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The Private Correspondence of Benjamin Franklin, LL.D., F.R.S., &c.
Minister Plenipotentiary from the United States of America at the Court of France, and for the Treaty of Peace and Independence with Great Britain, &c. &c. Comprising a Series of Letters on Miscellaneous, Literary, and Political Subjects, written between the Years 1753 and 1790; illustrating the Memoirs of his Public and Private Life ; and developing the Secret History of his political Transactions and Negotiations. Now first published from the Originals, by his Grandson WILLIAM TEMPLÉ FRANKLIN. 4to.
This ample assemblage of letters is intended as a sequel to the Memoirs of Dr. Franklin, written by himself. Or rather, it appears as constituting the latter half of that work, and is designated as the second volume, though preceding by a considerable interval of time the publication of the regular narrative.
The reader will feel little disposition to complain of the withholding of all information relative to the manner in which these letters could have been collected, the repository where many of them must long have lain, the proportion, in number, of those that have been suppressed, to that of these which are produced, or the question whether any considerable liberties have been taken in suppressing parts and passages of these. He will acknowledge that quite a sufficient number, and perhaps somewhat more, are given, that they embrace a considerable diversity of subjects, that they afford decisive internal evidence of authenticity, and that they very effectually display the talents and character of the writer.
The collection is distributed into three parts,-letters on miscellaneous subjects-letters on American politics -and letters on the negotiations for peace. In each part they are put in chronological series, and therefore they are placed as far as the shorter series extend back in
time, in three parallel courses, thus bringing the writer thrice through the same stages of his life and employments; and that, too, after the reader may be presumed to have passed through them once already in the narrative. This is the best arrangement for facilitating the reader's acquisition of the historical information to be derived from the political portions of the correspondence; but it less comports with a strictly biographical purpose, since, instead of our beholding, during the progress, the whole character and the diversified agency of the man, we are shown only one section or side, if we may so express it, of that character and agency at once, and are brought back to go with him again, and yet again, through the same periods of his life, in order to have another and still another view of the same person.
We would rather, if we conveniently might, take our whole view of the man in one progress, beholding him exhibited, at each step and stage, in each and all of his capacities, characteristics, and occupations.
Perhaps, however, when a large portion of a man's letters relate solely to a grand national affair, which they very greatly elucidate, it may, after all, be as well to let the biographical purpose and interest become secondary, and make such a disposition of them as will be most advantageous for understanding that affair of history. Indeed, if the display of the man were to be regarded as the chief object in this part of the correspondence, we are apprehensive that most readers might wish it retrenched, as less than one half the number of letters would have sufficed for that; but let the object be a disclosure of the secret history of the American Revolution, and nearly all of them may be found to have their pertinence and value.
Taken all together, this collection of letters would, we think, in the absence of all other documents and representations, afford sufficient means for a competent estimate of the writer. The character displayed by them is an unusual combination of elements. The main substance of the intellectual part of it, is a superlative good sense, evinced and acting in all the modes of that high endowment; such as,-an intuitively prompt and perfect, and steadily continuing apprehension ; a sagacity which with admirable ease strikes through all superficial and delusive appearances of things, to the essence and the true relations; a faculty of reasoning in a manner marvellously simple, direct, and decisive ; a power of reducing a subject or question to its plainest principles; an unaffected daring to meet whatever is to be opposed, in an explicit, direct manner, and in the point of its main strength; a facility of applying familiar truths and self-evident propositions, for resolving the most uncommon difficulties; and a happy adroitness of illustration by parallel cases, supposed or real, the real ones being copiously supplied by a large and most observant acquaintance with the world. It is obvious how much this same accurate observation of the world would contribute to that power of interpreting the involuntary indications of character, and of detecting motives and designs in all sorts of persons he had to deal with, and to that foresight of consequences in all practical concerns, in which he was probably never surpassed. It is gratifying to observe how soon he would see to the very bottom of the characters and schemes of plausible hypocrites and veteran statesmen, proud as they might be of the recollected number of their stratagems and their dupes, and so confident of their talents for undermining and overreaching, that it took some of them a considerable time to become fully aware of the hazard of attempting their practice upon the republican. Not one of their inadvertencies, or of their over-done professions, or of the inconsistencies into which the most systematic craft is liable to be sometimes betrayed, was ever lost upon him. There are in the course of these letters, curious and striking instances of personages of great pretension, and of other personages, seeking to effect their purposes, under the guise of making no pretension, putting him in full possession of their principles and designs, by means of circumstances which they little suspected to be betraying them, and for which he, if it was necessary, could be discreet enough to appear
never the wiser. In process of time, however, courtiers, ministers, intriguers, and the diplomatic gentry, had the mist cleared from their faculties sufficiently to understand what kind of man it was they had to do with.
