Benjamin Franklin

[Portrait of Benjamin Franklin]
Portrait of Benjamin Franklin. Adapted from
Benjamin Franklin was the US “Minister Plenipotentiary” in France — basically the ambassador — from 1776 to 1785, during the Revolutionary War. He was charged, along with others such as John Adams, with representing the United States in France. For a book about his work and life there, see Schoenbrun’s book, Triumph in Paris: The exploits of Benjamin Franklin.

There is a statue of Franklin in Yorktown Square.

Franklin signed he Treaty of Friendship and Commerce with France at the Hôtel de Coislin.

Franklin set up the first American Legation (i.e., embassy) at 66, rue Raynoud.

This image was obtained at the US National Archives. Their caption: Benjamin Franklin at the Court of France. Painting by Hobens. 66-G-I5B-5.
This image was obtained at the US National Archives. Their caption: Benjamin Franklin at the Court of France. Painting by Hobens. 66-G-I5B-5.

Franklin seems to have flirted relentlessly with French society women. Here is a letter from Franklin to Madame Helvetius, apparently just after she has told him she will never marry him:

The Elysian Fields


Vexed by your barbarous resolution, announced so positively last evening, to remain single all your life in respect to your dear husband, I went home, fell on my bed, and, believing myself dead, found myself in the Elysian Fields.

I was asked if I desired to see anybody in particular.  Lead me to the home of the philosophers. — There are two who live nearby in the garden: they are very good neighbours, and close friends of each other. — Who are they? — Socrates and H —— . — I esteem them both prodigiously; but let me see first H —— , because I understand a little French, but not one word of Greek.  He received me with great courtesy, having known me for some time, he said, by the reputation I had there.  He asked me a thousand things about the war, and about the present state of religion, liberty, and the government in France. — You ask nothing then of your dear friend Madame H —— ; nevertheless she still loves you excessively and I was at her place but an hour ago.  Ah! said he, you make me remember my former felicity. — But it is necessary to forget it in order to be happy here.  During several of the early years, I thought only of her.  Finally I am consoled.  I have taken another wife.  The most like her that I could find.  She is not, it is true, so completely beautiful, but she has as much good sense, a little more of Spirit, and she loves me infinitely.  Her continual study is to please me; and she has actually gone to hunt the best Nectar and the best Ambrosia in order to regale me this evening; remain with me and you will see her.  I perceive, I said, that your old friend is more faithful than you: for several good offers have been made her, all of which she has refused.  I confess to you that I myself have loved her to the point of distraction; but she was hard-hearted to my regard, and has absolutely rejected me for love of you.  I pity you, he said, for your bad fortune; for truly she is a good and beautiful woman and very loveable.  But the Abbee de la R —— , and the Abbe M —— , are they not still sometimes at her home?  Yes, assuredly, for she has not lost a single one of your friends.  If you had won over the Abbe M —— (with coffee and cream) to speak for you, perhaps you would have succeeded; for he is a subtle logician like Duns Scotus or St. Thomas; he places his arguments in such good order that they become nearly irresistible.  Also, if the Abbe de la R —– had been bribed (by some beautiful edition of an old classic) to speak against you, that would have been better: for I have always observed, that when he advises something, she has a very strong penchant to do the reverse. — At these words the new Madame H —— entered with the Nectar: at which instant I recognised her to be Madame F —— , my old American friend.  I reclaimed to her.  But she told me coldly, “I have been your good wife forty-nine years and four months, nearly a half century; be content with that.  Here I have formed a new connection, which will endure to eternity.”

Offended by this refusal of my Eurydice, I suddenly decided to leave these ungrateful spirits, to return to the good earth, to see again the sunshine and you.  Here I am!  Let us revenge ourselves.

It seems, however, that Madame Helvetius was not the only object of Franklin’s ultimately unrequited affections. In another document, he also wrote:

Articles for a Treaty of Peace with Madame Brillon

Passy, July 27.

What a difference, my dear Friend, between you and me! — You find my Faults so many as to be innumerable, while I can see but one in you; and perhaps that is the Fault of my Spectacles. — The Fault I mean is that kind of Covetousness, by which you would engross all my Affection, and permit me none for the other amiable Ladies of your Country.  You seem to imagine that it cannot be divided without being diminish’d: In which you mistake the nature of the Thing and forget the Situation in which you have plac’d and hold me.  You renounce and exclude arbitrarily every thing corporal from our Amour, except such a merely civil Embrace now and then as you would permit to a country Cousin, — what is there then remaining that I may not afford to others without a Diminution of what belongs to you?  The Operations of the Mind, Esteem, Admiration, Respect, & even Affection for one Object, may be multiply’d as more Objects that merit them present themselves, and yet remain the same to the first, which therefore has no room to complain of Injury.  They are in their Nature as divisible as the sweet Sounds of the Forte Piano produc’d by your exquisite Skill: Twenty People may receive the same Pleasure from them, without lessening that which you kindly intend for me; and I might as reasonably require of your Friendship, that they should reach and delight no Ears but mine.

You see by this time how unjust you are in your Demands, and in the open War you declare against me if I do not comply with them. Indeed it is I that have the most Reason to complain.  My poor little Boy, whom you ought methinks to have cherish’d, instead of being fat and Jolly like those in your elegant Drawings, is meagre and starv’d almost to death for want of the substantial Nourishment which you his Mother inhumanly deny him, and yet would now clip his little Wings to prevent his seeking it elsewhere! —

I fancy we shall neither of us get any thing by this War, and therefore as feeling my self the Weakest, I will do what indeed ought always to be done by the Wisest, be first in making the Propositions for Peace.  That a Peace may be lasting, the Articles of the Treaty should be regulated upon the Principles of the most perfect Equity & Reciprocity.  In this View I have drawn up & offer the following, viz. —

There shall be eternal Peace, Friendship & Love, between Madame B. and Mr F.

In order to maintain the same inviolably, Made B. on her Part stipulates and agrees, that Mr F. shall come to her whenever she sends for him.

ART. 3.
That he shall stay with her as long as she pleases.

ART. 4.
That when he is with her, he shall be oblig’d to drink Tea, play Chess, hear Musick; or do any other thing that she requires of him.

ART. 5.
And that he shall love no other Woman but herself.

ART. 6.
And the said Mr F. on his part stipulates and agrees, that he will go away from M. B.’s whenever he pleases.

ART. 7.
That he will stay away as long as he pleases.

ART. 8.
That when he is with her, he will do what he pleases.

ART. 9.
And that he will love any other Woman as far as he finds her amiable.

Let me know what you think of these Preliminaries.  To me they seem to express the true Meaning and Intention of each Party more plainly than most Treaties. — I shall insist pretty strongly on the eighth Article, tho’ without much Hope of your Consent to it; and on the ninth also, tho I despair of ever finding any other Woman that I could love with equal Tenderness: being ever, my dear dear Friend, Yours most sincerely


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