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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
The real war between nations was over at last, and Franklin was anxious to have done with ministerial duties and go home. Not until 1785 did Congress give its consent. For Madame Brillon, who had invested the larger amount of emotional stock in their friendship, it was a painful leave-taking. “Every day of my existence, memory reminds me that a great man, a sage, once deigned to be my friend. … if it be sweet for you to recall the woman who loved you most dearly, think of me, think of all those members of my family who were and always must be your best friends.” She was happy to learn of his safe arrival at Philadelphia in September but feels keenly the distance which now separates them. “At least recall occasionally the one among your friends who loved you best, and write to her a few lines in what you call your wretched French. For my part, I shall keep you informed concerning a family you once held dear!”
His only letter to her from America, at least the only one that has survived, was prompted in part by the grief she experienced at the death of her husband and oldest grandchild. “I sympathize with you in all your Losses and Afflictions, and hope the rest of your Life will be as tranquil and free from Trouble as it had been for some Years before we parted … being now in my 83d Year, I do not expect to continue much longer a Sojourner in this World, and begin to promise myself much Gratification of my Curiosity in soon visiting some other.”
In the spring of 1789—revolution was just four months distant—she writes him for the last time. “I have given thanks to Providence, which, if it be really endowed with that justice one is accustomed to attribute to it, ought to leave you here on earth as an example to mankind and as a model of wisdom, at least to as ripe an old age as that of the patriarch Matusalem.” She asks him to pray for France at this “critical stage.”
“I revere you, honor you, love you,” she continues; “not a day passes that my heart does not draw nigh you at least in thought; not one wherein I fail to recall your friendship, so precious to me that nothing can ever rob me of it, and the memory of the days during which I enjoyed it more closely, more intimately, makes one of the bright spots of happiness in my life.” After this letter Madame Brillon passes from view; there is no record, apparently, of what happened to her and her daughters from this time on.
Franklin for his part must have been thinking especially of her when he wrote Madame Lavoisier that he could not “forget Paris, and the nine years’ happiness I enjoyed there, in the sweet society of a people whose conversation is instructive, whose manners are highly pleasing, and who, above all the nations of the world, have, in the greatest perfection, the art of making themselves beloved by strangers. And now, even in my sleep, I find, that the scenes of all my pleasant dreams are laid in that city, or in its neighbourhood.”