The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

By Benjamin Franklin

Page 145

papers were much taken notice
of in England. A copy of them happening to fall into the hands of the
Count de Buffon, a philosopher deservedly of great reputation in
France, and, indeed, all over Europe, he prevailed with M. Dalibard to
translate them into French, and they were printed at Paris. The
publication offended the Abbe Nollet, preceptor in Natural Philosophy
to the royal family, and an able experimenter, who had form'd and
publish'd a theory of electricity, which then had the general vogue.
He could not at first believe that such a work came from America, and
said it must have been fabricated by his enemies at Paris, to decry his
system. Afterwards, having been assur'd that there really existed such
a person as Franklin at Philadelphia, which he had doubted, he wrote
and published a volume of Letters, chiefly address'd to me, defending
his theory, and denying the verity of my experiments, and of the
positions deduc'd from them.

I once purpos'd answering the abbe, and actually began the answer; but,
on consideration that my writings contain'd a description of
experiments which any one might repeat and verify, and if not to be
verifi'd, could not be defended; or of observations offer'd as
conjectures, and not delivered dogmatically, therefore not laying me
under any obligation to defend them; and reflecting that a dispute
between two persons, writing in different languages, might be
lengthened greatly by mistranslations, and thence misconceptions of one
another's meaning, much of one of the abbe's letters being founded on
an error in the translation, I concluded to let my papers shift for
themselves, believing it was better to spend what time I could spare
from public business in making new experiments, than in disputing about
those already made. I therefore never answered M. Nollet, and the
event gave me no cause to repent my silence; for my friend M. le Roy,
of the Royal Academy of Sciences, took up my cause and refuted him; my
book was translated into the Italian, German, and Latin languages; and
the doctrine it contain'd was by degrees universally adopted by the
philosophers of Europe, in preference to that of the abbe; so that he
lived to see himself the last of his sect, except Monsieur B----, of
Paris, his eleve and immediate disciple.

What gave my book the more sudden and general celebrity, was the
success of one of its proposed experiments, made by Messrs. Dalibard
and De Lor at Marly, for drawing lightning from the clouds. This
engag'd the public attention every where. M. de Lor, who

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