Front Page Titles (by Subject) CCCCLXIX: ANSWER TO M. DUBOURG'S QUERIES RESPECTING THE ARMONICA - The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. V Letters and Misc. Writings 1768-1772
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CCCCLXIX: ANSWER TO M. DUBOURG’S QUERIES RESPECTING THE ARMONICA - Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. V Letters and Misc. Writings 1768-1772 
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. V (Letters and Misc. Writings 1768-1772).
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ANSWER TO M. DUBOURG’S QUERIES RESPECTING THE ARMONICA
London, 8 December, 1772.
When the glasses are ranged on the horizontal spindle, or, to make use of your expression, enfilés, and each one is definitely fixed in its place, the whole of the largest glass appears at the extremity to the left; the following one, nearly enclosed in the preceding one, shows only about an inch of its border, which advances so much further than the edge of the larger glass; and so, in succession, each glass exceeds the one containing it, leaving by this placement an uncovered border on which the fingers may be applied. The glasses do not touch one another, but they are so near as not to admit a finger to pass between them; so that the interior border is not susceptible of being rubbed.
The finger is to be applied flat on the borders of the largest glasses, and on the borders of the smaller; but in part on the borders, and in part on the edges, of the glasses of an intermediate size. Nothing but experience can instruct with respect to this manutation (fingering), because the different-sized glasses require to be touched differently, some nearer the edge, and others farther from it. A few hours’ exercise will teach this.
SOME DIRECTIONS FOR DRAWING OUT THE TONES FROM THE GLASSES OF THE ARMONICA
Before you sit down to play, the fingers should be well washed with soap and water, and the soap well rinsed off.
The glasses must be always kept perfectly clean from the least greasiness; therefore suffer nobody to touch them with unwashed hands; for even the common slight natural greasiness of the skin rubbed on them will prevent their sounding for a long time.
You must be provided with a bottle of rain-water (spring water is generally too hard and produces a harsh tone), and a middling sponge in a little slop-bowl, in which you must keep so much of the water that the sponge may be always very wet.
In a teacup keep also ready some fine scraped chalk, free from grit, to be used on occasion.
The fingers when you begin to play should not only be wet on the surface, but the skin a little soaked, which is readily done by pressing them hard a few times in the sponge.
The first thing after setting the glasses in motion is to pass the sponge slowly along from the biggest glass to the smallest, suffering it to rest on each glass during at least one revolution of the glasses, whereby they will all be made moderately wet. If too much water is left on them, they will not sound so readily.
If the instrument is near a window, let the window be shut or the curtain drawn, as wind or sunshine on the glasses dries them too fast.
When these particulars are all attended to, and the directions observed, the tone comes forth finely with the slightest pressure of the fingers imaginable, and you swell it at pleasure by adding a little more pressure, no instrument affording more shades, if one may so speak, of the Forte Piano.
One wetting with the sponge will serve for a piece of music twice as long as Handel’s Water-piece, unless the air be uncommonly drying.
But a number of thin slices of sponge, placed side by side, and their ends held fast between two stripes of wood, like rulers, of a length equal to the glasses, and placed so that the loose ends of the sponges may touch the glasses behind, and by that means keep them constantly wet, is very convenient where one proposes to play a long time. The sponges being properly wetted will supply the glasses sufficiently a whole evening, and touching the glasses lightly do not in the least hurt the sound.
The powder of chalk is useful two ways.
Fingers, after much playing, sometimes begin to draw out a tone less smooth and soft, and you feel as well as hear a small degree of sharpness. In this case, if you dip the ends of your wet fingers in the chalk so as to take up a little, and rub the same well on the skin, it will immediately recover the smoothness of tone desired. And, if the glasses have been sullied by handling, or the fingers not being just washed have some little greasiness on them, so that the sounds cannot easily be produced, chalk so used will clean both glasses and fingers, and the sounds will come out to your wish.
A little practice will make all this familiar; and you will also find by trials what part of the fingers most readily produces the sound from particular glasses, and whether they require to be touched on the edge chiefly, or a little more on the side; as different glasses require a different touch, some pretty full on the flat side of the brim, to bring out the best tone, others more on the edge and some of the largest may need the touch of two fingers at once.