Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Richard Price, 16 September 1783

To Richard Price

Press copy of ALS: Library of Congress

Passy near Paris, Sept. 16. 1783.

My dear Friend,

Having this Opportunity by Mr Bingham,9 who has the Honour of being known to you, I seize it to thank you for your excellent Book1 and other Favours, and to let you know that I continue well, except a little Gout, which perhaps is not more a Disease than a Remedy. Mr Petrie2 inform’d me of your being also well with Mrs Price lately at Brighthelmstone, which gave me great Pleasure: Please to present my affectionate Respects to that good Lady.—

All the Conversation here at present turns upon the Balloons fill’d with light inflammable Air; and the means of managing them so as to give Men the Advantage of Flying. One is to be let off on Friday next at Versailles, which it is said will be able to carry up a 1000 pounds weight,3 I know not whether inclusive or exclusive of its own. I have sent an Account of the former to Sir Joseph Banks,4 our President, and shall be glad to hear if the Experiment is repeated with Success in England. Please to forward to him the enclosed Print.—5

Inflammable Air puts me in mind of a little jocular Paper I wrote some Years since in ridicule of a Prize Question given out by a certain Academy on this side the Water, and I enclose it for your Amusement.—6 On second Thoughts, as it is a mathematical Question, and perhaps I think it more trifling than it really is, and you are a Mathematician, I am afraid I have judg’d wrong in sending it to you. Our Friend Dr. Priestly, however, who is apt to give himself Airs, i.e. fix’d, deflogisticated, &c &c., and has a kind of Right to every thing his Friends produce upon that Subject, may perhaps like to see it, and you can send it to him without reading it.

We have at length sign’d our Preliminary Articles as definitive; all the Additions we have been so long discussing, being referr’d to a future Treaty of Commerce. I have now a little Leisure and long to see and be merry with the Club, but doubt I cannot undertake the Journey before Spring. Adieu, and believe me ever, my dear Friend, Yours most affectionately

B Franklin

They make small Balloons now of the same materials with what is call’d Gold-beaten Leaf. Inclos’d I send one which being fill’d with Inflammable Air by my Grandson, went up last Night to the Cieling in my Chamber, and remained rolling about there for some time.— Please to give it also to Sir Joseph Banks.7 If a Man should go up with one of the large ones, might there not be some mechanical Contrivance to compress the Globe at pleasure and thusly incline it to descend, and let it expand when he inclines to rise again?—

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9William Bingham.

1Observations on Reversionary Payments … (4th ed.; 2 vols., London, 1783), which Benjamin Vaughan forwarded in June: XL, 41–2n; Vaughan to WTF, June 6, 1783 (APS).

2Samuel Petrie.

3Montgolfier’s official demonstration before the royal family was scheduled for Sept. 19. The secret gas he would use to fill his balloon was heated air, not “inflammable air” or hydrogen: XL, 393–8, 609–10. For BF’s account of this demonstration see his Oct. 8 letter to Joseph Banks.

4The first public balloon demonstration in Paris was Charles’s Aug. 27 experiment using hydrogen: XL, 547–52.

5The engraving depicting Charles’s experiment is reproduced in XL, facing p. 543. The legend identified it as Montgolfier’s experiment, repeated with a balloon filled with inflammable air and executed by the Robert brothers under the direction of Faujas de Saint-Fond. BF added Charles’s name in pen: XL, xxix–xxx.

6The paper was “To the Royal Academy of Brussels.” BF suppressed the name “Brussels” (which was present in his draft and the one surviving AL) when he later printed it for his collection of bagatelles: XXXII, 396–400. The copy he sent to Price evidently identified the academy as “B——”; see Price’s response of April 6, 1784 (APS). That response also indicates that the essay was not enclosed in the present letter, but was delivered by a brother of Henry Dagge. BF arranged for that conveyance around Sept. 26; see the letters of that date from John Baynes and Henry Dagge.

7In the interval between Charles’s experiment of Aug. 27 and Montgolfier’s demonstration on Sept. 19, amateur physicists began to manufacture small-size balloons. On Sept. 11 the baron de Beaumanoir exhibited a hydrogen balloon with a diameter of about 18 inches, made of peau de baudruche (goldbeater’s skin). Three days later M. Blondy advertised eight-inch balloons of the same material for 6 l.t. apiece: Jour. de Paris, Sept. 11 and 14, 1783; Barthélemy Faujas de Saint-Fond, Description des expériences de la machine aérostatique de MM. de Montgolfier … (Paris, 1783), pp. 22–8. On Sept. 22 JQA noted in his diary that the balloons could be purchased empty or, for an additional 2 l.t., filled with hydrogen, but that “several accidents have happened to persons who have attempted to make inflammable air, which is a dangerous operation, so that government have prohibited them”: Taylor, J. Q. Adams Diary, 1, 194. On the same day JW asked WTF to buy him one or two balloons at 6 l.t. and send them to Nantes (APS).

Replicating WTF’s experiment was not easy. According to Charles Blagden, who himself had trouble with a similar balloon, Price forwarded BF’s balloon to Banks after failing to “make it light enough” to rise in his home: Neil Chambers, ed., Scientific Correspondence of Sir Joseph Banks, 1765–1820 (6 vols., London, 2007), 11, 192.

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