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and wind of a thunder-gust without tearing. To the top of the upright stick of the cross is to be fixed a very sharp-pointed wire, rising a foot or more above the wood. To the end of the twine, next the hand, is to be tied a silk ribbon, and where the silk and twine join, a key may be fastened. This kite is to be raised when a thunder-gust appears to be coming on, and the person who holds the string must stand within a door or window, or under some cover, so that the silk ribbon may not be wet; and care must be taken that the twine does not touch the frame of the door or window. As soon as any of the thunder-clouds come over the kite, the pointed wire will draw the electric fire from them, and the kite, with all the twine, will be electrified, and the loose filaments of the twine will stand out every way, and be attracted by an approaching finger. And when the rain has wet the kite and twine, so that it can conduct the electric fire freely, you will find it stream out plentifully from the key on the approach of your knuckle. At this key the phialmay be charged; and from electric fire thus obtained, spirits may be kindled, and all the other electric experiments be performed, which are usually done by the help of a rubbed glass globe or tube, and thereby the sameness of the electric matter with that of lightning completely demonstrated.
You may remember, my dear friend, that when we lately spent that happy day in the delightful garden and sweet society of the Moulin Joly,4 I stopt a little in one of our walks, and staid some time behind the company. We had been shown numberless skeletons of a kind of little fly, called an ephemera, whose successive generations, we were told, were bred and expired within the day. I happened to see a living company of them on a leaf, who appeared to be engaged in conversation. You know I understand all the inferior animal tongues; my too great application of the study of them is the best excuse I can give for the little progress I have made in your charming language.5 I listened through curiosity to the discourse 2. The Leyden jar, an early experi- at least thirty-five years his junior, with mental electrical condenser.
whom he played simultaneously the 3. In France as American representative father and gallant. Franklin wrote this, (1776-85) Franklin had a small press the first Bagatelle, in 1778; it was for propaganda releases, on which he printed both in French and English, but also printed his "Bagatelles," charming the dates are not established. trifles to amuse his friends. “The Ephem- 4. Name of an island in the Seine, locaera,” unlike most of these essays, shows tion of the home of a friend, where they his characteristic speculative curiosity as had spent a day together. well as the wit that captivated the 5. He had asked her to correct his French. Madame Brillon, for whom he French; she thought correction impaired wrote this, was a young Passy matron his style and distracted him with the 7. Madame Brillon, an accomplished 6. The cousin is a gnat, the moscheto musician, played and sang, and set a mosquito; Franklin here makes a verses to music for Franklin. playful reference to the continuous
of these little creatures; but as they, in their national vivacity, spoke three or four together, I could make but little of their conversation. I found, however, by some broken expressions that I heard now and then, they were disputing warmly on the merits of two foreign musicians, one a cousin, the other a moscheto;& in which dispute they spent their time, seemingly as regardless of the shortness of life as if they had been sure of living a month. Happy people! thought I, you live certainly under a wise, just, and mild government, since you have no public grievances to complain of, nor any subject of contention but the perfections and imperfections of foreign music. I turned my head from them to an old grey-headed one, who was single on another leaf, and talking to himself. Being amused with his soliloquy, I put it down in writing, in hopes it will likewise amuse her to whom I am so much indebted for the most pleasing of all amusements, her delicious company and heavenly harmony.?
“It was,” said he, “the opinion of learned philosophers of our race, who lived and flourished long before my time, that this vast world, the Moulin Joly, could not itself subsist more than eighteen hours; and I think there was some foundation for that opinion, since, by the apparent motion of the great luminary that gives life to all nature, and which in my time has evidently declined considerably towards the ocean at the end of our earth, it must then finish its course, be extinguished in the waters that surround us, and leave the world in cold and darkness, necessarily producing universal death and destruction. I have lived seven of those hours, a great age, being no less than four hundred and twenty minutes of time. How very few of us continue so long! I have seen generations born, flourish, and expire. My present friends are the children and grandchildren of the friends of my youth, who are now, alas, no more! And I must soon follow them; for, by the course of nature, though still in health, I cannot expect to live above seven or eight minutes longer. What now avails all my toil and labor, in amassing honey-dew on this leaf, which I cannot live to enjoy! What the political struggles I have been engaged in, for the good of my compatriot inhabitants of this bush, or my philosophical studies for the benefit of our race in general! for, in politics, what can laws do without morals? Our present race of ephemeræ will in a course of minutes become corrupt, like those of other and older bushes, and consequently as wretched. And in philosophy how small our progress! Alas! art is long, and life is short! My friends would comfort me with the idea of a name, they say, I shall leave behind me, and they tell me I have lived long statement that it was “always good rivalries, in Paris, between opposing French to say: 'Je vous aime'" (Van musical schools. Doren).
· 275 enough to nature and to glory. But what will fame be to an ephemera who no longer exists? And what will become of all history in the eighteenth hour, when the world itself, even the whole Moulin Joly, shall come to its end, and be buried in universal ruin?”
To me, after all my eager pursuits, no solid pleasures now remain, but the reflection of a long life spent in meaning well, the sensible conversation of a few good lady ephemeræ, and now and then a kind smile and a tune from the ever amiable Brillante.8
B. FRANKLIN. 1778
To Madame Helvetiuso
Mortified at the barbarous resolution pronounced by you so positively yesterday evening, that you would remain single the rest of your life as a compliment due to the memory of your husband, I retired to my chamber. Throwing myself upon my bed, I dreamt that I was dead, and was transported to the Elysian Fields.
