Dueling Quills: The Provost Smith Papers

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Newly acquired papers reveal the contentious—to say the least—relationship between Penn’s first provost and founder Benjamin Franklin.

By Samuel Hughes

THE INK HAS BEEN dry for more than two centuries, and the paper has brittled and turned a murky tea color. But the edgy indignation practically quivers on the page: An eminent Dissenter called on me and let me know that Dr. Franklin took uncommon Pains to misrepresent our academy…; saying that it was a narrow bigotted Institution, got into the Hands of the Proprietary Party as an engine of Government; that the Dissenters had no Chance in it (tho’ God knows all the Masters but myself are of that Persuasion)…; that we have no occasion to beg; & that my zeal proceeds from a fear of its sinking and my losing my Livelyhood. But alas! who can believe this….

Well, quite a few people could, actually. The author of those sentiments, dated 14 September 1762, was the Reverend William Smith, an Anglican priest, provost of the College of Philadelphia, and a man admired more for his considerable talents than for his moral character.

The recipient was another Anglican clergyman: the Reverend Richard Peters, secretary of the Provincial Land Office and president of the College’s trustees. The subject, of course, was Benjamin Franklin, who — having picked Smith to head the academy that would eventually become the University of Pennsylvania — had been surreptitiously dumped as president of the trustees in favor of Peters, and thus rendered administratively impotent in the college he had founded. For that and other reasons, wrote Smith, “the old Rancor is still brooding at the Heart of this Man.”

That Smith and Franklin came to detest each other is not news to historians of colonial Pennsylvania, though it has not been overly emphasized in the official chronicles of the University. But if history can be viewed as a series of portraits drawn from forensic evidence, then that letter of Smith’s — and the scores of other documents that make up the Provost Smith Papers recently acquired by the University — has just the sort of scarred bones and crowned teeth that can help sharpen the fuzzy composites of the key players in the College’s first quarter-century.

“Smith is absolutely crucial to the early history of the colony, and absolutely at the center of the early history of the University,” says Dr. Michael Zuckerman, professor of history. “Anything that thickens the information up, whether it’s stunningly new or just confirms what we have, is still valuable because it takes us out of the realm of raw speculation.”

“THE CENTRAL ROLE of William Smith in colonial Pennsylvania politics has not been a fully explored aspect of the University’s official history,” says Mark Lloyd, director of the University Archives and Records Center and the man responsible for buying the papers. “When that role of Smith is placed in its context, the University’s own history is significantly different.”

The papers consist of more than 350 documents, mostly letters from and to Smith, but also a miscellany of court orders (Smith was once imprisoned by the Pennsylvania Assembly on libel charges), honorary degrees, poems, and the like, many pertaining to the fledgling College. “Pray do not mix private and Academy business in one Letter,” Peters tells Smith in December 1762, after the provost has committed yet another epistolary indiscretion. Fortunately for us, Smith ignored his advice.

“Smith was such a brilliant writer,” says Lloyd, “and so candid in his communications with his patron, Thomas Penn, that the papers reveal a clarity of his motivations and intentions which we would today think of as very confidential. The content of these papers — not only from Smith to Penn but from Penn to Smith, is rarely captured in writing in our era of multiple, immediate communication. The kinds of things that are in these letters we now say in person or over the telephone — or some of us, nowadays, in e-mail.”

It would take a couple of centuries for the papers to make their way back to the University. In 1779, the American Revolutionaries — one of whom was Franklin — forced Smith out of the provostship of the College, changing its name to the University of the State of Pennsylvania and reorganizing its charter to something closer to Franklin’s original non-sectarian vision. Though Smith regained control of the College in 1789, he would lose it once and for all in 1791, at which point the institution finally shortened its name to the University of Pennsylvania. And when he left, he took his personal and professional papers with him.

After Smith died in 1803, the papers passed on to his descendents, one of whom — his great-grandson, Horace Wemyss Smith — drew on them in the process of writing a very sympathetic biography that Lloyd describes as an “apologia.” Though they were available to scholars at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the papers remained in private hands until 1992, and none of the University’s authorized histories made use of them. In his recent Benjamin Franklin, Politician: The Mask and the Man, Dr. Francis Jennings, Gr’65, noted that when he first examined the Smith papers at the Historical Society back in the sixties, they were not even catalogued “because of fear that the owning family might retrieve them.”

