Abbildungen der Seite

or charged negatively. These experiments and observations opened a new field for investigation, upon which electricians entered with avidity; and their labors have added much to the stock of our knowledge.” In 1749 he suggested an explanation of the aurora borealis and thunder-gusts on electrical principles. The same year he conceived the project of testing the truth of his theory in respect to lightning, by means of sharp-pointed iron rods, raised into the region of the clouds. But it was not till the summer of 1752 that he resorted to the expedient of a common kite, and by means of it converted what was theory into scientific truth. While waiting for the construction of a spire from which to try his experiment, it occurred to him that he might secure the desired contact with the clouds by means of a kite. He prepared one of a silk handkerchief, as being less likely to be affected by rain than paper. To the upright stick of the frame he attached an iron point. The string was, as usual, of hemp, except the lower end, which was of silk; and where the hempen and silken cords were united, he fastened a metallic key. With this apparatus, he went forth, with his son, into the fields, as a thunder-storm was coming on, to try the experiment, the memory of which was to be immortal. Well knowing the ridicule which scientific experiments, when unsuccessful, often call forth, he kept his intentions a secret from all but his companion. He placed himself under a shed, to avoid the rain. His kite was raised. A thundercloud passed over it. No sign of electricity appeared. Franklin began to despair of success, when suddenly he saw the loose fibres of his string in motion, and bristling, in an upright position, as if placed on a conductor. On applying his knuckle to the key, he experienced a smart shock, accompanied by a bright spark. Here was his theory verified As the string became wet with the rain, it operated better as a conductor, and he was enabled to collect an abundant supply of electricity, with which he charged a jar. This experiment was made in June, 1752. It had been successfully performed, according to Franklin's original plan, by means of a pointed bar of iron, about a month previous, in Paris, by M. De Lor; but Franklin had not been apprized either of the attempt or the result at the time of making his experiment with the kite. He afterwards had an insulated rod constructed to draw the lightning into his house, with a bell attached, in order to inform him when the rod was affected by electricity. By means of this apparatus he was enabled to collect a considerable quantity of electric fluid, on which to experiment at his leisure. Franklin's letters to Collinson, narrating his electrical experiments, were at first received with incredulous raillery by the Royal Society, and regarded as unworthy of being printed among its transactions. The scientific men of France, however, did ample justice to Franklin's merits, and at length the experiment of procuring lightning from the clouds by a pointed rod having been verified in England, the Royal Society made amends for its neglect by choosing him a member, exempting him from the customary admission fee of twenty-five guineas, and, in 1753, presenting him with the gold medal of Sir Godfrey Copley. “The fame of Franklin,” says Mignet, “rapidly spread with his theory over the whole world. His Treatise, published by Dr. Fothergill, a member of the Royal Society, was translated into French, Italian, German and Latin. It produced a scientific revolution throughout Europe. The experiments of the American philosopher, which Dalibard had made simultaneously with him at Marly-le-Roi, were repeated at Montbard, by the great naturalist Buffon ; at Saint Germain, by De Lor, before Louis XV., who wished to be a witness of them; at Turin, by Father Beccaria; in Russia, by Professor Richmann, who, receiving too powerful a discharge, fell lightning-struck, and gave to science a martyr. Everywhere conclusive, these experiments caused the new system to be adopted by acclamation; and it was styled Franklinian, in honor of its author. “Thus all at once distinguished, the Philadelphia sage became the object of universal regard, and was abundantly loaded with academic honors. The Academy of Sciences of Paris made him an associate member, as it had Newton and Leibnitz. All the learned bodies of Europe eagerly admitted him into their ranks.” To this scientific glory, which he might have extended if he had consecrated to his favorite pursuits his thoughts and his time, he added high political distinction. To this man, happy because he was intelligent, great because he had an active genius and a devoted heart, was accorded the rare felicity of serving his country skilfully and usefully for a period of fifty years; and, after having taken rank among the immortal founders of the positive sciences, of enrolling himself among the generous liberators of the nations.”

* Emmanuel Kant, the celebrated German philosopher, spoke of Franklin, in 1755, as “the Prometheus of modern times.”

