“Lectures go on briskly”

In 1771, the year following her wedding to Dr. William Hewson, POLLY STEVENSON HEWSON had her first child, a boy they named William. Benjamin Franklin was the godfather. He was always delighted to hear news about the child: teething, weaning, walking. He had a bit of advice for Polly:

Pray let him have every thing he likes; I think it of great Consequence while the Features of the Countenance are forming. It gives them a pleasant Air, and that being once become natural, and fix’d by Habit, the Face is ever after the handsomer for it, and on that much of a Person’s good Fortune and Success in Life may depend.

In 1772 the Hewsons took over the house on Craven Street. In July Polly wrote Franklin, who was away, that her husband had made some changes.

My Mother I must tell you went off last friday week, took our little Boy with her and left Mr. Hewson the care of her House. The first thing he did was pulling down a part of it in order to turn it to his own purpose, and advantage we hope. This Demolition cannot affect you, who at present are not even a Lodger, your litterary apartment remains untouch’d, the Door is lock’d, and the Key in this House.

William Hewson was no ordinary doctor. Noted for his contributions in hematology, he was an anatomist and teacher. He had added a theater to the Craven Street house in order to give lectures to students. These were successful as Polly notes in a letter to Franklin in October: “Lectures go on briskly; a fresh Pupil to day who makes up the half hundred whose names are enter’d, besides some others who have promis’d. . . . ” It was in this month that Polly’s mother and Franklin moved to another house on Craven Street.

In 1773 Polly had a second child, another boy, who was named Thomas. The next year 1774 proved to be a sad one for Polly and those to whom she was dear.

“From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Hewson with a Postscript to Dorothea Blunt, 25 November 1771,” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-18-02-0164. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 18, January 1 through December 31, 1771, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1974, pp. 252–253, 341-342.]

“I am apt to love every body that loves you”

POLLY STEVENSON must have written Benjamin Franklin asking his advice on whether she should accept the proposal of marriage from the surgeon William Hewson for he responded on May 31, 1770:

. . . . I am sure you are a much better Judge in this Affair of your own than I can possibly be. . . . My Concern (equal to any Father’s) for your Happiness, makes me write this. . . . I assure you that no Objection has occur’d to me; his Person you see, his Temper and his Understanding you can judge of, his Character for any thing I have ever heard is unblemished; his Profession, with that Skill in it he is suppos’d to have, will be sufficient to support a Family. . . . I shall be confident whether you accept or refuse, that you do right. I only wish you may do what will most contribute to your Happiness, and of course to mine; being ever, my dear Friend, Yours most affectionately

Polly apparently decided for herself since she married William Hewson on July 10. Benjamin Franklin gave her away. Franklin wrote to her on July 24-25 while she was on her honeymoon, in part spent visiting the relatives of her husband—a widowed mother, two sisters and a brother— in Hexam.

Your Friends are all much pleas’d with your Account of the agreable Family, their kind Reception and Entertainment of you, and the Respect shown you. . . .Make my sincere Respects acceptable to Mr. Hewson, whom, exclusive of his other Merits, I shall always esteem in proportion to the Regard he manifests for you. . . . I am apt to love every body that loves you. . . . We like your Assurances of continued Friendship unimpair’d by your Change of Condition, and we believe you think as you write; but we fancy we know better than you: You know I once knew your Heart better than you did your self. As a Proof that I am right, take notice, that you now think this the silliest Letter I ever wrote to you, and that Mr. Hewson confirms you in that Opinion. However, I am still, what I have been so many Years, my dear good Girl, Your sincerely affectionate Friend, and Servant
B Franklin

“From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Stevenson, 31 May 1770,” “From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Stevenson Hewson, 24 July 1770,” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-17-02-0082. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 17, January 1 through December 31, 1770, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1973, pp. 152–153; 198-199]

“For you my needle with delight I plied”

Benjamin Franklin replied the next day (September 2, 1769) to POLLY STEVENSON’s letter in which she tells of her meeting with a physician who had caught her eye. “Possibly, if the Truth were known, I have Reason to be jealous of this same insinuating handsome young Physician: But as it flatters more my Vanity, and therefore gives me more Pleasure to suppose you were in Spirits on Account of my safe Return, I shall turn a deaf Ear to Reason in this Case. . . .” Stevenson and Franklin exchanged gifts at Christmas; here is the verse Polly composed to accompany her present of a pair of Ruffles.

To Dr. Franklin with a pair of Ruffles Decr / 69
These flowers Dear Sir, can boast no lively bloom,
Nor can regale you with a sweet perfume,
This dreary season no such present yeild’s,
The Trees are naked, unadorn’d the fields,
The Gardens have their sweets and beauty lost
But Love and Gratitude, unchill’d by frost;
Put forth this foliage—poor indeed I own
Yet trust th’intent will for the faults atone.
Altho’ my produce not with nature vies,
I hope to please a friend’s indulgent eye’s,
For you my fancy and my skill I tried
For you my needle with delight I plied
Proud even to add a triffling grace to you
From whom Philosophy and Virtue too
I’ve gain’d—If either can be counted mine
In you they with the clearest lustre shine
My noble Friend this artless line excuse
Nor blame the weakness of your Polly’s muse
The humble gift with kind compliance take
And wear it for the grateful givers sake.

