Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to David Rittenhouse, 15 December 1783

To David Rittenhouse

Reprinted from William Temple Franklin, ed., Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin … (3 vols., 4to, London, 1817–18), III, 464.

Passy, Dec. 15, 1783.


All astronomical news that I receive, I think it my duty to communicate to you. The following is just come to hand, in a letter from the President of the Royal Society, dated at London the 9th instant.1

“A miserable comet made its appearance to Mr. Nathan Pigot, in his observatory at Yorkshire, on the 19th past, and the weather has been so hazy in the evenings that it has scarce been observed since. It was on the 19th

h. m. Right Ascen. North Dec.
“at 11 15  41 0 0  3° 10’
“On the 20th 10 54  40 0 0  4 32

“On the 21st it was seen in the place where it was expected; but the night was too hazy to observe it.

“It appears like a nebula, with a diameter of about two minutes of a degree; the nucleus faint. It is seen with difficulty when the wires of the instrument are illuminated, but is not visible with an open2 glass.”—Mr. Pigot.

“Nov. 29th. It was seen near the chin of Aries, and appeared like a nebulous star: as there was some moon-light, it was difficult to find it.

“Dec. 1st. It was removed near the preceding eye of Aries; but conceiving other astronomers who had fixed instruments, have noted its place, he has not calculated the distance from any known star.”—Mr. Herschell.

With great esteem, I have the honor to be, &c.

B. Franklin

1Joseph Banks to BF, Dec. 9. Banks’s punctuation is scanty and his hand, in places, nearly indecipherable. It is evident from this transcription that either BF rendered the text grammatical when copying it for Rittenhouse or WTF, as was his wont, edited the letter for publication. We relied on this transcription when making our own, published above, but note be-low one word that was misread. The error was most likely introduced by the individual employed by WTF c. 1817 to prepare copies for the printer. Unfortunately, neither the copy nor the original from which it was made has survived.

2The word was “opera.”

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