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CCCCLXXXVII: FROM JOHN WINTHROP - Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. VI Letters and Misc. Writings 1772-1775 
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. VI (Letters and Misc. Writings 1772-1775).
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FROM JOHN WINTHROP
Cambridge, New England, 4 March, 1773.
I received your favor of September 18th. I return you many thanks for Dr. Priestley’s piece on impregnating water with fixed air. If this should prove an effectual remedy for the sea-scurvy, it would be indeed a most important discovery. I am extremely concerned to hear that Dr. Priestley is so poorly provided for, while so many are rolling about here in gilt chariots, with very ample stipends. I admire his comprehensive genius, his perspicuity and vigor of composition, his indefatigable application, and his free, independent spirit, and wish it were in my power to do him any kind of service. It would give me great pleasure to see him well settled in America; though indeed I am inclined to think he can prosecute his learned labors to greater advantage in England. A man of his abilities would do honor to any of the colleges. At present there is no vacancy among them; but if there were, I believe, sir, you judge perfectly right, that his religious principles would hardly be thought orthodox enough. Indeed, I doubt whether they would do at the Rhode Island College, any more than in the others. That college is entirely in the hands of the Baptists, and intended to continue so, and I never understood that Dr. Priestley was of their persuasion. However, I cannot but hope that his great and just reputation will procure something valuable for him, and adequate to his merit.
I have looked over his treatise of Optics, which you were so good as to present to our library, with great satisfaction, and met with many articles, especially from the foreign publications, which were new to me. It is indeed a most noble collection of every thing relating to that science.
In my last I ventured to mention a little slip concerning the satellites of Saturn. It would be miraculous if, in so large a work collected from such a number of books and on such a variety of matters, there should not be many such. I noted the few that occurred to me in the chapters taken from those authors I was most acquainted with, and beg leave to enclose a list of the principal of them. There are not above two or three of them that are of any consequence; however, such as it is, the list is at Dr. Priestley’s service, if you think it worth sending to him. It may help to remove a few trifling inaccuracies from that valuable work.
I have enclosed the newspaper you mention, that gave an account of the thunder-storm we had here a few years ago. As you are collecting facts on this subject, I looked over my old almanacs where I had made some memoranda relating to your admirable lightning bells. I think it would not be worth while to transcribe them all, nor can I collect any thing from them but what is commonly known. In general, it seems that the bells hardly ever ring in the summer without a shower; they sometimes ring when there is no thunder or lightning, but do not always ring when there is. When there is a thunder-shower, they generally ring most briskly while the cloud is yet at some distance, and cease as soon as it rains hard. In winter they frequently ring briskly in snow-storms, and twice they have done so after the weather was cleared up, and while the new-fallen snow was driving about with the wind, as you have done me the honor already to publish.
In looking for the newspaper before mentioned, I met with another, which gives an account of damage done by lightning in some places in Connecticut in 1771. As perhaps you have not seen it, I enclose it with the other; also a letter sent me with another account. In my almanacs I found also a few minutes relating to some uncommon appearances of the Aurora Borealis. I do not know that they can be of any use, but if they will afford you the least amusement I will readily transcribe them.
In addition to my newspaper account I would mention that besides the strokes of lightning on the college and the elm-tree, July 2, 1768, there was another discharge that afternoon on a cornfield, at a little distance from the college towards the southeast. It spoiled the corn,1 which was of some height, in a circle of about twenty feet in diameter. That near the centre was burnt down to the roots, as I was informed by the owner. I did not hear of it till some days after, and when I saw the place it had been replanted with cabbages. The corn near the circumference of the circle was only scorched, and I saw the leaves withered and drooping. The place struck was about midway between a tree on one side and the well-pole and chimney of the house on the other, and as I judge about eighty feet distant from each; and there was nothing near so high on the other sides for a considerable distance. Hence, their protection did not extend eighty feet. If a person had been standing in that corn, I suppose there is no doubt that he would have been killed. And therefore a person in the midst of an open plain is by no means secure from the stroke of lightning. The best security seems to be to have something high, as a tree, for example, near him, but not too near; perhaps from thirty or forty to ten or fifteen feet, or rather to be near two such trees.
I am, etc.,
[1 ]Indian corn, or maise, which is most commonly planted in this neighborhood.