Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/439

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at the homes of the members and in the city taverns to discuss scientific or 'philosophical' questions—what becomes of all the water that flows into the Mediterranean Sea, whether 'elementary fire' and the electric fluid were the same thing and other ponderous problems calculated to engage the interest of the rising generation in the eighteenth century.

It was in 1743 that Franklin, then a man of thirty-seven with several successes to his credit, announced to his friends his plans for a larger Junto. It was to be a national society 'for promoting useful knowledge among the British Plantations in America.' It was to have a president, a secretary and a treasurer who should live in Philadelphia, since this city was assumed to be more centrally located than any other in America. In Philadelphia, too, there should be always resident seven members, a physician, a botanist, a mathematician, a chemist, a mechanician, a geographer and a general natural philosopher. Into these various departments it was conceived at the time that all learning or philosophy could be brought, and Franklin proffered his own services as the Society's secretary. The body was to receive members from every part of the colonies, and they were 'to maintain constant correspondence' with each other, to the end that whatever useful information one might secure might be passed on to the others and in this way be made the common property of the people.

The founders, however, seemed not to be able to make the Society thrive. The colonies still contained too few who were interested in the propagation of useful knowledge and after a brief period of activity the members were obliged to suspend their meetings. It was not until 1767 that there were signs of awakening life, when many men of prominence in Philadelphia and its neighborhood were elected to membership. In the meantime, a rival society had become quite active, and negotiations for union were begun. A basis of agreement having been reached, in January, 1769, the two societies officially christened 'the American Philosophical Society held at Philadelphia for promoting useful knowledge,' the cumbrous title which the body still retains, met together for the first time. Dr. Franklin was made the president of the consolidated societies, while he was still absent in England; and thus, twenty-six years after he had originated the idea, a period that had been full of progress and change for him, as well as for the American colonies, he lived to see his early hopes realized in a scientific society whose fame was soon to spread over the whole civilized world.

Although abroad almost constantly he remained president of the American philosophers until his death. He occupied the chair for the first time in 1775, but returned to Europe almost immediately to be absent for another period of nine years. Wherever he wandered, however, he was always mindful of his obligations to the Society which each year reelected him to its chief office. His personal triumphs as