Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Jan Ingenhousz, 16 May 1783

To Jan Ingenhousz

LS6 and incomplete AL (draft):7 Library of Congress

Passy, May 16. 1783

Dear Friend,

I have before me your three Favours of Feby. 26, April 4. & 29.8 the last delivered to me yesterday by Mr. Robertson to whom I shall show the Respect due to your Recommendation.9 I am asham’d of being so long in Arrear in my Correspondence with you, but I have too much Business. I will now endeavour to answer your Letters, & hope I may be able to do it without Interruption.

I never receiv’d the Letter you mention, wherein you ask’d my Leave to dedicate your Book to me.1 I should immediately have given my Consent, esteeming it a great honour to be so remembred by you, & handed down to Posterity as having your Friendship. The Cast of your Profile came safe to hand,2 and gives me Pleasure as I think it very like.— Pray what is the Composition?

My Journey to Italy and thence to Vienna, is yet an Uncertainty. I thank you however for your kind Advice respecting the Conduct of it.3

I have long since been tired of the Acquaintance and Correspondence of Mr. V.4 Having but a small Remnant left of Life, I cannot afford to attend to his endless Discourse & numerous long Letters, and Visionary Projects. He wants to be employ’d in our affairs, but he manages his own so badly that one can have but little Confidence in his Prudence. I pity him however, tho’ I see no possible means of serving him.

I thank you for your friendly Congratulations on the Peace and Cautions respecting our future Conduct; they are good & Wise.

Mr. Wharton’s Treatment of you gives me pain. He never writes to me. I forget whether I have already sent you the Extract of his Letter to Dr. Bancroft, so I enclose a Copy.5 I enclose also part of a Philadelphia Newspaper, by which you will see that your Name & Writings are already known in our Country. With regard to your Property in the Public Funds, I have no doubt of its being secure, according to the Value it had when it was plac’d there. But I can say nothing as to the Particulars of its Situation or Amount; Mr. Williams can better inform you. I have requested him to do it.6

It is long since I have seen M. le Begue. He is much in the Country. I have heard nothing of the Printing of your Book.7

Your Experiment of burning the Wire has been made here with the greatest Success. My Grandson had it try’d at Mr. Charles’s Lecture,8 where it gave great Satisfaction, and was much admired.

I have not yet found Leisure to explain the Fireplace, but hope for it, when I am quit of my present Station.

I have been, as you know, so little in America for these last 25 Years, that I am unqualified to answer the Request of M. Veinbrenner concerning the Names & Solidity of Houses there.9 A new Set of Merchants have grown up into Business, of whom I know nothing; and the Circumstances of the old ones whom I formerly knew, may have been much altered by Time or by the War. It is besides an invidious & dangerous Thing for me, to give such a distinguishing List, if I were able to do it. My best Advice to your commercial People, is to send over a discreet, intelligent Person with Instructions to travel thro’ the Country, observe the Nature of the Commerce, find out what of your Commodities are wanted there, and in what Quantities & Proportions; & what of the Produce of the Country can be purchased to make advantageous Returns. Such a Man on the Spot may obtain better Informations of Characters than I can possibly give, and may make the Connections desired with those that he finds to merit Confidence. If your People should think fit to take this Step, I will give Letters of Recommendation introductory of the Person, and which may be useful to their Design.1 Please to acquaint M. Veinbrenner of this, presenting my Respects. I have already given such Letters at the Ambassador’s Request, to a Person employ’d to make Collections of Natural History in America for the Emperor’s Museum & Botanic Garden.2 I have had a Number of Applications from Persons at Ostend, Trieste &c. solliciting to be appointed Consuls for America: But till the Trade is commenced, there can be no occasion for Consuls; and no such Magistrates can be nominated by either Government in the Dominions of the other, till such a Proceeding is authoriz’d by a Treaty of Commerce. I have receiv’d no Intimation except from you, that a Proposition for such a Treaty would be acceptable to his Imperial Majesty; I shall however venture to propose it to the Ambassador, when I request his forwarding to you this Letter. The Commodities you mention as Productions of the Emperor’s Dominions are all wanted in America, and will sell there to Advantage.

