Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

the two questions, “What is your duty to God? What is your duty to your neighbor?” with answers. “The Psalms,” he tells us, “were much contracted by leaving out the repetitions (of which I found more than I could have imagined) and the imprecations, which appeared not to suit well the Christian doctrine of forgiveness of injuries, and doing good to enemies. The book was printed for Wilkie, in St. Paul's Church-yard, but never much noticed. Some were given away, very few sold, and I suppose the bulk became waste paper.” A fifth edition of Franklin's philosophical writings appeared about the same time in London. Two French editions had been published in Paris, and a third was now issued, the translation of which was executed by his friend, Barbeu Dubourg, described by John Adams as “a physician, a bachelor, a man of letters, and of good character, but of little consequence in the French world; ” “a jolly companion, and very fond of anecdotes.” Besides some philosophical pieces, chiefly on electrical subjects, written about this time, Franklin published anonymously his “Rules for Reducing a Great Empire to a Small One,” and his “Edict by the King of Prussia.” Much literary skill is apparent in the construction of these jeuw d'esprit. Of the first, Lord Mansfield remarked, it was “very able and very artful indeed.” Of the effect of the latter, Franklin gives the following pleasant account, in a letter to his son:

“What made it the more noticed here was, that people, in reading it, were, as the phrase is, taken in, till they had got half through it, and imagined it a real edict, to which mistake I suppose the King of Prussia’s character must have contributed. I was down at Lord Le Despencer's when the post brought that day’s papers. Mr. Whitehead was there, too (Paul Whitehead, the author of Manners), who runs early through all the papers, and tells the company what he finds remarkable. He had them in another room, and we were chatting in the breakfast-parlor, when he came running in to us, out of breath, with the paper in his hand. “Here !” says he, “here's news for ye | Here’s the King of Prussia claiming a right to this kingdom ' ' All stared, and I as much as anybody; and he went on to read it. When he had read two or three paragraphs, a gentleman present said, ‘Hang his impudence I dare say we shall hear by next post that he is upon his march with one hundred thousand men to back this.’ Whitehead, who is very shrewd, soon after began to smoke it, and looking in my face said, ‘I’ll be hanged if this is not some of your .American jokes upon us.” The reading went on, and ended with abundance of laughing, and a general verdict that it was a fair hit : and the

piece was cut out of the paper, and preserved in my lord’s collection.”

VII.

EARLY in 1774 Franklin was dismissed by the ministry from his office of Deputy Postmaster of the Colonies. The immediate cause was his agency in communicating to the public certain original letters, written in Massachusetts, by Governor Hutchinson, Lieutenant-governor Oliver, and others, and addressed to Mr. Thomas Whately, a member of Parliament. These letters, recommending cošrcive measures against the Colonists, and intimately affecting their interests, were transmitted by Franklin to Thomas Cushing, chairman of the Massachusetts Committee of Correspondence. In the Colonies they excited the deepest indignation towards the writers, and gratitude to Franklin for exposing what seemed a course of treachery on the part of the Governor and Lieutenant-governor of Massachusetts. The House of Representatives agreed on a petition and remonstrance to his majesty, in which they charged those functionaries with giving private, partial and false information, and prayed for their speedy removal from office.

In transmitting this correspondence to Mr. Cushing, Franklin says: “I am not at liberty to tell through what channel I received it; and I have engaged that it shall not be printed, nor copies taken of the whole, or any part of it; but I am allowed to let it be seen by some men of worth in the Province, for their satisfaction only. In confidence of your preserving inviolably my engagement, I send you enclosed the original letters, to obviate every pretence of unfairness in copying, interpolation or omission.” He added a request that they should be returned. Three individuals, besides himself, one of whom was Mr. John Temple, were aware of their transmission.

The news being received in England of the publication of these letters in Boston, a duel ensued between Mr. Temple and Mr. William Whately, brother of the deceased member of Parliament to whom they had been addressed. Mr. Temple had obtained permission to examine certain F. in the possession of Mr. William Whately, and the atter now charged him with having taken occasion to procure these letters. Mr. Whately was wounded, though not dangerously, in the duel; and Franklin, who had not anticipated any such quarrel, fearing a renewal of the duel, addressed an explanation to the Public Advertiser, in which he exonerated Mr. Temple, and took upon himself the responsibility of having “obtained and transmitted to Boston the letters in question; ” adding that they were never in Mr. Whately's possession. A stupendous clamor was hereupon raised against Franklin by the ministerial party. Mr. Whately, acting, probably, under the ministerial nod, though he had been indebted to Franklin for the recovery of a considerable property in Pennsylvania, now “clapped a chancery suit on his back,” praying the Lord Chancellor that Franklin might “be obliged to discover how he came by the letters, what number of copies he had printed, and to account with him for the profits, &c. &c.,” in allusion to which Franklin ironically says: “Those as little acquainted with law as I was (who, indeed, never before had a lawsuit of any kind) may wonder at this as much as I did; but I have now learned that, in chancery practice, though the defendant must swear to the truth of every point in his answer, the plaintiff is not put to his oath, or obliged to have the least regard to truth, in his bill, but is allowed to lie as much as he pleases. I do not understand this, unless it be for the encouragement of business.” Franklin's answer, upon oath, was: “That the letters in question were given to him, and came into his hands, as agent for the House of Representatives of the Province of Massachusetts Bay; that when given to him he did not know to whom they had been addressed,—no address appearing upon them,-nor did he know before that any such letters existed; that he had not been for many years concerned in printing; that he did not cause the letters to be printed, nor direct the doing it; that he did not erase any address that might have been on the letters; nor did he know that any other person had made such erasure; that he did, as agent to the Province, transmit (as he apprehended it his duty to do) the said letters to one of the committee, with whom he had been directed to correspond, inasmuch as, in his (Franklin's) judgment, they related to matters of great public importance to that Province, and were put into his hands for that purpose,” &c.

