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“We Shall Eat Apples Of Paradise…"
When Benjamin Franklin came home from France in diplomatic triumph, he left behind a lovely, highborn lady mourning the miles between them.
June 1959 | Volume 10, Issue 4
Marriage in heaven, which she had hinted at, was a prospect so agreeable and theoretical as to call forth all their powers of wit.
In paradise [she writes] we shall be reunited, never to leave each other again! We shall there live on roasted apples only; the music will be composed of Scotch airs; all parties will be given over to chess, so that no one may be disappointed; every one will speak the same language; the English will be neither unjust nor wicked there; the women will not be coquettes, the men will be neither jealous nor too gallant; … Every day we shall love one another, in order that we may love one another still more the day after; in a word, we shall be completely happy. In the meantime let us get all the good we can out of this poor world of ours.
He is charmed with her description of paradise and her plan of living there, and wonders how they should arrange their affairs in that country.
Probably more than forty years will elapse after my arrival there before you follow me. I am a little afraid that in the course of such a long period you may forget me. I have therefore thought of proposing that you give me your word of honor not to renew there your contract with Mr. B—. I shall at the same time give you mine that I shall wait for you. But that gentleman is so good, so generous towards us, he loves you so much and we love him, that I cannot think of this proposal without some scruples of conscience. And yet the idea of an eternity in which I shall be favored with no more than permission to kiss your hands, or sometimes your cheeks, and to pass two or three hours in your sweet society on Wednesdays and Saturdays is frightful. … I shall have time, during those forty years, to practice on the armonica, and perhaps I shall play well enough to accompany you on your pianoforte. From time to time we shall have little concerts. … We shall eat apples of paradise roasted with butter and nutmeg. And we shall pity those who are not dead.
She assures him that if his “French is not very pure, it is at least very clear!” and promises to become his wife in paradise, “on condition, however, that you do not eye too many of the [heavenly] maidens while waiting for me. I want a faithful husband when I take one for eternity.” This celestial conceit was so appealing, in fact, that Franklin employed it the following year in his fruitless wooing of Madame Helvétius.
In the spring of 1782 peace negotiations got under way at the American Embassy in Paris, and Franklin seems not to have written Madame Brillon as often as she wished. From Nice came a formal complaint. She implores Justice to weigh in her “dreaded balance the reciprocal treaties between the Ambassador and the Lady whom he has abused in a cruel manner,” sets forth the facts, and concludes: “The petitioner in this cause requires that the said M. Benjamin Franklin be condemned in her favor for all expense, damage, and interest which you [Justice] shall be pleased to determine upon the stated facts.”
Prompted by this mock-complaint, he replies after the manner of the preliminary peace treaty with England, on which he was even then hard at work. You, who “would engross all my Affection, and permit me none for the other amiable Ladies of your Country,” are unjust “in your Demands, and in the open War you declare against me if I do not comply with them. Indeed it is I that have the most Reason to complain. My poor little Boy [Amor], whom you ought methinks to have cherish’d, instead of being fat and Jolly like those in your elegant Drawings, is meagre and starv’d almost to death for want of the substantial Nourishment which you his Mother inhumanly deny him, and yet would now clip his little Wings to prevent his seeking it elsewhere!”
He therefore proposes a treaty between them. “I fancy we shall neither of us get any thing by this War, and therefore as feeling my self the Weakest, I will do what indeed ought always to be done by the Wisest, be first in making the Propositions for Peace. That a Peace may be lasting, the Articles of the Treaty should be regulated upon the Principles of the most perfect Equity & Reciprocity.” Nine articles follow. “Let me know what you think of these Preliminaries,” he asks her. “To me they seem to express the true Meaning and Intention of each Party more plainly than most Treaties. … I shall insist pretty strongly on the eighth Article [‘That when he is with her, he will do what he pleases’], tho’ without much Hope of your Consent to it; and on the ninth also [‘that he will love any other Woman as far as he finds her amiable’], tho I despair of ever finding any other Woman that I could love with equal Tenderness.”