Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Thomas Digges, 29 December 1780

From Thomas Digges

ALS: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

29 Decr. 80

Dr Sir

I communicated what you desird in a letter of Octor. 18th. to the friend who has of late been often the subject of my letters. His reply was abundance of thanks to you, desiring His best wishes & respects &ca &ca. I have been out of the line of communicating with Him since about the 25th of last month, but I often hear from him by message of a Friend. His debts are heavy, & from examining His accounts I see no likelyhood of better days to Him than He at present experiences, at least for some time— It would seem to be a punishment to Him for late imprudencies.1 Another persons affairs are in a better train & likely soon to be adjusted.

I am as much concernd as you can be for the miscarriage of the picture— Mr B——ns letters mentiond the tracing of it as far as Lisle.2 Out of twenty or thirty parcels that I forwarded in like manner, it is a little unlucky that this, which I had more at heart than any other, should have thus miscarryd. The Porcelain is meant for you; & is a proof of the skill of a young artist here who may soon visit the person whose likeness it is.3

Mr. T——ll, before His misfortune, finishd an exceeding good picture of W——n. —full length & very much admird as a good painting. It is now Engraving by a masterly hand & the print will be out in a very few days.— I am to have a companion to that picture, full length also, of the hoary headed F——n; which will also be engravd. I am sure it will be an equal good one to that already done of W——n.4 I know neither of these illustrious personages, but I am sure I shall be happy in holding on view good likeness’s of the two first men of America.— I think the young Artist will be much helpt in the likeness for the later by the little meddalions, the miniature lately sent a young Lady in a snuf box,5 by former pictures in possession of Friends, & by the Artists recollection of the hoary head.

I am thankful for your late attention to the business of a friend.6 My motive in that as in every prior application was for the publick good & Encouragement of the Arts. I never was or ever will be concerned in any pecuniary manner in these negotiations; unless I ask one for my sole use & purpose. You may rest assurd there has been no foul play, & that every one that I had any knowlege of succeeded properly and got safe— The last but one will be laid aside for very good reasons.

Your order for additional advance of pay to your Servants have been complyd with7 & the accot will be renderd thereof very soon—a great addition of numbers lately will make it come heavy. My own private accot cannot be got at for some days without very great inconvenience I being generally distant from all papers books &ca but it shall be very soon forwarded.

We have no news but what the publick newspapers will inform You— Sad devastation & havock in all the Wt Indies.8 Things are getting to a crisis here that Philanthrophy would wish to avoid— War, War, is the cry, & no matter whether with all the world or not. We Englishmen seem to have lost all political reason or foresight & are apparently bent upon throwing for the last stake & to compleat the ruin of the Country. Come out of Her my People says a good old book.9 And tho an Englishman holding considerable property here would to god it were in my power to go forth.— If I can be servicable to you or yours, You have only to mention it & my services shall be given.

I am Yrs. mo respectfully


Notation: Decr 29 1780.

1Digges’s attempts to disguise his identity sometimes obscure his meaning, but it appears that here he is referring to himself.

2See BF to Digges, Dec. 5. François Bowens, an Ostend merchant, was the intermediary for Georgiana Shipley’s picture: XXXII, 437; XXXIII, 525.

3The young artist is Richard Champion, who made porcelain medallions of BF and George Washington, only the latter of which had arrived: XXXIII, 207n, 302n, 384.

4Trumbull gave his portrait from memory of George Washington to Leendert de Neufville. The engraving of it by Valentine Green (DNB) was dated Jan. 15, 1781. Although Trumbull in 1778 had copied the Saint-Aubin engraving of BF in a fur hat, he did not paint BF at this time. He seems to have spent his seven months’ imprisonment copying a painting by Correggio: Theodore Sizer, ed., The Autobiography of Colonel John Trumbull, Patriot-Artist, 1756–1843 (New Haven and London, 1953), pp. 55, 62, 68–72; Theodore Sizer, The Works of Colonel John Trumbull, Artist of the American Revolution (rev. ed., New Haven and London, 1967), pp. 81, 147–9, figures 19, 90–1; Wendy C. Wick, George Washington an American Icon: the Eighteenth-Century Graphic Portraits (Washington, 1982), pp. 26–8; Sellers, Franklin in Portraiture, pp. 375–7.

5The snuffbox, a gift to Georgiana Shipley, is the frontispiece of our vol. 31.

6I.e., Benjamin Joy.

7On Dec. 5 BF had ordered Digges to increase the payments to prisoners. Digges must have written to Thomas Wren on the subject almost immediately; on Jan. 8 Wren wrote William Hodgson that Digges about ten days ago had ordered him to advance a shilling per week to the prisoners at Forton Prison, Portsmouth. Wren was puzzled, though, because Digges had not specified the source of remittances. APS.

8From the great hurricane that had struck in October; see the Dec. 27 entry in BF’s journal (above, under the date of Dec. 18).

9Revelation 18:4, which BF had quoted to Richard Price on Oct. 9 and JA to Digges on Nov. 27: XXXIII, 389; Adams Papers, X, 374.

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