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All in all, the slight attention paid to this class of writings, though explainable, is somewhat disappointing. It might be interpreted as showing that Englishmen, while interested in the physical features, the strange happenings, the economic possibilities, and the scientific curiosities of the new nation, felt that its attempts at spiritual and abstract philosophical thought might be ignored.
FRANKLIN AND PAINE
The two Americans whose names appear most frequently in the periodicals of Great Britain during the period under consideration were Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine. The great interest which these men aroused and the variety of their writings which were commented upon make it convenient to consider them in a group by themselves.
Before the war Franklin had been the American best known in England. His electrical discoveries and some of his practical inventions attracted wide notice. His Poor Richard Sayings, particularly when gathered together in The Way to Wealth, gained considerable currency. As representative of the colonies in England from 1757 to 1762 and from 1764 to 1775 he was a prominent figure personally as well as politically. His clever pen was employed in forwarding the American cause, both in such hoaxes as An Edict of the King of Prussia and in more serious argument. His examination before the House of Commons was a famous incident; and the insulting treatment he received at the hands of the privy council and the retort which he is reported to have made were for years cited by English liberals when they arraigned the ministry for its blundering treatment of the colonies. After the war opinions were naturally divided. Some of the Tories, who overestimated his power at home from the conspicuous figure he made abroad, regarded him as the arch rebel. His connection with the publication of the Hutchinson correspondence, while capable of perfectly honorable explanation, had done something to weaken the respect for his character. Even liberals looked askance at his popularity in Paris and his fondness for French ideas, and at his deism. Yet it was hard for the latter to change their attitude entirely,
and to retract the praise they had given him not merely as patriot but as scientist and philosopher. If a composite of the many views were possible, it would probably picture him as an able, versatile, and wise man, slightly deficient in principle, and somewhat led astray in his later years by Gallic blandishments.
Only a small part of the writing of Franklin that was reviewed in England between 1783 and 1815 was of the sort that warranted his inclusion among American men of letters. The Poor Richard Sayings, were, as has been said, well known, and were still reprinted in various forms, but they had been published so long that they were not likely to be discussed except in a word or two of commendatory comment. The Autobiography was known to English readers before 1815 only through two re-translations from the French version. Some of the Bagatelles, written to amuse a group of the author's Parisian friends, drifted about in the papers and magazines, but were probably never so popular in England as in America. It was chiefly writings on political and scientific subjects that were reissued from time to time and that attained to the dignity of formal reviews; but extracts from these, personal letters, and little essays of a practical nature were printed almost by the hundreds in the popular magazines. For example, the Observations on the Causes and Cure of Smoky Chimnies was republished in London in 1787, and was reviewed in several places, and extracts from it were frequently made. Some of the interest in this paper doubtless arose from a desire for practical information on the part of those whose fireplaces had a bad draught. Some came from surprise that a great publicist should make a serious study of such a question. Some, it may well be believed, came from enjoyment of the method of observation and induction, which was less common then than now, and which made an appeal that very mildly resembled that of the clever reasoning in a detective story. The semi-literary essay on The Morals of Chess was circulated about the same time as the preceding. A collection of Philosophical and Miscellaneous Papers, which included the essay on smoky chimneys,
was published in 1787 and widely noticed, usually in favorable terms.
The Ephemera, The Story of the Whistle, and the Dialogue between Dr. Franklin and the Gout were copied and recopied in the early nineties, and later, as was a letter favoring early marriages the latter finding place especially in the ladies' magazines. In 1791 The Bee or Literary Weekly Intelligencer, of Edinburgh, printed in its initial volume1 the Address of Father Abraham (The Way to Wealth) with a note saying that though it was not new "its intrinsic merit is such as to entitle it to a place in every collection of this sort". An anonymous writer contributed to the same periodical2 Critical Remarks on some Celebrated English [sic] Authors, in which, after discussing Hume, Robertson and Johnson, he concluded:
Of all the literary men in my time, BENJAMIN FRANKLIN occupied the first rank in respect to elegance, conjoined with philosophical accuracy, and depth of observation. Every subject he treated, assumed, under his hand, a new and more inviting appearance than any other person could ever give it....He taught by apologues, fables, and tales calculated not less to inform, than to amuse; and these are always constructed with an elegance of taste that is highly delightful. The miscellaneous philosophical works of Franklin, I consider as one of the most valuable presents that can be put into the hands of youth.
The Scot's Magazine also contains much Franklin material. The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin, and Works of the Late Dr. Benjamin Franklin, both published in London in 1793, contain different translations of the French form of the Autobiography. The Monthly Review3 is inclined to withhold comment until the true version appears, but considers the translation in The Private Life the better of the two.
The so-called Complete Works of Franklin published in
1I: 105, 146.
XIII: 355, (Feb., 1793).
'Mo. Rev. Enigd. XIII: 304, 307 (March, 1794).