« ZurückWeiter »
course was fair and unexceptionable. “I do not find,” writes Thomas Penn, “that he has done me any prejudice with any party. I believe he has spent most of his time in philosophical, and especially in electrical, matters, having generally company in a morning to see those experiments, and musical performances on glasses, where any one that knows him carries his friends.” The musical performances here referred to were on the Harmonica, an instrument contrived by Franklin, being an improvement on the mode of using musical glasses. It was quite in vogue at one time in London. “He was gifted,” says Mignet, “with the spirit of observation and inference above all other endowments. Observation conducted him to discovery, and inference to a practical application of it. Was he traversing the ocean, he made experiments upon the temperature of the waters, and proved that the warmth of the water in the Gulf Stream was much greater than that of the water on each side of it. He thus revealed to mariners a simple mode of discovering when they were in the Gulf Stream. Was he listening to sounds produced by glasses put in vibration, he remarked that these sounds differed according to the size of the glass, and the relations to its width, capacity and contents. From these observations resulted the suggestion of a new musical instrument, and Franklin invented the Harmonica.* Did he chance to examine the loss of heat through the aperture of chimneys, and the imperfect combustion in a closed stove, he invented, from this double examination, by combining both means of heating, a chimney-place which was as economical as a stove, and a stove which was as open as a chimney-place. This stove, which is in the chimney-place form, was very generally adopted, and Franklin refused a patent for the exclusive sale. But his most glorious and important discovery was that of the nature of lightning and the laws of electricity.” The fact of the production of cold by evaporation, unfamiliar at the time to science, was illustrated by him on several occasions, while in England. Some curious experiments, by which an extraordinary degree of cold, even to freezing, might be produced by evaporation, had been previously communicated to him by Professor Simpson, of Glasgow. One of these was by wetting the ball of a thermometer with spirit of wine, thus causing the mercury to sink. Being at Cambridge, Franklin mentioned this to Dr. Hadley, professor of chemistry, and several interesting experiments were tried, of which an account is given by Franklin, in a letter to Dr. Lining. In another, to Dr. Heberden, he communicated some discoveries which he had made, to test a disputed question, in regard to the electrical peculiarities of the tourmaline, a stone found chiefly in the East Indies, and the chief constituents of which are silica and alumina. The transparent colored varieties are very beautiful. It was known to the ancients under the name of lymcurium. It was the opinion of AEpinus that the tourmaline is always endowed with a positive and negative electricity at the same moment, these different states being confined to opposite sides of the fossil. Franklin satisfied himself that this account was well-founded. He also observed that the warmth of his finger, when he wore the stone, was sufficient to give it some degree of electricity, so that it was always ready to attract light bodies. He thought that experiments might have failed, in many instances, in consequence of the stones having been improperly cut by the lapidaries, or through omission to impart to them the full heat given by boiling water. In a letter to Alexander Small, of London, he communicates reasons, which he had long entertained, for the opinion that our north-east storms in North America begin first, in point of time, in the south-west parts: that is to say, the air in Georgia begins to move south-westerly before the air of Carolina, the air of Carolina before that of Virginia, and so on. Among his reasons for believing this, was the fact that, some twenty years before, having been prevented by a north-east storm from witnessing an eclipse of the moon at Philadelphia, he subsequently learned that the eclipse was distinctly observed in Boston, and that the storm did not begin there till four hours after it had begun in Philadelphia. The conjecture deduced from this and similar facts has been abundantly confirmed by later experience; the telegraph now frequently reporting that a north-easterly storm is raging in Philadelphia, while the weather is yet clear in Boston. Franklin explained the phenomenon by supposing that, to produce our north-east storms, some reat heat and rarefaction of the air must exist in or about the Gulf of Mexico; the air thence rising has its place supplied by the next more northern, cooler, and therefore denser and heavier air; that, being in motion, is followed by the next more northern air, &c., in a successive current, to which current our coast and inland ridge of mountains give the direction of north-east, as they lie north-east and south-west. In a letter from London to Peter Franklin, he speculates on the saltness of sea-water, and inclines to the opinion that all the water on this globe was originally salt, and that the fresh water we find in springs and rivers is the produce of distillation. Several letters, written about this time to his landlady's intelligent daughter, Miss Stevenson, exhibit Franklin in a most amiable light. The mixture of playfulness with gravity, of the light-hearted pleasantry of the humorist with the profound insight of the sage, which they exhibit, is a combination as rare as it is charming. In one of these letters, in reply to the question from the young lady, why the water at Bristol, though cold at the spring, becomes warm by pumping, he says that it will be most prudent in him to forbear attempting to answer, till, by a more circumstantial account, he is assured of the fact; and he adds: “This prudence of not attempting to give reasons before one is sure of facts I learnt from one of your sex, who, as Selden tells us, being in company with some gentlemen that were viewing and considering something which they called a Chinese shoe, and disputing earnestly about the manner of wearing it, and how it could possibly be put on, put in her word, and said, modestly, ‘Gentlemen, are you sure it is a shoe Q Should not that be settled first ‘l’”
* Franklin possessed a strong natural taste for music. Leigh Hunt, speaking of his own mother, a Philadelphia lady, says: “Dr. Franklin offered to teach her the guitar, but she was too bashful to become his pupil. She regretted this afterward ; partly, no doubt, for having missed so illustrious a master. Her first child, who died, was named after him. I know not whether the anecdote is new, but I have heard that, when Dr. Franklin invented the Harmonica, he concealed it from his wife till the instrument was fit to play, and then woke her with it one night, when she took it for the music of angels.” In one of his letters to his wife, Franklin presents his best respects to “dear, precious Mrs. Shewell,” who was Leigh Hunt's grandmother.
