Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to John Coakley Lettsom, 6 [or 17] March 1783

To John Coakley Lettsom

Reprinted from Thomas Joseph Pettigrew, ed., Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the Late John Coakley Lettsom … (3 vols., London, 1817), I, 171–2 of second pagination.

Passy, March 6 [or 17],4 1783.

Dear Sir,

I received your favour of September last.5 It found me labouring under a painful disorder, which continued long, and put me much behind-hand in my correspondence. I thank you for the valuable publications that accompanied it, particularly those of your own composition, which I read with pleasure.6

Our late excellent friend was always proposing something for the good of mankind. You will find instances of this kind in one of his letters which I inclose, the only one I can at present lay my hand on. I have some very valuable ones in America, if they are not lost in the late confusions. You will be so good as to return this to me, after having extracted from it what you may think proper.7 Just before I left England, he, in conjunction with Mr. Barclay and myself, laboured hard to prevent the coming war. But our endeavours were fruitless. This transaction is alluded to in the paragraph that begins at the bottom of the first page.8 If we may estimate the goodness of a man by his disposition to do good, and his constant endeavours and success in doing it, I can hardly conceive that a better man has ever existed.

I desire to be considered as a subscriber, if there is a subscription, for two sets of his Works, which I will pay for on demand.

With great esteem, I am, Sir, Your most obedient and most humble servant,

B. Franklin.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

4The date ascribed by Lettsom when he published an extract of this letter (a condensed version of the second paragraph) in Some Account of the Late John Fothergill … (London, 1783), pp. clxvii–clxviii.

5The most recent surviving letter from Lettsom was written on Sept. 13, 1781 (XXXV, 478–9). The present letter seems to be answering it in many respects, including BF’s allusion to the publications Lettsom had sent and his desire to subscribe to the multi-volume Works of John Fothergill, M.D.. … In the fall of 1782 Lettsom (at the urging of Fothergill’s friends) was preparing to publish his account of Fothergill’s life separately, in advance of the Works. David Barclay was reviewing that MS when he wrote BF about the project in December, 1782; BF replied early in January: XXXVIII, 508–10, 564–5. Lettsom wrote the introduction on May 1, 1783; Some Account of the Late John Fothergill was published by July, when it was reviewed in the Gent. Mag. The review focused on previously unpublished material, quoting the letter BF wrote Barclay upon learning of Fothergill’s death (XXXIV, 366): Gent. Mag., LIII (1783), 603–4.

6See XXXV, 478–9. Lettsom may also have enclosed a copy of his own History of the Origin of Medicine (London, 1778), which BF owned at the end of his life: Wolf and Hayes, Library of Benjamin Franklin, p. 500.

7BF enclosed Fothergill’s letter of Oct. 25, 1780 (XXXIII, 458–61), which Lettsom paraphrased in a footnote to the extract he published of the present letter: Some Account of the Late John Fothergill, p. clxviiin.

8The paragraph beginning with “Much horrible mischief …”: XXXIII, 459.

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