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Jefferson's wife compelled him to decline, and Arthur Lee, already acting as an agent for the colonies in Europe, was elected in his place.
When the result of the first ballot taken in Congress showed that Franklin was elected, he is said to have turned to Dr. Rush, sitting near him, and remarked, “I am old and good for nothing; but as the storekeepers say of their remnants of cloth, I am but a fag end, you may have me for what you please.”
There was, however, fourteen more years of labor in the “fag end,” as he called himself; and the jest was one of those appropriately modest remarks which he knew so well how to make.
He probably looked forward with not a little satisfaction to the prospect of renewing again those pleasures of intercourse with the learned and great which he was so capable of enjoying and which could be found only in Europe. His reputation was already greater in France than in England. He would be able to see the evidences of it as well as increase it in this new and delightful field. But the British newspapers, of course, said that he had secured this appointment as a clever way of escaping from the collapse of the rebellion which he shrewdly foresaw was inevitable.
On October 26, 1776, he left Philadelphia very quietly and, accompanied by his two grandsons, William Temple Franklin and Benjamin Franklin Bache, drove some fifteen miles down the river to Marcus Hook, where the “Reprisal," a swift warvessel of the revolted colonies, awaited him. She set sail immediately and got out of the river into the
ocean as quickly as possible, for the British desired nothing better than to capture this distinguished envoy to the court of France. Wickes, the captain, afterwards famous for the prizes he took from the British, knew that he must run the gauntlet of the cruisers, and he drove his little vessel with all sail through the November gales, making Quiberon Bay, on the coast of France, in thirty-three days.
It was a rough, dangerous, exciting voyage ; the venerable philosopher of seventy years was confined to a little, cramped cabin, more sick and distressed than he had ever been before on the ocean; and yet he insisted on taking the temperature of the water every day to test again his theory of the Gulf Stream. They were chased by cruisers, but the fleet “Reprisal” could always turn them into fading specks on the horizon's verge; and as she neared the coast of France she fell in with some good luck,two British vessels loaded with lumber, wine, brandy, and flaxseed, which were duly brought to and carried into a French port to be sold. The “Reprisal" had on board a small cargo of indigo, which, with the prizes, was to go towards paying the expense of the mission to France. In this simple and homely way were the colonies beginning their diplomatic relations.
The French people received Franklin with an outburst of enthusiasm which has never been given by them to any other American. So weak from the sickness of the voyage that he could scarcely stand, the old man was overwhelmed with attention,-a grand dinner at Nantes, an invitation to a country
house where he expected to find rest, but had none from the ceaseless throng of visitors.
The unexpected and romantic manner of his arrival, dodging the cruisers and coming in with two great merchantmen as prizes, aroused the greatest interest and delight. It was like a brilliant stroke in a play or a tale from the “Arabian Nights," worthy of French imagination; and here this wonderful American from the woods had made it an accomplished fact.
The enthusiasm of this reception never abated, but, on the contrary, soon became extravagant worship, which continued during the nine years of his residence in France. Even on his arrival they were exaggerating everything about him, adding four years to his age to make his adventures seem more wonderful ; and Paris waited in as much restless expectation for his arrival as if he had been a king.
Beneath all this lay, of course, the supreme satisfaction with which the French contemplated the revolt of the colonies and the inevitable weakening of their much-hated enemy and rival, Great Britain ; and they had made up their minds to assist in this dismemberment to the utmost of their ability. They were already familiar with Franklin ; his name was a household word in France ; his brilliant discovery of the nature of lightning appealed strongly to every imagination ; “Poor Richard” had been translated for them, and its shrewd economy and homely wisdom had been their delight for years. Its author was the synonyme and personification of liberty, — that liberty which they were just beginning to rave
about, for their own revolution was not twenty years away.
It interested them all the more that the man who represented all this for them, and whose name seemed to be really a French one, came from the horrible wilderness of America, the home of interminable dark forests, filled with savage beasts and still more savage men.
France at that time was the gay, pleasure- and sensation-loving France which had just been living under the reign of Louis XIV. Sated with luxury and magnificence, with much intelligence and culture even among the middle classes, there was no novelty that pleased Frenchmen more than something which seemed to be close to nature ; and when they discovered that this exceedingly natural man from the woods had also the severe and serene philosophy of Cato, Phocion, Socrates, and the other sages of antiquity, combined with a conversation full of wit, point, and raillery like their own, it is not surprising that they made a perpetual joy and feast over him. It was so delightful for a lady to pay him a pretty compliment about having drawn down the fire from heaven, and have him instantly reply in some most apt phrase of an old man's gallantry ; and then he never failed; there seemed to be no end to his resources.
Amidst these brilliant surroundings he wore for a time that shocking old fur cap which appears in one of his portraits ; and although his biographers earnestly protest that he was incapable of such affectation, there is every reason to believe that he found