THE PRACTICAL DIPLOMAT
FRANKLIN'S unexpected arrival in France in December of 1776 as commissioner for the rebellious American colonies stirred wild speculation in Europe. The motives for this interest varied. Those who had known Franklin as a scientist marveled at the seventy-year-old savant in his bold new role as statesman. Some saw an opportunity to fish in troubled political waters to the detriment of England. For most, however, the excitement arose from a premonition that the stage was set for the long-awaited climax of a crucial drama in which the future of humanity was at stake. Caught in the mesh of their own social traditions, Europeans had long looked enviously across the Atlantic to the virgin world where man could live freely according to the dictates of mind and heart. For more than two centuries European thinkers had been accustomed to see proof of primitivistic assumptions in the simplicity and purity of the Indian. By the eighteenth century it was believed, moreover, that those fortunate enough to emigrate to the unspoiled American forests and plains were somehow restored to their natural birthright of freedom and virtue. Franklin fitted perfectly into this rose-tinted concept of America as a fountain of youth for humanity, and of the American Revolution as a decisive rejection of the corrupt Old World. Moreover, Voltaire Philosophical Letters had meantime popularized the notion that the Quaker was the noblest example of regenerated European--and Franklin was generally pictured in Europe as a Quaker, an illusion he found it advantageous not to dispel. In short, the famous American philosopher seemed in 1776 nothing less that the apostle come to make his revelations to the Europeans in the name of a society arisen in answer to the illuministic prayer for a new order based upon rational principles.
The figure of Franklin the statesman is difficult to trace against the canvas of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Italy because of the scarcity and ambiguity of the evidence. At no time between the closing quarter of the eighteenth century and the end of the Risorgimento in the decade 1860-1870 were political enthusiasms allowed free play. What is more, by an understandable paradox, expression regarding Franklin was most stifled at just those moments when political interest in him was keenest. Paternalistic governments saw for a time in the eighteenth century certain ad