I did not become acquainted with Dr. Franklin till after his return from
France and election to the Chief Magistracy of Pennsylvania. During the Session
of the Grand Convention, of which he was a member and as long after as he
lived, I had opportunities of enjoying much of his conversation, which was
always a feast to me. I never passed half an hour in his company without
hearing some observation or anicdote worth remembering.
Among those which I have often repeated, and can therefore be sure that
my memory accurately retains, are the following.
Previous to the Convention, and whilst the States were seeking by their
respective regulations, to enlarge as much as possible their share of the
general commerce, the Dr. alluding to their jealousies and competitions
remarked that it would be best for all of them to let the trade be free, in
which case it would level itself, and leave to each its proper share. These
contests he said, put him in mind of what had once passed between a little boy
& little girl eating milk & bread out of the same bowl, "Brother,"
cried the little girl, "eat on your side, you get more than your share."
In the Convention, the difference of opinions was often very great, and
it occasionally happened that the votes of the States were equally divided, and
the questions undecided. On a particular day, when several subjects of great
importance were successively discussed, and great diversity of opinions
expressed, it happened that on each of them this was the case, so that nothing
was done through the whole day and appearances were not a little discouraging,
as to a successful issue to the undertaking. After the adjournment, the Docr.
observed to several of us who were near him in allusion to the poor sample wch
had been given, of human reason that there was on board a ship in which he once
crossed the Atlantic, a man who had from his birth been without the sense of
smelling. On sitting down to dinner one day one of the men, cut off a piece of
beef, and putting it to his nose cried out, this beef stinks. The one next to
him, cutting and smelling a piece, said not at all, it is as sweet as any meat
I ever smelt. A third passing a piece across his nose several times, stinks,
says he, no, I believe not yes, I believe it does, repeating the opposite
opinions as often as he made the trial. The same doubts and contrarieties went
round as the company, one after the other, expressed their opinions. Now,
gentlemen, exclaimed the man, without the sense of smelling, I am satisfied of
what I have long suspected, that what you call smelling has no existence, and
that it is nothing but mere fancy & prejudice.
For the anecdote at the close of the Convention relating to the rising
sun painted on the wall behind the Presidts chair see note att the end of the
In a conversation with him one day whilst he was confined to his bed,
the subject of religion with its various dotrines & modes happening to turn
up, the Dr. remarked that he should be glad to see an experiment made of a
religion that admitted of no pardon for trangressions, the hope of impunity
being the great encouragement to them. In illustration of this tendency, he
said that when he was a young man he was much subject to fits of indigestion
brought on by indulgence at the table. On complaining of it to a friend, he
recommended as a remedy a few drops of oil of wormwood, whenever that happened,
and that he should carry a little viol of it about him. On trial he said he
found the remedy to answer, and then said he, having my absolution in my
pocket, I went on sinning more freely than ever.
On entering his chamber in his extreme age when he had been much
exhausted by pain and was particularly sensible of his weakness, Mr. M. said
he, these machines of ours, however admirably formed, will not last always.
Mine I find is just worn out. It must have been an uncommonly good one, I
observed, to last so long, especially under the painful malady which had
co-operated with age in preying on it, adding that I could not but hope that he
was yet to remain some time with us, and that the cause of his suffering might
wear out faster than his Constitution. The only alleviation, he said, to his
pain was opium, and that he found as yet to be a pretty sure one. I told him I
took for granted he used it as sparingly as possible, as frequent doses must
otherwise impair his constitutional strength. He was well aware, he said, that
every Dose he took had that effect, but he had no other remedy, and thought the
best terms he cd make with his complaint was to give up a part of his remaining
life, for the greater ease of the rest. The following anecdotes are from the
report of others. Among the measures of the first Revolutionary Congress, it
was proposed that a Committee should be appointed to provide a Medical Chest
for the army. The Docr. voted agst it. Much surprize being manifested by some
members, the Docr. in his justification, related an anecdote of the Celebrated
Dr. Fothergill, who being desired by a philosophical friend to say candidly
whether he thought Physicians of real service to mankind, replied by observing
that he must first know whether his friend included old women among Physicians,
If he did he thought they were of great service.
Whilst the plan of the original "Articles of Confederation" were
depending, great difficulty was found in agreeing on the powers proper to be
granted by the States to the general Congress, much jealousy being entertained
by the former lest the latter being possessed of too many powers, should by
degrees swallow up those of the States. The Docr. was more apprehensive of
encroachments by the States, and in support of his opinion related what had
occurred when the Union in 1706 between England & Scotland was on foot. The
Scotch orators & patriots opposed the measure as pregnant with ruin to
their Country. In a Sermon one of their Preachers vehemently declaimed agst it.
Not only would the dignity the independence & commerce of Scotland be lost.
Her religious as well as Civil interests would be sacrificed in favor of
England. In a word the whale would swallow Jonas. But how said the Docr. has it
turned out, Why that Jonas had in fact swallowed the whale (Bute & other
Scotsmen having then the sway in the Br. Cabinet).
case of the story concerning Abraham and the angels against
persecution — Dialogue with — see F's (Franklin's) Gazette. See the
sundry accts of it in & his improvemt by adding to the alleged original in
the appeal to Abraham — the words "who art thyself a