In another letter to the same lady, after alluding to the study of entomology, and illustrating its importance by an anecdote, he advises a prudent moderation in the pursuit, lest more important things be sacrificed; “for,” he says, “there is no rank in natural knowledge of equal dignity and importance with that of being a good parent, a good child, a good husband or wife, a good subject or citizen, — that is, in short, a good Christian. Nicholas Gimcrack, therefore, who neglected the care of his family to pursue butterflies, was a just object of ridicule, and we must give him up as fair game to the satirist.”
After being present, by invitation, at the Commencement at Cambridge, the beginning of July, 1758, Franklin went through Huntingdonshire into Northumberlandshire, in search of some of his own and his wife's English relatives. Although they were all in humble spheres of life, he seems to have taken genuine pleasure in finding them out and making himself known. “At Wellingborough,” he says, in a letter to his wife, “on inquiry, we found still living Mary Fisher, whose maiden name was Franklin, daughter and only child of Thomas Franklin, my father's eldest brother; she is five years older than Sister Douse, and remembers her going away with my father and his then wife, and two other children, to New England, about the year 1685. We have had no correspondence with her since my Uncle Benjamin's death, now near thirty years. I knew she had lived at Wellingborough, and had married there to one Mr. Richard Fisher, a grazier and tanner, about fifty years ago, but did not expect to see either of them alive, so inquired for their posterity. I was directed to their house, and we found them both alive, but weak with age, very glad, however, to see us; she seems to have been a very smart, sensible woman. They are wealthy, have left off business, and live comfortably.” From Wellingborough, Franklin and his son went to Ecton, about three or four miles, where his father was born, and his father, grandfather and greatgrandfather, had lived. He visited the old family house, which he describes as “a decayed old stone building, but still known by the name of Franklin House.” Here he made the acquaintance of the rector of the village and his wife, “a good-natured, chatty old lady,” who remembered a good deal about the family. She led the way into the church-yard, “and showed us several grave-stones, which were so covered with moss that we could not read the letters till she ordered a hard brush and basin of water, with which Peter scoured them clean, and then Billy copied them.” A group for a picture this! Franklin, his son, and the “chatty old lady,” and Peter scrubbing the moss and dust from the grave-stones of the philosopher's ancestors, “the rude forefathers of the hamlet” The rector's wife told diverting stories of Thomas Franklin, Mrs. Fisher's father, who was a conveyancer and a bit of a lawyer, and was looked upon as something of a conjurer by some of the villagers. He was a leading man in county affairs, set on foot a subscription for having chimes in the steeple, proposed an easy method to prevent the village meadows from being submerged, and, in short, exhibited many of the traits afterwards more conspicuously developed in the character of his illustrious nephew. “He died,” says Franklin, “just four years before I was born, on the same day of the same month.” Perhaps a notion of transmigration slid into Franklin's brain, as he noted this coincidence. From Ecton, he went to Birmingham, where, upon inquiry, he found out some of his wife's, “and Cousin Wilkinson's, and Cousin Cash's relations.” One was a buttonmaker, and another a turner; and one was a “lively, active man, with six children; ” and they were all very glad to see any person that knew their relatives in America; and Franklin was well pleased with them and with his visit. Returning to London, he found out a daughter of his father's only sister, very old, and never married; “a good,
clever woman, but poor, though vastly contented with her
situation, and very cheerful.” Happening to hear that the child of a distant relation was in a destitute state, he took her home, and educated and maintained her till she was married. In February, 1759, the University of St. Andrew's conferred upon Franklin the degree of Doctor of Laws; and in the summer of that year, accompanied by his son, he made a visit to Scotland, with which he seems to have been highly gratified. He here formed the acquaintance of David Hume and Dr. Robertson, the historians, Lord Kames and