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great genius, and had great merit in our American affairs. But he had no title to the legislator of America.' M. Marbois said he had wit and irony; but these were not the faculties of statesmen. His Essay upon the true means of bringing a great Empire to be a small one was very pretty. I said he had wrote many things which had great merit, and infinite wit and ingenuity. His Bonhomme Richard was a very ingenious thing, which had been so much celebrated in France, gone through so many editions, and been recommended by curates and bishops to so many parishes and dioceses.
“M. Marbois asked, “ Are natural children admitted in America to all privileges like children born in wedlock?' . . . M. Marbois said this, no doubt, in allusion to Mr. F.'s natural son, and natural son of a natural son. I let myself thus freely into this conversation, being led on naturally by the Chevalier and M. Marbois on purpose, because I am sure it cannot be my duty, nor the interest of my country, that I should conceal any of my sentiments of this man, at the same time that I do justice to his merits. It would be worse than folly to conceal my opinion of his great faults." (Adams's Works, vol. iii. p. 220.)
The French always believed that Franklin was the originator of the Revolution, and that he was a sort of Solon who had prepared laws for all the revolted colonies, directed their movements, and revised all their state papers and public documents. It was under the influence of this notion that they worshipped him as the personification of liberty. It must have been extremely irritating to Adams and others to find the French people assuming that the old patriarch in his fur cap had emancipated in the American woods a rude and strange people who without him could not have taken care of themselves. But, protest as they might, they never could persuade the French to give up their ideal, and this was undoubtedly the foundation of a great deal of the hostility to Franklin which showed itself in Congress.
In 1811, long after Franklin's death, Adams wrote a newspaper article defending himself against some complaints that Franklin had made, of which I shall have more to say hereafter. It is a most vigorous piece of writing, and, in spite of some unfounded suspicions which it contains and the bluster and egotism so characteristic of its author, is by far the most searching and fairest criticism of Franklin that was ever written :
“ His reputation was more universal than that of Leibnitz or Newton, Frederick or Voltaire, and his character more beloved and esteemed than any or all of them. . . . His name was familiar to government and people, to kings and courtiers, nobility, clergy and philosophers, as well as plebeians, to such a degree that there was scarcely a peasant or a citizen, a valet de chambre, coachman or footman, a lady's chambermaid or a scullion in a kitchen who was not familiar with it, and who did not consider him as a friend to human kind.” (Adams's Works, vol. i. p. 660.)
A large part of this reputation rested, Adams thought, on great talents and qualities, but the rest was artificial, the result of peculiar circumstances which had exaggerated the importance of Franklin's opinions and actions. The whole tribe of printers and newspaper editors in Europe and America had become enamoured and proud of him as a member of their body. Every day in the year they filled the magazines, journals, pamphlets, and all the gazettes of Europe “with incessant praise of Monsieur Franklin." From these gazettes could be collected
a greater number of panegyrical paragraphs upon le grand Franklin' than upon any other man that ever lived." He had become a member of two of the most powerful democratic and liberal bodies in
Europe, the Encyclopedists and the Society of Economists, and thus effectually secured their devotion and praise. All the people of that time who were rousing discontent in Europe and preparing the way for the French Revolution counted Franklin as one of themselves. When he took part in the American Revolution their admiration knew no bounds. He was “the magician who had excited the ignorant Americans to resistance," and he would soon "abolish monarchy, aristocracy, and hierarchy throughout the world." But most important of all in building up his reputation was the lightning-rod.
“Nothing,” says Adams, “perhaps, that ever occurred upon the earth was so well calculated to give any man an extensive and universal a celebrity as the discovery of the efficacy of iron points and the invention of lightning-rods. The idea was one of the most sublime that ever entered a human imagination, that a mortal should disarm the clouds of heaven, and almost 'snatch from his hand the sceptre and the rod.' The ancients would have enrolled him with Bacchus and Ceres, Hercules and Minerva. His paratonnerres erected their heads in all parts of the world, on temples and palaces no less than on cottages of peasants and the habitations of ordinary citizens. These visible objects reminded all men of the name and character of their inventor; and in the course of time have not only tranquillized the minds and dissipated the fears of the tender sex and their timorous children, but have almost annihilated that panic, terror, and superstitious horror which was once almost universal in violent storms of thunder and lightning." (Adams's Works, vol. 1. p. 661.)
The Latin motto universally applied to Franklin at this time, Eripuit cælo fulmen septrumque tyrannis, has usually been attributed to Turgot, the French Minister of Finance; but Adams believed that Sir William Jones was the author of it. Turgot made an alteration in it. As usually understood, the last
half referred to the American colonies delivered from the oppression of Great Britain ; but as Franklin grew
to be more and more the favorite of that large class of people in Europe who were opposed to monarchy, and who believed that he would soon be instrumental in destroying or dethroning all kings and abolishing all monarchical government, Turgot suggested that the motto should read, Eripuit cælo fulmen ; mox septra tyrannis, which may be freely translated, “He has torn the lightning from the sky; soon he will tear their sceptres from the kings.”
At first Adams took the quarrelling lightly, trying to ignore and keep clear of it; but in a little while he confesses that “the uncandor, the prejudices, the rage among several persons here make me sick as death." After about a month he was so disgusted with the service, so fully convinced that the public business was being delayed and neglected on account of the disputes, that he determined to try to effect a change. He therefore wrote to Samuel Adams, then in Congress, declaring that the affairs of the embassy were in confusion, prodigious sums of money expended, large sums yet due, but no account-books or documents; the commissioners lived expensively, each one at the rate of from three to six thousand pounds a year; this would necessarily continue as long as their salaries were not definitely fixed, and it would be impossible to get an account of the expenditure of the public money. Equally ridiculous was the arrangement which made the envoys half ambassadors and half commercial agents. Instead of all this he suggested that Congress separate the offices