Item of the Day: The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin (1793)

Full Title: The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin, LL.D. Late Minister Plenipotentiary from the United Sates of America to France, &c. &c. &c. Originally written by Himself, and now translated from the French. To which are added, Some Account of his Public Life, a Variety of Anecdotes Concerning Him, by M. M. Brissot, Condorcet, Rochefoucault, Le Roy, &c. &c. and the Eulogium of M. Fauchet . . . London: Printed for J. Parsons, No. 21, Pater-Noster Row, 1793.





I SHALL not enter into an unintesting detail relative to the manner in which the original mauscript of these memoirs, which are written in the Enlgish language, came into my possession. They appeared to me to be so interesting, that I did not hesitate a single moment to translate them into French.

The name of Franklin will undoubtedly become a passport to a work of this nature; and the character of truth and simplicity, discernible in every page, must guarantee its authenticiy; I have no manner of occasion to join other testimonies.

If, however, any critic chooses to disbelieve my assertion, and is desirous to bring the existence of the orignial manuscript into doubt, I am ready to verify it, by means of an immediate impression*; but, as I am not certain of the sale of a work written in a foreign language, I cannot publish it in any other manner than by means of a subsription, large enough to indemnify me the money advanced.

That part of the Memoirs of Franklin in my possession, includes no more than the first period of a life, the remainder of which has become illustrous by events of the highest importance; it terminates at the epoch when, after having married, he began to render himself celebated by plans and establishments of public utility.

It is very possible that he may have written more of his history; for the portion of it which I now present to the Publci, concludes, according to his own account, with the year 1771.

If this be the case, the heirs of that great man will not fail some day to publish it, either in England or in Pennsylvania, and we shall doubtless have a French translation, which will be received by the Public with great eagerness; but I am persuaded, that his family will not disclose any other than the most brilliant period of his life; and which is connected with the memorable part he acted in the world, both as a philospher and a statesman. They will never be prevailed upon to narrate the humble details of his early days, and the simple but interesting anecdotes of his origin, the obscurity of which, although it enhance the talents and the virutes of this great man, may yet wound their own vanity.

If my conjectures prove right; if the memoirs which they are about to publish under the name of Franklin should be mutilated; if the first part, so essential to readers capable of feeling and of judging, should be supressed, I shall applaud myself for having preserved it; and the world will be obliged to me for having enabled them to follow the early developments of the genius, and the first exertions of the sublime and profound mind of a man, who afterwards penetrated the mystery of electricity, and disconcerted the secret measures of despotism–who preserved the universe from the ravages of thunder, and his native country from the horrors of tyranny!

If I am accidentally mistaken; if the life of Franklin should appear entire, the Public will still have the advantage of anticipating the intersting part of a history which it has long and impatiently expected.

The principal object proposed by the American philosopher, in writing these memoirs, was to instruct posterity, and amuse his own leisure hours. He has permitted his ideas to flow, at the will of his memory and his heart, without ever making any effort to disguise the truth, notwithstanding it is not always very flattering to his self-love–but I here stop; it belongs to Frankin to speak for himself.

It will be easily perceived, that I have preserved as much as possible the ease and simplicity of his style in my translation. I have not even affected to correct the negligence of his language, or to clothe his sentiments with a gaudy dress, for which they have no manner of occasion; I should have been afraid of bereaving the work of one of its principal ornaments.

As these memoris reach no futher than his marriage, I have madeuse of other materials in order to complete so interesting a history; and I have also added a number of anecdotes and remarks relative to this philosphical American.


*Those who may be desirous of readin gthe Memoirs of the Private Life of Franklin, in the original, are requested to leave their names with Buisson, bookseller, Rue Haute-Feuille, No. 20. the work will be sent to the press as soon as there are 400 subscribers. The price is 48 sols.






THE life of the late Dr. Benjamin Franklin is, perhaps, a DESIDERATUM in modern biography; for the manner in which the statesman and philosopher, although destiture of birth, and of fortune, was enabled to struggle into opulence and celebrity, cannot fail to excite the interest, and gratify the curiousity of a liberal and enlightened age.

But this work is estimable in another point of view; for it may be considered as a treatise of enforcing the love of vitue and of industry, displaying the advantages arising form study, and exhibiting the most easy mode of acquiring literary and moral excellence.

Youth will be gratified by the early efforts of our Author’s rising genius, and old age comforted, at beholding that happy serentiy displayed in the latter period of his life.

The Translater would have presented the world with this volume long since, had he not been restrained by a certain degree of delicacy, mingled with veneration, towards the family of this great man; for on being informed by a respectable bookseller in St. Paul’s Church-yard, that the works of Franklin were about to be published by his grandson, he with-held the present publciation for seveal months, in expectation of that event.

He begs leave to add, that, throughout the whole work, he has attempted a plain, sober, unadorned style, as best adapted to convey the Author’s sentiments; and that, in the second part, he has supplied some erroneous dates, and cancelled a variety of unjust reflections which were thrown out in England against Dr. Frankin, during the late odious war with America, and too hastily adopted by the French Editor.

Feb. 1., 1793


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Filed under 1790's, Biography, Franklin, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

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