Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to William Nixon, 5 September 1781

To William Nixon

AL (draft) and copy:7 Library of Congress

Passy, Sept. 5. 1781

Revd Sir,

I duly received the Letter you did me the Honour of writing to me the 25th past, together with the valuable little Book of which you are the Author.— There can be no doubt but that a Gentleman of your Learning & Abilities might make a very useful Member of Society in our new Country, and meet with Encouragement there either as an Instructor in one of our Universities, or as a Clergyman of the Church of Ireland: But I am not impower’d to engage any Person to go over thither, and my Abilities to assist the Distress’d are very limited. I suppose you will soon be set at Liberty in England by the Cartel for Exchange of Prisoners; in the mean time if Five Louis d’ors may be of present Service to you, please to draw on me for that Sum, & your Bill shall be paid on Sight. Sometime or other you may have an Opportunity of assisting with an equal Sum a Stranger who has equal need of it. Do so. By that means you will discharge any Obligation you may suppose your self under to me. Enjoin him to do the same on Occasion. By pursuing such a Practice, much Good may be done with little Money.— Let kind Offices go round. Mankind are all of a Family.—8

I have the honour to be Revd Sir,

Revd Mr Wm Nixon an English Prisoner on Parole at Valogne.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7The recipient’s copy was destroyed two years later, when Nixon feared being prosecuted for corresponding with the enemy: Nixon to BF, Aug. 10, 1783 (APS).

8Nixon never forgot this generosity, and indeed quoted this letter in the preface to the second edition of Prosody Made Easy (Philadelphia, 1786), which he dedicated to BF, “In Remembrance of his Liberality In a Foreign Land.” After setting the letter in context, he explained that “Having been plundered by Pirates, this generous Proposal came in a very convenient season.” The story inspired others as well. Mathew Carey, a friend of Nixon’s in America, related in his Autobiography an example of his once having received a gift of financial assistance which he later repaid to another person in distress, remembering BF’s injunction to “let good offices go round”: “Autobiography of Mathew Carey,” The New England Magazine V (1833), 490–1n.

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