Alexa
  • Directory of Taiwan

Franklin's wigless charm on display at Paris exhibition

Franklin's wigless charm on display at Paris exhibition

Benjamin Franklin was a man with many faces: printer, author, publisher, inventor, scientist. Yet his alliance with France was his finest achievement.
It was that alliance that allowed the 13 rebellious American colonies to defend the independence they declared on July 4, 1776.
The Musee Carnavalet in Paris commemorates the nine years (1776-1785) that Franklin spent in France as the U.S. envoy, secretly negotiating with the government, conducting scientific experiments - and seducing the ladies. With 340 paintings, sculptures, archive documents and memorabilia, this is a particularly rich show.
When Franklin arrived in Paris, he was already 70 and world-famous. He had been to Paris twice before, and knew many of the stars of the Enlightenment, the movement that placed reason and science ahead of tradition and faith. Before long, France's Royal Academy of Sciences had made him a member.
Appearing without a wig in the comfortable dress of a gentleman farmer, he was an instant hit with the Parisian upper crust. Franklin soon became a cult figure, with his effigy appearing on medallions, snuffboxes, even chamber pots.
Rococo creatures admired his unpretentious manner and straight talk, even though his French was far from perfect. When Franklin advised John Paul Jones, the naval hero of the War of Independence, that the quickest way to learn French was to find "a sleeping dictionary," he knew what he was talking about.
Glass harmonica
The exhibition begins by presenting Franklin the scientist, inventor of the lightning rod. You find a letter from a young lawyer, a certain Maximilien Robespierre, who proudly informs Franklin that he has just won a lawsuit against an ignoramus who wanted the wretched thing taken down from his neighbor's roof.
Another of Franklin's inventions was the glass harmonica, which captured the imagination of Mozart, Beethoven and other composers. An early example of that curious instrument features in the show.
So does a "baquet," the installation which the popular charlatan Franz Mesmer used for channeling the "animal magnetism" of his patients. Franklin had been invited by the French government to join a commission investigating Mesmer's cures. Though the report was unsympathetic, the doctor's practice continued to flourish.
The main focus of the show, of course, is Franklin the diplomat. After it became clear that the British would not crush the rebellion easily, the French government agreed in February 1778 to sign the military agreement that Franklin had fought so hard for. All of the corresponding documents are on exhibit, including a detailed list of the ammunition, and the considerable loans which Congress asked for. (The loans could not be paid back in time, and had to be renegotiated.)
After Franklin's death in 1790, Mirabeau eulogized him in the National Assembly, and a street in Passy - the suburb where he lived, now part of the chic 16th arrondissement - was, and still is, named after him.
The last part of the exhibition examines Franklin's posthumous reputation. It peaked under the 19th-century monarch Louis Philippe, an era in which unfettered capitalism was the ideology du jour.
How times have changed. Slogans such as "nothing but money is sweeter than honey" would win Franklin few friends in present-day France.
The show at the Musee Carnavalet, 29 Rue de Sevigne, runs through March 9, 2008.


Updated : 2021-07-31 03:17 GMT+08:00