A Great Improvisation (Magill's Literary Annual 2006)
On October 26, 1776, Benjamin Franklin sailed from Philadelphia charged with representing the United States in Paris, securing formal recognition by the French government, and obtaining increased French aid for the new nation. He would not see the city again until September 14, 1785, nearly nine years later. Seventy-year-old Franklin had no diplomatic experience, his spoken French was hard to understand, and his written French crude and ungrammatical. Yet in A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, author Stacy Schiff claims that he was the best possible choice for the position. No revolutionary leader had more European experience or better French. Schiff cites Thomas Jefferson’s admission that even after five years in Paris, he was never certain he understood what was said to him or whether his spoken and written French conveyed his actual meaning.
Franklin’s tumultuous welcome when he arrived in France in December demonstrated the wisdom of the congressional choice. He was not merely the best-known American but also one of the most widely admired men in the world, acclaimed throughout Europe as the scientist who tamed lightning, the successor to Isaac Newton and Galileo. Intellectuals and aristocrats (in eighteenth century France often one and the same) clamored for his attention. The Parisian public eagerly purchased matchboxes, teacups, candy dishes, fabrics, and canes decorated with likenesses of Franklin....
(The entire section is 1822 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2006)
Booklist 101, no. 13 (March 1, 2005): 1121.
The Economist 375 (April 30, 2005): 78-79.
Harper’s Magazine 311 (October, 2005): 88-94.
Kirkus Reviews 73, no. 2 (January 15, 2005): 111.
Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2005, p. E28.
The New York Times Book Review 154 (April 3, 2005): 8.
Publishers Weekly 252, no. 6 (February 7, 2005): 50.
The Washington Post, April 3, 2005, p. T4.
(The entire section is 39 words.)