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BENJAMIN FRANKLIN AND JOHN SLIDELL
ARTICLE IN THE ATLANTIC Monthly, NOVEMBER, 1863.
Tius article appeared originally under the title, “Monograph from an Old Note-Book.” Beyond the curiosity of the discussion was the object, at a critical moment, of contrasting the diplomatic representative of our fathers at Paris and that of Rebel Slavery, with a new appeal to France. It was in the same vein with the recent speech on Our Foreign Relations.1
N a famous speech, made in the House of Lords,
Brougham arrests the current of his eloquence by the following illustrative diversion.
“I have often heard it disputed among critics, which of all quotations was the most appropriate, the most closely applicable to the subject matter illustrated; and the palm is generally awarded to that which applied to Dr. Franklin the line in Claudian,
• Eripuit fulmen cælo, mox sceptra tyrannis '; yet still there is a difference of opinion, and even that citation, admirably close as it is, has rivals.” 2
The British orator errs in attributing this remarkable
1 See, ante, Vol. VII. p. 327.
2 Speeches of Henry Lord Brougham upon Questions relating to Public Rights, Duties, and Interests (Edinburgh, 1838), Vol. II. pp. 233, 234. VOL. III.
verse to Claudian, misled, perhaps, by reminiscence of like-sounding words by that poet, —
“Rapiat fulmen sceptrumque Typhæus.” 1 And he errs also in the quotation of the verse itself, which he fails to give with entire accuracy. And this double mistake becomes more noticeable, when it appears in the carefully prepared collection of speeches, revised at leisure, and preserved in permanent volumes.
The beauty of this verse, even in its least accurate form, will not be questioned, especially as applied to Franklin, who, before the American Revolution, in which he performed so illustrious a part, had already awakened the world's admiration by drawing the lightning from the skies. But, beyond its acknowledged beauty, this verse has an historic interest which has never been adequately appreciated. Appearing at the moment it did, it is closely associated with the acknowledgment of American Independence. Plainly interpreted, it calls George the Third“ tyrant,” and announces that the sceptre has been snatched from his hands. It was a happy ally to Franklin in France, and has ever since been an inspiring voice. Latterly it has been adopted by the city of Boston, and engraved on granite in letters of gold, in honor of its greatest son and citizen. It may not be entirely superfluous to recount the history of a verse which has justly attracted so much attention, and in the history of Civilization has been of more value than the whole State of South Carolina.
From its first application to Franklin, this verse has excited something more than curiosity. Lord Brougham tells us that it is often discussed in private circles.
1 Gigantomachia, ver. 32.