” . . . read some Books”

In a letter to POLLY STEVENSON in February 1760 Benjamin Franklin expresses his thanks for her New Year’s greeting: “I receiv’d your kind Congratulations on occasion of the new Year; and though you had not mine in writing, be assured that I did and do daily wish you every kind of Happiness, and of the longest Continuance.” The next month, in an apparent answer to Polly’s request for guidance in her education, Benjamin Franklin undertook the role of tutor, writing:

Cravenstreet, May 1. 1760I embrace most gladly my dear Friend’s Proposal of a Subject for our future Correspondence; not only as it will occasion my hearing from her more frequently, but as it will lay me under a Necessity of improving my own Knowledge that I may be better able to assist in her Improvement. I only fear my necessary Business and Journeys with the natural Indolence of an old Man, will make me too unpunctual a Correspondent. For this I must hope some Indulgence.
But why will you, by the Cultivation of your Mind, make yourself still more amiable, and a more desirable Companion for a Man of Understanding, when you are determin’d, as I hear, to live Single? If we enter, as you propose, into moral as well as natural Philosophy, I fancy, when I have fully establish’d my Authority as a Tutor, I shall take upon me to lecture you a little on that Chapter of Duty. But to be serious.
Our easiest Method of Proceeding I think will be for you to read some Books, that I may recommend to you; and in the Course of your Reading, whatever occurs that you do not thoroughly apprehend, or that you clearly conceive and find Pleasure in, may occasion either some Questions for farther Information or some Observations that show how far you are satisfy’d and pleas’d with your Author. Those will furnish Matter for your Letters to me, and, in consequence, of mine also to you.
Let me know then, what Books you have already perus’d on the Subject intended, that I may better judge what to advise for your next Reading. And believe me ever, my dear good Girl, Your affectionate Friend and Servant
B Franklin

On May 17, 1760, Franklin sent Polly books on natural philosophy, probably the first volumes of the popular Spectacle de la Nature: or, Nature Display’d being Discourses … to Excite the Curiosity, and Form the Minds of Youth translated by Samuel Humphreys (8th edit., 7 vols., London, 1754–63) from the French of Noël-Antoine Pluche. As a former teacher I am interested in and delighted by the instructions Franklin gives Polly about how to approach the readings in order to understand and retain the knowledge therein.

“From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Stevenson, 1 May 1760,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 13, 2018, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-09-02-0032. [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. 102–103.]

posted January 10th, 2019 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Education, Franklin, Benjamin, Friendship, Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson

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