Temple's Diary Temple's Diary
Episode 8. 1776: Year of the Revolution?

The Electric Franklin

January 11, 1776

Early morning.

The last thing I remember before falling asleep last night is that Paine calls the King, our King, a "crowned ruffian." Not sure about what is meant by ruffian, I decided to look it up, but turned around in the bed instead. Now I know that it means "a brutal person." "Our noble King, our gracious King, our glorious King," the one we hoped "long to reign over us" when we sang the national anthem in my boarding school ... a ruffian? How could Grandfather tolerate that?

Because I must tell you, descendants, my grandfather was quite impressed by Kings when I was growing up in England. He once told Caldwell and me that his father, a regular Bible-reader, used to quote a Proverb of Solomon saying that if a man is diligent in his work, "he shall stand before Kings, he shall not stand before mere men." And Grandfather had added proudly that he, indeed, had stood before four Kings, and even sat down to dinner with one.

— "Which Kings?" we wanted to know.

Franklin Papers, vol. 14, p.252
Franklin drew this sketch of the seating plan of the Royal Family. The king was Louis XV, the queen was Marie Lesczinska, Madame Louise, Madame Victoire, Madame Sophie, and Madame Adelaide, were the king's maiden aunts. Sir John Priestley stood between the king and Madame Adelaide. Franklin stood between the queen and Madame Victoire.

— "Well, I've been present at Court in London various times, and stood before George II and George III. And then, when I visited Paris in 1767, I was invited to watch Louis XV and the royal family at a formal dinner, known as the Grand Couvert. The King, the Queen and their relatives sat in a semi-circle, with waiters at the center, filling their gold plates and their glasses. The honored visitors stood around, without food, at their assigned posts, and made polite conversation with royalty.

— "With which King did you have dinner? Did you invite him? Did he invite you?"

— "It was Christian VII, King of Norway and Denmark, who spent two months in England during the summer of 1768. He invited me, of course — a private person does not invite a King. He asked me many interesting questions during the course of the meal and said he would like to see me again."

Grandfather was so proud of the occasion that he even sent my father a sketch of the seating arrangement.

Now, to give you an idea of Paine's style. Talking about the colonies, he writes in the introduction:

"The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances have, and will arise, which are not local but universal, and through which the principles of all lovers of mankind are affected. ...

"The laying a country desolate with fire and sword, declaring war against all the natural rights of mankind, and extirpating the defenders thereof from the face of the earth, is the concern of every man to whom Nature has given the power of feeling."

It is, as you see, the style of an orator, not always easy to follow, but powerful and convincing when one makes the effort. Personally, I'm not sure that I qualify as a defender of mankind, since my thoughts, so far, have not gone beyond Abigail and my new family, but who knows? I might speak up for mankind some day.

I have just sent off a letter to my father, alluding ever so tactfully to certain rumors I have heard concerning his office and expressing the hope that they are unfounded. I also wrote about my affectionate concern for my stepmother. (No elegant prose this time! All very matter-of-fact.) In truth, I cannot bear this silence any longer.