Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Jonathan Williams, Jr., 16 July 1784

From Jonathan Williams, Jr.

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Paris 16 July 1784.

Dear & hond Sir.

Looking over some old Papers I found the inclosed Note from our good Friend Mr Hutton. I do not remember to have seen the same Verses under your Portrait,—I think them better expressed than those in print, tho’ the Idea is the same. Our good Friend labours to distinguish between Tyranny & ministereal Influence. You will judge of his Success.—2 I send you Mr Eulers Book, I think his Theory of Magnetism very ingenious, but not convincing, that may be because I do not understand it.—3

I am as ever most dutifully & affecy Yours.

J Williams J

When you have done with the Book please to give it to my Brother in Law4 who will send it to St Germains.

Doctor Franklin.

Addressed: Dr Franklin.

Notation: Jona. Williams 6. July 1784—

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2JW enclosed an unsigned Sept. 5, 1775, letter from James Hutton that included an unattributed French verse intended for placement under a portrait of BF:

C’est Franklin, ce mortel dont l’heureuse industrie

Sût enchainer la foudre et lui donner des Loix.

C’est lui dont la raison affermissant la voix

Du joug de l’Injustice affranchit sa Patrie;

Il desarma les Dieux, Il reprime les Rois.

Hutton explained that Du Pont de Nemours had sent the verse to “a friend.” However, Turgot must have been the author, as he sent a close variant to Du Pont on June 5, 1776, with a request that Du Pont copy it and burn the original. The latter rendition included a new first line in Latin (Eripuit coelo fulmen, sceptrumque tyrannis) that would gain fame as an epigram. It was the only line ever published, perhaps because the French verse was seen as too subversive: XXVI, 670–1n; Gustave Schelle, ed. Œuvres de Turgot et documents le concernant, (5 vols., Paris, 1912–23), V, 494, 647; Alfred O. Aldridge, Franklin and his French Contemporaries (New York, 1957), pp. 124–35.

Hutton wrote that the last line was “too strong.” Americans continued to profess loyalty to the king, but renounced dependence on what they perceived as “unconstitutional Claims of the Ministers and their Dependants.”

3Leonhard Euler proposed that “magnetic fluid” flowed in one direction, through infinitesimal pores in a magnet. His “Dissertatio de magnete” shared the annual prize awarded by the Académie des sciences for 1744. By 1784, Euler’s theory of magnetism was available in several different kinds of publications, and we cannot be certain which of them was being loaned here.

4Robert (Bob) Alexander, then living with the Franklin household: XLI, 524n.

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