Benjamin Franklin on Wine, God, and Elbows

Sunday, August 8, 2010 at 12:15 AM Bookmark and Share
Did you ever wonder if our founding fathers had a sense of humor? Well they did, and here's some evidence to prove that at least Benjamin Franklin knew how to get his drink on.

This story begins when a friend of mine posted this quote on facebook the other day:
"Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy." -- Benjamin Franklin
Curious as always, I decided to see (1) if this was really a quote by Franklin, and (2) if so, what the context was. Franklin was neither a devout Christian, agnostic or atheist so I suspected it would be interesting.

Before I get into Franklin's awesome drawings, the quote comes from a letter he wrote in 1787 to the Abbé André Morellet -- a friend of Franklin and member of the French Academy-- as a tongue-in-cheek response to Morellet. Previously, Morellet wrote a drinking song in honor of Franklin (awesome) and in it he joked that Franklin instigated the American Revolution just to replace English tea with the French wines he was so fond of (again, awesome).

You can read the letter in English here, or the original French version here with another English translation.

Here's where it gets entertaining: the original letter includes figures drawn by Franklin, illustrating how the elbow was further evidence that God wanted us to drink win... but nowhere could I find the figures! Most internet copies of the letter omit them, and in many cases they've even removed the references to the figures entirely (gasp!). So here's the post script, with figure references entact...

In French:
P.S. Pour vous confirmer encore plus dans votre piété et reconnaissance à la providence divine, réfléchissez sur la situation qu’elle a donnée au coude. Vous voyez, figures 1 et 2, que les animaux qui doivent boire l’eau qui coule sur la terre, s’ils ont des jambes longues, ont aussi un cou long, afin qu’ils puissent atteindre leur boisson sans la peine de se mettre à genoux. Mais l’homme, qui était destiné à boire du vin, doit être en état de porter le verre à sa bouche. Regardez les figures ci-dessous: si le coude avait été placé plus près de la main, comme en fig. 3, la partie A aurait été trop courte pour approcher le verre de la bouche; et s’il avait été placé plus près de l’épaule, comme en fig. 4, la partie B aurait été si longue, qu’il eût porté le verre bien au delà de la bouche: ainsi nous aurions été tantalisés. Mais par la présente situation, représentée fig. 5, nous voilà en état de boire à notre aise, le verre venant justement à la bouche. Adorons donc, le verre à la main, cette sagesse bienveillante; adorons et buvons.
In English (source) this reads something like:
P.S. To confirm still more your piety and gratitude to Divine Providence, reflect upon the situation which it has given to the _elbow._ You see (Figures 1 and 2) in animals, who are intended to drink the waters that flow upon the earth, that if they have long legs, they have also a long neck, so that they can get at their drink without kneeling down. But man, who was destined to drink wine, must be able to raise the glass to his mouth. If the elbow had been placed nearer the hand (as in Figure 3), the part in advance would have been too short to bring the glass up to the mouth; and if it had been placed nearer the shoulder, (as in Figure 4) that part would have been so long that it would have carried the wine far beyond the mouth. But by the actual situation, (represented in Figure 5), we are enabled to drink at our ease, the glass going exactly to the mouth. Let us, then, with glass in hand, adore this benevolent wisdom; -- let us adore and drink!

That's right - Ben Franklin took the time to draw 5 pictures illustrating how awesome elbows are, because they allow us to drink wine.

After a bit of searching found them here, in Morellet's biography Mémoires inédits de l'abbé Morellet sur le dix-huitième siècle et sur la Révolution (1967). The letter starts on pg 303, figures between pages 304-305. A few screen captures later, here they are for your viewing pleasure:


Posted by: Misha | 9/07/2010 3:16 PM
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Posted by: Paul | 9/07/2010 5:27 PM

Hmmm... is that spam?

Posted by: Charlie Sommers | 9/25/2015 4:09 PM

Franklin is by far my favorite of the founding fathers. Erudite and fun loving.

Posted by: Charlie Sommers | 9/25/2015 4:09 PM

Franklin is by far my favorite of the founding fathers. Erudite and fun loving.

Posted by: Unknown | 3/10/2017 10:10 PM


Posted by: Mark Beltran | 8/21/2017 1:17 PM

That's awesome. Benjamin Franklin is my favorite American historical figure as well.

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