The chancery suit, instituted for the purpose of disgracing Franklin, was finally dropped. “You can have no conception,” he writes to Thomas Cushing, “of the rage the ministerial people have been in with me, on account of my transmitting those letters.” Their vindictiveness was somewhat abated by Wedderburn's scurrilous attack upon him, at the hearing before the Privy Council, to which body the king had referred the petition against Hutchinson and Oliver. This hearing had been fixed for January 11, 1774, “at the Cockpit,”— name ominous of the quality of that vituperation with which Wedderburn, the King's Solicitor, was charged. At the appointed time Franklin appeared, and then for the first time learned that Wedderburn was present as counsel for Hutchinson and Oliver. Franklin remarked that, as he had supposed the question to be rather one “of civil and political prudence ’’ than one involving any point of law or right, he had omitted to engage counsel in behalf of the petition; but he now requested that he might employ counsel. To this the Chief Justice assented, and the hearing was deferred three weeks. Meanwhile the grossest abuse was launched at Franklin. Hints were even thrown out that there were some thoughts of apprehending him, seizing his papers, and sending him to Newgate. Confident that “time would soon lay the dust which prejudice and party had raised,” he gave himself little concern. He engaged for the Assembly’s counsel the celebrated John Dunning and Mr. John Lee. The scene before the Privy Council, at the next consideration of the petition, is thus described by Franklin: “Notwithstanding the intimations I had received, I could not believe that the Solicitor-general would be permitted to wander from the question before their lordships, into a new case, the accusation of another person for another matter, not cognizable before them, who could not expect to be there so accused, and therefore could not be prepared for his defence. And yet all this happened, and in all probability was preconcerted; for all the courtiers were invited, as to an entertainment, and there never was such an appearance of privy counsellors on any occasion,-not less than thirty-five, besides an immense crowd of other auditors. “The hearing began by reading my letter to Lord Dartmouth enclosing the petition, then the petition itself, the resolves, and lastly the letters, the Solicitor-general making no objections, nor asking any of the questions he had talked of at the preceding board. Our counsel then opened the matter, upon their general plan, and acquitted themselves very handsomely; only Mr. Dunning, having a disorder on his lungs, that weakened his voice exceedingly, was not so perfectly heard as one could have wished. The Solicitorgeneral then went into what he called a history of the province for the last ten years, and bestowed plenty of abuse upon it, mingled with encomium on the Governors. But the favorite part of his discourse was levelled at your agent, who stood there the butt of his invective ribaldry for near an hour, not a single lord adverting to the impropriety and indecency of treating a public messenger in so ignominious a manner, who was present only as the person delivering your petition, with the consideration of which no part of his conduct had any concern. If he had done a wrong in obtaining and transmitting the letters, that was not the tribunal where he was to be accused and tried. The cause was already before the Chancellor. Not one of their lordships checked and recalled the orator to the business before them, but, on the contrary, a very few excepted, they seemed to enjoy highly the entertainment, and frequently burst out in loud applauses. This part of his speech was thought so good, that they have since printed it, in order to defame me everywhere, and particularly to destroy my reputation on your side of the water; but the grosser parts of the abuse are omitted, appearing, I suppose, in their own eyes, too foul to be seen on paper; so that the speech, compared to what it was, is now perfectly decent. I send you one of the copies. My friends advise me to write an answer, which I purpose immediately. The reply of Mr. Dunning concluded. Being very ill, and much incommoded by standing so long, his voice was so feeble as to be scarce audible. What little I heard was very well said, but appeared to have little effect. “Their Lordships' report, which I send you, is dated the same day. It contains a severe censure, as you will see, on the petition and the petitioners, and, as I think, a very unfair conclusion, from my silence, that the charge of sur

« ZurückWeiter »