Front Page Titles (by Subject) CIX: TO JAMES BOWDOIN - The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. III Letters and Misc. Writings 1753-1763
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CIX: TO JAMES BOWDOIN - Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. III Letters and Misc. Writings 1753-1763 
The Works of Benjamin Franklin, including the Private as well as the Official and Scientific Correspondence, together with the Unmutilated and Correct Version of the Autobiography, compiled and edited by John Bigelow (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). The Federal Edition in 12 volumes. Vol. III (Letters and Misc. Writings 1753-1763).
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TO JAMES BOWDOIN
Philadelphia, 13 December, 1753.
I received your favor of the 12th ultimo, with the law of your province for regulating the Indian trade, for which I thank you, and for the remarks that accompany it, which clearly evince the usefulness of the law, and I hope will be sufficient to induce our Assembly to follow your example.
I have yet received no particulars of the unhappy gentleman’s death at Petersburg, (whose fate I lament). One of the papers says that all the letters from thence confirm the account, and mentions his name (Professor Richmann), but nothing farther. No doubt we shall have a minute account of the accident with all its circumstances, in some of the magazines or the Transactions of the Royal Society.1
The observation you made of the sea water emitting more and less light in different tracts passed through by your boat is new, and your manner of accounting for it ingenious. It is indeed very possible that an extremely small animalcule, too small to be visible even by the best glasses, may yet give a visible light. I remember to have taken notice, in a drop of kennel water, magnified by the solar microscope to the bigness of a cart-wheel, there were numbers of visible animalcules of various sizes swimming about; but I was sure there were likewise some which I could not see, even with that magnifier, for the wake they made in swimming to and fro was very visible, though the body that made it was not so. Now if I could see the wake of an invisible animalcule, I imagine I might much more easily see its light if it were of the luminous kind. For how small is the extent of a ship’s wake, compared with that of the light of her lantern.
My barometer will not show the luminous appearance by agitating the mercury in the dark, but I think yours does. Please to try whether it will, when agitated, attract a fine thread hung near the top of the tube.
As to the answer to Nollet, if I were going on with it, I should be extremely glad of your peeping into it (as you say) now and then, that I might correct it by your advice. The materials in short hints have been long collected and methodized; they only want to be clothed with expression. But soon after my return from New England, I received the enclosed from Monsieur Dalibard, wherein he tells me that he is preparing an answer, not only to the Abbé, but to some others that have wrote against my doctrine, which will be published the beginning of this winter. This, with a good deal of business, and a little natural indolence, has made me neglect finishing my answer till I shall see what is done by him. Perhaps it may then appear unnecessary for me to do any thing farther in it. And will not one’s vanity be more gratified in seeing one’s adversary confuted by a disciple than even by one’s self? I am, however, a little concerned for Dalibard, when I find by his letter that he has been so far imposed on by the Abbé’s confident assertion that a charged bottle placed on an electric per se loses its electricity, as to attempt to account for it, when the thing is absolutely not fact. I have in answer wrote him my sentiments on that and some other particulars of the Abbé’s book, which I hope will get to hand before his answer is published.1
I am with the greatest esteem and regard,
Dear Sir, your most obliged humble servant,
TO PETER COLLINSON
Philadelphia, 18 April, 1754.
Since September last, having been abroad on two long journeys and otherwise much engaged, I have made but few observations on the positive and negative state of electricity in the clouds. But Mr. Kinnersley kept his rod and bells in good order, and has made many.
Once this winter the bells rang a long time during a fall of snow, though no thunder was heard or lightning seen. Sometimes the flashes and cracks of the electric matter between bell and bell were so large and loud as to be heard all over the house; but by all his observations the clouds were constantly in a negative state, till about six weeks ago, when he found them once to change in a few minutes from the negative to the positive. About a fortnight after that he made another observation of the same kind, and last Monday afternoon, the wind blowing hard at southeast and veering round to northeast, with many thick, driving clouds, there were five or six successive changes from negative to positive, and from positive to negative, the bells stopping a minute or two between every change. Besides the methods mentioned in my paper of September last of discovering the electrical state of the clouds, the following may be used. When your bells are ringing, pass a rubbed tube by the edge of the bell, connected with your pointed rod; if the cloud is then in a negative state, the ringing will stop; if in a positive state, it will continue, and perhaps be quicker. Or suspend a very small cork ball by a fine silk thread, so that it may hang close to the edge of the rod-bell; then, whenever the bell is electrified, whether positively or negatively, the little ball will be repelled and continue at some distance from the bell. Have ready a round-headed glass stopper of a decanter, rub it on your side till it is electrified, then present it to the cork ball. If the electricity in the ball is positive, it will be repelled from the glass stopper, as well as from the bell; if negative, it will fly to the stopper.
[1 ]Professor Richmann was killed at Petersburg, on the 26th of July, 1753, while repeating Franklin’s experiment for bringing electricity from the clouds. He received a shock, which caused instantaneous death.
[1 ]The Abbé Nollet published in Paris a volume entitled, Letters sur l’Electricité, dans lesquelles on examine les découvertes qui ont été faites sur cette matière depuis l’Année 1752, et les conséquences que l’on en peut tirer. In the first volume were six letters directed to Franklin, designed to confute his doctrines and hypotheses. The Abbé’s effort brought into the field several champions of Dr. Franklin, among whom were David Colden, a son of Cadwallader Colden, of New York, and Monsieur Dalibard, of Paris. Franklin decided that the Abbé’s letters did not require any reply from him.
[1 ]Soon after writing this letter Franklin set out on a tour to New England.