Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Ingenhousz, 15 August 1783

From Ingenhousz

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Vienna Aug. 15th. 1783.

Dear Friend

I wrote to you a note some weaks ago7 to accompany the request of mr. Veinbrenner, which you allready had granted. His commissionary is allready gone to Hamburg and will set out with the first vessel for Philadelphia, waiting only for the introductory lettres you promish’d— Your last was dated may 16th, of Which I first recieved the copy. Reciev my thanks for the medal, which was much and justely admired— I recieved this days a lettre from mr. Le Roy dated juin 9th by which I am rejoiced to see you continue in good health— However strongly the printer of my book, Didot le jeun, promis’d to work close at the printing of it, he does not perform it; so that it may possibly become a posthumus work. This is vexing to the utmost. The german translation of it is allready nearly sold out. Mr. le Begue says he does what he can to press the printer. I thank you for the leave of dedicating it to you, of which I am proud—8 I doe not think it probable that one of my letters to you could have been lost, as it went thro the hands of mr. Brantzen. I think reather you may have forgot it or misled.— I have red an extract of our common Friend Sir john Pringle’s biography by Dr. Kipi, his theological Friend, who contributed the most to fix his anxious mind upon Socinianisme as being in his opinion the most rational and the only good religion. His caracter seems to me drawn in a masterly way. You and I are good judges of it—9 In collecting what philosophical anecdotes I possess of you, I find it difficult, how to comply with your request of not mentioning your name in the paper you adressed to me on father Barletti’s work.1 I can not, consistent with the rules of equity and veracity, give it for my own, and even less for a performance of an anonimous author; for than your name would be equaly gessed, and it would have some appearence of mystery. As it is written in a Very polite, and at the same time very modest stile it can’t hurt any one, and therefore you would oblige me to withraw your request and give me leave to publish it as it is. The notes, which I will add to it, will be what I wrote to you about my perfectely imitating the effect of the lightning at Cremona by a strong electrical explosion.2 Father Barletti him Self will recieve it with pleasur. It will give him a new specimen of putting explications of natural phenomena in a clear and obvious light. He is very far from being a clear headed philosopher. All his writing are nearly as dark, diffuse and perplexed as those of Father Beccaria.3 They vex and tire the readers mind, without clearing up the difficulty. I have observed, that those who extol’d the most their works, had in reality not had the courage to goe thro them— If you should remember some particularities about the circonstances and consequences of the two electrical explosions, by which you was hit by accident, and struk to the ground, you would oblige me to communicate them to me, as I doe not find them in your works.4 As the effect of a Similar stroke by which I was struk, was followed by some remarcabel particularities I should like to compare them which those you have experienced. The jarr, by which I was Struck, contained about 32 pints, it was nearly fully charged when I recived the explosion from the Conductor supported by that jarr. The flash enter’d the corner of my hat. Then, it entred my fore head and passed thro the left hand, in which I held the chaine communicating with the outward Coating of the jarr. I neither saw, heared, nor feld the explosion, by which I was Struck down. I lost all my senses, memory, understanding and even sound judgment. My first Sensation was a peine on the forehead. The first object I saw Was the post of a door. I combined the two ideas togeather and thaught I had hurt my head against the horizontal piece of timber supported by the postes, which was impossible, as the door was wide and high. After having answered unadequately to some questions, which were asked me by the people in the room, I determin’d to go home. But I was some what surprised, that, though the accident happened in a hous in the same street where I lodged, yet I was more than two minutes considering whether, to go home, I must go to the right or to the left hand. Having found my lodgings, and considering that my memory was become very weak, I thaught it prudent to put down in writing the history of the case: I placed the paper before me, dipt the pen in the ink, but when I applyed it to the paper, I found I had entirely forgotten the art of writing and reading and did not know more what to doe with the pen, than a savage, who never knew there was such an art found out. This Struck me with terror, as I feared I should remain for ever an idiot. I thaught it prudent to go to bed. I slept tolerably well and when I awaked next morning I felt still the peine on the forehead and found a red spot on the place: but my mental faculties were at that time not only returned, but I feld the most lively joye in finding, as I thaught at the time, my judgmement infinitely more acute. It did seem to me I saw much clearer the difficulties of every thing, and what did formerly seem to me difficult to comprehend, was now become of an easy solution. I found moreover a liveliness in my whole frame, which I never had observed before. This experiment, made by accident, on my self, and of which I gave you at the time an account, has induced me to advise some of the London mad-Doctors, as Dr. Brook,5 to try a similar experiment on mad men, thinking that, as I found in my self my mental faculties improoved and as the world well knows, that your mental faculties, if not improoved by the two strooks you recieved, were certainly not hurt by them, it might perhaps become a remedie to restore the mental faculties when lost: but I could never persuade any one to try it.6 I should like to know allso, whether the clok of your invention, showing hours, minutes and seconds by three weels only, has been publish’d as your invention,7 and whether you think it my [may] be publish’d now. If you give me leave, I will add to it the idea mr. whitehurst gave us at Derby,8 who to prevent the pendulum becoming shorter by Cold and longer by heat, by suspending the superior flexible part of it from an iron rod standing behind it, which, by extending or contracting in the same ratio as the pendulum, carries it higher or lower in proportion. I get it executed here. If you Could furnish me with some farther reflexions on this head it would be a satisfaction to me and an advantage to the public.

