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to misrepresent the great man, to conceal the ignominy of his enemies, and to impair the authority and success of the more faithful French edition which the reader had now the privilege of beholding. “The glory of belittling a great man, of abridging Franklin,” cries M. Charles Malo, “ has been reserved for one of his descendants. Ought we to inherit from one we have assassinated 2 ” To a generation thus hostile did Temple Franklin deliver his work, which was published in two forms (a quarto and an octavo form) simultaneously, by Colburne, of London. It was far from being a complete edition, but the publisher was probably more to blame for that than the editor. And whatever he had suppressed—if he had suppressed anything—here was the Autobiography. given at last, in full, and for the first time in Franklin’s own English. These words need an explanation, for which we must turn back a little. I have already referred to the anxiety of the legatee in regard to the evil uses that might be made of the copy which had been given to M. le Veillard in September 1789. He feared the French translator only less than the English pirate. The first of these fears was prophetic. In 1791 there was published at Paris an anonymous translation of the work, as far as to the beginning of the paragraph (p. 84) about the founding of the Philadelphia Library. Shortly afterwards, two separate translations from this book were published in London, and continued to be republished in succeeding ages. Some of the copies of what professes to be Franklin's Autobiography even now on sale are really reprints of one or other of these English translations of a French translation of an English manuscript. A still more attenuated degree of authenticity was reached when, in 1798, there appeared at Paris an edition of Franklin's works, “traduit de l'anglais, avec des notes, par J. Castera.” This gentleman had fallen in with one of the English versions aforesaid; and, supposing it to be the original work, he translated it anew for the purposes of his edition: in which, therefore, we have a French translation of an English translation of a French translation of an English manuscript. Here the brain begins to reel, and a sense of the ultimate baselessness and unsubstantiality of things invades the soul even of the general reader. But, courage, mon ami / Surely there is a place of rest in the year 1817—surely we have in W. Temple Franklin's edition every word of the Autobiography that Benjamin Franklin wrote, and no words but his own. So the world really thought for a space of fifty years; and then there was made that discovery which it is the business of this Preface to make common knowledge henceforth to all the enlightened inhabitants of these islands. It came about in this manner. One day in the summer of 1866, the Hon. John Bigelow, at that time American Ambassador to the French Court, happened to have to dinner a number of men-of-letters. Amongst them was that accomplished littérateur and publicist, M. Edouard Laboulaye, who had lately edited a selection from Franklin's writings. This introducing the general topic, Mr. Bigelow took the opportunity of saying a word to those wise men on a matter that had been a good deal in his mind for some time. He wanted to know what had become of the MS. of Franklin's Auto biography, and whether one could not find it if one looked around in that country. He himself believed that, unless it had been destroyed, which seemed unlikely, the incomparable document was at that moment in France, and had been there from the beginning of the century at least. Not to give all his reasons for so thinking, I will mention two historical facts on which he based. First, it had been in France early in the century; for Sir Samuel Romilly had seen it there in 1802, and has left a description of it in his Diary. Second, it was evidently well taken care of; for it had been seen again about fifteen or sixteen years ago by a well-known American book-collector: this was in some French town, though what town Mr. Bigelow could not then say. From these premises the only conclusion seemed to be that the manuscript was discoverable upon search being made. M. Laboulaye said he would make inquiries, and if the thing was in France, he thought he should be
able to trace it. Six months passed, nothing had come of this conversation, and it was time for Mr. Bigelow to be getting home. Amongst his farewell calls was one to M. Laboulaye; who had still no findings to report, but had engaged some members of the Academy in the quest and was in good hopes. About a month later (on January 19, 1867) Mr. Bigelow, being then in London, received from him a letter which began with the joyful phrase “Eureka! ” and went on to give the address of the owner of the manuscript and of some other valuable Franklin relics. Mr. Bigelow at once wrote to “my cherished friend the late William H. Huntington, in Paris,” who seems to have been a man worth living to know. Him he invested with the powers of an Envoyplenipotentiary, to treat with the present possessors of part of the birthright of all Americans. It turned out that these possessors were the representatives of the Le Veillard family, M. Paul and M. George Senarmont, both of Paris. The negotiations were therefore conducted (as far as the need for despatch allowed) with the degree of consideration due to the feelings of a family so excellent, and the surrender was arranged in such a way as to reduce to its mildest form the sense of bereavement. In a word, the Messieurs de Senarmont had been waiting for a purchaser of the heirlooms at 25,000 francs. “A large price, it is true,” says Mr. Bigelow, “but a price that did not seem to me beyond their value to an American.” To a good American, certainly not; though doubtless there are soulless misers and some criminals in that country as in othèrs. Untrammelled by these baser thoughts, however, and strengthened by the possession of Mr. Bigelow's cheque for the amount named, Mr. Huntington carried through the whole legal and commercial business connected with the purchasing, packing and despatching of “The Le Veillard Collection” in a single day, that day being the 27th of January 1867: nor has any international transaction of equal importance been so gaily chronicled as he has chronicled this one in his letters to Mr. Bigelow. May he so smile for ever, though no longer in Paris; and here below let him have honourable mention wherever this story is told.
