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described by Adams as “more irregular, more inconsistent with the arrangement of Congress and every way more unjustifiable than even the case of Mr. Williams."
He gives us many glimpses of Franklin's life,--his gayety, the bright stories he told, and his wonderful reputation among the French. An interesting young lady, Mademoiselle de Passy, was a great favorite with Franklin, who used to call her his flame and his love. She married a man whose name translated into English would be “Marquis of Thunder." The next time Madame de Chaumont met Franklin, she cried out, “Alas! all the conductors of Mr. Franklin could not prevent the thunder from falling on Mademoiselle de Passy."
Adams was at the Academy of Sciences when Franklin and Voltaire were present, and a general cry arose among the sensation-loving people that these two wonderful men should be introduced to each other. They accordingly bowed and spoke. But this was not enough, and the two philosophers could not understand what more was wanted. They took each other by the hand; but still the clamor continued. Finally it was explained to them that “they must embrace in French fashion.” The two old men immediately began hugging and kissing each other, which satisfied the company, and the cry spread through the whole country, “How beautiful it was to see Solon and Sophocles embrace !"
Some of Adams's criticisms and estimates of Franklin, though not satisfactory to his eulogists, are, on the whole, exceedingly just.
“That he was a great genius, a great wit, a great humorist, a great satirist, and a great politician is certain. That he was a great philosopher, a great moralist, and a great statesman is more questionable.” (Adams's Works, vol. iii. p. 139.)
This brief statement will bear the test of very close investigation. Full credit, it will be observed, is given to his qualities as a humorous and satirical writer, and even as a politician. The word politician is used very advisedly, for up to that time Franklin had done nothing that would raise him beyond that class into statesmanship.
He had had a long career in Pennsylvania politics, where his abilities were confined to one province, and in the attempt to change the colony into a royal government he had been decidedly in the wrong. While representing Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Georgia in England from the time of the Stamp Act until the outbreak of the Revolution, he had accomplished nothing, except that his examination before Parliament had encouraged the colonists to persist in their opposition; he had got himself into a very bad scrape about the Hutchinson letters; and his plan of reconciliation with the mother country had broken down. In France, the government being already very favorable to the colonies, there was but little for the embassy to do except to conduct the business of sending supplies and selling prizes, and in this Deane and Beaumarchais did most of the work, while Franklin had kept no accounts, had allowed his papers to get into confusion, was utterly unable to keep the envoys in harmony, and had not made any effective
appeal to Congress to change the absurd system which permitted the sending to a foreign country of three commissioners with equal powers. In the last years of his mission in France he did work which was more valuable ; but it was not until some years afterwards, when he was past eighty and on the verge of the grave, that he accomplished in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 the one act of his life which may be called a brilliant stroke of statesmanship.
His qualities as a moralist have been discussed in a previous chapter which fully justifies Adams's assertion. As a philosopher, by which Adams meant what we now call a man of science, Franklin was distinguished, but not great. It could not be said that he deserved to be ranked with Kepler or Newton. His discovery of the nature of lightning was picturesque and striking, and had given him popular renown, but it could not put him in the front rank of discoverers.
In a later passage in his Diary Adams attempts to combat the French idea that Franklin was the American legislator.
“ • Yes,' said M. Marbois, he is celebrated as the great philosopher and the great legislator of America. He is,' said I, 'a great philosopher, but as a legislator of America he has done very little. It is universally believed in France, England, and all Europe, that his electric wand has accomplished all this revolution. But nothing is more groundless. He has done very little. It is believed that he made all the American constitutions and their confederation ; but he made neither. He did not even make the constitution of Pennsylvania, bad as it is.' ...
“I said that Mr. Franklin had great merit as a philosopher. His discoveries in electricity were very grand, and he certainly was a