I was asked whether I wished to see any persons in particular; to which I replied that I wished to see the philosophers. “There are two who live here at hand in this garden; they are good neighbors, and very friendly towards one another.”—“Who are they?”– “Socrates and Helvetius.”—“I esteem them both highly; but let me see Helvetius first, because I understand a little French, but not a word of Greek.” I was conducted to him, he received me with much courtesy, having known me, he said, by character, some time past. He asked me a thousand questions relative to the war, the present state of religion, of liberty, of the government in France. “You do not inquire, then,” said I, “after your dear friend, Madame Helvetius; yet she loves you exceedingly. I was in her company not more than an hour ago.” “Ah,” said he, “you make me recur to my past happiness, which ought to be forgotten in order to be happy here. For many years I could think of nothing but her, though at length I am consoled. I have taken another wife, the most like her that I could find; she is not indeed altogether so handsome, but she has a great fund of wit and good-sense, and her whole study is to please me. She is at this moment gone to fetch the best nectar and ambrosia to regale me; stay here awhile and you will see her.” “I 8. This pun on her name, Brillon, ap- lin became her intimate companion and pears also in Franklin's letters.
proposed marriage, which she wisely de9. Another Bagatelle. Madame Helve- clined; he immortalized the offer in such tius, widow of the philosopher Claude pleasantries as this famous essay, which Adrien Helvetius, who had died in 1771, he gave her, in French, in December, was Franklin's neighbor at Auteuil; a 1779. The first printings, in French and famous beauty in her youth, she was English, are not dated; however, it has now the gay and sympathetic hostess of been many times reprinted. two generations of intellectuals. Frank
perceive,” said I, “that your former friend is more faithful to you than you are to her; she has had several good offers, but has refused them all. I will confess to you that I loved her extremely; but she was cruel to me, and rejected me peremptorily for your sake.” “I pity you sincerely,” said he, "for she is an excellent woman, handsome and amiable. But do not the Abbé de la R * * * * and the Abbé M * * * * visit her?”1__"Certainly they do; not one
your friends has dropped her acquaintance.”—“If you had gained the Abbé M *** * with a bribe of good coffee and cream, perhaps you would have succeeded; for he is as deep a reasoner as Duns Scotus or St. Thomas;2 he arranges and methodizes his arguments in such a manner that they are almost irresistible. Or if by a fine edition of some old classic you had gained the Abbé de la R **** to speak against you, that would have been still better, as I always observed that when he recommended any thing to her, she had a great inclination to do directly the contrary.” As he finished these words the new Madame Helvetius entered with the nectar, and I recognized her immediately as my former American friend, Mrs. Franklin!3 I reclaimed her, but she answered me coldly: “I was a good wife to you for forty-nine years and four months, nearly half a century; let that content you. I have formed a new connection here, which will last to eternity.”
Indignant at this refusal of my Eurydice, 4 I immediately resolved to quit those ungrateful shades, and return to this good world again, to behold the sun and you! Here I am; let us avenge ourselves! 1779
Letter to Joseph Priestley
(Science and Humanity)
Passy, Feb. 8, 1780. DEAR SIR,
Your kind letter of September 27 came to hand but very lately, the bearer having stayed long in Holland. I always rejoice to hear
1. Van Doren writes (Benjamin Frank-
3. Franklin's wife, Deborah, had died
of your being still employed in experimental researches into nature, and of the Success you meet with. The rapid Progress true Science now makes, occasions my regretting sometimes that I was born so soon. It is impossible to imagine the height to which may be carried, in a thousand years,
power of man over matter. We may perhaps learn to deprive large masses of their gravity, and give them absolute levity, for the sake of easy transport. Agriculture may diminish its labour and double its produce; all diseases may by sure means be prevented or cured, not excepting even that of old age, and our lives lengthened at pleasure even beyond the antediluvian standard. O that moral science were in as fair a way of improvement, that men would cease to be wolves to one another, and that human beings would at length learn what they now improperly call humanity!
I am glad my little paper on the Aurora Borealis pleased. If it should occasion further enquiry, and so produce a better hypothesis, it will not be wholly useless. I am ever, with the greatest and most sincere esteem, dear sir, yours very affectionately
Letter to Sir Joseph Banks?
[War and Peace]
Passy, 27 July, 1783. DEAR SIR,
I received your very kind letter by Dr. Blagden,s and esteem myself much honoured by your friendly remembrance. I have been too much and too closely engaged in public affairs, since his being here, to enjoy all the benefit of his conversation you were so good as to intend me. I hope soon to have more leisure, and to spend a part of it in those studies, that are much more agreeable to me than political operations.
I join with you most cordially in rejoicing at the return of peace. I hope it will be lasting, and that mankind will at length, as they call themselves reasonable creatures, have reason and sense enough to settle their differences without cutting throats; for, in my opinion, there never was a good war, or a bad peace. What vast additions to the conveniences and comforts of living might mankind have acquired, if the money spent in wars had been employed in works of
+ Cf. Latin: "weight," "lightness."
a Fellow in 1756.