Benjamin Franklin Papers

Franklin: Entry in François Steinsky’s Autograph Book, 27 January 1781

Franklin: Entry in François Steinsky’s Autograph Book1

ADS:2 Joseph Rubinfine, American Historical Autographs, List 134 (1997)

Passy, near Paris, Jan. 27. 1781.

An honest Man’s the noblest Work of God!


B Franklin

1François Steinsky (1752–1816), who became a professor of historical auxiliary sciences at the Philosophical Faculty of Charles University in Prague, was a natural scientist, painter, calligrapher, and musician. Born into a poor family, he supported himself as a scribe and tutor, and in the spring of 1780 received a stipend from Maria Theresa for a trip abroad. He traveled through Switzerland, Holland, England, France, and Italy, meeting philosophers and collecting their autographs, and returned to Prague in the summer of 1781.

Steinsky had received an introduction to BF from Sage, whom he had called on earlier in the month (see Sage’s letter of [before Jan. 27]). The meeting at Passy sparked a correspondence which, though occasional, continued through 1789, the year Steinsky was elected to membership in the APS: APS Transactions, III (1793), p. XXXI.

Our warmest thanks to Professor Vera Laska who translated for us the only biographical information available on Steinsky: Alena Petráñová, “Z korespondence Františka Steinského, prvního profesora pomocnyh vĕd historickych na Karlovĕ universitĕ,” Sborník prací k poctĕ 75. narozenin akademika Václava Vojtíška in Acta Universitatis Carolinae, 1958, Philosophica et Historica II (Prague, 1958), pp. 101–112; Josef Petrán, Nástin dejin filosofické fakulty univerzity Karlovy v Praze (Prague, 1983), p. 131.

2BF’s is one of seventy-two signatures in this little album, bound in gilt-decorated red morocco. The tradition of autograph albums or stammbücher, carried by young men on study tours, originated in sixteenth-century Germany and flourished in Germanic countries through the eighteenth century. Mara Wade, “A New German Stammbuch for the Beinecke,” Yale University Library Gazette, LXX, nos. 3–4 (April, 1996), pp. 126–8; M.A.E. Nickson, Early Autograph Albums in the British Museum (London, 1970).

3“A Wit’s a feather, and a Chief a rod; / An honest Man’s the noblest work of God”: Alexander Pope, Essay on Man, Epistle IV, lines 247–8. This was a favorite quotation of BF’s. He first used the couplet in Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1748: III, 262.

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