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THE history of the mission of Franklin to the court of France begins on a November morning, 1776, when a stranger, short, lame, and speaking but little English, made his appearance at Philadelphia. He put up at one of the inns, and sent off a message to the congress, of which the substance was that he had something pressing and important to communicate. No heed was given, for he was thought to be of weak mind. But he persisted, and wrote again and again so earnestly, that Jefferson, Jay, and Franklin were appointed to hear what he had to say. They met him in one of the rooms in the Carpenters' Hall, and were told that whatever they wanted, arms, ammunition, money, ships, would gladly be supplied by France. When the committee asked for his name and credentials, the stranger smiled, drew his hand across his throat, said he knew how to take care of his head, bowed himself out, and was never seen again. The com
mittee, nevertheless, were deeply impressed by what they heard, and had no trouble in persuading congress to name a committee to correspond "with friends in Great Britain, Ireland, and other parts of the world." The committee were active, and letters were soon on their way to Professor Dumas at the Hague, to Arthur Lee at London, and to Franklin's old friend Dubourg. Thomas Story was sent to London, Silas Deane was dispatched to France, and M. Penet, a merchant of Nantes, went back home with a contract in his pocket for gunpowder, guns and supplies.
The months now dragged slowly on without a word from any agent. Winter lengthened into spring, the spring gave way to summer, and the summer was spent before a long letter from Dubourg reached Franklin. So full was it of the most comfortable assurances of help from France that congress lost no time in choosing Franklin, Jefferson, and Deane to make a treaty with that power. Jefferson would not serve, and in an evil hour Arthur Lee was chosen in his stead.
The choice was made on the 26th of September. One month later to a day Franklin boarded the Reprisal and sailed for France. The passage was stormy and the sea covered with English cruisers. More than once the
Reprisal was hotly chased. More than once Captain Wickes beat to quarters and made ready to fight. But he reached the coast of France in safety early in December, and dropped anchor in Quiberon Bay not far from the mouth of the Loire. There he was kept by contrary winds for four days, when Franklin, weary with waiting, landed at Auray and went on to Nantes.
At Nantes he was welcomed with every manifestation of delight, and he stayed there eight days. A story is extant that when Lord Stormont, the English minister, heard that Franklin had landed, he threatened to quit France if the American rebel was suffered to put foot in Paris; that to quiet him messengers were actually sent to Nantes to forbid Franklin coming to the capital; that they were sent by one route when it was well known that Franklin would travel by another; and that, being once at Paris, Vergennes protested that the laws of nations and of hospitality would not allow him to send the old man away. But Franklin had no wish to embarrass the ministry, and, after a few days' stay at Paris, withdrew quietly to Passy, where he ever after remained.
His arrival at Nantes, a lieutenant of police assured Vergennes, had "created a great sensation." But his reception at Nantes was cold
and tame compared with that which awaited him at Paris. Princes and nobles, statesmen and warriors, women of rank, men of fashion, philosophers, doctors, men of all sorts, welcomed him with a welcome such as had never yet fallen to the lot of man. To his house came Turgot, now free from the cares of state, and Vergennes, who still kept his portfolio; Buffon, first among naturalists, and Cabanis, first among physicians; D'Alembert and La Rochefoucauld, Raynal, Morellet, Mably and Malesherbes, for the fame of Franklin was great in France. Philosophers ranked him with Newton and Leibnitz. Diplomatists studied his answers in the examination before the commons of England. The people knew him as Bonhomme Richard. Men of letters pronounced "The Way to Wealth" "un très-petit livre pour des grandes choses," and, translated and annotated, it was used in the schools. Limners spent their ingenuity in portraying his features. His face was to be seen on rings, on bracelets, on the covers of snuff-boxes, on the prints that hung in the shop-windows. His bust was set up in the royal library. Medallions of him appeared at Versailles. If he made a jest, or said a good thing, the whole of France knew it. To one who asked him if a statement of Lord Stormont the English ambassador was true, he
replied, "No, sir, it is not a truth, it is a-Stormont." And immediately a Stormont became another name for a lie. To another who came to lament with him over the retreat through the Jerseys and the misery at Valley Forge, he replied, "Ça ira, Ça ira; " (it will all come right in the end.) Frenchmen took up the words, remembered them, and in a time yet more terrible made them a revolutionary cry.
To the people he was the personification of the rights of man. It was seldom that he entered Paris. But when he did so, his dress, his wigless head, his spectacles, his walking stick, and his great fur cap marked him out as the American. If he went on foot, a crowd was sure to follow at his heels. If he entered the theatre, a court of justice, a public resort of any kind, the people were sure to burst forth into shouts of applause. Their hats, coats, canes, snuff-boxes, were all à la Franklin. To sit at table with him was an honor greatly sought. Poets wrote him wretched sonnets. Noble dames addressed him in detestable verse. Women crowned his head with flowers. Grave Academicians shouted with ecstasy to see him give Voltaire a kiss. No house was quite in fashion that did not have a Franklin portrait over the chimney-piece, a Franklin
of the chambers, and in the ga