Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Thomas Percival, 17 July 1784

To Thomas Percival

Transcripts (two)5 and incomplete copy: Library of Congress; copy: Lancashire Record Office

Passy, July 17th. 1784

Dear Sir,

I received yesterday by Mr. White your kind letter of May 11th. with the most agreable Present of your new Book. I read it all before I slept, which is a proof of the good effect your happy Manner has of drawing your Reader on, by mixing little Anecdotes and historical Facts with your Instructions. Be pleased to accept my thankful acknowledgements for the pleasure it has afforded me.

It is astonishing that the murderous practice of Duelling, which you so justly condemn,6 should continue so long in vogue. Formerly when Duels were used to determine Lawsuits from an opinion that Providence would in every Instance favour Truth and Right with Victory, they were more excusable. At present they decide nothing. A man says something which another tells him is a Lie. They fight, but whichever is killed, the point in question remains unsettled. To this purpose they have a pleasant little Story here. “A Gentleman in a Coffee house desired another to sit farther from him.—Why so?—Because, Sir, you stink.— That is an Affront and you must fight me.— I will fight you if you insist upon it: But I do not see how that will mend the Matter. For if you kill me I shall stink too. And if I kill you, you will stink, if possible, worse than you do at present.”— How can such miserable Sinners as we are, entertain so much pride as to conceit that every Offence against our imagined Honor merits Death! These petty princes in their own opinion would call that Sovereign a Tyrant, who should put one of them to death for a little uncivil Language, tho’ pointed at his sacred Person. Yet every one of them makes himself Judge in his own Cause, condemns the Offender without a Jury, and undertakes himself to be the Executioner.

With sincere and great Esteem I have the honor to be Sir your most obdt. &c.

B. F.

P. S.

Our friend Mr. Vaughan may perhaps communicate to you some Conjectures of mine relating to the Cold of last Winter, which I sent him in return for the Observations on Cold of Professor Wilson. If he should, and you think them worthy so much notice, you may shew them to your Philosophical Society, to which I wish all imaginable success.7 Their rules seem to me excellent.8

Dr. Percival9

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

5The MS we publish, in the hand of a copyist who worked for WTF, appears to have been made from the fair copy prepared by BFB, only the first page of which survives. BFB’s copy was retained by BF, and descended to WTF as part of his inheritance. The copy at the Lancashire Record Office appears to have been made from the MS that Percival received, as it includes the address and a notation made on the address sheet. The copyist was so careless, however, that we deviate from our standard policy and publish from the transcript, adding the information from the address sheet in a footnote.

6In the first section of the appendix: Moral and Literary Dissertations … (Warrington, Eng., and London, 1784), pp. [291]–7.

7Percival did convey BF’s “Meteorological Imaginations and Conjectures” to the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester; see the headnote to that essay published under [May].

8Percival must have also enclosed, in his May 11 letter, a copy of Rules, Established for the Government of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester … (Manchester, Eng., 1782).

9The address (according to the Lancashire Record Office copy) reads “To / Dr. Percival / Manchester” and bears the notation, “Forwarded by Sir your hble Servant Henry Smeathman.”

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