Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from William Nixon, 10 August 1783

From William Nixon

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Off the Downes, 10th. August 1783.

May it please your Excellency

You will please to call to Mind that I presumed to inclose to your Excellency a little Book, which I published, Viz. Prosody made easy. The very polite Answer, which you returned, & your unexpected Liberality at so seasonable a Time can never be forgotten by me.4 The Mode of paying the Debt due by me to you was such a Proof of Politeness, Liberality, & universal Benevolence, as impressed me with the deepest Sense of the Favour. I take the Liberty of troubling you with a short Specimen of a few little Books, which I humbly hope would facilitate the Acquisition of the Roman Language &, by smoothing the Way, give more Time for other Studies. Should the Plan merit your Approbation, I would be proud of the Honour of being permitted to dedicate all the little Books (mentioned in it, including the Prosody), to your Excellency, for I think your Name would be an Advantage to me, & would be glad to make a public Acknowledgment of your Kindness to me & Mankind in general.5

The Letter, which you did me the Honour of sending me, when I was a Prisoner at Valognes in Normandy about two years ago, would now, if I had it, be of much service to me, because I am now sailing past the Downes on my Way to Portsmouth in Virginea, but about half a year after I burnt it, on hearing, that some people had been lodged in Newgate in London, on a Suspicion of holding a Correspondence with the Enemy & tho’ the Letter, which I had the Honour of having from your Excellency contained nothing political, yet I then thought it prudent to annihilate it, tho’ I was very sensible, that, being preserved, it might be one Day useful to me & answer the End of a Letter of recommendation to a Professorship in some of the American Colleges, for you there did me the Honour of saying, that there was no Doubt, but I would make a useful Member of Society in America either as a Professor in a College or as a Clergy-man. The Colleges, I suppose, will be re-established soon, and I humbly hope, that I am not altogether unqualified for undertaking a Professorship in Latin, Greek, Logic, Geometry, Astronomy, Natural or Moral Philosophy. I trust that I can produce such Testimonies, as may not be disapproved of.

Tho’ I cannot ask, yet I cannot help wishing for a Letter from your Excellency, which could not but be a most Advantageous Introduction of me into the new World to which I am now bound. Should your Excellency think proper to honour me with an Answer, please to direct to me in Portsmouth Virginea.

I have the Honour of remaining with much Gratitude your Excellency’s very much obliged & very humble Servant

William Nixon

Addressed: For his Excellency B. Franklin Esqr. / Ambassador at the Court of Versailes / from the united States of America. /

[In another hand:] Inland postage / [Added by Enoch Story(?):]6 Paid— / No 2 Hylords Court London 12th. August 1783 Received and forwarded by Your Excellencys [torn] CH STORY [torn] Philadelphia

Notation: William Nixon 10 Augt. 1783.—

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

4Nixon, an Irish priest and scholar, had sent this book along with the appeal he addressed to BF from a prison in Normandy in 1781. BF’s answer, which he burned (as he says below), enclosed a bill of exchange for a substantial sum. Refusing repayment, BF advised Nixon to give an equivalent sum in the future to a stranger in need: XXXV, 412–14, 445.

5Nixon enclosed a four-page printed prospectus for a collection of four books that would be printed and sold by subscription under the general title An Easy Introduction to the Latin Language, Adapted to the Comprehension of Beginners: a Latin grammar, a prosody (already published and available for sale), a vocabulary, and a translation of Aesop’s Fables. The prospectus included specimens of the grammer, vocabulary, and fables. (BF’s copy is at the APS, bound in a group of pamphlets.) We have found no evidence that the collection was completed. When Prosody Made Easy was republished in 1786, Nixon dedicated it to BF; see XXXV, 445n. He revived the idea for a subscription three years later, issuing Specimen of a Plan, for Facilitating the Acquisition of the Latin Language … (Charleston, 1789). His vocabulary was published in Philadelphia in 1792: XXXV, 412n.

6An old acquaintance of BF’s who became a Loyalist and settled in England during the Revolutionary War: III, 153n; XIV, 308n.

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