THERE are many books about Benjamin Franklin; he has been pictured as the statesman and politician, the inventor and scientist, the philosopher and sage. His writings and sayings, his appearance and manner, have been described in many of the languages of the civilized world. Less has been written about his domestic life, his friendships, and his relations with his family. For example, almost nothing has been written of the friendship between Franklin and Mrs. Catharine (Ray) Greene, which endured from the time they met at Boston about 1754 until his death in 1790. Their correspondence, beginning in 1755 and continuing with some lapses until 1789, preserves the record of a long friendship. Yet in all those years they saw each other on but five occasions--for the last time in 1776 at Philadelphia.
Franklin exchanged letters with several women; but the correspondence with Caty Greene was unique. In the first place it lasted for thirty-four years, somewhat of a record in itself; and secondly, Caty was, in a way, a member of the Franklin family, as her sister Judith was daughter-in-law of John Franklin. Again, she had struck up an immediate intimacy with Jane Mecom, Franklin's sister, when they met in 1754. Jane lived in Rhode Island with her grandniece, Mrs. Elihu Greene, only two miles from Caty's between 1777 and 1782. It is worthy of note that Caty was often inspired to write to Franklin after a visit to Jane. Any letter from Franklin to either Caty or Jane was the occasion for a long gossip or "feast" as they called it.
More than a hundred letters have been discovered, including the letters which passed between Franklin and Catharine, their several letters to Jane Mecom, and her replies. A number of Franklin's letters to the two women have been printed with his other correspondence by Sparks, Duane, Bigelow, Smyth, and Van Doren. Most of them, especially the most interesting and important ones, have not been published previously; and no attempt has been made to bring them together, nor to integrate them with the many letters written to him by Catharine and Jane.