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Lot 26: Franklin, Benjamin. Autograph letter signed ("B. Franklin"), 8 pages (12 ½ x 7 7/8 in.; 318 x 200 mm.)
December 18, 2012
Calabasas Hills, CA, USALive Auction
26. Franklin, Benjamin. Autograph letter signed (“B. Franklin”), 8 pages (12 ½ x 7 7/8 in.; 318 x 200 mm.), “London,” 2 June 1765 to Lord Kaims. Franklin describes at length his voyage back to America in 1762 and his arrival and reception in Philadelphia. Water stains, margins and last page reinforced.
Franklin summarizes his voyage back to America from 1762 to 1763, including the suppression of rioters who murdered peaceful Indians.
Franklin pens in part: “You require my History from the time I set Sail for America. I left England about the End of August 1762, in Company with Ten Sail of Merchant Ships under Convoy of a Man of War...On the first of November, I arrived safe and well at my own House after an absence of near Six Years, found my Wife & Daughter well, the latter grown quite a Woman, with many amiable Accomplishments acquired in my absence, and my Friends as hearty and affectionate as ever, with whom my House was filled for many Days, to congratulate me on my Return. I had been chosen yearly during my Absence to represent the City of Philadelphia in our Provincial Assembly, and on my Appearance in the House they voted me 3000 £Sterling for my Services in England and their Thanks delivered by the Speaker...In the Spring of 1763 I set out on a Tour through all the Northern Colonies, to inspect and regulate the Post Offices in the several Provinces. In this Journey I spent the Summer, travelled about 1600 miles, and did not get home ’till the beginning of November. The Assembly sitting through the following Winter, and warm Disputes arising between them and the Governor I became wholly engaged in Public Affairs; For besides my Duty as an Assembly-man, I had another Trust to execute, that of being one of the Commissioners appointed by Law to dispose of the publick Money appropriated to the Raising and Paying an Army to act against the Indians and defend the Frontiers. And then in December we had two Insurrections of the back Inhabitants of our Province, by whom 20 poor Indians were murdered that had from the first settlement of the Province lived among us and under the Protection of our Government. This gave me a good deal of Employment, for as the Rioters threatened farther mischief, and their actions seemed to be approved by an increasing Party. I wrote a pamphlet entitled A Narrative, (which I think I sent you) to strengthen the Hands of our weak Government, by rendering the Proceedings of the Rioters unpopular and odious. This had a good Effect; and afterwards when a great Body of them with Arms march’d towards the Capital in Defiance of the Government, with an assured Resolution to put to death 140 Indian Converts then under its Protection, I formed an Association at the Governor’s Request, for his and their Defence, we having no Militia. Near 1000 of the Citizens accordingly took Arms; Governor Penn made my House for some time his Head Quarters, and did every thing by my Advice, so that for about 48 Hours I was a very great Man, as I had been once some Years before in a time of publick Danger; but the fighting Face we put on, and the Reasonings we used with the Insurgents (for I went at the Request of the Governor & Council with three others to meet and discourse them) having hem’d them back, and restored Quiet to the City, I became a less Man than ever: for I had by these Transactions made myself many Enemies among the Populace; and the Governor (with whose Family our publick Disputes had long placed me in an unfriendly Light, and the Services I had lately rendered him not being of the kind that make a Man acceptable) thinking it a favourable Opportunity, join’d the whole Weight of the Proprietary Interest to get me ouf the Assembly, which was accordingly effected at the last Election, by a Majority of about 25 in 4000 Voters. The House however, when they met in October, approved of the Resolutions taken while I was Speaker, of Petitioning the Crown for a Change of Government, and requested me to return to England to prosecute that Petition; which Service I accordingly undertook, and embark’d the Beginning of November last, being accompany’d to the Ship, 16 Miles, by a Cavalcade of three Hundred of my Friends, who filled our Sails with their good Wishes, and I arrived in 30 Days at London. There I have ever since engaged in that and other Publick Affairs relating to America, which are like to continue some time longer upon my hands; but I promise you, that when I am quit of these, I will engage in no other; and that as soon as I have recover’d the Ease and Leisure I hope for, the Task you require of me, of finishing my Art of Virtue shall be performed. In the meantime I must request you would excuse me on this Consideration, that the Powers of the Mind are possessed by different Men in different Degrees, and that every one cannot, like Lord Kaims, intermix literary Pursuits & important Business without Prejudice to either.”
Having read Kaims’ excellent Elements of Criticism, Franklin continues with an in depth disquisition on his theories of music, melody and harmony, describing Scottish tunes as the best traditional example. He verbalizes his dislike of “modern” music and virtuoso performances. Writing that the Pleasure Artists feel in hearing much of that compos’d in the modern Taste, is not the natural Pleasure arising from Melody or Harmony of Sounds, but of the same kind with the Pleasure we feel on seeing the surprizing Feats of Tumblers and Rope Dancers, who execute difficult Things. He therefore believes that a common audience would not appreciate or enjoy modern music while a plain old Scottish Tune, disdained by the performers, would give manifest and general Delight. He gives his opinion that the Reason why the Scotch Tunes have liv’d so long, and will probably live forever (if they escape being stifled in modern affected Ornament) is merely this, that they are really Compositions of Melody and Harmony united, or rather that their Melody is Harmony. He then goes on at length discussing the composition of Scotch music (originally for the harp) and its minstrel origins. The Connoisseurs in modern Music will say I have no Taste, but I cannot help adding, that I believe our Ancestors in hearing a good Song, distinctly articulated . . . felt more real Pleasure than is communicated by the generality of modern Operas.
As mentioned in the letter, to strengthen public resolve against murderous rebels, Franklin wrote a pamphlet entitled A Narrative of the Late Massacre in Lancaster County, which encouraged nearly one thousand citizens to take up arms to restore “Quiet to the City.” In addition, Franklin mentions he would eventually complete his Art of Virtue, a work planned since 1732, yet it was never completed. A fascinating autobiographical letter describing the events in Franklin’s life between 1762 and 1764 allowing glimpses into his personal life and interests.
References: Published in The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. L.W. Labaree, vol. 12, pages 158-65.