There is one thing deficient in this collection, for the perfect illustration of the independence of Dr. Franklin's judgment. He resided a long course of years in France, in the exercise of the most important official functions for the American States, both during and after the war; and a great majority of the letters are dated at Passy, near Paris. As the French government was a most efficient friend to America in that momentous and perilous season, and her minister at the French Court experienced there all manner of respect and complaisance, it was natural enough he should speak in terms of considerable favour of that people and their governors, --of favour to certain extent-quoad hoc. But we are in vain curious to know whether this complacency was any thing like limited by justice. We are compelled to doubt it, from observing the many unqualified expressions of partiality to the French and their rulers, and from nowhere finding any terms appropriate to the frivolity of the nation, and the despotism and ambition of the government. Why do we find none such? Are there no preserved letters manifesting that the republican philosopher maintained a clear perception and a condemnatory judgment of such things, in spite of the Parisian adulation to himself, and the aid given to the rising republic by a tyrannic monarchy? And as to that aid itself, it would be one of the most memorable examples of the weakness of strong minds, if Franklin eould ever for for a moment mistake, or estimate otherwise than with contempt, the motive that prompted it; a motive which, in any case in which he had not been interested, would have placed the whole affair of this alliance and assistance in a quite different light from that in which he seemed so gratified to regard it.-A proAigate and tyrannic court, a disinterested friend to a people asserting their freedom, and in the form of a republic ! And could the American ambassador, though
gratified, of course, by the fact of powerful assistance, affect to accept from that court, without a great struggle with his rising indignant scorn, the hypocritical cant and cajolery about co-operation against oppression, respect for the virtuous and interesting patriots of the new world, and the like, as expressive of its true principles in seizing so favourable an occasion for giving effect to its hatred against England ? And could he, into the bargain, contemplate an enslaved and debased people, pass in the front of the Bastile, and behold the ruinous extravagance and monstrous depravity of that court, with feelings which required nothing to keep them in the indulgent tone, but the recollection of French troops and French money employed in America ?
If the editor had in his possession any letters or other manuscripts tending to prove that no such beguilement took effect upon a judgment on which so many other kinds of persons and things attempted in vain to impose, it was due to Franklin's reputation for independence of judgment, to have given them, even though they should have brought some impeachment upon his sincerity in the grateful and laudatory expressions repeatedly here employed respecting France, and its interference in the contest.
In a general moral estimate of his qualities, insincerity would seem to find very little place. His principles appear to have borne a striking correspondence, in simplicity, directness, and decision, to the character of his understanding. Credit may be given him for having, through life, very rarely prosecuted any purpose which he did not deliberately approve; and his manner of prosecution was distinguished, as far as appears, by a plain honesty in the choice of means, by a contempt of artifice and petty devices, by a calm inflexibility, and by a greater confidence of success than is usually combined with so clear and extended a foresight of the difficulties; -but indeed that foresight of the difficulties might justify his confidence of the adaptation of his measures for encountering them.
He appears to have possessed an almost invincible