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Ben Franklin

Life of Benjamin Franklin by Jared Sparks


Extracts from a Private Journal.×

Passy, June 26th, 1784. — Mr. Walterstorf called on me, and acquainted me with a duel that had been fought yesterday morning, between a French officer t and a Swedish gentleman of that king's suite, in which the latter was killed on the spot, and the other dangerously wounded; — that the king does not resent it, as he thinks his subject was in the wrong.

He asked me if I had seen the king of Sweden.× I had not yet had that honor. He said his behaviour here was not liked ; that he took little notice of his own ambassador, who, being acquainted with the usages of this court, was capable of advising him, but was not consulted. That he was always talking of himself, and vainly boasting of his revolution, though it was known to have been 'the work of M. de Vergennes. That they began to be tired of him here, and wished him gone; but he proposed staying till the 12th of July. That he had now laid aside his project of invading Norway, as be found Denmark had made preparations to receive him. That he pretended the Danes had designed to invade Sweden, though it was a known fact, that the Danes had made no military preparations, even for defense, till six months after his began. I asked if it was clear, that he had had an intention to invade Norway. He said that the marching and disposition of his troops, and the fortifications he had erected, indicated it very plainly. He added, that Sweden was at present greatly distressed for provisions; that many people bad actually died of hunger! That it was reported, that the king came here to borrow money, and to offer to sell Gottenburg to France; a thing not very probable.

M. Dussaulx called, and said, it is reported there is an alliance treating between the Emperor of Austria, Russia, and England; the purpose not known; and that a counteralliance is proposed between France, Prussia, and Holland, in which it is supposed Spain will join. He added, that changes in the ministry are talked of; that there are cabals against M. de Vergennes; that M. de Calonne is to be Garde des Sccaux, with some other rumors, fabricated perhaps at the Palais Royal.

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June 29th. — Mr. Hammond, secretary to Mr. Hartley, called to tell me, that Mr. Hartley bad not received any orders by the last courier, either to stay or return, which he had expected; and that he thought it occasioned by their uncertainty what terms of commerce to propose, till the report of the committee of Council was laid before Parliament, and its opinion known; and that be looked on the delay of writing to him as a sign of their intending to do something.

He told me it was reported, that the king of Sweden had granted the free use of Gottenburg as a port for France, which alarmed the neighbouring powers. That, in time of war, the northern coast of England might be much endangered by it.

June 30th. — M. Dupont, inspector of commerce, came to talk with me about the free port of L'Orient, and some difficulties respecting it; I referred him to Mr. Barclay, an American merchant and commissioner for accounts; and, as he said be did not well understand English when spoken, and Mr. Barclay did not speak French, I offered my grandson to accompany him as interpreter, which he accepted.

I asked him whether the Spaniards from the continent of America did not trade to the French sugar islands? He said not. The only commerce with the Spaniards was for cattle between them and the French at St. Domingo. I had been told the Spaniards brought flour to the French islands from the continent. He had not beard of it. If we can find that such a trade is allowed (perhaps from the Mississippi), have not the United States a claim by treaty to the same privilege?

July 1st. — The Pope's Nuncio called, and acquainted me that the Pope had, on my recommendation, appointed Mr. John Carroll, superior of the Catholic clergy in America, with many of the powers of a bishop; and that probably he would be made a bishop in partibus before the and of the year. He asked me which would be most convenient for him, to come to France, or go to St. Domingo, for ordination by another bishop, which was necessary. I mentioned Quebec as more convenient than either. He asked whether, as that was an English province, our government might not take offence at his going thither? I thought not, unless the ordination by that bishop should give him some authority over our bishop. He said, not in the least; that when our bishop was once ordained, he would be independent of the others, and even of the Pope; which I did not clearly understand. He said the Congregation de Propaganda Fide had agreed to receive, and maintain and instruct, two young Americans in the languages and sciences at Rome; (he had formerly told me that more would be educated gratis in France.) He added, they had written from America that there are twenty priests, but that they are not sufficient; as the new settlements near the Mississippi have need of some.

The Nuncio said we should find, that the Catholics were not so intolerant as they had been represented; that the Inquisition in Rome had not now so much power as that in Spain; and that in Spain it was used chiefly as a prison of state. That the Congregation would have undertaken the education of more American youths, and may hereafter, but that at present they are overburdened, having some from all parts of the world. He spoke lightly of their New Bostonian convert Thayer's conversion; that he had advised him not to go to America, but settle in France. That he wanted to go to convert his countrymen; but he knew nothing yet of his new religion himself, &c.

Received a letter from Mr. Bridgen of London, dated the 22d past, acquainting me, that the Council of the Royal Society had voted me a gold medal, on account of my letter in favor of Captain Cook. Lord Howe had sent me his Journal, 3 vols. 4to, with a large volume of engravings, on the same account, and, as he writes, "with a the King's approbation."

