Benjamin Franklin Papers

Editorial Note on Franklin’s Accounts, 1781

Editorial Note on Franklin’s Accounts

During the period of this volume, Franklin was involved in reviewing his accounts with Silas Deane and Chaumont; those discussions will be covered in the course of our annotation. No new lists of expenditures were initiated. The following previously identified accounts cover these months: VI and VII (XXIII, 21); XII (XXV, 3); XVII (XXVI, 3); XIX and XXII (XXVIII, 3–4); XXIII (XXIX, 3); XXIV (XXXI, 3); XXV, XXVII, and XXVIII (XXXII, 3–4). We offer here a summary of entries which have not found a place elsewhere in our annotation but which provide insights into Franklin’s private and public life.

Account XXIII (William Temple Franklin’s Accounts, XXIX, 3) reveals various home improvements that Franklin made during this period. Baux, the tinman, did work on the bath; Brunel was paid for carpentry dating back to the previous September, as well as work specifically in the printing office;1 Roger whitewashed the kitchen; Foy provided upholstery; and Delbos, the plumber, was paid his bill for work completed since the previous October.2 Franklin bought a small pump from Charpentier, paid the mason, Dupeux, and accepted a fleur d’oranges from Chaumont’s gardener.3

Franklin renewed his subscriptions to the Affiches de Paris, the Gazette de France, and the Courier de l’Europe.4 He also purchased a number of books. On May 1 he bought the recently published L’Art de soigner les pieds, by the King’s surgeon- chiropodist Laforest. In addition to discussing various foot problems and their remedies, Laforest argued against fashionable shoes that were too short and too high. This was one of the first systematic treatments of footcare, and it sold out quickly.5

As the volumes of the Description générale … de la France were issued, Franklin purchased them: the second volume in May, the third in September.6 He bought two works by Joseph-Aignan Sigaud de La Fond, both published in 1781: Dictionnaire des merveilles de la nature and Précis historique et expérimental des phénomènes électriques. The “Traité sur la Construction des Vaisseaux” purchased on May 25 may have been Construction des vaisseaux du roy, et le nom de toutes les pieces qui y entrent published by Faure in 1775. He bought Brissot de Warville’s La Théorie des loix criminelles (Berlin, 1781); Essai sur l’électricité naturelle et artificielle (Paris, 1781) by the comte de La Cépède; another work on electricity by the abbé Bertholon; a pamphlet on barometers and thermometers, and one on indigo; Magné de Marolles, Essai sur la chasse au fusil (Paris, 1781); and Voyage de Suisse in two volumes, which must be Gilbert Burnet’s Voyage de Suisse, d’Italie, et de quelques endroits d’Allemagne & de France, fait des années 1685, & 1686 (first published in 1687). In addition, he purchased two sets of what Temple called “American Portraits”: the newly issued set of engravings by Benoît-Louis Prevost after drawings from nature by Pierre-Eugène du Simitière, entitled Collection des Portraits des Hommes qui se sont rendus célèbres dans la révolution des treize Etats-Unis de l’Amérique Septentrionale.7

Payments to the household staff comprise a high proportion of the entries. Campo-de-Arbe was hired as maître d’hôtel in April. He paid all the family expenses, and was reimbursed every two months.8 Arbelot continued to serve Franklin, accompanying him to the baths, running small errands, and serving him at table when he dined away from home.9 Temple’s servant, who had been called “François” until this time, suddenly signs his receipts with a last name: Garnier. This is his final appearance. The last dinner at which he attended Temple was on July 24, although he was paid through August 4.1 He was replaced by Bénard, whose first dinner is on August 2.2 Coimet, the cook, is paid his wages and wine from December 15, 1780, through June 15, 1781.3 Joseph Bogey, the kitchen boy, finally receives wages for the period spanning October 15 through April 15. The unnamed person who furnished ice during the summer is paid on September 27.

Mme St. Louis, Franklin’s laundress and seamstress, submits a bill for washing and for a year’s worth of shirts made and mended. For the servants, M. Aurÿ provides three hats. Cabaret supplies stationery, and Silas Deane submits a bill for items purchased from Cabaret in 1780. Fouchet, a courier from Lorient, is advanced 12 louis on September 14.4

Franklin maintained his charitable contributions during these months. Augustin Auffray, “a poor Sailor who married in Boston,” received 6 l.t., while “A distress’d poet” got half that amount. And finally, a mingling of philanthropy with self-interest: 6 l.t. was dispensed to “a Poor Author, on Condition that he should not dedicate his works to BF.”

Account XVII (Franklin’s Private Accounts with Ferdinand Grand, XXVI, 3), shows that some of the larger household bills were referred to Grand: the ongoing accounts of Lahure, the tailor, of Mlle Chaumont for rental of horses and a carriage,5 and of Frémont for linen. Lucien provides unspecified work for the press, and Hémery collects his salary. Le Breton is reimbursed the shipping expense of eleven boxes on July 3, and on August 6 freight charges are paid for nine boxes of printing type. Franklin pays Benjamin Franklin Bache’s schooling expenses to “Rillet,”6 subscribes to the new edition of a work by the abbé Raynal, lends money to Bancroft (which he repays), and negotiates a draft on a London bank for Franklin’s niece Martha Johnson.

