Benjamin Franklin Papers

Elkanah Watson, Jr., to William Temple Franklin, 25 December 1782

Elkanah Watson, Jr.,2 to William Temple Franklin

LS:3 American Philosophical Society

Nantes 25 December 1782

Dear Sir

I write this principally to acquaint you that I find the Unfortunate Captn. Hardy sick in my Appartments—but is determined if possible to go out with Captn. All who waits the Event of Peace or War. His Situation is really distressing; & I beg you’ll make a little Exertion to accomplish what I assured him last Septr. would be done through your Influence. If you can make up the Sum between you & Mr. Jay to about 15 Guineas, I have the best Reasons to assure you, that I am fully persuaded, you will be reimbursed by Captn. Hardy immediately after his Arrival in America.4 After this I have another favour to beg for myself—no less singular than impertinent, however when you have made full Allowance for my Whim—I beg you’ll say nothing upon the Matter, whether it be practicable or not. In short, I mean to beg a suit, of your Grand fathers Old Cloaths, that never can be of any Service to him, or any Body else—to be plain—Madam Wright, has fabricated (I think) a most striking Likeness of him in Wax in my Possession—which I wish to sett up in my study—dressed in his own Cloaths.5 If I can be gratifyed in this, pray be so polite as to write me, as I will take the necessary Means of having them conveyed forward—6

I am with Esteem Sir Yr. very Hum: Sert.

Elkh. Watson Jr:

Mr. Willm. Franklin Passy.

We have taken the liberty to Inclose you a packett—the postage for wch. you’l please to note to me—& I beg you’l be so good as to forward it by the first messenger for England—

Addressed: A Monsieur / Monsr. Wm. Franklin / a Passy / prés Paris

Notation: E Watson 25 Dec. 82

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2Watson had returned to Paris on Dec. 15 from his three-month-long trip to England (for which see the annotation of Watson & Cossoul to BF, Aug. 20). He dined with the peace commissioners the following evening. At Passy he gave BF a recent London paper containing a detailed account of BF’s death and funeral. BF was “very much amused,” and told Watson that this was the third time during his French mission that the London papers had “buried him alive.” Watson continued on to Nantes, where he arrived on Dec. 23 and stayed until the following March: Winslow C. Watson, ed., Men and Times of the Revolution; or, Memoirs of Elkanah Watson … (New York, 1856), pp. 180–1; Watson to Joseph Green, Jan. 11, 1783, Elkanah Watson Papers, Journal no. 5 (1781–83), New York State Library.

3The postscript is in Watson’s hand.

4Watson tried to aid Joseph Hardy in August: Hardy to BF, Aug. 19, and Watson & Cossoul to BF, Aug. 20, both above. Isaac All’s departure was delayed until the spring of 1783: All to BF, Sept. 3, above; Joseph Mayo to WTF, April 30, 1783 (APS).

5Watson intended to refine the trick he had recently played in England. There, he had placed the wax head of BF sculpted for him by Patience Wright (XXXV, lix) on a figure dressed in a morning gown with slippers and a nightcap. This mannequin fooled a stream of visitors including Frederick Reynolds, an 18-year-old Englishman who had accompanied Watson on his journey from Paris to Calais disguised as his servant, and John Reynolds, his father (XXVI, 291). Frederick Reynolds had been in France illegally. He attached himself to Watson in September after having been apprehended by the Paris police. BF evidently signed a statement allowing him to stay in Paris another week. Not being able to procure his own passport, he persuaded Watson to protect him, and the two traveled together: DNB; Frederick Reynolds, The Life and Times of Frederick Reynolds (London, 1826), pp. 222–6, 242–4 of first pagination; Watson, Men and Times of the Revolution, pp. 143–4. For more on this incident, including Reynolds’ lively account of Watson’s hoax, see Charles Coleman Sellers, Patience Wright: an American Artist and Spy in George III’s London (Middletown, Conn., 1976), pp. 165–72.

6WTF complied with Watson’s request, sending a suit of silk clothes that BF supposedly wore in 1778. With this, Watson fashioned a dummy figure of BF and placed it in the corner of a large room, seated behind a table on which was set an open atlas and some mathematical instruments. He threw a handkerchief over the cuffs to disguise the missing hands, and rigged wires into a nearby closet from which the body could be raised and lowered. “Thus arranged,” he wrote, “some ladies and gentlemen were invited to pay their respects to Dr. Franklin by candle-light.” The gulled guests kept the secret, and more visitors soon arrived, including the mayor of Nantes: Watson, Men and Times of the Revolution, pp. 120–2.

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