Benjamin Franklin Representative selections, with introduction, bibliograpy, and notes

By Benjamin Franklin

Page 74

view
are in part the result of his hatred of proprietary abuses which he
witnessed as a provincial statesman during his middle age.



VII. FRANKLIN AS SCIENTIST AND DEIST

Jan Ingenhousz, the celebrated physician to Maria Theresa of Austria,
wrote a letter to Franklin on May 3, 1780, which doubtless caused the
patriarch of Passy to reflect--not without sadness of heart--on the
diversified fortune which time and circumstance had devised for him. The
physician (no friend to the American revolution) implored Franklin not
to abandon "entirely the world Nature whose laws made by the supreme
wisdom and is constant and unalterable as its legislature himself
[_sic_]." Ingenhousz lamented that Franklin, "a Philosopher so often and
so successfully employed in researches of the most intricate and the
most mysterious operations of Nature,"[i-367] should have given his time
to politics.

Franklin is now most commonly viewed as a utilitarian moralist, a
successful tradesman and printer, a shrewd propagandist and financier,
the diplomat of the Revolution, and if at all as a scientist, then only
as a virtuoso, fashioning devices, such as open stoves, bifocal
spectacles, and lightning rods, for practical uses. Probably few
general readers are aware that Franklin was a disinterested scientist in
the sense that he interrogated nature with an eye to discovering its
immutable laws. It is conversely supposed that Franklin himself was
unaware of any inclination to pursue natural science to the exclusion of
those political achievements which have identified him as one of the
wiliest and sagest diplomats of the Enlightenment.

It may be learned, however (not without astonishment), that Franklin
almost from the beginning of his participation in politics resented the
time given over to such activities, as so much time lost to his
speculations and research in natural science. As early as 1752 he
wistfully (though realistically) confessed that "business sometimes
obliges one to postpone philosophical amusements."[i-368] A month after
this, he wrote to Cadwallader Colden: "I congratulate you on the
prospect you have, of passing the remainder of life in philosophical
retirement."[i-369] In the midst of investigating waterspouts, he
observed to John Perkins: "How much soever my Inclinations lead me to
philosophical Inquiries, I am so engag'd in Business, public and
private, that those more pleasing pursuits [of natural science] are
frequently interrupted...."[i-370] He urged Dr. John Fothergill to give
himself "repose, delight in viewing the Operations of nature in the
vegetable creation."[i-371] In 1765, upon completing his negotiations in
behalf of the Pennsylvania Assembly, he promised Lord Kames that he
would "engage in no other" political affairs.[i-372] To the notable
professor of physics of the University of Turin, Giambatista Beccaria,
he wrote in 1768 from London (where

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Text Comparison with Memoirs of Benjamin Franklin; Written by Himself. [Vol. 2 of 2] With his Most Interesting Essays, Letters, and Miscellaneous Writings; Familiar, Moral, Political, Economical, and Philosophical, Selected with Care from All His Published Productions, and Comprising Whatever Is Most Entertaining and Valuable to the General Reader

Page 15
Trusting too much to others' care is the ruin of many; _for in the affairs of this world men are saved, not by faith, but by the want of it_; but a man's own care is profitable; for, _If you would have a faithful servant, and one that you like, serve yourself.
Page 19
_ Gain may be temporary and uncertain, but ever, while you live, expense is constant and certain; and _It is easier to build two chimneys than to keep one in fuel_, as Poor Richard says; so, _Rather go to bed supperless than rise in debt_.
Page 23
' "'It may be well to do so,' said Glaucon.
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at the mines of silver, to examine why they bring not in so much now as they did formerly.
Page 32
The usefulness of some particular parts of the mathematics, in the common affairs of human life, has rendered some knowledge of them very necessary to a great part of mankind, and very convenient to all the rest, that are any way conversant beyond the limits of their own particular callings.
Page 42
_ When I saw another fond of popularity, constantly employing himself in political bustles, neglecting his own affairs, and ruining them by that neglect, _He pays, indeed_, said I, _too much for his whistle.
Page 59
Our laborious manner of life, compared with theirs, they esteem slavish and base; and the learning on which we value ourselves, they regard as frivolous and useless.
Page 108
Perhaps it was for this reason that the Hebrew lawgiver, having promised that the children of Israel should be as numerous as the sands of the sea, not only took care to secure the health of individuals by regulating their diet, that they might be better fitted for producing children, but also forbid their using horses, as those animals would lessen the quantity.
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Priestley.
Page 123
, "B.
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* * * * * _Answer to a letter from Brussels.
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Priestley.
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" * * * * * "_To David Hartley.
Page 182
Does not the apparent wreck of the surface of this globe, thrown up into long ridges of mountains, with strata in various positions, make it probable that its internal mass is a fluid, but a fluid so dense as to float the heaviest of.
Page 194
Thus, if fire be an original element or kind of matter, its quantity is fixed and permanent in the universe.
Page 199
As frequent mention is made in public papers from Europe of the success of the Philadelphia experiment for drawing the electric fire from clouds by means of pointed rods of iron erected on high buildings, &c.
Page 202
The sun heats the air of our atmosphere most near the surface of the earth; for there, besides the direct rays, there are many reflections.
Page 212
_At its upper end_ it becomes visible by the warm air brought up to the cooler region, where its moisture begins to be condensed into thick vapour by the cold, and is seen first at A, the highest part, which, being now cooled, condenses what rises next at B, which condenses that at C, and that condenses what is rising at D, the cold operating by the contact of the vapours faster in a right line downward than the vapours can climb in a spiral line upward; they climb, however, and as by continual addition they grow denser, and, consequently, their centrifugal force greater, and being risen above the concentrating currents that compose the whirl, fly off, spread, and form a cloud.
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When Dr.
Page 230
a hot sunny climate or season as white ones; because in such clothes 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 a uniform of white? That summer hats for men or women should be white, as repelling that heat which gives headaches to many, and to some the fatal stroke that the French call the _coup de soleil_? That the ladies' summer hats, however, should be lined with black, as not reverberating on their faces those rays which are reflected upward from the earth or water? That the putting a white cap of paper or linen _within_ the crown of a black hat, as some do, will not keep out the heat, though it would if placed _without_? That fruit-walls, being blacked, may receive so much heat from the sun in the daytime as to continue warm in some degree through 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.