Benjamin Franklin in Europe: electrician, academician, politician

 

Professor John Heilbron

Wilkins Prize Lecture
 
By Professor John Heilbron,University of California, Berkeley and University of Oxford
 

Benjamin Franklin, American patriot and natural philosopher, was born 300 years ago. Apart from a brief stay in England as a young man, he spent the first fifty years of his life transforming himself from a nobody into the leading citizen of Philadelphia.

When he began his first extended residence in England in 1757, he was already a Fellow of the Royal Society and the winner of its Copley Medal for his revolutionary discoveries in electricity. He did not come to Europe to collect his medal, however, but to represent the colony of Pennsylvania in its struggle with its Proprietor. His mission failed but he succeeded, becoming a great friend of Britain and its empire and of many of its leading men of science.

A second mission, on behalf of several colonies, also foundered, and with it Franklin's admiration of English ways; after many rebuffs and a spectacular public humiliation, he returned to America in 1775 a political as well as a scientific revolutionary. He soon turned up in France, whose academicians and statesmen welcomed him as a man of science and as the ambassador of an independent people. He accomplished his mission, which was to obtain French support of the Revolution, while cultivating philosophy at the Académie royale des sciences and courting elegant ladies wherever he found them.

The lecturer will describe Franklin's juggling of science and politics, others' judgments of his performance, and, perhaps, his ladies in Paris.
 
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Benjamin Franklin in Europe: electrician, academician, politician 6-9 Carlton House Terrace London SW1Y 5AG UK

Events coming up

  • The interaction of fire and mankind 14 September 2015 at The Royal Society, London Scientific discussion meeting organised by Professor Andrew Scott, Professor William Chaloner FRS, Professor Claire Belcher and Dr Chris Roos
  • The interaction of fire and mankind - further discussion 16 September 2015 at The Royal Society at Chicheley Hall, home of the Kavli Royal Society International Centre, Buckinghamshire Scientific discussion meeting organised by Professor Andrew Scott, Professor William Chaloner FRS, Dr Claire Belcher and Professor Chris Roos
  • Open House Weekend 2015 19 September 2015 at The Royal Society, London The Royal Society's building will be open to the public on Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 September 2015.

For more events please see the events diary.

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