Archive for the ‘Franklin, Benjamin’ Category

“the Improvement of my Mind”

MARY “POLLY” STEVENSON (later HEWSON) and Benjamin Franklin continued to correspond with each other when time and circumstances allowed, she at Wanstead and he at Craven Street or abroad. Many of the topics discussed had to do with science, the distillation of sea water for example, or the contents of a book or manuscript Franklin had lent Polly. In a letter of 8 March 1762 Franklin says he cannot complain about not having received a letter from her …

being conscious that by not writing my self I have forfeited all Claim to such Favour; tho’ no Letters give me more Pleasure, and I often wish to hear from you, but Indolence grows upon me with Years, and Writing grows more and more irksome to me. Have you finish’d your Course of Philosophy? No more Doubts, to be resolv’d; no more Questions to ask? If so, you may now be at full Leisure to improve your self in Cards. Adieu my dear Child, and believe me ever Your affectionate Friend

Polly replied:

Wanstead March 10, 1762Dear Sir
. . . . I have not finish’d my Course of Philosophy, nor do I desire to be at full Leisure to improve myself in Cards. I confess you have just Reason to complain of me, and my Indolence merits your severe Rebuke. Your Letter fill’d me with Confusion, and I assure you it will be a Spur to my Industry. The Season is advancing that will admit of my rising early to have some Hours free from Interruption which I shall devote to the Improvement of my Mind. At present, tho’ we live more retir’d, I have less Time to myself: Yet I have not been idle. I have read the Letters you favour’d me with,* and think I understand them. The Clearness of my Preceptor’s Demonstration and Expression appear tho his Words are put into a foreign Language.

* The second edition of Dalibard’s translation of Benjamin Franklin’s Experiments and Observations, published in 1756.

When Franklin learned that Polly was looking for a house nearer to London he forwarded this information to her.

Are you provided with a House? If not, look into Tomorrow’s Daily Advertiser where you will find one to be let at Ealing, which I know and think I could recommend as to the Pleasantness of the Neighbourhood, Roads, &c. if the Description appears such as may make the rest agreable. I know there is a good deal of Garden, and abundance of Room in and about the House.

Here is the ad Franklin refers to:

The Daily Advertiser, May 27, 1762, advertised a “neat convenient House” for lease at Great Ealing in Middlesex Co. The house contained three parlors, four bedrooms, four servants’ rooms, stabling for four horses, and a “Garden wall’d and planted with the best Fruit-Trees, and full cropp’d.”

“From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Stevenson, 8 March 1762,” “To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Stevenson, 10 March 1762,”Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-10-02-0029. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 10, January 1, 1762, through December 31, 1763, ed. Leonard W. Labaree. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1959, pp. 64–66, 84-85.] The photograph is of 36 Craven Street now a museum.

posted February 20th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Education,Franklin, Benjamin,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson,London

“What signifies Philosophy that does not apply to some Use? “

In the previous post Benjamin Franklin promised MARY “POLLY” STEVENSON (later HEWSON), the daughter of his London landlady whose education he had taken in hand, another letter on the subject of tides and rivers. He was true to his word. His next letter to her discussed the subject at great length and makes interesting reading, but I have chosen the second part of that letter to present here. It is about fabric colors and how they react to the sun. Several experiments are mentioned; the last was performed by Franklin himself. The results, Franklin argues, have all sorts of applications in daily life. It’s amazing that Franklin discusses this topic with a young girl and believes the information is important for her to know.

. . . . As to our other Subject, the different Degrees of Heat imbibed from the Sun’s Rays by Cloths of different Colours, since I cannot find the Notes of my Experiment to send you, I must give it as well as I can from Memory.

But first let me mention an Experiment you may easily make your self. Walk but a quarter of an Hour in your Garden when the Sun shines, with a Part of your Dress white, and a Part black; then apply your Hand to them alternately, and you will find a very great Difference in their Warmth. The Black will be quite hot to the Touch, the White still cool.

Another. Try to fire Paper with a burning Glass [magnifying glass]. If it is White, you will not easily burn it; but if you bring the Focus to a black Spot or upon Letters written or printed, the Paper will immediately be on fire under the Letters.

Thus Fullers and Dyers find black Cloths, of equal Thickness with white ones, and hung out equally wet, dry in the Sun much sooner than the white, being more readily heated by the Sun’s Rays. It is the same before a Fire; the Heat of which sooner penetrates black Stockings than white ones, and so is apt sooner to burn a Man’s Shins. Also Beer much sooner warms in a black Mug set before the Fire, than in a white one, or in a bright Silver Tankard.