July 3d. — Mr. Smeathman comes and brings two English or Scotch gentlemen; one a chevalier of some order, the other a physician who had lived long in Russia. Much conversation. Putrid fevers common in Russia, and in winter much more than in summer; therefore supposed to be owing to their hot rooms. In a gentleman's house there are sometimes one hundred domestics; these have not beds, but sleep twenty or thirty in a close room warmed by a stove, lying on the floor and on benches. The stoves are heated by wood. As soon as it is burnt to coals, the chimney is stopped to prevent the escape of hot and entry of cold air. So they breathe the same air over and over again all night. These fevers he cured by wrapping the patient in linen wet with vinegar, and making, them breathe the vapor of vinegar thrown on hot bricks. The Russians have the art of distilling spirit from milk. To prepare it for distillation it must, when beginning to sour, be kept in continual motion or agitation for twelve hours; it then becomes a uniform vinous liquor, the cream, curd, and aqueous part or whey, all intimately mixed. Excellent in this state for restoring emaciated bodies. This operation on milk was discovered long since by the Tartars, who in their rambling life often carry milk in leather bags on their horses, and the motion produced the effect. It may be tried with us by attaching a large keg of milk to some part of one of our mills.

July 6th. — Directed Temple Franklin, who goes to court to-day, to mention three things to the minister. The main levee of the arrested goods, the port of L'Orient, and the consular convention; which be did with effect. The port is fixed, and the convention preparing. Hear that Gottenburg is to he a free port for France, where they may assemble northern stores, &c.

Mr. Hammond came and dined with me. He acquaints me, from Mr. Hartley, that no instructions are yet come from England.

July 7th. — A very hot day. , Received a visit from the secretary of the king of Sweden, M. Franke, accompanied by the secretary of the embassy.

July 8th. — M. Franke dines with me, in company with M. de Helvetius, Abbe de la Roche, M. Cabanis, and an American captain. The king of Sweden does not go to England.

July 10th. — Mr. Grand came to propose my dining with the Swedish court at his house, which is next door, and I consented. While he was with me, the consul came. We talked about the Barbary powers; they are four, Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. He informed me that Salee, the principal port belonging to the Emperor of Morocco, had former been famous for corsairs. That this prince had discouraged them, and in 1768 published an edict declaring himself in peace with all the world, and forbade their cruising any more, appointing him consul for those Christian states who had none in his country. That Denmark pays him 25,000 piastres fortes yearly, in money; Sweden is engaged td send an ambassador every two years with presents; and the other powers buy their peace in the same manner, except Spain and the Italian states, with whom they have constant war. That he is consul for Sardinia and Prussia, for whom he procured treaties of peace. That he proposed a peace for Russia; but that, the Emperor having heard that Russia was going to war with his brother, the Grand Seignior, he refused it.

M. Audibert Caille, the consul, thinks it shameful for Christendom to pay tribute to such canaille, and proposes two ways of reducing the barbarians to peace with all Europe, and obliging them to quit their piratical practices. They have need of many articles from Europe, and of a vent for their superfluous commodities. If therefore all Europe would agree to refuse any commerce with them but on condition of their quitting piracy, and such an agreement could be faithfully observed on our part, it would have its effect upon them. But, if any one power would continue the trade with them, it would defeat the whole. There was another method be bad projected, and communicated in a memorial to the court here, by M. de Rayneval; which was, that France should undertake to suppress their piracies and give peace to all Europe, by means of its influence with the Porte. For, all the people of these states being obliged by their religion to go at times in caravans to Mecca, and to pass through the Grand Seignior's dominions, who gives them escorts of troops through the desert, to prevent their being plundered an perhaps massacred by the Arabs, he could refuse them passage and protection but on condition of their living peace ably with the Europeans, &c. He spoke of Montgomery's transaction, and of Crocco, who, he understands, was authorized by the court. The barbarians, he observed, having no commercial ships at sea, had vastly the advantage of the Europeans; for one could not make reprisals on their trade. And it has long been my opinion, that, if the European nations, who are powerful at sea, were to make war upon us Americans, it would be better for us to renounce commerce in our own bottoms, and convert them all into cruisers. Other nations would furnish us with what we wanted, and take off our produce. He promised me a note of the commerce of Barbary, and we are to see each other again, as he is to stay here a month.

Dined at Mr. Grand's, with the Swedish gentlemen. They were M. Rosenstein, secretary of the embassy, and, with whom I had a good deal of conversation relating to the commerce possible between our two countries. I found they had seen at Rome Charles Stuart, the Pretender. They spoke of his situation as very hard; that France, who bad formerly allowed him a pension, had withdrawn it, and that be sometimes almost wanted bread!

July 11th. — M. Walterstorf called. He hears that the agreement with Sweden respecting the port of Gottenburg is not likely to be concluded; that Sweden wanted an island in the West Indies in exchange. I think she is better without it.

July 13th. — MM. Mirabeau and Champfort came and read their translation of (American) Mr. Burke's pamphlet against the Cincinnati,× which they have much enlarged, intending it as a covered satire against noblesse in general. It is well done. There are also remarks on the last letter of General Washington on that subject. They say General Washington missed a beau moment, when he accepted to be of that society (which some affect to call an order). The same of the Marquis de la Fayette.

