“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, CATEGORIES: Education, Franklin, Benjamin, Friendship, Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson, London


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