My Experiment was this. I took a number of little Square Pieces of Broad Cloth from a Taylor’s Pattern Card, of various Colours. There were Black, deep Blue, lighter Blue, Green, Purple, Red, Yellow, White, and other Colours or Shades of Colours. I laid them all out upon the Snow in a bright Sunshiny Morning. In a few Hours (I cannot now be exact as to the Time) the Black being warm’d most by the Sun was sunk so low as to be below the Stroke of the Sun’s Rays; the dark Blue almost as low, the lighter Blue not quite so much as the dark, the other Colours less as they were lighter; and the quite White remain’d on the Surface of the Snow, not having entred it at all. What signifies Philosophy that does not apply to some Use? May we not learn from hence, that black Cloaths are not so fit to wear in a hot Sunny Climate or Season as white ones; because in such Cloaths the Body is more heated by the Sun when we walk abroad and are at the same time heated by the Exercise, which double Heat is apt to bring on putrid dangerous Fevers? That Soldiers and Seamen who must march and labour in the Sun, should in the East or West Indies have an Uniform of white? That Summer Hats for Men or Women, should be white, as repelling that Heat which gives the Headachs to many, and to some the fatal Stroke that the French call the Coup de Soleil? . . . That Fruit Walls being black’d may receive so much Heat from the Sun in the Daytime, as to continue warm in some degree thro’ the Night, and thereby preserve the Fruit from Frosts, or forward its Growth?— with sundry other particulars of less or greater Importance, that will occur from time to time to attentive Minds? I am, Yours affectionately,
B. Franklin

The fullers and dyers that Franklin refers to were people who worked with cloth to make it usable. The meaning of “dyers” is obvious. Not so for “fullers” (or “walkers” or “tuckers”). These were workers who stood in vessels of stale urine called wash, which contains ammonium salts that aid in cleansing and whitening, stamping on the fabric (both cotton and wool) for hours at a time. The treated fabric was then laid out on bleaching fields to allow the action of sun and water to whiten it. Afterwards the fabric was washed and dried on stretchers to maintain its shape. Later fuller’s earth, a clay-like substance containing hydrous aluminum silicate, was used with the wash. For more on this subject, including a video of the process, check this website. For information about the sun and its interaction with fabrics of different colors see this article.

“From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Stevenson, [November 1760?],” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-09-02-0079. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 9, January 1, 1760, through December 31, 1761, ed. Leonard W. Labaree. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966, pp. 247–252.]

posted February 11th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clothes,Education,Franklin, Benjamin,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson,Science

“a Mind thirsty after Knowledge”

Benjamin Franklin, continuing his mission to provide his London landlady’s young daughter MARY “POLLY” STEVENSON (later HEWSON) instruction in science and philosophy wrote a long letter on 13 September 1760 about tides and rivers. It ends with this passage.

. . . . I have made this Letter longer than I intended, and therefore reserve for another what I have farther to say on the Subject of Tides and Rivers. I shall now only add, that I have not been exact in the Numbers, because I would avoid perplexing you with minute Calculations, my Design at present being chiefly to give you distinct and clear Ideas of the first Principles.
After writing 6 Folio Pages of Philosophy to a young Girl, is it necessary to finish such a Letter with a Compliment? Is not such a Letter of itself a Compliment? Does it not say, she has a Mind thirsty after Knowledge, and capable of receiving it; and that the most agreable Things one can write to her are those that tend to the Improvement of her Understanding? It does indeed say all this, but then it is still no Compliment; it is no more than plain honest Truth, which is not the Character of a Compliment. So if I would finish my Letter in the Mode, I should yet add something that means nothing, and is merely civil and polite. But being naturally awkward at every Circumstance of Ceremony, I shall not attempt it. I had rather conclude abruptly with what pleases me more than any Compliment can please you, that I am allow’d to subscribe my self Your affectionate Friend
B Franklin

Polly wrote a note of thanks by return mail from Draycot in Wiltshire where she was staying with her aunt and a friend. She had asked Franklin why the water pumped at Bristol seemed warmer than it was when pumped from the spring at its source. She apologizes for accepting the generally accepted temperature of water at Bristol and for not confirming it herself.

I implore your pardon, Dear Sir, for asking you the Reason before I could assure you of the Fact. . . . I confess it was not from my own observation I told you the Water at Bristol, though cold at the Spring, became warm by pumping, I had only heard that it was so.
. . . . It is I own great Assurance in me to say so much but I hope it will not offend my dear and honour’d Friend. The familiar agreable manner in which you deliver Instruction renders it easy and pleasant; but you must bear patiently with me if I do not always comprehend things as clearly as might be expected. . . . I hope soon to have the pleasure of seeing you, or if I cannot have that happiness I shall take an opportunity of writing to you again, therefore I will not add to the length of this Letter. I could not forbear returning my earliest Thanks for the charming Letter I receiv’d yesterday; and am always ready to lay hold of the Privilege you give me of subscribing myself (though I acknowledge it is too presumptuous) Your sincerely affectionate Friend
M Stevenson

“From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Stevenson, 13 September 1760,” and “To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Stevenson, 16 September 1760,” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-09-02-0058 and 0059. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 9, January 1, 1760, through December 31, 1761, ed. Leonard W. Labaree. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966, pp. 212–217, 217-218.] Credit photograph: Carrie Vonderhaar/Ocean Futures Society/National Geographic Creative.

posted February 5th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Education,Franklin, Benjamin,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson,Science

“thank you my dear Preceptor”

MARY “POLLY” STEVENSON was grateful for the long letter Benjamin Franklin wrote her justifying the study of insects as part of her education. Wanstead, where Polly was caring for an aunt, was not very far from Franklin’s lodgings on Craven Street in London which he rented from Polly’s mother. Just far enough for the two to rely on letter writing to communicate. Lucky for us. Illustrated are some instructions for writing a fine hand.