The collection consisted of three items: (1) a small batch of Letters; (2) a new Portrait of Franklin; (3) an autograph MS. of the Autobiography. Regarding the Letters I need only say that a few were from Franklin and the rest from members of his family. All were addressed to M. le Veillard, and they afford information, which we should not have found elsewhere, regarding Franklin's last attempts to continue the Memoirs, and also regarding the peculiar action, or inaction, of W. Temple Franklin in the matter of bringing out the Works. Of the Portrait it is the less necessary to give an account, because by the great kindness of Mr. Bigelow a reproduction of it appears as the frontispiece to this volume. The original is a pastel of undoubted authenticity, done in 1783 by Joseph Siffred Duplessis, an Academician and a portraitist of very high repute in his generation. The picture was a parting gift from Franklin to his friend and neighbour M. le Veillard, who was a gentleman-in-ordinary to the King, and the Mayor of Passy. A portrait of Franklin was named in the lists of Duplessis' works, but it was lost to the world till Mr. Bigelow brought it back to light.
Of the Manuscript it is necessary to speak more fully. There are those who have builded wiser than they knew, and others who have found better things than they sought. To the latter category of the fortunate belongs Mr. Bigelow. He had wished to recover the MS. of Franklin's Autobiography, merely out of regard to the sentimental interest attaching to a document having such rich associations—biographical, historical, literary —for an American, and not at all because he supposed that the MS. would reveal anything concerning the history of the book or add a page to those “Memoirs of Franklin, written by Himself,” which had so long been a familiar English classic. Careful inspection showed, however, that in both these respects the newly found MS. was a document révélateur.
For here there was, in the first place, a considerable positive addition. The Autobiography, as published in
1817, breaks off with the arrival of Franklin in London in 1757; whereas here the story was continued to the conclusion, in 1762, of that Pennsylvanian business which had brought him to this country. The matter of this continuation was, as a fact, not quite new, though the actual words were now first verified. A French translation published in 1828 had contained this final portion, and the editor explained that it had been communicated to him by the Le Veillard family. How the Le Veillard family came to be able to communicate anything of the sort was much of a mystery; but the historical certification given to Mr. Bigelow along with his purchases by the Messieurs de Senarmont now explained all. The MS. in their possession was not the copy sent to M. le Veillard by Franklin in September 1789, but Franklin's own original copy in his own handwriting, with all his own corrections, erasures, and marginal copmments. These additaments—the use of a Lamb word is privileged here, for more reasons than its correctness—these additaments, which increased the interest of the document for the true devotee so greatly, had been in rather an odd way the cause of its preservation. When Temple Franklin at last took steps to publish his grandfather's Works, he wished to have a fair copy of the Memoirs “for the printers.” And being one of these editors—so exceptional, and extraordinary, and fortunate —who do not fatigue themselves, he coelly asked the Le Veillard family to let him have the use of theirs. At this they very naturally exclaimed, and reminded him of the interest and preciousness to them of this souvenir of their illustrious friend, which they were asked to give up. “Oh, as to that,” said the very Anglo-Saxon young man, “you can have my copy in exchange; which is not a ‘copy' at all, but the original autograph, and so, you see, much more of a souvenir than your own.” The conversation has not been officially reported, any more than the great speeches in Thucydides, but no doubt these were the very words. In this way, at any rate, the exchange was made. But Mr. Temple Franklin, who did not fatigue himself, had not troubled to compare the two manuscripts, and so had failed to remark that the one which he was giving away contained an important addition (besides the