With a scientific and literary reputation familiar to all Europe, Franklin was hospitably received in England on the occasion of his second visit, which lasted from July 27, 1757, to the latter part of August, 1762. At this time Dr. Johnson was publishing his Idler; Burke had just given to the world his “Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful,” and was editing the Annual Register for Dodsley; Hume was about completing his History of England; Sterne was publishing his Tristram Shandy; Swedenborg was residing obscurely in London, engaged upon his mystical writings; Goldsmith was just launching upon a literary career in the same great metropolis; Garrick was electrifying the town with his acting; and the brothers Wesley were engaging in their extraordinary labors for the establishment of a reformed Protestantism. Sir Isaac Newton had died thirty years before. Franklin, when in London before, had been promised a sight of him, but the promise was not kept. It does not appear that Franklin ever became personally acquainted with any of these distinguished persons, excepting Hume, Garrick and Burke.

After partaking of the hospitality of his friend and correspondent, Mr. Collinson, he took lodgings at a house in Craven-street, a few doors from the Strand, which had been recommended to him by some of his Philadelphia friends. It was kept by a Mrs. Stevenson, “a very discreet, good gentlewoman,” and Franklin did not change his quarters during the whole period of his stay in England. Many of his best philosophical papers were addressed to Miss Mary Stevenson, a daughter of his landlady, and a young lady of decided taste for scientific investigation. With this family he maintained the most affectionate relations during his long life.

Among the acquaintances of Franklin at this time was John Baskerville, whose improvements in printing and type-founding had commended him to the literary world. He was born the same year with Franklin, and similarity of mechanical tastes brought them together. William Strahan, king's printer, and a member of Parliament, was one of Franklin's most intimate associates and admirers, and his regard seems to have been reciprocated. “He was very urgent with me,” says Franklin, in a letter to his wife, “to stay in England, and prevail with you to remove hither with Sally. He proposed several advantageous schemes to me, which appeared reasonably founded.” In a letter to Mrs. Franklin, dated London, December 13, 1757, Mr. Strahan writes of her husband:—“I never saw a man who was, in every respect, so perfectly agreeable to me. Some are amiable in one view, some in another, he in all.” It is a painful example of the estrangements produced by war to read, in connection with this, the following letter (by some supposed not wholly serious) from Franklin to Strahan, written some eighteen years afterwards:

Philad., July 5, 1775. MR. STRAHAN : You are a Member of Parliament, and one of that majority which has doomed my country to destruction. You have begun to burn our towns and murder our people. Look upon your hands;– they are stained with the blood of your relations ! You and I were long friends, – you are now my enemy; and I am

After the independence of the Colonies, the friendly intercourse of Franklin with Strahan was renewed, and old ties were reknit with added warmth on both sides. In the autumn of 1757 Franklin had an attack of illness, resulting in a violent cold and fever; during which, as he writes to his wife, he was “now and then a little delirious.” “They cupped me,” he continues, “on the back of the head, which seemed to ease me for the present. I took a good deal of bark, both in substance and infusion; and, too soon thinking myself well, I ventured out twice, to do a little business and forward the service I am engaged in, and both times got fresh cold and fell down again. My good doctor grew very angry with me for acting contrary to his cautions and directions, and obliged me to promise more observance for the future.” The “good doctor” here alluded to was Doctor Fothergill, who attended Franklin very carefully and affectionately during his illness, which lasted nearly two months. Franklin entered into the objects of his mission with his usual alacrity and fidelity of attention. A brief review of these objects will be appropriate in this place. By the death of the widow of William Penn, and of Springett Penn, son and heir of William Penn the younger, the territorial rights of the province were reinited, under the will of William Penn, the founder, in John, Thomas, and Richard, his sons by his second wife. John, the eldest, born in Pennsylvania during his father's last visit, possessed a double share. By John's death, without issue, his half of Pennsylvania descended to his next brother, Thomas, who thus became “Proprietary” of three-fourths of the province, his brother Richard being the “Proprietary” of the remainder. To extend their influence, these Proprietaries had claimed the appointment of judicial and other officers. They had forbidden all other persons to purchase lands of the natives, — thus establishing a monopoly in their own favor; and they had insisted on the exemption of their immense estates from taxation. In an address to the Proprietaries in 1751, the General Assembly urge the old complaint, that the Province was at the sole expense of Indian treaties, of which the chief benefit resulted to the Proprietaries in the

« ZurückWeiter »