I will send you another Piece of the Soap you mention,3 when I can have a good Opportunity. I now send you one of the Medals I have caused to be struct here, which has the good Luck to be much approved.4

I am glad you have made the Experiments you mention,5 and with Success. You will find that the holes are not made by the Impulse of the Fluid moving in certain Directions, but by Circumstances of Explosion of Parts of the matter; and I still think my Explanation of the Holes in the Vane probable, viz. that it was the Explosion of Tin against Parts of the Copper Plate, that were almost in a State of Fusion, and therefore easily burst thro’, either on one Side or the other as it happened. The Bursting of the 12 Bottles all at once, I take to be owing to small Bubbles in the Substance of the Glass, or Grains of Sand, into which a Quantity of the Electric Fluid had been forc’d & compress’d while the Bottles were charging; and when the Pressure was suddenly taken off by discharging the Bottles, that confin’d Portion by its elastic Force expanding caused the Breach. My Reasons for thinking that the Charge did not pass by those Holes you will find in a former Letter;6 and I think you will always find that the Coating within & without is forced both ways by the Explosion of those Bubbles.—

With regard to the Statuary you mention,7 I hardly think it can be worth his while at present to go to America in Expectation of being employ’d there. Private Persons are not rich enough to encourage sufficiently the fine Arts; and therefore our Geniuses all go to Europe. In England at present the best History-Painter, West; the best Portrait-Painter, Copely; and the best Landscape-Painter, Taylor at Bath, are all Americans.8 And the Public being burthen’d by its War-Debts, will certainly think of paying them, before it goes into the Expence of Marble Monuments. He might indeed as you hint be easily paid in Land, but Land will produce him nothing without Labour; and he and his Workmen must subsist while they fashion their Figures. After a few Years, such an Artist may find Employment; and possibly we may discover a white Marble a little easier to work than that we have at present, which tho’ it bears a fine Polish, is reckon’d too hard.

I have already spoke to Mr: Le Roy about taking Care of the Edition of your Work, which he very kindly & readily promis’d if you should have Occasion.—9

I will send your Note to Dr. Bancroft & engage him if I can to write to you.1 But he confesses himself extreamly indolent and averse to writing; and I am not sure I shall prevail with him. Mr. Williams writes a few Lines which I enclose.

I thank you for your good Counsel respecting Physic,2 I continue well, & live on without it; and while I do live I shall ever be with great & sincere Esteem, My dear Friend, Yours most affectionately

B Franklin

Dr. Ingenhauss.

Addressed:3 A Monsieur / Monsieur Ingenhausz / à Vienne.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6In the hand of Jean L’Air de Lamotte.

7The draft fills both sides of two folio sheets, the second of which is missing the top and bottom portions.

8XXXIX, 217–22, 444–6, 528–32. The date of the second letter was actually April 8. BF corrected the date on his retained draft.

9Ingenhousz introduced James Robertson in his April 29 letter.

1Ingenhousz began his letter of Feb. 26 by referring to this request, which he had made in his previous letter. That letter, dated Jan. 28, did eventually arrive, as BF endorsed it and it remains among his papers: XXXIX, 88–93. For the background on what would eventually be published as Nouvelles expériences et observations sur divers objets de physique … see XXXV, 548–50; XXXVI, 220–1; XXXVII, 211–12.

2It was probably forwarded by Lebègue de Presle, who, in an undated note, told BF that he was sending a letter from Ingenhousz “avec la figure” and a letter from an unnamed traveler (APS). Ingenhousz began his letter of April 8 by asking whether BF had received this portrait.

3See XXXIX, 217–18.

