to the distance of the object from the eye, by moving an index on a graduated line till the two appearances coincide, you find on the line the real distance of the object. I am not enough master of this instrument to describe it accurately, having seen it but once; but it is very ingeniously contrived.6
Remember me respectfully to your mother and sisters, and believe me ever, my dear friend, Yours most affectionately,
F. Hopkinson, Esq. Philadelphia.
4. Hopkinson had sent two political ballads, one of which was “The Battle of the Kegs,” with his letter of Sept. 5: XXX, 298.
5. BF evidently enclosed a copy of the Westminster Courant of Jan. 25, 1780, which the Pennsylvania Packet cited as the source for this ballad when it reprinted it on May 2, 1780. The ballad then spread throughout New England: Ellen R. Cohn, “Benjamin Franklin and Traditional Music,” in J.A. Leo Lemay, ed., Reappraising Benjamin Franklin: A Bicentennial Perspective (Newark, Del., 1993), pp. 311–12. A copy of the song, in L’Air de Lamotte’s hand and corrected by BF, is at the APS. That text is as follows:
A merry Song, about Murder.
There was, and a very great fool,
who fancy’d all Subjects were Slaves,
who endeavoured at absolute rule,
by the help of a parcel of knaves:
now, cutting of throats was his joy,
and making red rivers of blood,
a fine button his favourite toy,
tho’ his habits were not very good,
Toroddle, toroddle, toroll.
Swords, hatchets, and knives, he prepar’d,
to Slaughter his people like sheep;
Man, Woman, or child, he ne’er spared,
which makes even Savages weep:
then, like a great lubberly Calf,
on his marrow-bones down he did fall—
“I have kill’d of my people but half,
Lord! help me to murder them all!”
So then the fool fasted and pray’d,
and ba’ad like an innocent lamb;
pursuing the while his old trade,
for his piety was but a sham;
but his measures so bloody were grown,
that some of his time-serving elves,
for their share in his crimes to atone,
did cut their own throats their own Selves.
The first was a Lawyer from York,
Cajol’d by his coaxing and art;
But who, rather than do dirty work,
Chose out of the world to depart;
Next Cl——ve, and like Br——ds——w the bold,
Last St——, with cynical grin;
Shew’d the folly of treasuring gold,
When the heart has no treasure within.
Now, let but the frolic go round,
take, ye Courtiers, your knives from the Shelf;
make each in his wind-pipe a wound,
’Till it come to the Blockhead himself!
But, I fear, he’ll ne’er join in the fun,
for to all men ’tis very well known,
that he’d rather, ten thousand to one,
Cut a million of throats, than his own.
6. BF was describing a micrometer invented by the abbé Rochon, who had presented two models to the Academy of Sciences in 1777. It could measure, with great precision, the diameter of celestial bodies, and the distances between them. See Alexis-Marie Rochon, Recueil de mémoires sur la mécanique et la physique (Paris, 1783), pp. 172 et seq.; the instrument is also described in G. Touchard-Lafosse and F. Roberge, Dictionnaire chronologique et raisonné des découvertes … en France … (17 vols., Paris, 1822–24), XI, 402–4.
BF brought one of Rochon’s micrometers back with him to Philadelphia. Rittenhouse borrowed it in 1786 and explained to BF its mechanics, and it remained in BF’s house until he died. Rittenhouse to SB, Nov. 22, 1786 (Dartmouth College Library); Rittenhouse: Explanation of Micrometer (undated, APS); Inventory of BF’s Estate, April 26, 1790 (APS); Jefferson Papers, IX, 356.