What doe you think of publishing allso, the philosophical curiosity of the globe, formed as an earth globe, swimming in a large glass globe filled with water and æther, and having two magnets, within it and one in the pedestal to keep the globe in the center and preventing it from swimming to the sides?9 I remember I heard you more than once speak of an easy why of finding the different gravity of bodies in the time of the Conjunction of different planetes or of the sun and moon, by means of a spiral elastic wire, at whose end should hang a whight. I doe not recollect enough the manner of Constructing Such Contrivance to be able to describe it in a clear way. Would you be soo good as to furnish me with some hints about it?

You have certainly concieved some more new ideas regarding Nature’s laws, which it would be a pity to be lost to philosophy. It is not common in philosophers to possess an inventive genius. Those who have it live seldom to an age, in which the judgment has become to its full vigour. You live to such an age. It would be a pity your ideas should sink with you into the grave. If some of them should return to your mind, pray, make a note of them.

If to the above articles, and Such as you may still furnish me with, I could add those reflexions you begun to work at, about chimneys; and some few, which I may recollect, or I may find in your lettres, I could present the public with a set of usefull notions from a man, whose memory will be everlasting, and I would have some share in the merit of having saved them from being lost— Pray, in some leasure hours, subtracted from the whimsical potilical world, take now and than a trip again into the world of Nature. In the one you served your country, but in the other mankind— I wish for nothing more than to see you once more. I want only, to come over, more courrage than I have, to ask leave from my imp. master.1 If we goe here to war with the Turks, we will very likely have soon the Plague here. The foreign ministers and many people are alarm’d at the danger of this dreadfull calamity; the more so, as it is ordred no more to open at the frontiers the letters coming from the easteren countries or to Smoak them;2 as some folks have inspired our Prince with a belive, that the plague can not be conveyed by a letter; for, say they, if this was possible, all other nations, to which such letters are dayly conveyed without being Smoaked and purifyed, would constantely have the plague among them. Some people would perhaps suspect those men, who are the advisers of so extraordinary a resolution, in the very time of the plague raging all over the turkish dominions, to be gained by the Ottomans, whose policy it has allways be to send the plague to their ennemies.

One may now soon exspect, that the quarantaine, till now so strictely observed, and with so good a succes, will soon be taken away allso, as it would be strenge to belive, that a lettre, written by a man labouring under the plage or of having its infection about him Could not Convey the Contagion, and to apprehend at the same time that a living man Coming thro the open air from Constantinople to Vienna or Belgrade, could still keep the poison about him without being himself affected by it. This believe that a lettre sealed up can convey no contagion, seems to me as extravagant as would be a believe that, among all the wearing appearel of a traveller, his nightcap only must necessarily be excepted of conveying this contagion. Not long ago my brother in law recieved a lettre from the Archipel written by a traveller labouring actualy under the plague but being nearly out of danger. He should have shuddred in reading it, if the lettre had not been opened at the frontiers (as it has been an invariable custom since a long while), and tho roughly perfumed; which is done by burning brimstone, juniper wood, myrrha, succinnan(?) &c. By the want of those salutary precautions, the plague used to break out at least every 10 years here or there in Europe in the former centuries. Whole Europe is now again in the same danger, as allmost all the Correspondence by letters from Alappe, Egypt and all those Countries, which are so often infected by the pestilential contagion, goes over Belgrade. I find now written upon all letters these dreadfull words, netto di fori, sporco di dentro,3 which strikes every one with terror, who recieves them. Many people who are much about the Souverain, approove of this extrordinary and erroneous opinion, thinking probably that nothing pleases more a great man than to approove of his opinions. If the plague will thus be carried into the French dominions, your American brethren may take by times salutary means to prevent this calamity passing the ocean. If you should hear speaking about this affaire, as you may likely, when the terror will spread thro Europe, I begg that my name be not mentioned. Writers on the plage give incontestable prooves that the plage has been communicated by parcels, boxes, and letters sealed or shut up during several years. The Contagion of the small pox is of the same nature.

