Benjamin Franklin Papers

Recommendation for Pierre Sonnerat to the Royal Society, [22 July? 1783]

Recommendation for Pierre Sonnerat to the Royal Society7

DS:8 American Philosophical Society

[July 22?, 1783]

M. Pierre Sonnerat, Correspondent of the Academy of Sciences at Paris, Member of the Academy of Lyons, well known by his Voyages to New-Guinea and China, where he was employed by the King of France for the promotion of Natural History, being desirous of Admittance into the Royal Society; we whose names are subscribed do recommend him upon our personal knowledge, as perfectly qualified to become a Fellow of that learned Body.

B Franklin
J. Osborn.9

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7Sonnerat, who was planning a trip to India, Tibet, and Central Asia, had been trying to obtain an affiliation with the Royal Society since April, when he asked Joseph Banks to help him become a foreign associate. Banks’s answer was delivered by Charles Blagden in June: the number of foreign members was fixed at 100, and no places were currently available. Sonnerat was “chagrined” at this, forcing Blagden to explain it again when they next dined together: Madeleine Ly-Tio-Fane, Pierre Sonnerat, 1748–1814: an Account of His Life and Work (Cassis, Mauritius, 1976), pp. 10–11, 30–1; Warren R. Dawson, ed., The Banks Letters: a Calendar of the Manuscript Correspondence of Sir Joseph Banks … (London, 1958), p. 774; Neil Chambers, ed., Scientific Correspondence of Sir Joseph Banks, 1765–1820 (6 vols., London, 2007), II, 87–8.

On July 23 Sonnerat wrote to Banks that Blagden had given him hope that he might try for election as a regular member. The present document— written by Blagden in the standard language of such petitions—would have been the first step in this process, which required that at least three fellows sign a recommendation. Blagden noted in his journal on July 22 that he visited Sonnerat and “laid before him the list” (presumably of Royal Society fellows), of whom the Frenchman “knew no one but Franklin.” It seems likely that Blagden drafted this document that same day, though it must be noted that he did not sign it himself. Ly-Tio-Fane, Pierre Sonnerat, pp. 30–1; Charles R. Weld, A History of the Royal Society (2 vols., London, 1848), I, 460–1; Charles Blagden’s Journal, entry of July 22, 1783 (Yale University Library).

It is not known who presented this sheet to BF, when he signed, or why it remains among his papers. On Nov. 12, in response to a new letter from Banks explaining the impossibility of his candidacy, Sonnerat requested instead letters of introduction to the British governors of the places he intended to visit: Ly-Tio-Fane, Pierre Sonnerat, pp. 30–1.

8In the hand of Charles Blagden.

9John Osborn (1743–1814) was a former British diplomat and a fellow of the Royal Society since 1777. He and Blagden dined together frequently in July: G. F. Russell Barker and Alan H. Stenning, comps., The Record of Old Westminsters … (2 vols., London, 1928), II, 706; Charles Blagden’s Journal, 1783 (Yale University Library).

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