Account XXV (Account of Postage and Errands, XXXII, 3). The records for these months were kept by a variety of people, including L’Air de Lamotte and Gurdon Mumford, and as usual indicate a volume of outgoing correspondence that exceeds what has survived. Among the sheets are bills from Berthelot the postman and a bill for duty paid on six bottles of wine entering Paris on July 20. Joseph Bogey’s cousin Lansar submits an account for errands during August, mostly to Paris.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

1Brunel received three payments during this period: June 1, June 4, and Aug. 18. The second and third sums were noted as work in the press. His itemized bill for the third payment survives, and shows that he had constructed a table and workbench, fitted rods for paper-drying racks, and made a five-foot-long peel (a T for hanging sheets) from fir. APS.

2Delbos’ bill, dated July 9, is at the APS; see XXXIII, 5n.

3Charpentier’s receipt, Sept. 18, is at the APS. The merchant who furnished wood from June through November, M. Chocarne, was paid in November; his bill will be discussed in vol. 36.

4His receipt for the Courier de l’Europe, dated Aug. 29, is at the APS.

5An expanded edition of the work was issued in 1782, a facsimile of which is now available, edited by Richard Habert (Brussels, 1979).

6For this work see XXXIV, 4n. A Sept. 30 receipt for books, from M. Reverié, the representative of François-Denis Née, who engraved plates for it, is at the APS.

7The set was announced for sale in the Jour. de Paris on Aug. 13. The receipt from Rollée for this purchase, dated Aug. 29, is at the APS.

BF purchased another work which does not show up in the accounts: Claude-François Berthelot’s La Méchanique appliquée aux arts, aux manufactures, à l’agriculture & à la guerre (2 vols., Paris, 1781–82). The printed receipt for the first volume (with notice of the projected publication date of the second), dated Oct. 3 and signed by both the author and by Antoine-Guénard Demonville (the printer), is at the APS.

8His first payment was on May 22, for April expenditures; see XXXIV, 503n. Thereafter, he was paid for May and June together, and so on. His signed receipts, written by WTF and dated July 14, and Sept. 17, are at the APS, along with an Oct. 14 receipt for 25 louis that was honored at the same time as his next bi-monthly payment on Nov. 17.

9Arbelot’s monthly bills for this period reveal, as usual, BF’s social schedule. On Tuesdays, BF often spent the day at Versailles. His most frequent dinner destination was Mme Helvétius’ home: six times during these months. He went three times to St. Germain (the Alexanders), and twice to the homes of Mme Foucault, Mme Lafreté, and M. Hébert. He dined with the abbé Chalut in St. Cloud, Vergennes in Versailles, Mme Dutartre in the country, and M. Vernet in Paris. In addition, he visited Chalut de Vérin, M. “Le Gouteaux” (Le Couteaux?), M. Fontanieu, the comte de St. Auban, the comtesse de Bosaut, Mme de Cheminot (her invitation is dated Sept. 1, below), and the comtesse de Forbach. Arbelot also submitted a general bill for wages, wine, washing expenses, powder and pomade. APS.

1Only one bill from François survives, for the month of July (APS). WTF supped frequently in Paris.

2Bénard had joined the household several months earlier; see XXXIV, 501–4, where he defends his honesty and begs for BF’s trust. All three of his bills survive, settled on Sept. 15 (for July 23–Sept. 1), Oct. 14 (for Sept. 1–Oct. 14), and Oct. 30 (for Oct. 15–30). They reveal that Bénard accompanied WTF on frequent trips to Paris, and to Chaumont’s estate in October. His next bill, covering Oct. 31–Nov. 30, will be discussed in vol. 36.

3WTF continues to spell the name “Coitmet,” although Coimet himself is absolutely consistent in his spelling on receipts, which he writes himself. The one for this payment, dated July 4, is at the APS. Bogey’s bill, paid on July 14, is also at the APS.

4Receipts for all these expenditures are at the APS. Mme St. Louis signed her receipts with an “X”; they are dated Sept. 1, Sept. 10, and Oct. 6. Aurÿ delivered the hats on Aug. 2 and was paid on Oct. 11. Cabaret’s two itemized bills cover April 17 through Sept. 15, and Oct. 13 though Nov. 6 (paid Nov. 12). They show the purchase on Oct. 13 of an elegant writing portfolio in black leather, lined in silk and embellished with silver. We suspect that this may have been a gift for Mme Brillon, although there is no trace of an acknowledgment. Silas Deane’s receipt is dated Sept. 16.

5One of her bills, dated July 18, is at the APS.

6See XXXIV, 6n.

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