Content Rating: PG-13. There is mild (romantic) sexual content and very mild profanity.
1776: Benjamin Franklin sails to Paris, carrying a copy of the Declaration of Independence, freshly signed. His charge: gain the support of France for the unfolding American Revolution. Yet Paris is a city of distractions. Ben’s lover, Marianne Davies, will soon arrive, and he yearns to rekindle his affair with the beautiful musician.
Dr. Franz Mesmer has plans for Marianne too. He has taken Parisian nobility by storm with his discovery of magnétisme animale, a mysterious force claimed to heal the sick. Marianne’s ability to channel Mesmer’s phenomena is key to his success.
A skeptical King Louis XVI appoints Ben to head a commission investigating the astonishing magnétisme animale. By nature, Ben requires proof. Can he scientifically prove that it does not exist? Mesmer will stop at nothing to protect his profitable claim.
The Wisdom of The Flock explores the conflict between science and mysticism in a time rife with revolution, love, spies, and passion.
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Were Benjamin Franklin and Marianne Davies really lovers?
Benjamin Franklin was sent to France in 1776 at the outset of my book The Wisdom of the Flock to help secure the aid of the French in the American Revolution against the British.
But prior to the beginning of the book, Franklin had spent most of the past 20 years (1757-1775) in London, away from his wife Deborah. Ostensibly, this was because she had a strong aversion to sea travel and would not follow him across the Atlantic Ocean. Deborah, in fact, passed away in late 1774 at home in Philadelphia while Ben was still in London.
Franklin was, of course, famous as a ladies’ man. Historians have often wondered if he was up to any hanky-panky during those nearly 20 years in London.
In 1761, Franklin attended a concert in London. There Ben observed a lovely young musician named Marianne Davies performing on the musical glasses. Despite how beautifully she played, she appeared to be in constant pain from the activity. Franklin conceived of an instrument with glass bowls attached to a rod at their center and bathed in a tub of water. The rod was turned by a treadle mechanism, keeping the turning bowls moistened. The musician could then gently apply her finger to the appropriate bowl to produce the note she wanted – resulting in music without any pain. He named his invention a glass armonica and had the first one made for Marianne Davies. It has been suggested that this was an extravagant gift for the gentleman to give the lady.
In 1767, a young Philadelphia artist named Charles Willson Peale showed up unannounced at Franklin’s lodgings on Craven Street. While waiting to see the great man, Peale apparently observed (and sketched) Franklin with a paramour in the next room through an ajar door.
Some authors have suggested that the woman pictured might have been Franklin’s landlady Margaret Stevenson’s daughter Polly – but I believe this to be unlikely. While Polly would have been about the same age as Marianne Davies, and both women were much younger than Franklin, he generally considered Polly as a “surrogate daughter”. It seems unlikely that they would be openly engaged in such activity in her mother’s house.
There are very few, if any, established pictures of Marianne Davies – see my blog post on this issue here: https://stevegnatz.com/2020/10/why-are-there-no-pictures-of-marianne-davies/
There is not much help from the written historical record in terms of letters between Marianne Davies and Franklin. In The Wisdom of the Flock, I imagined that they had agreed to burn their private letters to each other – in order to solve this dilemma. It is historical fiction, after all! The only two letters known to exist in the real world are those that Marianne wrote in 1783 complaining that Franklin no longer seemed interested in protecting her “franchise” to play the glass armonica. Of course, in The Wisdom of the Flock, this is explained by Ben’s love interest having waned – and other actions on Marianne’s part that I will not reveal here so as not to spoil it for you.
I hope that you will enjoy the story of Benjamin Franklin and Marianne Davies love affair in The Wisdom of the Flock, even if it only represents the fictional part of historical fiction.
Meet the Author:
Steve Gnatz is a writer, physician, bicyclist, photographer, traveler, and aspiring ukulele player. The son of a history professor and a nurse, it seems that both medicine and history are in his blood. Writing historical fiction came naturally. An undergraduate degree in biology was complemented by a minor in classics. After completing medical school, he embarked on an academic medical career specializing in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. There was little time for writing during those years, other than research papers and a technical primer on electromyography. Now retired from the practice of medicine, he devotes himself to the craft of fiction. The history of science is of particular interest, but also the dynamics of human relationships. People want to be good scientists, but sometimes human nature gets in the way. That makes for interesting stories. When not writing or traveling, he enjoys restoring Italian racing bicycles at home in Chicago with his wife and daughters.
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