“I confess that I don’t feel very fond of William Smith after reading those letters,” says Dr. Robert Middlekauff, professor of history at the University of California at Berkeley, who read them in the course of writing his recent book Benjamin Franklin and his Enemies. “He was not a popular man among a lot of people. But this doesn’t mean he wasn’t important; he was. It doesn’t mean that his papers weren’t important; they certainly were, and are.”

“I think it’s very important for Penn to have these papers, since Smith was the most important figure in the early days of the College, and has not been very adequately written up,” agrees Dr. Richard Dunn, emeritus professor of history. “There has not been a very good biography of him. These could give a much more inside picture as to what Mr. Smith was up to.”

I am still in my confinement, and (what is worse) with but little Prospect of a Speedy Release…. I know I need say nothing to press you to expedite my Complaint and Appeal. Your Love of Liberty and Law will induce you to do this.

Smith wrote that letter to Thomas Penn on 12 March 1758 from the Market Street “gaol,” where he had been tossed by the Pennsylvania Assembly on charges of libel. Penn was the proprietor of Pennsylvania, and while his love of liberty is open to debate, he did indeed help Smith in his fight with the Assembly. Eventually the charges were overturned by a ruling from the British Privy Council, though not before Smith had taught a number of classes from his cell, with the full approval of the trustees.

Pennsylvania had two sources of political power in those days. The first was the proprietors — the Penn family — whose charter gave them ownership of virtually the entire province. Not only could they distribute land through the Provincial Land Office as a means of rewarding the faithful; they also appointed the governor and the judges. While Thomas Penn may have been William Penn’s son, he had been married in the Anglican Church, was living in London, and had effectively repudiated the politics and the religious ethos of his father. He and Smith, observes Middlekauff, were “tied to one another by interest, politics, and what became a passionate hatred of Benjamin Franklin.”

Opposing the Proprietary Party in the popularly elected Assembly was a then-dominant faction known as the Quaker Party, led by Franklin. Franklin was not a Quaker, and he had his share of disagreements with the “stiffrumps,” as he sometimes called the more unyielding members, but he did respect their principles and their religious tolerance. He did not respect Thomas Penn, or most of the men who worked for him. After a confrontation with Penn in 1757, Franklin wrote: “I was astonished to see him thus meanly give up his Father’s Character and conceived at that moment a more cordial and thorough Contempt for him than I ever before felt for any Man living — a Contempt that I cannot express in Words.”

Some very heated issues were simmering in colonial Pennsylvania: the French and Indian War, religious factionalism, the problems of assimilating large numbers of German-speaking settlers — and the tricky matter of moulding young minds, which led to the founding of the Academy of Philadelphia in 1749 and its evolution to the degree-granting College of Philadelphia in 1755. (The official founding date of the University, 1740, might be said to commemorate a gleam in the eye, not a birth.) If Franklin was its founder, Penn was its funder, and the talented, charismatic Smith — who had impressed Franklin with his notions of education in A General Idea of the College of Mirania in 1753 — seemed the perfect choice to head the Academy. In Jennings’s view, the Academy was “founded as competition for the Quaker [Penn Charter] school,” and under Smith, “it was soon to give clear signals that Quakers were unwelcome in it.”

ONE SIDE OF THE Scottish-born Smith’s attitude toward education can be seen in a 1753 letter regarding the education of the Germans in the province: Liberty is the most dangerous of all weapons, in the hands of those who know not the use & value of it. Those who are in most cases free to speak and act as they please, had need be well instructed how to speak and act.

Franklin and Penn were also fearful of the Germans in Pennsylvania, both for their unpredictable foreignness and for the possibility that they would ally themselves with the French. As a result, all three favored creating a series of schools to educate and Anglify the Germans. (Education for the Germans, wrote Smith, “must be calculated rather to make good subjects than what is called good scholars.”) They also proposed a German-language newspaper, though as the following letter from Penn to Smith, dated 24 October 1755, indicates, Penn already had a deep distrust of Franklin:

I am very well pleased to hear the Dutch press is like to meet with Success. I wish it could have been under any direction but that of Mr. Franklin, however. I hope the Society and their Agents will be very watchfull that nothing is printed in it which may encourage the Licencious spirit that has been with so much application raised, to subvert all Government and dispose the unthinking multitude to throw off their Allegiances.

