FRANKLIN, Benjamin (1706-1790), Signer, Pennsylvania. Autograph letter signed ("B Franklin," with flourish) to the English printer William Strahan, Philadelphia, [PA], 21 March 1752. 1 page, small 4to, separate address leaf with two circular Franklin postmarks (30/AP), edges browned, minor stains, otherwise fine.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN TO WILLIAM STRAHAN ON BOOKS
An early Franklin letter written to the printer William Strahan of London, with whom Franklin had conducted business since as early as 1744. Upon arriving in Philadelphia in 1723, Franklin had discovered that there was not a single bookseller in the city. He rapidly established himself as a bookseller and importer in addition to his primary business of printing. In an effort to provide adequate reading material for the growing population, he played a key role in the establishment of the Library Company of Philadelphia, the first subscription library in America. Franklin wrote of its significance in his autobiography: "The Library afforded me the means of Improvement by constant Study , for which I set apart an Hour or two each Day; and thus repair'd in some Degree the Loss of the Learned Education my Father once intended for me. Reading was the only Amusement I allow'd myself." (Franklin, Autobiography, Penguin, p. 87).
In 1752, the same year Franklin completed his famous kite experiment, he writes to Strahan regarding a book order: "I wrote to you in the Winter via New York, for a few Books, and sent a Bill of 30£ Barbados Currency. The first is enclosed. I hope it came to hand time enough for you to meet with the Gentm and get the Money. He is Capt. of a Ship, and was to be found at the New England Coffee House, but probably may be gone before you receive this. They were mostly School Books, and I have mislaid the original List, so cannot send a copy." Franklin's desire to improve Philadelphia extended beyond the library to the creation of public schooling. He published Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania in 1748, suggesting the need for a non-denominational school. The Academy of Philadelphia was opened in 1751 (in 1755 it would also be granted college status) and it is likely that the texts that Franklin mentions were meant for this institution. Franklin takes note of the purpose of a previous shipment: "The Books for the Trenton Library arrived safe, and I believe gave Satisfaction." Taking every opportunity to fill his cherished personal library, Franklin also makes a request of Strahan "I want yet Vol. 17 of the Universal History in blue covers, to complete my set."
Franklin's relationship with Strahan continued until the American Revolution shattered the bonds of friendship. Early in the conflict, Franklin wrote a letter to Strahan, which remained unsent, but clearly captured the bitter passions that warfare engendered: "Look upon your Hands! They are stained with the Blood of your Relations! You and I were long Friends: You are now my Enemy" (Wright, Franklin of Philadelphia, p. 249).