To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Stevenson, [December 1769]
To Dr. Franklin with a pair of Ruffles Decr /69
These flowers Dear Sir, can boast no lively bloom,
Nor can regale you with a sweet perfume,
This dreary season no such present yeild’s,
The Trees are naked, unadorn’d the fields,
The Gardens have their sweets and beauty lost
But Love and Gratitude, unchill’d by frost;
Put forth this foliage—poor indeed I own
Yet trust th’intent will for the faults atone.
Altho’ my produce not with nature vies,
I hope to please a friend’s indulgent eye’s,
For you my fancy and my skill I tried
For you my needle with delight I plied
Proud even to add a triffling grace to you
From whom Philosophy and Virtue too
I’ve gain’d—If either can be counted mine
In you they with the clearest lustre shine
My noble Friend this artless line excuse
Nor blame the weakness of your Polly’s muse
The humble gift with kind compliance take
And wear it for the grateful givers sake
During that time, Franklin spent only 18 months back in Philadelphia. In London, Franklin had a platonic relationship with his landlady, the widow Margaret Stevenson. He was like a father to her daughter Polly. They rapidly became his London family & home-base with Mrs. Stevenson managing the daily household details for him.
In 1770 she married William Hewson, a brilliant young physician & anatomist, who 4 years later died from an infection incurred while dissecting a cadaver. Polly devoted the rest of her life to the care & education of her 2 sons & daughter.
From 1775, Franklin tried to persuade her to move to America, & in 1784–85 she & the children did visit him in the new nation. Finally in 1786, she brought her family to Philadelphia, & was at Franklin's bedside when he died (1790), 5 years before her own death at her son’s home near Bristol, Pa.
About 170 letters between the bright, spirited woman, & the fatherly philosopher survive. They are full of humor & good will, plus serious science to speculation on marriage & public affairs, & later reports on growing children & grandchildren.
In 1783 he wrote: “In looking forward,—Twenty-five Years seems a long Period; but in looking back, how short! Could you imagine that ’tis now full a Quarter of a Century since we were first acquainted! It was in 1757. During the greatest Part of the Time I lived in the same House with my dear deceased Friend your Mother; of course you & I saw & convers’d with each other much & often. It is to all our Honours, that in all that time we never had among us the smallest Misunderstanding. Our Friendship has been all clear Sunshine, without any the least Cloud in its Hemisphere.”
The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 12, January 1, through December 31, 1765, ed. Leonard W. Labaree. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1967, pp. 16–17
James M. Stifler, “My Dear Girl” The Correspondence of Benjamin Franklin with Polly Stevenson, Georgiana & Catherine Shipley (N.Y., 1927).
Whitfield J. Bell, Jr., “‘All Clear Sunshine’: New Letters of Franklin & Mary Stevenson Hewson,” APS Proc., c 1956, 521–36, which describes the extent & character of their correspondence.
Eight of Franklin's letters to her appear in his 1769 edition of Experiments & Observations on Electricity.