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“Your friends, the Abbé Morellet and Madame Helvetius, are well. You have made the latter very happy by your present of gooseberry bushes, which arrived in five daye, and in excellent order. With great and sincere esteem, I have the honor to be, &c. &c.
Soon after this we heard from England, that a total change had taken place in the Ministry, and that Lord Shelburne had come in as Secretary of State. But I thought no more of my letter, till an old friend and near neighbor of mine many years in London appeared at Passy, and introduced a Mr Oswald, whom he said had a great desire to see me, and Mr Oswald, after some little conversation, gave me the following letters from Lord Shelburne and Mr Laurens.
LORD SHELBURNE TO B. FRANKLIN.
London, April 6th, 1782. “Dear Sir, “I have been favored with your letter, and am much obliged by your rensembrance. I find myself returned nearly to the same situation, which you remember me to have occupied nineteen years ago, and I should be very glad to talk to you as I did then, and afterwards in 1767, upon the means of promoting the happiness of mankind, a subject much more agreeable to my nature, than the best concerted plans for spreading misery and devastation. I have had a high opinion of the compass of your mind, and of your foresight. I have often been beholden to both, and shall be glad to be so again, as far as is compatible with your situation. Your letter discovering the same disposition, has made me send to you Mr Oswald. I have had a longer acquaintance with him, than even I have had the pleasure to have with you. I believe him an honest man, and, after consulting some of our common friends, I have thought him the fittest for the purpose. He is a pacifical man, and conversant in those negotiations, which are most interesting to mankind. This has made me prefer him to any of our speculative friends, or to any person of higher rank. He is fully apprized of my mind, and you may give full credit to everything he assures you of. At the same time, if any other channel occurs to you, I am ready to embrace it. I wish to retain the same simplicity and good faith, which subsisted between us in transactions of less importance. I have the honor to be, &c.
HENRY LAURENS TO B. FRANKLIN.
London, April 7th, 1782. “Dear Sir, “Richard Oswald, Esquire, who will do me the honor of delivering this, is a gentleman of the strictest candor and integrity. I dare give such assurances from an experience little short of thirty years, and to add, you will be perfectly safe in conversing freely with him on the business he will introduce, a business, which Mr Oswald has disinterestedly engaged in, from motives of benevolence, and from the choice of the man a persuasion follows, that the Electors mean to be in earnest.
"Some people in this country, who have too long indulged themselves in abusing everything American, have been pleased to circulate an opinion, that Dr Franklin is a very cunning man, in answer to which, I have remarked to Mr Oswald, 'Dr Franklin knows very well how to manage a cunning man, but when the Doctor converses, or treats with a man of candor, there is no man more candid than himself. I do not know whether you will ultimately agree on political sketches, but I am sure, as gentlemen, you will part very well pleased with each other. Should you, Sir, think proper to communicate to me your sentiments and advice on our affairs, the more amply the more acceptable, and probably the more serviceable; Mr Oswald will take charge of your despatches, and afford a secure means of conveyance.
“To this gentleman I refer you for general information of a journey, which I am inmediately to make, partly in his company, at Ostend, to file off for the Hague. I feel a willingness, infirm as I am, to attempt doing as much good as can be expected from such a prisoner upon parole. As General Burgoyne is certainly exchanged, (a circumstance, by the by, which possibly might have embarrassed us, had your late propositions been accepted) may I presume at my return to offer another Lieutenant General, now in England, a prisoner upon parole, in exchange; or what shall I offer in exchange for myself, a thing in my own estimation of no great value? I have the honor to be, with great respect, and, permit me to add, great reverence, Sir, &c.
HENRY LAURENS.” I entered into conversation with Mr Oswald. He was represented in the letter as fully apprized of Lord Shelburne's mind, and I was desirous of knowing it. All I could learn was, that the new Ministry sincerely wished for a peace, that they considered the object of the war, to France and America, as obtained. That if the independence of the United States was agreed to, there was no other point in dispute, and therefore nothing to hinder a pacification. That they were ready to treat of Peace, but he intimated, that if France should insist upon terms too humiliating to England, they could still continue the war, having yet great strength, and many resources left. I let him know, that America would not treat but in concert with France, and that my colleagues not being here, I could do nothing of importance in the affair ; but that, if he pleased, I would present him to M. de Vergennes, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He consenting, I wrote and sent the following letter.
TO COUNT DE VERGENNES.
Passy, April 15th, 1782. "Sir, "An English nobleman, Lord Cholmondely, lately returning from Italy, called upon me here, at the time when we received the news of the first resolutions of the House of Commons, relating to America. In conversation he said, that he knew his friend, Lord Shelburne, had a great regard for me, that it would be pleasing to him to hear of my welfare, and receive a line from me, of which he, Lord Cholmondely, should like to be the bearer, adding, if there should be a change of Ministry, he believed Lord Shelburne would be employed. I thereupon wrote a few lines, of which I enclose a copy. This day I received an answer, which I also enclose, together with another letter from Mr Laurens. They both, as your Excellency will see, recommend the bearer, Mr Oswald, as a very honest, sensible man. I have had a little conversation with him. He tells me, that there has been a desire of making a separate peace with America, and continuing the war with France
that I could power, &c.
and Spain, but that now all wise people give up that idea as impracticable, and it is his private opinion, that the Ministry do sincerely desire a general peace, and that they will readily come into it, provided France does not insist upon conditions too humiliating for England, in which case she will make great and violent efforts, rather than submit to them, and that much is still in her power, &c. too 1.6I told the gentleman, that I could not enter into particulars with him, but in concert with the Ministers of this Court. And I proposed introducing him to your Excellency, after communicating to you the letters he had brought me, in case you should think fit to see him, with which he appeared to be pleased. I intend waiting on you tomorrow, when you will please to acquaint me with your intentions, and favor me with your counsels. He had heard nothing of Forth's mission, and the old Ministry had not acquainted the new with that transaction. Mr Laurens came over with him in the same vessel, and went from Ostend to Holland. With great respect, I am, &c.
B. FRANKLIN.” The next day, being at Court with the Foreign Ministers, as usual on Tuesdays, I saw M. de Vergennes, who acquainted me, that he had caused the letters to be translated, had considered the contents, and should like to see Mr Oswald. We agreed that the interview should be on Wednesday at 10 o'clock. Immediately on my return home, I wrote to Mr Oswald, acquainting him with what had passed at Versailles, and proposing, that he should be with me at half past eight the next morning, in order to proceed thither. I received from him the following answer.