4In his letter of Jan. 28, which BF claimed not to have received (see above), Ingenhousz described a recent visit by Valltravers during which the unfortunate Swiss begged him to plead his case with BF.

5Ingenhousz’ troubles with Samuel Wharton were a recurrent theme. In the postscript to his letter of April 29, Ingenhousz asked BF to forward a note on the matter to Bancroft and urge him to answer it. The extract of Wharton’s letter to Bancroft has not been located, but it is discussed in XXXVIII, 366n.

6JW was in Paris at this time: XXXIX, 503–4; JW to WTF, May 15, 1783 (APS).

7Ingenhousz had asked BF to “rouse” Lebègue de Presle out of his “inaction,” in the matter of overseeing the publication of Nouvelles expériences …: XXXIX, 89.

8The previous fall, Ingenhousz sent BF a wire with which to perform this experiment, and on Jan. 28 he asked whether the experiment had been done: XXXVIII, 379–80; XXXIX, 88. The physicist Charles began a new lecture series on March 6: Jour. de Paris, issue of Feb. 26, 1783.

9See XXXIX, 444–5.

1Beelen-Bertholff, who had already been selected for this mission, received his instructions in June (XXXIX, 445n) and arrived in Paris in July. There he presented his papers to Mercy-Argenteau, who was instructed to introduce him to the American commissioners. Beelen left France on Aug. 1, arriving in Philadelphia in early September (XXXIX, 491n). Though he was recalled in 1790, he remained in the United States and died there in 1805: H. van Houtte, “Contribution à l’histoire commerciale des Etats de l’empereur Joseph II (1780–1790),” Vierteljahrschrift für Socialund Wirtschaftsgeschichte, VIII (1910), 379–80, 393n; Hanns Schlitter, ed., Die Berichte des ersten Agenten Osterreichs in den Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika Baron de Beelen-Bertholff … (Vienna, 1891), pp. 236–7n; “Notes and Queries,” PMHB, LI (1927), 383–4.

2Mercy-Argenteau had requested letters of introduction for Franz Joseph Märter in April, and BF obliged: XXXIX, 474–5, 490–1.

3XXXIX, 446. BF still had some of the two dozen cakes of crown soap that he had received from Jane Mecom c. March 5, 1780: XXX, 148–50, 480, 524–5; XXXII, 160–1; XXXIV, 200. On the verso of BF’s Cash Book covering 1778 through 1780 (Account XVI, XXVI, 3), he drew up a list of intended recipients for the “Soap / 24 Cakes”. Chaumont, at the head of the list, was to receive two cakes; the others would receive one. In order, they are: Ingenhousz, the abbé de La Roche, WTF, the abbés Chalut and Arnoux (who evidently were expected to share), “Myself”, Holker, “M. Cayo” (probably Caillot, BF’s neighbor), Le Veillard, and M. Brillon. BF placed an X next to all but the last three names.

Just before BF left France, Ingenhousz renewed his request for soap, as he had never received the promised second cake. By that time, however, the supply was exhausted: Ingenhousz to BF, June 11, 1785 (APS); BF to Ingenhousz, July 6, 1785 (Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, 1955).

4The Libertas Americana medal, for which see vol. 39.

5In his letter of April 29.

6XXXVII, 504–12.

7Giuseppe Ceracchi: XXXIX, 530–1.

8Benjamin West (XXXVII, 236–7), John Singleton Copley, and John Taylor (XXXVIII, 394–6). West and Taylor were personal friends of BF’s. For assessments of the latter’s skill see Arthur S. Marks, “An Eighteenth-Century American Landscape Painter Rediscovered: John Taylor of Bath,” American Art Jour., X (1978), 81–96; William H. Gerdts, “American Landscape Painting: Critical Judgments, 1730–1845,” American Art Jour., XVII (1985), 29–31.

9See XXXIX, 531.

1Enclosed with his letter of April 29; see above.

2In his letter of Jan. 28.

3In BF’s hand.

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