« ZurückWeiter »
FRANKLIN’s public celebrity in France seems to have been almost eclipsed by the social esteem in which he was held in private. “You wish to know how I live,” he writes to Mrs. Stevenson, under date of Passy, 1779. “I have abundance of acquaintance; dine abroad six days in seven. Sundays I reserve to dine at home, with such Americans as pass this way; and I then have my grandson Ben, with some other American children, from the school. If being treated with . all the politeness of France, and the apparent respect and esteem of all ranks, from the highest to the lowest, can make a man happy, I ought to be so.” To a friend in America he writes: “The account you have had of the vogue I am in here has some truth in it. Perhaps few strangers in France have had the good fortune to be so universally popular.”
“His company was sought,” says Mignet, “not only as the most illustrious, but as the most agreeable, that the times afforded. He inspired his friends with sentiments of tenderness, admiration and respect; nor was his attachment to them less strong. He had an especially affectionate regard for Madame Helvetius,” whom he called “Our Lady of Auteuil,' and who came every week to dine at least once with him and his little colony at Passy. He had lost his wife in 1779; and, notwithstanding his seventy-six years, he made a proposition of marriage to Madame Helvetius, shortly before the close of the war. But she had refused the hand of Turgot, and did not accept his. Franklin thereupon wrote her a letter, which is a model of wit and
“‘Chagrined,’ he writes, “at your barbarous resolution, . pronounced so positively yesterday evening, to remain single during life, in honor of your dear husband, I withdrew to my chamber, fell upon my bed, believed myself dead, and found myself in the Elysian Fields. I was asked if I desired to see any persons in particular. “Lead me,” said I, “to the philosophers.” “There are two who reside here
* Widow of Helvetius, the celebrated materialist, author of “De L' esprit,” and other works of a similar tendency. She resided at Auteuil.
about, in this garden. They are very good neighbors, and much attached to each other.” “Who are they ’’ “Socrates and Helvetius.” “I esteem them both prodigiously; but let me see Helvetius first, as I know a little French, but not a word of Greek.”— He received me very courteously, having known me, he said, by reputation, some time. He asked me a thousand things about the war, and the present state of religion, liberty and government, in France. “But you do not inquire,” said I, “after your dear Madame Helvetius; and yet she loves you excessively, and it is not an hour ago that I was with her.” “Ah !” said he, “you remind me of my former felicity; but one must forget it, if he would be happy here. For several years I could think only of her. At length I am consoled. I have taken another wife, – the most like her that I could find. She is not, it is true, altogether so handsome; but she has as much good sense, a large share of wit, and she loves me devotedly. Her constant study is to please me, and she is gone out this moment to get the choicest nectar and ambrosia to regale me with this evening; remain with me, and you will see her.” “I perceive,” returned I, “that .." ancient companion is more faithful than you; for she
has had many excellent offers, all of which she has refused. I confess to you that I myself was in love with her to distraction; but she was inexorable towards me, and rejected me absolutely for love of you.” “I condole with you,” said he, “for your misfortune; for, in truth, she is a good and beautiful lady, and amiable withal. But the Abbé de la R****, and the Abbé M****, are they not at her house sometimes?” “They certainly are; for not one of your friends has she dropped.” “If you had gained over the Abbé M**** (with some good coffee and cream) to speak for you, you would perhaps have succeeded; for he is as subtle a reasoner as Duns Scotus or St. Thomas; he puts his arguments in such strong order that they become almost irresistible. And if the Abbé de la R**** had been bribed (by some fine edition of an old classic) to speak against you, that would have been still better; as I always observed, when he advised a thing, she had a strong inclination the other way.” As he uttered these words, came in the new Madame Helvetius with the nectar; and at once I recognized in her my old American spouse, Mrs. Franklin' I re-claimed her, § she coldly said, “I was a good wife to you for forty-nine years and four months — almost half a century; be content with that. I have here formed a new connection, which shall last forever.” Indignant at this refusal of my Eurydice, I forthwith resolved to quit these ungrateful spirits, and to return to this good world, to see once more the sun and you. Here I am Let us be revenged ''” This piece of badinage was written by Franklin in French, and addressed to Madame Helvetius. If from this alone, Mignet's mention of an offer of marriage is derived, the inference is undoubtedly erroneous. Franklin carried into his social intercourse with the sex a pleasantry which, without overstepping the bounds of the most respectful courtesy, was delightful to those who could appreciate the worth of a compliment from such a man, and the delicate humor with which it was masked. John Adams relates that there was a Mademoiselle de Passy, whom Franklin used to call his favorite, and his flame, and his love, which flattered the family, and did not displease the young lady. She was afterwards betrothed to the celebrated Marquis de Tonnerre (tonnerre, the French for thunder). After the marquis had demanded mademoiselle for a wife, and obtained her, Madame de Chaumont, who was a wit, the first time she saw Franklin, cried out, “Hélas ! tous les conducteurs de Monsieur Franklin n'ont pas empéché le tonnerre de tomber sur Mademoiselle de Passy.”