Temple's Diary Temple's Diary
Episode 3. A Summer in New Jersey

The Electric Franklin

August 25, 1775

The beauty of a daydream is that one can control it, more or less.

But my daydream of a happy family dinner is soon to confront reality. How do I know? Grandfather is about to pay us a visit and this mansion, so serene and stately when I arrived, is undergoing a frantic sweeping and polishing, carpet beating and window cleaning. New white gloves have been purchased for the butler who serves us at table, freshly starched aprons and caps await the maids. Elizabeth, usually so pleasantly languid, is bustling all over the place in a burst of housewifely energy I never would have suspected her capable of.

For Grandfather's sake all those preparations? Don't they know him at all? Of course, they haven't seen, as I did, that once he returned to America he turned back into a man of the people. In London, to be sure, he hobnobbed with His Lordship this and Her Ladyship that, because his mission required it, but here he takes delight in the company of those he calls the "leather apron men," meaning people who work with their hands, the companions of his youth. Whenever he has a little free time in Philadelphia he takes me, and sometimes Benny too, from shop to shop, chatting with the cobbler, the joiner, the ironmonger along High Street, sons and grandsons of his former neighbors. He inquires about their relatives, saying that his wife Debbie, as long as she could handle a pen, kept him well informed about their doings. Debbie, the best correspondent he ever had. Soon enough, some dozing grandfather emerges from the back room and reminisces with my grandfather about what they call the Junto — I think that is a Spanish name for a club Benjamin Franklin started when they were all young and poor and eager to better themselves. Grandfather thought in those days that they should pool whatever books they had and share information on a regular basis. Self-improvement, that's his motto, not white gloves for butlers. But who am I to tell my new parents what to do?

Queen Charlotte, by J H Hurter, 1781
Library of Congress
King George III

Still, there is one point on which I have dared to speak up: the portraits of the King and Queen of England in the dining room, right across the table from the place set for Dr. Franklin. I know he won't like that. As a true diplomat, I suggest that Grandfather is disturbed by the light in his eyes and that it might be a better idea to seat him on the other side of the table.

— "And turn his back to the King! You must be out of your mind, dear boy" exclaims Elizabeth.

Does she know that Grandfather is actually famous for having turned his back on the King, or at least the King's representative, that day in the Cockpit? Should I tell her that even outside the world of politics the King and her father-in-law do not see eye to eye on many things? Take the lightning rods, for instance. Grandfather, who should know, since he invented them, recommends pointed rods. But the King, to show his contempt for anything colonial, I guess, favors the rounded rods that a Mr. Wilson has put up on the royal palace.

A wit has even written a little epigram on the subject:

Whilst you, great George! for knowledge hunt,
and sharp Conductors change for blunt,
The Empire's out of Joint.
Franklin a wiser path pursues,
And all your Thunder heedless views
By keeping to the Point.

Oh well, I tried with the portraits. There is no point in insisting. Father says little and looks worried.