Wanstead June 23d. 1760Dear Sir
. . . . You can’t imagine how important I felt to find you thought me worthy so much of your time and attention. I thank you my dear Preceptor for your Indulgence in satisfying my Curiosity, and for the pleasing Instruction you give, which I will endeavour shall not be lost. As my greatest Ambition is to render myself amiable in your Eyes I will be careful never to transgress the bounds of Moderation you prescribe. I have so firm a reliance on your sincerity and regard, that I think, if you imagin’d my pursuit of Knowledge would be detrimental, you would not have given me any encouragement, but have check’d my Curiosity, knowing I should have chearfully submitted to your Judgement.
I regard you as one of my best Friends, and to continue you such is the wish nearest my Heart. I am with the highest Esteem and Gratitude Dear Sir your affectionate and obedient humble Servant
M Stevenson.

“To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Stevenson, 23 June 1760,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 13, 2018, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-09-02-0044. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 9, January 1, 1760, through December 31, 1761, ed. Leonard W. Labaree. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966, p. 125.]

posted January 27th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Education,Franklin, Benjamin,Handwriting,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson

Your Observation … concerning Insects, is … just and solid.

The letters between MARY “POLLY” STEVENSON and Benjamin Franklin are so interesting and charming I have decided to include Franklin’s letters as well as Polly’s as they form a personal conversation providing a window into the life and times of both. I am so impressed by Franklin the scientist and his belief that science was an appropriate topic of study for a woman seeking to educate herself. In the following letter he replied to Polly’s query about how a barometer works and then launched into a rather lengthy defense of insects which had been the subject of her reading.

Your Observation on what you have lately read concerning Insects, is very just and solid. Superficial Minds are apt to despise those who make that Part of Creation their Study, as mere Triflers; but certainly the World has been much oblig’d to them. Under the Care and Management of Man, the Labours of the little Silkworm afford Employment and Subsistence to Thousands of Families, and become an immense Article of Commerce. The Bee, too, yields us its delicious Honey, and its Wax useful to a multitude of Purposes. Another Insect, it is said, produces the Cochineal, from whence we have our rich Scarlet Dye. . . . By human Industry and Observation, other Properties of other Insects may possibly be hereafter discovered, and of equal Utility. A thorough Acquaintance with the Nature of these little Creatures, may also enable Mankind to prevent the Increase of such as are noxious or secure us against the Mischiefs they occasion. These Things doubtless your Books make mention of: I can only add a particular late Instance which I had from a Swedish Gentleman of good Credit. In the green Timber intended for Ship-building at the King’s Yards in that Country, a kind of Worms were found, which every Year became more numerous and more pernicious, so that the Ships were greatly damag’d before they came into Use. The King sent Linnaeus, the great Naturalist, from Stockholm, to enquire into the Affair, and see if the Mischief was capable of any Remedy. He found on Examination, that the Worm was produc’d from a small Egg deposited in the little Roughnesses on the Surface of the Wood, by a particular kind of Fly or Beetle; from whence the Worm, as soon as it was hatch’d, began to eat into the Substance of the Wood, and after some time came out again a Fly of the Parent kind, and so the Species increas’d. The Season in which this Fly laid its Eggs, Linnaeus knew to be about a Fortnight (I think) in the Month of May, and at no other time of the Year. He therefore advis’d, that some Days before that Season, all the green Timber should be thrown into the Water, and kept under Water till the Season was over. Which being done by the King’s Order, the Flies missing their usual Nests, could not increase; and the Species was either destroy’d or went elsewhere; and the Wood was effectually preserved, for after the first Year, it became too dry and hard for their purpose.
There is, however, a prudent Moderation to be used in Studies of this kind. The Knowledge of Nature may be ornamental, and it may be useful, but if to attain an Eminence in that, we neglect the Knowledge and Practice of essential Duties, we deserve Reprehension. For 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 Neighbour or Friend, a good Subject or Citizen, that is, in short, a good Christian. . . .
Adieu, my dear Friend, and believe me ever Yours affectionately
B Franklin
Your good Mother is well, and gives her Love and Blessing to you. My Compliments to your Aunts, Miss Pitt, &c. Miss Stevenson

“From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Stevenson, 11 June 1760,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 13, 2018, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-09-02-0041. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 9, January 1, 1760, through December 31, 1761, ed. Leonard W. Labaree. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966, pp. 119–122.]

posted January 23rd, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Education,Franklin, Benjamin,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson,Insects

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