Thrilling to find ourselves square on the 26th of October once more, a crisp autumn day indeed and the 238th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s departure for France. He took two grandsons with him and left behind a nation in the throes of revolution. Once ashore, the former first Postmaster General became the first US Ambassador to France.
The French, already familiar with Franklin through his roles in the emerging American government, were fond of the man and the broader cause they felt he represented. His sympathetic Parisian hotel proprietor refused even a single sou until the United States had assuredly secured its independence.
Throughout his years in France, Franklin defended his reputation as a man of means and interests, dabbling in the arts, continuing his scientific pursuits, keen on publishing. He invented a long lost typeface he dubbed, modestly, “Le Franklin.” The statesman entertained graciously, poured wine prodigiously, laughed hardily, pronounced French words abominably.
Franklin’s adopted people were reportedly fascinated by him and took every opportunity to spy upon the ambassador, reading his mail and conferring with servants. They even monitored his grocery bills and laundry slips with a close Parisian eye, looking for who knows what but they looked hard all the same. Alores! Franklin enjoyed fine cheeses and a starched shirt. It is confirmed!
In 1783, after more than seven years in France, Franklin helped to officially end the Revolutionary War by signing the Treaty of Paris. He was home in two years time, with Jefferson appointed to succeed him in France and continue the work of nurturing a cozy US-Franco relationship under the gaslights of the day.
On the long-haul passage back to America, many urged the departing statesman to pen a book of his life and times in France, but the inveterate inventor could not be persuaded. Instead, he wrote the pamphlet, “Cause and Cure of Smoky Chimneys.”