Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

soon be, and indeed is now, worse than that without doors. Come, open the window and come to bed, and I will convince you. I believe you are not acquainted with my the ory of colds.” Opening the window and leaping into bed, I said I had read his letters to Dr. Cooper, in which he had advanced that nobody ever got cold by going into a cold church or any other cold air, but the theory was so little consistent with my experience, that I thought it a paradox. However, I had so much curiosity to hear his reasons, that I would run the risk of a cold. The Doctor then began a harangue upon air and cold, and respiration and perspiration, with which I was so much amused that I soon fell asleep, and left him and his philosophy together; but I believe they were equally sound and insensible within a few minutes after me, for the last words I heard were pronounced as if he was more than half asleep. I remember little of the lecture, except that the human body, by respiration and perspiration, destroys a gallon of air in a minute; that two such persons as were now in that chamber would consume all the air in it in an hour or two; that by breathing over again the matter thrown off by the lungs and the skin we should imbibe the real cause of colds, not from abroad, but from within.” In December, 1775, Franklin, as one of the Committee of Secret Correspondence, had written to his friends abroad, and particularly to M. Dumas, in Holland, requesting information as to whether any of the European courts were disposed to afford assistance to the American Colonies in their struggle for independence. It being decided to make an application to France for aid, three commissioners — namely, Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane and Arthur Lee — were appointed by Congress to negotiate with that power. Two of the commissioners were already in Europe. Franklin, accompanied by his two grandsons, William Temple Franklin and Benjamin Franklin Bache, left Philadelphia October 26, 1776, proceeded to Marcus Hook, and, the next day, embarked in the United States sloop-of-war Reprisal, mounting sixteen guns, and commanded by Captain Wickes. The sloop was chased several times by British cruisers, but, though prepared for action, the captain obeyed orders, and shunned an engagement. When near the coast of France,

MISSION TO FRANCE. - 75

however, he seized two British vessels, with cargoes, one from Bordeaux, and the other from Rochefort. Early on the morning of November 28th, he came in sight of Belleisle, and, having taken a pilot, he ran the sloop the next day into Quiberon Bay, where she continued till December 3d. The winds being against her entering the Loire, Franklin and his grandsons went on board a fishing-boat, which had come along-side, and were put on shore at Auray, so that they did not reach Nantes till December 7th. Here they stayed eight days, being fèted and treated with the utmost distinction. No announcement of Franklin's coming had reached France; nor was it known in Europe that Congress had decided on any application for aid. But it was now generally surmised that he was present on some official errand, and he found himself none the less welcome on that account. It was the 21st of December, 1776, when he arrived in Paris. Here he found his colleagues, Messrs. Deane and Lee. On the 1st of January following, Congress directed Franklin to proceed to Spain, there to transact such business as might be intrusted to him. This mission he declined, and it was arranged among the commissioners that Mr. Lee should undertake it.

[ocr errors]

THE diplomatic career of Franklin in France extends over a period of nearly nine years. He had made two previous visits to Paris, in 1767 and 1769. His reputation in that metropolis at those periods had been great, greater than it was either in England or America; but it was now matured by the lapse of time, and he was received with a degree of distinction rarely accorded to any foreigner. After remaining a week or two in Paris, he established himself at Passy, a village about three miles from the central part of the city. He took up his abode in a large and handsome house, belonging, with its extensive garden, to M. Le Ray de Chaumont. In regard to the rent, John Adams wrote, some months afterwards, that he never could discover it; “but,” he adds, “from the magnificence of the place, it was universally suspected to be enormously high.” It appeared, however, as he himself confessed, that there was much exaggeration in this suspicion. The owner of the estate, a stanch friend of America, was content to have Franklin occupy his house on very moderate terms, and, after our revolution, to receive his pay from our government in grants of the public land. Franklin's prompt attention was given to the great object of his mission. Previous to his arrival, the French court, which was not yet prepared for an open breach with England, had secretly advanced, through M. Beaumarchais, the celebrated dramatist, about two hundred thousand dollars for the remission of arms and military stores to America, it being arranged that Congress should send tobacco and other produce in return. The three American commissioners were received in their private capacity very kindly by Wergennes, minister for foreign affairs; but it was thought advisable to defer, for the present, any open recognition of their diplomatic character. It was arranged; however, that they should receive, ostensibly from a private source, though really from the king's treasury, for the use of Congress, a quarterly allowance, amounting in the whole to about four hundred thousand dollars; and half as much more was advanced on loan by the “farmers general,” to be repaid by remittances of tobacco. Being thus at once supplied with upwards of half a million of dollars, they sent home arms and equipments, fitted out armed vessels, and supplied the American cruisers touching at French ports. Meanwhile the British ambassador at Paris, Lord Stormont, was loud in his remonstrances, gomplaining of the underhand aid afforded to the insurgents, their fitting out vessels of war from French ports, bringing in prizes and effecting sales, &c. Vergennes made a show of rebuking the commissioners, but the latter do not seem to have been deterred by it from their operations. They wrote to Lord Stormont relative to an exchange of prisoners. His lordship pompously replied: “The king's ambassador receives no application from rebels, unless they come to implore his majesty's mercy.” Franklin's reply, signed also by Deane to this impertinence, was: “My Lord: In answer to a letter, which concerns some of the most material interests of humanity, and of the two nations, Great Britain and the