At the vortex of Pennsylvania politics then was the question of defending the province against increasingly severe Indian attacks — and paying for it. The Quakers, who dominated the Assembly, did not believe in armed defense. Thomas Penn, who did believe in it, did not want his vast lands to be taxed to pay for it. Franklin, exasperated by both sides’ conduct, had organized a delivery of wagons and horses to General Edward Braddock; he also led a hotly-worded attempt to tax all lands, including those owned by the proprietors. The Penn-appointed governor vetoed that bill, but as that same letter shows, Penn himself saw Franklin as a source of treacherous hostility:

I am astonished at Mr. Franklin’s telling you he was my Friend; after the Report and the two last messages from the Assembly, can any man believe other than that he would destroy my family at once was it in his power; I say this supposing he was the drawer of those papers as I hear from all hands he was; a man might have made most of the Arguments, and have kept to truth, but he must be a weak and a wicked one, to show rancour, malice, draw false conclusions, and even related things that never were…. [H]e has the opposition to Government at heart and … will be satisfied with nothing but a subversion of all Government….

Penn concludes by saying that he would be “much obliged” for “any early intelligence” — in other words, for Smith to become his informer on Franklin and the Assembly. This, by all accounts, Smith was ready, able, and willing to do. Jennings, who acknowledges that the Smith papers helped him flesh out Smith as a “clandestine agent,” says bluntly: “Penn had hired Smith to be his personal CIA — and Smith performed that capacity very enthusiastically.”

Smith would do more than just provide information. In May 1755, he wrote an incendiary anonymous tract titled A Brief State of the Province of Pennsylvania, which Middlekauff describes as a “full-throated attack on the Assembly and the Quakers.” It proposed, among other things, that Parliament enact a law that would disenfranchise all the province’s Germans (“ignorant, proud, stubborn Clowns” who voted “in Shoals” for Quaker Party candidates) and would require all members of the Assembly to swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown — effectively disenfranchising the Quakers, whose beliefs forbade such oaths. In another tract, A Brief View of the Province of Pennsylvania for the Year 1755, Smith labeled the Quakers “Enemies to their Country.”

Those tracts infuriated the Assembly, and undoubtedly contributed to Smith’s prison stint two years later. But Penn was clearly pleased with Smith’s work, and on 15 February 1756 wrote coyly to him:

There has lately appeared a pamphlet giving an account of the conduct of Pennsylvanians — very judiciously wrote and published at a most proper time, the author I think we are all obliged to, and I have no objection but to one part of it which is a compliment to a Friend of yours.

Penn then asked Smith to inform him whether Franklin, then deputy postmaster general for the colonies, looks upon the post office as a valuable thing, and such as he would not willingly loose, if he does I throw it out to you whether there may not be a time when you can ask him how he can reconcile such a republican conduct, in one of the Kings Servants….

He concluded by praising Smith for his ability to silently do what good you can, that method may render you of great service, tho I see by newspapers, they suspect you, and call you names, according to this very decent method of proceeding.

In January 1755, Smith drafted a new charter that would transform the Academy into a degree-granting College, and was promptly named its provost. The charter stipulated that trustees, faculty, and officers all had to “swear in blood-curdling terms to uphold King George II against all rebels, and also to deny under oath the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation,” according to Jennings. “If Franklin had qualms, they did not appear; he was elected to the showy and toothless post of president….”

But in the spring of 1756, while Franklin was away in Virginia, Smith “conspired with Peters to strip Franklin of the presidency of the College,” in the words of Lloyd. In a letter to his friend and scientific collaborator Ebeneezer Kinnersley — not part of the Smith papers — Franklin wrote: “Before I left Philadelphia, everything to be done in the Academy was privately preconcerted in a Cabal without my Knowledge or Participation, and accordingly carried into Execution. The Schemes of Public Parties made it seem requisite to lessen my Influence wherever it could be lessened. The Trustees had reap’d the full Advantage of my Head, Hands, Heart and Purse, in getting through the first Difficulties of the Design, and when they thought they could do without me, they laid me aside.”

AROUND THAT TIME, Smith got into a contretemps with an Anglican merchant named Daniel Roberdeau, who upbraided Smith at a Philadelphia coffeehouse for entering politics and dishonoring the cloth. The fracas played itself out in the newspapers, and in June 1756, Smith was complaining to Penn about the unjust Treatment of my Character, set on Foot by the Quakers, by Means of Mr. Roberdeau, one of their Tools, whom they have since that chose into the Assembly for this County as a Reward for his Baseness…. I observe what you recommend about future Controversies. They will be shunned as much as possible, & never risqued, except in Cases of Extremity, when there are Opportunities of humbling the Party, or setting the Conduct and Principles in a proper Light.