“To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Stevenson, [December 1769],” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-16-02-0174. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 16, January 1 through December 31, 1769, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1972, p. 274.]

posted March 15th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Christmas, Franklin, Benjamin, Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson, Poetry

“I met with a very sensible Physician yesterday”

MARY “POLLY” STEVENSON (soon to be HEWSON), having just heard that Benjamin Franklin had returned from a tour of the Continent, wrote him this letter:

Margate Sept. 1. 1769Welcome to England my dear, my honour’d Friend . . . .
I met with a very sensible Physician yesterday, who prescribes Abstinence for the Cure of Consumption. He must be clever because he thinks as we do. I would not have you or my Mother surpris’d, if I should run off with this young man; to be sure it would be an imprudent Step at the discreet Age of Thirty but there is no saying what one should do if sollicited by a Man of an insinuating Address and good Person, tho he may be too young for one, and not yet establish’d in his Profession. He engag’d me so deeply in Conversation and I was so much pleas’d with him, that I thought it necessary to give you Warning, tho’ I assure you he has made no Proposal.
How I rattle! This Flight must be owing to this new Acquaintance or to the Joy of hearing my old one is return’d to this Country; I know which I attribute it to, for I can tell when my Spirits were enliven’d, but you may think as you please if you will believe me to be Dear Sir Your truly affectionate humble Servant
M StevensonCan’t you send me one little Letter directed for me at Mr. Coleman’s Margate? where I shall be some days longer.

The man Polly describes was William Hewson (surgeon, 1739-1774). He was a teacher of anatomy and noted for his research in the field of hematology.

“To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Stevenson, 1 September 1769,” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-16-02-0108. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 16, January 1 through December 31, 1769, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1972, pp. 190–192.]

“Yɨi have transkrɥib’d iur Alfabet”

Amazingly, the clever MARY “POLLY” STEVENSON (later HEWSON) responded to Benjamin Franklin’s letter using the very same phonetic alphabet in which he had written to her! Franklin had been guiding the education of Polly, the daughter of his London landlady. Now a grown woman, Polly had become a dear friend to Franklin and still considered him her mentor. They had continued their correspondence, Franklin providing books and manuscripts—he had just sent her a copy of Voltaire’s Verses—for her edification and challenging her on subjects such as the phonetic alphabet he had proposed in the previous post. In her reply Polly is not afraid to question the worth of Franklin’s proposal.

[Kensiŋtɥn, Septembɥr 26, 1768]Diir Sɥr,
Yɨi have transkrɥib’d iur Alfabet &c. huits̸ ɥi ħink mɥit bi aav sɥrvis tu dhoz hu uis̸ tu akuɥir an akiuret pronɥnsies̸ɥn if dhat kuld bi fiks’d, bɥt ɥi si meni inkaanvinienses az uel az difikultis dhat uuld atend dhi briŋiŋ iur letɥrs & aarħaagrafi intu kaamɥn ius. AAAAl aaur etimaalods̸is uuld bi laast, kaansikuentli ui kuld naat asɥrteen dhi miiniŋ aav meni uɥrds; dhi distinks̸ɥn, tu, bituiin uɥrds aav difɥrent miiniŋ & similar saaund uuld bi dhron daun; and aaaal dhi buks aalredi riten uuld bi iusles ɥnles ui liviŋ rɥitɥrs pɥblis̸ nu idis̸ɥns. In s̸aart ɥi biliiv ui mɥst let pipil spel aan in dheer old ue, and (az ui s̸al fɥind it isiiest) du dhi seem aaurselvs. With ease & with sincerity I can in the old way subscribe myself Dear Sir,
Your affectionate humble Servant,
M. Stevenson

Dr. Franklin [Kensington, Sept. 26, 17687]Dear Sir
I have transcribed your Alphabet &c. which you think might be of Service to those who wish to acquire an accurate pronunciation if that could be fix’d, but I see many inconveniences as well as difficulties that would attend the bringing your letters and orthography into common use. All our etymologies would be lost, consequently we could not ascertain the meaning of many words; the distinction, too, between words of different meaning and similar sound [would be thrown down, and all the books already written] would be useless unless we living writers publish new editions. In short I believe we must let people spell on in their old way, and (as we shall find it easiest) do the same ourselves. With ease and with sincerity I can in the old way subscribe myself Dear Sir Your affectionate humble Servant
M Stevenson

“To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Stevenson, 26 September 1768: phonetic spelling and transcription,” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-15-02-0122. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 15, January 1 through December 31, 1768, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1972, pp. 215–216.]

posted March 8th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin, Friendship, Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson

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