Some weaks ago, Lady Dowager Penn wrote a lamentable letter to the Princess dowager of Lichtenstein,4 (who has allways shown me civilities and frienship) in which she complains of the hardship of finding her husband’s possessions confiscated; and I belive she has endeavoured to find here some high protection or recommendation to mitigate her fate. If the Emperour’s protection or recommendation has been Sollicited, I should find it not unreasonable; but you will be surprised, that the Princess of Lichtenstein applyed to me, asking me in the most pressing way my endeavours, to obtain from you a recommendation in behalf of Lady Penn. I told her it was unbecoming in me to trouble you about Such thing, and that even you yourself could be of little use in the case, as those confiscations are made by the legislature in the Country it Self. As I Could by no means persuade her of the inutility of fulfilling her request, I was obliged, if I would not break with her, to promish her to write you in her name, and to sollicite your intercession. She has, she says, the highest opinion of your humanity and your moderation which you publikely show’d in recommending to congress the fate of all the Loyalistes. To Content her about me, I begg only to write in a line or two in your lettre some thing, I may Show her, that I may not be Suspected of having not fulfilled what I promis’d. You know the delicacy of people of superior rank. Remember what jule Cæsar say’d when king Ptolomie did send him the head of Pompeus as a compliment, when he arrived in Ægypt, after the battel of Pharsales.

Aufer ab aspectu nostro funesta, Satelles!,

Regis donæ tui . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . unica belli

Præmia civilis, victis donare salutem,

perdidimus. Lucanus5

I recieved as yet no answer from Sam. Wharton, nor any satisfactory account from mr. Coffyn of Dunkerque. However, as I understood from former informations of mr. Coffyn, that our goods were disposed of to a handsome profit, and as I can not believe that mr. wharton, a Senator of your Congress, a man of great worth and property, could become an infamous Sharper, I doe still expect getting Soon Som returns thro your hands.6 If they Should arrive, I should like to know your advise, whether I could not employ the money to a good intrest on Some American loans or in purchassing som peace of land in Mary land or near Philadelphia, which could be let out to advantage, on purpose to secure me some things in the new world if Common sense should fly from the old world. I can not believe what newspapers spread through Europe, that the American people are unwilling to contribute any thing to support public credit: tho I may very well believe, that your ennemies will not cease artfully fomenting dissensions, distress, and anarchy, to bring you back to your old rulers.

I am very respectfully your most obedient humbl servant and affectionate friend.

J. Ingen Housz

I beg the favour to forward the inclosed by the penny post as soon as possible7

To his Excellency Benj. Franklin a Passy

Endorsed: Aug. 15. 83.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7Above, June 23.

8See BF to Ingenhousz, May 16 (where BF claimed to have lost his friend’s original request for a dedication, mentioned in the next sentence), and the references there. For the German translation see XXXIX, 88n.

9Benjamin Vaughan had already sent BF a copy of this work, a recently published collection of Pringle’s discourses together with “The Life of Sir John Pringle, Bart.” by Andrew Kippis; see Vaughan to BF, June 16, letter (II). Kippis mentioned Pringle’s particular friendship with both BF and Ingenhousz: Six Discourses Delivered by Sir John Pringle, Bart …, (London, 1783), pp. xcii, xcv.

1“An Attempt to explain the Effects of Lightning on the Vane of the Steeple of a Church in Cremona”: XXXVII, 504–12.

2XXXIX, 528–30.

3This was not Ingenhousz’ first complaint about Beccaria’s obscurity; see XXIII, 256.