July 14th. — Mr. Hammond calls to acquaint me, that Mr. Hartley is still without any instructions relating to the treaty of commerce; and supposes it occasioned by their attention to the India hill. I said to him, " Your court and this seem to be waiting for one another, with respect to the American trade with your respective islands. You are both afraid of doing too much for us, and yet each wishes to do a little more than the other. You had better have accepted our generous proposal at first, to put us both on the same footing of free intercourse that existed before the war. You will make some narrow regulations, and then France will go beyond you in generosity. You never see your follies till too late to mend them." He. said, Lord Sheffield was continually exasperating the Parliament against America. He bad lately been publishing an account of loyalists murdered there, &c. Probably invented.

Thursday, July 15th. — The Duke de Chartres's balloon went off this morning from St. Cloud, himself and three others in the gallery. It was foggy, and they were soon out of sight. But, the machine being disordered, so that the trap or valve could not be opened to let out the expanding air, and fearing, that the balloon would burst, they cut a hole in it, which ripped larger, and they fell rapidly, but received no harm. They had been a vast height, met with a cloud of snow, and a tornado, which frightened them.

Friday, 16th. — Received a letter from two young gentlemen in London, who are come from America for ecclesiastical orders, and complain that they have been delayed there a year, and that the Archbishop will not permit them to be ordained unless they will take the oath of allegiance; and desiring to know if they may be ordained here. Inquired, and learned that, if ordained here, they must vow obedience to the Archbishop of Paris, Directed my grandson to ask the Nuncio, if their bishop in America might not be instructed to do it literally!

Saturday, 17th. — The Nuncio says the thing is impossible, unless the gentlemen become Roman Catholics. Wrote them an answer.

Sunday, 18th. — A good abbe brings me a large manuscript containing a scheme of reformation of all churches and states, religion, commerce, laws, &c., which he has planned in his closet, without much knowledge of the world. I have promised to look it over, and be is to call next Thursday. It is amazing the number of legislators that kindly bring me new plans for governing the United States.

Monday, July 19th. — Had the Americans at dinner, with Mr. White and Mr. Arbuthnot from England. The latter was an officer at Gibraltar during the late siege. He says the Spaniards might have taken it; and that it is now a place of no value to England. That its supposed use as a port for a fleet, to prevent the junction of the Brest and Toulon squadrons, is chimerical. That while the Spaniards are in possession of Algeziras, they can with their gunboats, in the use of which they are grown very expert, make it impossible for any fleet to lie there.

Tuesday, 20th. — My grandson went to court. No news there, except that the Spanish fleet against Algiers is sailed. Receive only one American letter by the packet, which is from the College of Rhode Island, desiring me to solicit benefactions of the King, which I cannot do, for reasons which I shall give them. It is inconceivable why I have no letters from Congress. The treaties with Denmark, Portugal, &c., all neglected! Mr. Hartley makes the same complaint. He is still without orders. Mr. Hammond called and dined with me; says Mr. Pitt begins to lose his popularity; his new taxes and project about the navy bills, give great discontent. He has been burnt in effigy at York. His East India bill not likely to go down; and it is thought he cannot stand long. Mr. Hammond is a friend of Mr. Fox; whose friends, that have lost their places, are called Fox's Martyrs.

Wednesday, July 21. — Count de Haga× sends his card to take leave. M. Grand tells me he has bought here my bust with that of M. D'Alembert or Diderot, to take with him to Sweden. He set out last night.

Thursday, 22d. — Lord Fitzmaurice, son of Lord Shelburne, arrives; brought me sundry letters and papers.

He thinks Mr. Pitt in danger of losing his majority in the House of Commons, though great at present; for be will not have wherewithal to pay them. I said, that governing by a Parliament which must be bribed, was employing a very expensive machine, and that the people of England would in time find out, though they had not yet, that, since the Parliament must always do the will of the minister, and be paid for doing it, and the people must find the money to pay them, it would be the same thing in effect, but much cheaper, to be governed by the minister at first hand, without a Parliament. Those present seemed to think the reasoning clear. Lord Fitzmaurice appears a sensible, amiable young man.

Tuesday, 27th. — Lord Fitzmaurice called to see me. His father having requested that I would give him such instructive hints as might be useful to him, I occasionally mentioned the old story of Demosthenes' answer to one who demanded what was the first point of oratory. Action. The second ? Action. The third ? Action. Which, I said, bad been generally understood to mean the action of an orator with his bands, &c., in speaking; but that I thought another kind of action of more importance to an orator, who would persuade people to follow his advice, viz. such a course of action in the conduct of life, as would impress them with an opinion of his integrity as well as of his understanding; that, this opinion once established, all the difficulties, delays, and oppositions, usually occasioned by doubts and suspicions, were prevented; and such a man, though a very imperfect speaker, would almost always carry his points against the most flourishing orator, who had not the character of sincerity. To express my sense of the importance of a good private character in public affairs more strongly, I said the advantage of having it, and the disadvantage of not having it, were so great, that I even believed, if George the Third had had a bad private character, and John Wilkes a good one, the latter might have turned the former out of his kingdom. Lord Shelburne, the father of Lord Fitzmaurice, has unfortunately the character of being insincere; and it has hurt much his usefulness; though, in all my concerns with him, I never saw any instance of that kind.

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