Penn was unconvinced that Smith would really lower his profile, however, and on 6 October he warned him that as Provost of the College you would do well to avoid controversy unless called to it on some great occasion.

By then Smith had become, in Middlekauff’s words, a “figure of sensationalism, an important leader in education and in the Anglican Church in Philadelphia, a journalist skilled in more than invective, though that was his specialty, and the proprietor’s agent.” In doing so, he had also “identified himself unwittingly as the enemy of popular government in Pennsylvania.” All of which would have lasting implications for the College.

It’s a rainy winter morning in the City of Brotherly Love, and I am pondering the literary implications of wasp spawn. Having immersed myself in the tangled colonial web of the Smith papers, I’ve decided — with some prodding by Mark Lloyd — to check out the process of conserving them at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in Center City. So I watch as the staff washes and deacidifies the old letters; applies patches of wheat-starch paste and hand-made Japanese paper to the tears and fragments; and, in some cases, sews the letters by hand into folders. At one point, somebody mentions that the letters were written with iron-gall ink — a notion that resonates. When a wasp lays its eggs on an oak leaf, the leaf encapsulates the eggs as a defense mechanism. The dark, tannic tissue within that bubble is the gall; mix it with something like rusty nails and you’ve got a wonderfully indelible substance — the perfect thing for an 18th-century character-assassination.

Five years ago, when Lloyd learned that the Smith papers were being sold at auction, the University was able to buy — for just under $40,000 — all but a few of the most valuable letters, thanks to several gifts, including major donations from charter trustee Saul Steinberg, W’59, and the Hoxie Harrison Smith Foundation. But the papers were in even worse condition than Lloyd had thought.

“We discovered they were so fragile that they could not be used without threat of harsh deterioration,” he says. “The paper, when it gets brittle, will break off in your hand. So now we had the Smith papers, but we were forced to require scholars to use the microfilm. In 1995, I began a campaign to conserve the papers.” That fall, when Michel Huber, W’53, ASC’61, retired as executive secretary of the General Alumni Society, he suggested that, in lieu of a retirement gift, friends and colleagues should make donations to the Archives. They did, and though the $40,000 conservation project is still not entirely paid for, enough funds were raised to get the process well underway.

Back at the Conservation Center, Lloyd and the staff have laid their hands on the one letter that I have most wanted to see in the original. It’s dated 14 August 1762, and in it, Smith tells Richard Peters:

Dr. Franklin is gone from hence to embark at Portsmouth, but in what Temper I cannot say. He & I were not in the best Terms, nor the worst. He heard when down at Oxford of a Letter I had sent three years ago there to prevent his having a Degree, which he took in great Dudgeon; tho’ as we stood then, and his doing all he could to support the Assembly in oppression & prevent my obtaining Redress, he could not expect that I could say anything in his Favour. At Mr. Strahan’s desire, we met at his House & had the matter of the Letter over, but explaining did not mend the matter much on either side.

Franklin’s “dudgeon” seems understandable. Smith’s letter to the president of St. John’s College at the University of Oxford suggested that Oxford not go ahead with its plan to give Franklin an honorary degree — on the grounds that his famous electrical experiments, which he had conducted with Ebeneezer Kinnersley, were mostly Kinnersley’s doing, not Franklin’s. Kinnersley himself openly defended Franklin on the plagiarism charges, and one Oxford professor concluded that Smith — who had received an honorary degree from Oxford himself — was “extremely unworthy of the Honour he has received from our University.” After the meeting at William Strahan’s house, according to Carl van Doren’s biography of Franklin, “Smith agreed that he had been misinformed and rancorous and promised to write another letter withdrawing his charges. He did not write it, but spread the news in London and Oxford that Franklin had lost many of his friends in Philadelphia.”

“I made that man my Enemy by doing him too much kindness,” Franklin would later write of Smith. “‘Tis the honestest way of acquiring an Enemy. And, since ’tis convenient to have at least one Enemy, who by his readiness to revile one on all occasions may make one careful of one’s conduct, I shall keep him an Enemy for that purpose.”