4BF did not answer this until April 29, 1785 (Library of Congress), when he referred Ingenhousz to the fifth edition of Exper. and Obser. (1774), pp. 161–2, for the first of his electric shocks. That reference is to an undated “Appendix” in the middle of the volume (appearing, in fact, on pp. 160–1), a third-person, unattributed summary of a description BF had written “some time since” in a letter to Collinson. BF excerpted this summary from a review of his work by William Watson, who had read the Feb. 4, 1751, letter when Collinson presented it to the Royal Society. BF first used the extract in the 1754 edition of Exper. and Obser. because, as he noted in the Appendix, he could not locate the original. It remained in all subsequent editions. For the text of the original and Watson’s summary see IV, 112–13, 136, 140–2.

As for the second incident, BF had made only a passing allusion to it in a letter to John Lining, reprinted in Exper. and Obser. (1769): V, 525. BF described it in detail when answering Ingenhousz on April 29, 1785.

5Probably Dr. Thomas Brooke (d. 1781), a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, who was consulting physician from 1764 to 1781 at St. Luke’s Hospital for the Insane: William Munk, The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London … (3 vols., London, 1878), II, 258–9; C. N. French, The Story of St. Luke’s Hospital (London, 1951), pp. 4–23, 183.

6BF had this passage translated into French, beginning with the sentence “The jarr, by which I was Struck …” A copy by L’Air de Lamotte, a press copy of it, and a press copy of another version by L’Air de Lamotte are among BF’s papers at the APS.

7Unbeknownst to BF, a description of the clock was published in 1773: VIII, 216–19.

8In 1771: XVIII, 113–16, 190n.

9BF’s answer of April 29, 1785, gave Ingenhousz permission to publish “the Experiment of the Globe floating between two Liquors,” even though it was “a Matter of no Utility.” He supposed that Ingenhousz had seen it on his chimneypiece, adding that “Something of the same Nature has been done more than 100 Years since by another Person, I forget who.” BF was undoubtedly thinking of Athanasius Kircher, whose description (in his Magnes, siv de arte magnetica … [Rome, 1641]) was quoted in Otto von Guericke, Experimenta nova (ut vocantur) Magdeburgica de vacuo spatio (Amsterdam, 1672), a book BF owned and bequeathed to BFB: “List of Books for B. F. Bache” (APS).

Kircher’s invention astounded his contemporaries: a small sphere appeared to be suspended in the center of a glass globe filled with water, just as “the earth rests immobile in the center of the universe.” In fact, the globe contained equal portions of water and a clear, immiscible liquid of a higher density. The sphere, which was magnetized, was weighted to have an intermediate density, and came to rest between the two liquids. Kircher stopped short of fully explaining the magnetic component, though it was suggested. The maker of BF’s globe (or BF himself, if he commissioned it) knew that the sphere would remain in the center only if another magnet were placed at one of the poles—in BF’s case, concealed in the pedestal. For a modern translation of the quoted passage see Margaret Glover Foley Ames, The New (So-Called) Magdeburg Experiments of Otto von Guericke (Dordrecht, Boston, and London, 1994), p. 202. See also Thomas L. Hankins and Robert J. Silverman, Instruments and the Imagination (Princeton, 1995), pp. 14–36, where other applications of this technique by Kircher, Galileo, and Francis Line are described.

1Joseph II.

2The epidemic, which had killed about one-third of Istanbul’s population in 1778, had spread in each succeeding year and was now threatening Austrian dominions: Daniel Panzac, La Peste dans l’empire Ottoman, 1700–1850 (Louvain, 1985), pp. 58–68; the map on p. 591 shows the sanitary cordon established at the Austrian border.

3Clean outside, dirty within.

4Lady Juliana Penn, who had requested help of BF directly (XXXVIII, 343–4, 464n), and Maria Leopoldine von Liechtenstein (Lichtenstein) (1733–1809), the widow of Prince Franz Josef von Liechtenstein (d. 1781): Gerald Schöpfer, Klar und fest: Geschichte des Hauses Liechtenstein (Graz, 1996), pp. 89–90.

5Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, Bellum civile, book 9, lines 1064–8: “Minion, from my sight remove your king’s disgusting gift. Your crime deserves worse …; the one reward of civil war—to grant survival to the conquered—we have lost.” Lucan: Civil War, trans. Susan H. Braund (Oxford and New York, 1991).

6Ingenhousz had long been waiting for his share; see XXXIX, 89, and the references there.

7The enclosure was addressed to Lebègue de Presle: Ingenhousz to BF, Sept. 1 (below).

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