Benjamin Franklin, the First Civilized American

By Phillips Russell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXXI Franklin and Madame Helvetius

I

AN altogether different sort of person was another feminine friend in whose home Franklin passed many hours of pleasing relaxation. This was Madame Helvetius, widow of the philosopher Claude Adrien Helvetius, who died in 1771, leaving behind a fortune which he had made as one of the French farmers- general. She lived at the suburb of Auteuil, and hence was called by Franklin "Our Lady of Auteuil." Franklin was accustomed to dine with her at least once a week, usually in company with the genial abbés Morellet and de la Roche and the physician Cabanis.

She lived in a handsome house which she had purchased from Quentin de la Tour, painter of the king. Franklin was first taken there by Turgot, the statesman, who had once been a suitor of Mme. Helvetius when she was the Countess Ligniville. Here she was mistress of a salon at which many celebrated men were visitors, including Condorcet, the philosopher. She maintained a regiment of cats and had so much furniture that Franklin once called her home "the House of a Thousand Sofas."

"His conversation," wrote the Abbé Morellet of Franklin, "was exquisite -- a perfect good nature, a simplicity of manners, an uprightness of mind that made itself felt in the smallest things, an extreme gentleness, and above all, a sweet serenity that easily became gayety. . . . He sel

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