THE ANGLICAN CHURCH, however, had nothing but admiration for Smith, as one of the papers in the collection — a “Representation” on behalf of Smith by the Archbishop of Canterbury and five bishops, dated 12 March 1759 — indicates:

That during all the late Disturbances in America, he has shown himself a most faithful subject to his [Majesty’s] Government, taking every opportunity to excite the People to the Defence of their inestimable Possessions, and to discourage that pernicious Doctrine too prevalent there, viz: “That it is unlawfull for Christian men to wear Weapons and serve in the Wars,”… That last line, of course, was a blatant swipe at the Quakers.

While in England, Smith raised some 6,000 pounds for the College, aided mightily by his connections with the archbishop, who got him an audience with King George III, who issued a royal brief authorizing Smith to collect a special offering from every parish of the Church of England. But he still had to contend with the likes of Franklin undercutting his efforts, as this letter to Peters, dated 2 October 1762, shows:

I fear I was too hasty in believing Franklin’s Professions for our College. Soon after I wrote you last, I had occasion to be with one Mr. Hanna, a very benevolent & wealthy Gentleman of Barbadoes, into whose Hand I put one of the Cases for our College. Calling sometime afterwards, he told me he had enquired about the College of some Gentlemen from Philadelphia & was informed it was “an instrument of Dissenssion” — I replied that I believed that Intelligence must have been thru a very partial Channel…& begged he would take his Account from some other Persons I then named. He said he could not take that Trouble, & then gave me 25 [pounds] intimating that it was not near so much as he intended, & that he did not give it freely…. I soon found that Mr. Hanna had his Information from an intimate Friend of his Mr. T. Allen, who had it from young Franklin, who is continually after Mrs. Downs, Allen’s Sister in Law. This I discovered by the Help of a Lady. According to Lloyd, Smith soon retaliated for such meddling by spreading the word that “young Franklin” — Ben’s son William — was illegitimate.

Meanwhile, back at the College, Richard Peters was agonizing over the conduct of the faculty, who were embroiled in a nasty series of “squabbles,” and in May 1763, he confessed to Smith:

Indeed at times I am dispirited myself and with all my upright Intentions I am prompted almost to despair of doing Good. Everybody here is in a Scramble for wealth and power….

And because of the lack of qualified candidates, he added, I blush to tell you we have not one Church Tutor in all the Academy. That was a potentially embarrassing situation for a school openly beholden to the Anglican Church, and three months later, it nearly destroyed Smith’s fundraising tour, as he recounted to Peters on 23 August 1763. The archbishop, he wrote: read to me a letter from a certain too zealous & officious Clergyman of our Church, residing not a Days Journey from Philadelphia, … bringing the most grievous Charges against our College, that the Presbyterians had all the Advantage of it; [that at the recent Commencement the lone Anglican graduate] was used ill on account of his Religion & denied a Tutor’s Place, to make way for a raw Scotch Irish Presbyterian from the back woods; that I had left 14 Presbyterian, Baptist etc. Masters, & not a Churchman in the College; that all the late Elections for Trustees had gone for Dyssenters; that our honorary Degrees were prostituted to serve Dyssenters; [including] one who had formerly been a Leather Breeches Maker…. I was luckily able by a letter of yours I had about me, regretting that you could meet with no Church Tutors, to shew that our Situation rose from Necessity, not Choice….

Smith also knew how to raise funds on his own behalf, as this letter of 4 June 1763 to Richard Peters shows:

It will absolutely be impossible, on my Return, to subsist on 250 [pounds] your money…. Many Things lie at my Feet, which I could have here for Asking — But I do not once think of them, lest that should have been thought the chief Object of my Voyage thither. Yet still something must be done….

By 10 August 1764, Penn was informing Smith that the trustees were increasing his salary by 100 pounds. But all that Anglican money and fundraising aid did not come without strings attached, and in that same letter Penn said he was greatly pleased to find you so much approve of what you call the fundamental Article in answer to the Letter Signed by the Archbishop, Dr. Chandler and myself….

That “fundamental Article” was nothing less than a change of the College’s charter to one effectively guaranteeing an Anglican majority on the board of trustees. From then on, the College would be wide open to charges of religious favoritism.

Strangely enough, it was around this time that Franklin was staking his political capital on a campaign to persuade the British Government to take Pennsylvania away from the Penn family and govern it as a Crown Province. “The truth was that he wanted to hurt Penn more than anything else,” writes Middlekauff. “He said — and believed — that he wanted a royal government for his province. More than that, however, he wanted to take the province away from Thomas Penn.” That he would make the attempt less than two decades before the Revolution is an irony; it was also part of the reason that he lost his elected seat in the Assembly in 1764, since most Pennsylvanians were even more leery of royal government than they were of Thomas Penn — and they signed petitions in droves to prove it.

