“THE FIRST COLLECTION OF FRANKLIN’S WRITINGS IN ANY LANGUAGE”: SCARCE FIRST EDITION OF FRANKLIN’S OEUVRES, 1773, WITH ENGRAVED FRONTISPIECE AND TWELVE ENGRAVED PLATES, A HANDSOME TWO-VOLUME WORK IN CONTEMPORARY CALF
FRANKLIN, Benjamin. Oeuvres de M. Franklin… Traduites de l’Anglois sur la Quatrieme Édition par M. Barbeu Dubourg. Avec des Additions Nouvelles et des Figures en Taille douce. Paris: Chez Quillau… Esprit… et l’Auteur, 1773. Two volumes. Quarto, contemporary full brown mottled calf, elaborately gilt-decorated spines, raised bands, burgundy morocco spine labels, marbled endpapers; , xiij, , -338. [5 plates];  [i] xiij, , -318, , [7 plates]. $2200.
First edition of a landmark collection of Franklin’s scientific, philosophical and political writings—“the first major translation of Franklin’s scientific works into French”—edited by his friend Barbeu-Dubourg, including Franklin’s landmark series of letters on electricity to Peter Collinson, his Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind—“one of Franklin’s most important tracts”—his pre-Revolutionary letters to British commander William Shirley, his correspondence with the young Polly Stevenson, and “several pieces not included in any former edition” (Ford), a handsome wide-margined two-volume copy, with engraved frontispiece of Franklin and 12 engraved plates, scarce in contemporary calf. Text in French.
“In 1773 Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg published the Oeuvres de M. Franklin, the first collection of Franklin’s writings in any language. This work, in two volumes, was especially welcome to the French reader, who was eager for anything by Franklin. In addition to Franklin’s earlier scientific writings, Barbeu-Dubourg included pieces that had never appeared in print before, as well as extracts from his own correspondence with Franklin… This translation of Franklin’s work secured his place in the French pantheon of Enlightenment philosophes. Barbeu-Dubourg accurately predicted that Franklin’s Oeuvres would also enhance the reputation of America in France and throughout Europe” (Duval, “Man Made to Measure,” Princess & the Patriot, 62). This also stands as “the first major translation of Franklin’s scientific works into French. It resulted from the long correspondence between two extraordinary men; with its publication, Barbeu-Dubourg added considerably to the printed body of Franklin’s works. Volume I deals exclusively with electricity; it contains papers already published in English along with additional material that had not previously appeared. Volume II deals with a broad range of Franklin’s scientific activities including letters on meteors, economics, the increase in mankind, and inoculation; also, in their first appearance, his letters on swimming, on the fly that was revived by the sun after drowning in wine, and his thoughts on colonial politics. Most of the latter were omitted from English editions” (Winegrad 92).
As Founding Father John Adams noted: “Franklin had a great genius, original, sagacious, and inventive… His reputation was more universal than that of Leibnitz or Newton, Frederick or Voltaire, and his character more esteemed than any or all of them” (Boston Patriot, May 15, 1811). “Franklin has a special place in the hearts and minds of Americans… Unlike the other great Founders, Franklin began as an artisan, a lowly printer who became the architect of his own fortune… If any single figure could symbolize all of America, it was Franklin” (Wood, Americanization, 3). Featured in this scarce two-volume collection are some of Franklin’s most memorable scientific, philosophical and early revolutionary writings. Volume I leads with his landmark correspondence with colleague Peter Collinson of the Royal Society, detailing Franklin’s experiments on electricity in formal letters from 1747-1750 (I:1-50). “Collinson in turn communicated those letters to the Society and published them in April 1751” (Krider, “Benjamin Franklin and Lightning Rods,” Physics Today:42). Also notable is the inclusion of “one of Franklin’s most important tracts, written in 1751, his Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind [II:119-128], a major contribution to the nascent science of demography” (Cohen, 152). Franklin circulated this work “in manuscript while his fame was building and only published it in 1755” (Chaplin, 142).
Oeuvres also features Franklin’s early and prophetic thoughts on the Revolution in his December 1754 correspondence with William Shirley, the “royal governor of Massachusetts who became commander in chief of the British forces in North America in 1755.” In their discussions of the type of government Britain and its colonies might share, Franklin cautioned “Shirley that ‘where heavy burthens are to be laid on [the colonists], it has been found useful to make it, as much as possible, their own act” (Wood, 77). The three December 1754 letters to Shirley (II:160-170) were initially printed in the London Chronicle in February 1766, “but the originals in Franklin’s hand do not survive.” Also included is Franklin’s revealing correspondence with Polly Stevenson, daughter of the widowed Margaret Stevenson. “As long as he stayed in London, Franklin lived with the Stevensons… [who] seemed to make up for the absence of Deborah Franklin and Sally” (Wood, 77-8, 85). “Franklin spent hours talking to Polly, whose eager curiosity enchanted him, and then, when she went to live with an aunt in the country, carried on an astonishing correspondence… Franklin wrote to her at great length and in sophisticated detail about how barometers work, colors absorb heat, electricity is conducted, waterspouts are formed, and the moon affects tidal flows. Eight of these letters [II:284-309] were later included in the revised edition of his electricity papers … And Polly would be at his bedside when he died, 33 years after their first meeting” (Isaacson, 176-178).
Editor Barbeu-Dubourg “probably met Franklin in 1767. The two began a lifelong personal and philosophical correspondence. He supervised and published a French translation of Franklin’s examination before the House of Commons in the Ephémérides du citoyen (1768)… translated Dickinson’s La Lettre d’un Fermier de Pennsylvanie aux habitants de l’Amerique septentrionale (1769) [and] prepared a French edition of Franklin’s works, Oeuvres de M. Franklin (1773). Franklin helped arrange his election to the American Philosophical Society (1775)” (Franklin Papers). “Dubourg himself was not unlike Franklin… He was interested in botany, electricity, political thought and history, and he became an excellent translator and editor. By the time Franklin arrived in France, Dubourg had given up his medical practice and his scientific work to devote the last three years of his life to the American cause “ (Winegrad 92). Volume I with engraved frontispiece portrait after the painting by Mason Chamberlin and five full-page engravings; Volume II with seven full-page engravings. With half titles; engraved head- and tailpieces throughout. “Brunet states that the translation was made by J.B. LÉcuy. The first volume is devoted entirely to electricity, being a reprint of the English editions, with the addition of several pieces not included in any former edition. The second volume includes his other scientific writings: The Pennsylvania Fireplace ; Obervations on the Increase of Mankind ; Letters to Shirley ; Poor Richard (which in the translation becomes ‘Le Pauvre Henri’) [II:171-181]; the Craven Street letters[1760: II:284-309]; and a number of letters from Franklin to the editor” (Ford 315). “The two volumes of Dubourg’s edition are normally bound together in one book. This copy [as in Winegrad], in a contemporary mottled calf binding, is unusual in that they are separate” (Winegrad 92). Text in French. Sabin 25607. Brunet II:1382. (Collinson letters) Labaree et al., Papers of Benjamin Franklin III:126, 156, 352, 365, IV:9. See Cohen: Benjamin Franklin’s Experiments; and Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 100:6, 537. Volume I with early owner inscription dated 1789, bookplate. Volume II with tiny inked notation to numbering of one plate not affecting image. Each volume with small inked notations to rear blanks, small library shelf labels.
Text and plates generally fresh with light scattered foxing, minor occasional marginal dampstaining, mild edge-wear to a few leaves. Expert restoration to handsome contemporary full mottled calf gilt bindings.