Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Alexander Small, 22 July 1780

To Alexander Small

Reprinted from William Temple Franklin, The Private Correspondence of Benjamin Franklin, LL.D., F.R.S., &c … (2nd ed.; 2 vols., London, 1817), I, 65–6.

Passy, July 22, 1780.

You see, my Dear Sir, that I was not afraid my masters would take it amiss if I ran to see an old friend though in the service of their enemy. They are reasonable enough to allow that differing politics should not prevent the intercommunication of philosophers who study and converse for the benefit of mankind. But you have doubts about coming to dine with me. I suppose you will not venture it; your refusal will not indeed do so much honour to the generosity and good nature of your government, as to your sagacity. You know your people, and I do not expect you. I think too that in friendship I ought not to make you more visits as I intended: but I send my grandson to pay his duty to his physician.2

You enquired about my gout, and I forgot to acquaint you, that I had treated it a little cavalierly in its two last accesses. Finding one night that my foot gave me more pain after it was covered warm in bed, I put it out of bed naked; and perceiving it easier, I let it remain longer than I at first designed, and at length fell asleep leaving it there till morning. The pain did not return, and I grew well. Next winter having a second attack, I repeated the experiment; not with such immediate success in dismissing the gout, but constantly with the effect of rendering it less painful, so that it permitted me to sleep every night. I should mention, that it was my son who gave me the first intimation of this practice. He being in the old opinion that the gout was to be drawn out by transpiration. And having heard me say that perspiration was carried on more copiously when the body was naked than when clothed, he put his foot out of bed to increase that discharge, and found ease by it, which he thought a confirmation of the doctrine. But this method requires to be confirmed by more experiments, before one can conscientiously recommend it. I give it you, however, in exchange for your receipt of tartar emetic,3 because the commerce of philosophy as well as other commerce, is best promoted by taking care to make returns.

I am ever, Yours most affectionately,

B. Franklin.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2Small inoculated WTF shortly after BF assumed responsibility for him: XIII, 323n, 443n.

3BF may be referring to Small’s “Observations on the Gout,” a paper that reported the author’s own experiences with gout since 1770 and his experiments with various treatments. A combination of bark and an emetic seemed to be the most effective, but the attendant vomiting was unpleasant. Therefore, in mild cases, Small recommended taking a grain of emetic tartar (gradually increasing the dose to two grains) with a dram of bark (cinchona) mixed in water gruel, and followed by more than a half pint of gruel.

BF had L’Air de Lamotte copy Small’s paper; he corrected that copy, noted at the top, “Written by Mr Small, at Minorca 1780,” and sent it to Vicq d’Azyr (presumably under cover of his letter of Sept. 11, below). The MS is presently in the archives of the Académie de médecine, Paris, and bears the notation, “Remis par M franklin.” The marquis de Turgot had the piece translated and printed (BF to Small, Dec. 7, Library of Congress). It appeared in the September issue of the Jour. de médecine, chirurgie, pharmacie, &c., LIV (1780), pp. 224–36.

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