On 15 February 1765 Penn told Smith that the news of Franklin’s defeat had given him “great joy,” and added: you have acted with great spirit in opposition to the republican measures of the faction, and to undeceive the misled populace and bring them to a right understanding; your pen has been of great use and we thank you in particular for your zeal in the petition and giving us timely intelligence.

By the time Franklin finally abandoned his bid to gain royal government for Pennsylvania in 1768, the Quaker Party’s power had faded; and by 1770, Franklin — whose experiences with the British Government had helped to radicalize him — had cast his lot with the rising faction known as the Presbyterian Party. And Pennsylvania found itself on the road to revolution.

MARK LLOYD IS SITTING in one of the reproduction Franklin chairs in my office, talking about Smith’s alliance with Thomas Penn and the Anglican Church and its repercussions for the College. He has thought and written a good deal about this stuff, and he speaks slowly and deliberately, making sure I get it all down.

“It seems to me that Smith advanced the interests of the College of Philadelphia in the most politically shrewd manner available to him,” he says, “but that path isolated him, the trustees, and the College from the mainstream of American political thought by the mid-1770s. Rather than following the inspiration of Franklin’s Proposals for the Education of Youth in Pensilvania, Smith made the College of Philadelphia largely a replica of Old World higher education. My view is that from his appointment at Penn in 1754 forward, Smith steadily beat a path toward the most traditional, most conservative English educational precedent — precisely because that was where he could find the strength necessary to sustain the institution.”

But the Revolution would change all that, and after the occupying British army withdrew from Philadelphia in 1779, the Assembly, having closed the College for the previous academic year, established a committee to look into its “present State.” It was rotten, the committee concluded: The College’s administration and trustees “now stand attainted as Traitors”; they have “an Evident Hostility to the present Government and Constitution of this State, and … Enmity to the common Cause”; and the “fair and original Plan of equal Privileges to all Denominations hath not been fully adhered to.”

That November, the College was rechartered as the University of the State of Pennsylvania, and the senior ministers of Philadelphia’s Episcopal, Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran, German Reformed, and Roman Catholic churches were appointed as ex officio trustees — a “triumph of religious tolerance,” in the words of Lloyd. Smith was removed from office and replaced by the Reverend John Ewing, a Presbyterian professor. And Benjamin Franklin, one suspects, was a very satisfied man.

But the political winds would shift again after the Revolution, and in 1789, after some angry petitioning by Smith, the Assembly passed an act allowing the College of Philadelphia to reopen, headed by Smith. Philadelphia was unable to support two institutions of higher learning, however, and in 1791 the Assembly merged the College and the University of the State of Pennsylvania into the University of Pennsylvania — with Ewing as provost. Smith, who by then had already founded a school in Maryland that became Washington College, was now consigned to the University’s history.

Franklin died in 1790, and at a memorial service put on by the American Philosophical Society the following year, a eulogy was delivered by none other than the society’s secretary, William Smith. It was a long, flowery, and surprisingly laudatory speech, though it did allude to the antagonism between himself and Franklin during “the unhappy divisions and disputes … in the provincial politics of Pennsylvania.” The debates of that day “have been read and admired as among the most masterly compositions of the kind which our language afford,” he assured his audience, but “he who now addresses you was too much an actor in the scene to be fit for the discussion of it.”

After the eulogy, according to Horace Wemyss Smith’s biography, Smith asked his young daughter Rebecca how she liked his speech.

“Oh, papa,” she replied, “it was beautiful, very beautiful, indeed; only … I don’t think you believed more than one-tenth part of what you said of old Ben lightning-rod. Did you?” At that point Smith, “without either affirming or denying, laughed heartily.”

Smith died in 1803, scorned even by his physician, Dr. Benjamin Rush — who wrote that while Smith “possessed genius, taste and learning,” he was “extremely avaricious” and had a serious drinking problem, as well as a temper that was “irritable in the highest degree” and manners that were “awkward and offensive.” Furthermore, wrote Rush: “In the duties he owed to his College he was deficient, insomuch that a person who knew him well, upon being asked where he should find Dr. Smith, answered, ‘Anywhere but at the College.'” All this from a man whom Smith had recently addressed as “My dear friend, indeed my only Friend.”

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