ALLIANCE WITH FRANCE. 77

United States of America, now at war, we received the enclosed indecent paper as coming from your lordship, which we return for your lordship's more mature consideration.” The British ministry, finding the balance of prisoners against them, were soon glad to accept the proposition thus magnificently put aside by Lord Stormont. Although the sympathies of the French court seemed to be heartily with the Americans from the first, it abstained from committing itself openly until the news of Burgoyne's surrender to the Americans under Gates,” at Saratoga, October 17th, 1777, was received in France. That event decided the French cabinet in its course. “The capitulation of Burgoyne,” writes Franklin, “has caused the most general joy in France, as if it were a victory won by her own troops over her own enemies. Such is the universal ardent and sincere good-will and attachment of this nation for us and our cause.” He availed himself of this moment of enthusiasm to promote the interests of his country. On the 7th of December, Vergennes informed the American commissioners that his majesty was disposed to establish more direct relations with the United States. Two treaties were signed February 6, 1778; one of amity and commerce, the other of alliance for mutual defence, by which the king agreed to make common cause with the United States, should England attempt to obstruct the commerce with France; and guaranteed to the United States their liberty, sovereignty and independence. “The king,” writes Franklin, “has treated with us generously and magnanimously; taken no advantage of our present difficulties to exact terms which we would not willingly grant when established in prosperity and power.” “England is in great consternation.” The intelligence of the signing of these treaties, which were at once ratified by Congress, was received with the greatest rejoicing throughout the United States. In England it created much dissatisfaction, and led to the recall of her ambassador from Paris.

* This surrender gave occasion to Sheridan’s mischievous epigram upon Burgoyne, who aspired to be a dramatist as well as a military commandel :

“Burgoyne surrendered 0, ye fates!
Could not that Samson carry Gate” s”

The American commissioners now appeared at court on a footing with the representatives of other independent powers. Franklin was presented by Vergennes to Louis the Sixteenth at Versailles, and was received with the clapping of hands and other tokens of welcome from the surrounding courtiers. He appeared at this royal audience very simply attired, with straight, unpowdered hair, a brown cloth coat, and round hat. A crowd had collected to see him. His age, his venerable aspect, his simple dress, contrasted with the finery around him, the recollection of his services to science and humanity, all combined to waken the utmost enthusiasm of the spectators. The king received him with much cordiality, charging him to assure the United States of his friendship, and expressing his satisfaction with the conduct of their commissioner during his residence in France. On his withdrawing from this audience, the crowd in the passage-ways received Franklin with renewed manifestations of welcome, and followed him for some distance. The enthusiasm of which he had been the object at Versailles was renewed at Paris. Voltaire had recently arrived there, after an absence of thirty years. He was in his eightyfifth year. Franklin called upon him, and was received with evident pleasure. Voltaire at first accosted him in English; but, having lost the habit of speaking it, he resumed the conversation in French, adroitly remarking, “I could not resist the temptation of speaking for a moment the language of Franklin.” The Philadelphia sage then presented his grandson to the patriarch of Ferney, and asked his blessing upon him. “God and liberty ” said Voltaire, raising his hands over the young man's head; “that is the only benediction appropriate to the grandson of Franklin.”

A few days after this interview, the same parties met at the Academy of Sciences, and were placed side by side. The sight of these distinguished old men elicited another outbreak of Parisian enthusiasm. The cry arose that they should embrace. They stood up, bowed, took each other by the hand, and spoke. But this was not enough. The clamor continued. “Il faut s'embrasser a la Francaise,” was the cry; whereupon they kissed each other on the cheek, - and not till then did the tumult subside. The scene was classically compared, by the litterateurs of the

2

« ZurückWeiter »