JF Ptak Science Books Post 2632
Franklin, Benjamin. Suite de la Lettre de M. Benjamin Franklin, a M. David le Roy, Membre de pluisseurs Academies, Contenant Differenres Observations sur la Marine, a three-part series printed in Observations sur la Physique sur l'Histoire Naturelle et sur les Arts, avec des Planches en Taille-Douce....dedicated to M. Le Comte d'Artois, and edited by l'Abbe Rozier, J.A. Mongez, and M. de la Metherie, in the issue for July-December 1787, volume 31, and Printed in Paris at the Bureau of the Journal de Phyique, 1787. (he title of the Franklin, translated: (A) Letter(s) from Dr. Benjamin Franklin, to Mr. Alphonsus le Roy, member of several academies, at Paris. Containing sundry Maritime Observations.) The papers appeared in September pp 224-231; October, pp 254-264;December pp 456-468.
By the time Benjamin Franklin published these three pieces—letters he had written at sea— he already had a lot of experience with the voyage, having made numerous trips oversea since 1754. At this point he was the American envoy to France, and had been (very successfully!) busy at securing arms and agreements from France, and put his time during the crossing to some concentrated use.
These three letters by Franklin to le Roy are remarkable for their insight and invention, describing new types of ship sails and anchors, propulsion systems, hull and planking designs—and of course the first description in a scientific publication of the Gulf Stream. And in all of this Franklin as shipboard, biding his time at sea, thinking and experimenting, coming up with ideas that were of high interest though not necessarily workable, and some just frankly beyond his big grasp.
I was really shocked when I started piecing my way through this volume, and finding the Franklin. Honestly, I didn't know the significance of the Franklin starting into it, the thing only dawning on me as I got half-way through the second letter, and with a squint recognizing that what he was talking about in the waters off of the coast of “Floride” was in fact the Gulf Stream. “Oh” is what I said to myself. This is that paper. At least it wasn't a terribly obvious overmiss—this version of the famous description of the Gulf Stream didn't come with a map, and the illustrations were little bits showing flouncy sails (of dubious application, sorry) and sea brakes. Even when I realized that this was the Gulf Stream Paper, its significance still wasn't significant, as the great report occupies just a small portion of one of three letters. So it goes.
The first publication of these letters appeared in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia (the society founded by Franlin in 1743) about a year earlier, and which contained the famous map (15x8” or so, A Chart of the Gulf Stream with Remarks Upon the Navigation from Newfoundland to New-York In order to avoid the Gulf Stream . . . and nor included here) which he completed with the help of his first cousin Thomas Folger. Actually the two had printed an earlier version, in 1769/70, though the map received basically no circulation and was famously disappeared for 200 years before being unearthed.
There were earlier references to the Gulf Stream—as with the ignored Walter Haxton chart of 1735—though nothing nearly so complete and accurate as the Franklin map.
This is the first French version of the letters, and so the first French translation of the description of the Gulf Stream; it was also the first appearance of the article in Europe.
It has been said that the work by Franklin was ignored and associated with inferiority by the Brits because of the adolescent nature of the American Republic and the inexperience of its navy, especially in regard to the Royal Navy. The Gulf Stream simply couldn't be a discovery of a “river in the ocean” as described by a bunch of fisherman in a colony far from the birthright of a proper navy and scientific inheritance. But of course the Brits were wrong.
Here's a bit from the letters on the Gulf Stream, appearing in my journal on page 460-1, translated:
“This stream is probably generated by the great accumulation of water on the eastern coast of America between the tropics, by the trade winds which constantly blow there. It is known that a large piece of water ten miles broad and generally only three feet deep, has by a strong wind had its waters driven to one side and sustained so as to become six feet deep, while the windward side was laid dry. This may give some idea of the quantity heaped up on the American coast, and the reason of its running down in a strong current through the islands into the Bay of Mexico, and from thence issuing through the gulph [gulf] of Florida, and proceeding along the coast to the banks of Newfoundland, where it turns off towards and runs down through the western islands. “
Well, sheesh. There was a lot of thinking going on in this letters—not bad for a guy with other things going on in his head regarding the founding of a new nation.
- Full English translation here: http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/history/readings/gulf/gulf.html
- The original 1786 map here, via the Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/item/2004627238