Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Benjamin Rush, 26 December 1783

To Benjamin Rush3

Reprinted from The Pennsylvania Packet, And General Advertiser, June 29, 1784; copy:4 Bibliothèque de Genève

Passy, near Paris, Dec. 26, 1783.

Dear Sir,

I do not know who is at present secretary of our philosophical society, and therefore I address to you, who read French, a book lately published here,5 which gives an account of one of the most extraordinary discoveries that this age has produced, by which men are enabled to rise in the air, and travel with the wind. Having been an eye witness twice of this amazing experiment,6 I thought it my duty to communicate to the society as early as possible the best account that has been published of it, which I now beg leave to do through you, who can easily make an extract and translation of the most material parts for the satisfaction of the society. Never surely was a philosophical experiment so magnificently attended as the last, of which I enclose a print that well represents it. All Paris was out to see it, and all the inhabitants of the neighbouring towns, so that there could hardly be less than half a million of spectators. The flight of these two philosophers, messieurs Charles and Robert, was considerably farther than the distance between Dover and Calais.

I intend the society a considerable and valuable present of books, such as are proper to promote the ends of their institution. The French Encyclopedie, is among them.— Be pleased to assure the society of my respects, and believe me to be, with sincere regard, Dear Sir, Your most obedient, humble servant,

B. Franklin

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3At its meeting on March 19, 1784, the APS acknowledged receiving a letter from BF with “a French treatise on Air Balloons,” i.e., the present letter. The society directed Rush to publish it along with “translations of the most interesting parts of the treatise”: Early Proc. of the APS (Philadelphia, 1884), p. 124. Rush did not publish any translations, to our knowledge, but did submit BF’s letter to the Pa. Packet, where it appeared following an open letter to the citizens of Philadelphia announcing a subscription to finance the construction of “a large and elegant Air Balloon” 60 feet high and 50 feet in diameter. Some 88 prominent Philadelphians, including Rush, were subscribers. After the list of their names, BF’s letter was introduced with this statement: “It may not be amiss to close this detail with the following letter from our ingenious countryman and fellow citizen, now minister from the United States of America, at Paris; being addressed to a former secretary of the American philosophical society in this city.”

4The copy is in a hand we do not recognize but appears to be contemporary. We publish from the newspaper version, as the copy contains several obvious spelling mistakes. Furthermore, as compared to the printed version, it contains differences in capitalization and abbreviations, as well as minor discrepancies in wording. It also includes a line below the signature that identifies the recipient as “Dr Benj. Rush”.

5Barthélemy Faujas de Saint-Fond, Description des expériences de la machine aérostatique de MM. de Montgolfier … (Paris, 1783). TJ had a copy by April 28, 1784, when he summarized the various experiments: Jefferson Papers, VII, 134–7.

6BF witnessed manned balloon ascensions on Nov. 21 and Dec. I; see his letters to Joseph Banks of Nov. 21 [i.e., 22–25] and Dec. 1[–2].

Index Entries