— (Alas! all the conductors of Mr. Franklin have not prevented the thunder from lighting on Mademoiselle de Passy.) To Madame Brillon, one of his neighbors at Passy, Franklin addressed his admirable little story of “The Whistle,” and his ingenious apologue, “The Ephemera.” Of this lady he says: “She is of most respectable character and pleasing conversation; mistress of an amiable family, with which I spend an evening twice in every week. She has, among other elegant accomplishments, that of an excellent musician; and, with her daughters, who sing prettily, and some friends who play, she kindly entertains me and my grandson with little concerts, a cup of tea, and a game of chess. I call this my opera; for I rarely go to the opera at Paris.” At Sanoy, twelve miles from Paris, he was entertained with great distinction at a fête champêtre, April 12, 1781, by the Count and Countess d’Houdetot. He planted a locust-tree in their garden; and poems were recited, and a song sung in his honor, every stanza of which was delivered by a different member of the company. The third stanza was as follows:
“Guillaume Tell fut brave, mais sauvage ;
While at Passy, he wrote his “Dialogue with the Gout,” one of the most exquisite specimens of moral humor in the language. Various other pieces, which he classed under the name of “Bagatelles,” were composed by him at this time by way of diversion amid his graver pursuits. He had always a fondness for his old printer's craft, and seemed proud of his proficiency in it. While residing at Passy, he had a small printing-office fitted up in his house, where he put in type and printed the “bagatelles” which he penned for the amusement of his neighbors.
In the society of Madame Helvetius, his acquaintance was sought by the chiefs of the encyclopedists, D'Alembert and Diderot, the latter of whom was atheistical or deistical according to the state of his health or the weather; a writer who, while he assailed religion, was careful to give his children a religious education. Here, also, was introduced to Franklin the celebrated Turgot, who wrote the Latin epigraph t thenceforth attached to so many engravings of the American sage:
“Eripuit coelo fulmen sceptrumque tyrannis.”
* William Tell was brave but rude ;
+ “He snatched the lightning from heaven, the sceptre from tyrants.”
The Latin line seems to have been suggested by the following, from the
Prints, medallion portraits, and busts of Franklin, were multiplied throughout France; and rings, bracelets, canes and snuff-boxes, bearing his likeness, were worn or carried quite generally. Such was the steady modesty of his nature, however, that he experienced more embarrassment than gratification from Turgot's brilliant compliment. In palliation of it, he wrote to John Jay: “You must know that the desire of pleasing, by a perpetual rise of compliments, in this polite nation, has so used up all the common expressions of approbation, that they are become flat and insipid, and to use them almost implies censure. Hence music, that formerly might be sufficiently praised when it was called bonne, to go a little further they called it excellente, then superbe, magnifique, exquise, céleste, all which being in their turns worn out, there only remains divine; and, when that is grown as insignificant as its predecessors, I think they must return to common speech and common sense.” To a poetaster of the day, Felix Nogaret, who applied to him for his opinion on a French translation of Turgot's verse, he replied:
“Passy, 8 JMarch, 1781.
“SIR : I received the letter you have done me the honor of writing to me the 2d instant, wherein, after overwhelming me with a flood of compliments, which I can never hope to merit, you request my opinion of your translation of a Latin verse that has been applied to me. If I were, which I really am not, sufficiently skilled in your excellent language to be a judge of its poesy, the supposition of my being the subject must restrain me from any opinion on that line, except that it ascribes too much to me, especially in what relates to the tyrant ; the revolution having been the work of many able and brave men, wherein it is sufficient honor for me if I am allowed a small share.”
Among the first to welcome Franklin at Paris, was Condorcet, the friend and biographer of both Voltaire and Turgot, and whom John Adams describes as “a philosopher with a face as pale, or rather as white, as a sheet of paper.” Cabanis, the celebrated physician, and the friend of Mirabeau, Buffon, the “Pliny of France,” Raynal, Mably, Vicq d'Azyr, La Rochefoucauld, the Abbé Morellet, the Abbé La Roche, Le Roy, Le Veillard, Malesherbes, and other eminent statesmen and men of letters, were among the associates or intimate friends of Franklin. With Mira'eau, before the latter had attained his marvellous reputa