France and America in the Revolutionary Era: The Life of Jacques-Donatien Leray de Chaumont, 1725-1803

By Thomas J. Schaeper | Go to book overview
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5
CHAUMONT AS FRIEND, ASSOCIATE, AND ENEMY

FRANKLIN'S CLOSE COMPANION

C haumont was much more than just Franklin's landlord, providing rooms, gardens, and meals. The two men had much in common, including physical characteristics. Contemporary portraits reveal that each was heavyset and also that each exuded a feeling of serenity and good humor. Their poses and their clothes also indicate rather simple and straightforward personal tastes. Franklin kept his hair long, but generally did not have it powdered or wear a wig. Chaumont was even more unfashionable. He was balding on top, and the hair that he did have was kept short. These similarities may have contributed to the fact that Chaumont's family and friends gave him the same familiar appellation used for Franklin, calling him "papa."1

Both men were multifaceted. Like Franklin, Chaumont was an experimenter and a tinkerer, interested in practical inventions more than in abstract theory. Chaumont asked his friend to install on his hôtel what was the first lightning rod in Europe. Without Franklin's talent for inventions, Chaumont sponsored the work of others -- especially in the areas of textile manufacture and grain production. Chaumont's friends included the noted mineralogist Balthazar Georges Sage, who was to become well acquainted with Franklin also.2 Whereas Franklin had been postmaster general in America, Chaumont was immensely interested in the French postal system and in transoceanic packet ships. Both men promoted the potato as a reliable and hearty food crop.

The two men also shared several traits on a deeper level. Each tended to be secretive. Despite the mountains of information that

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