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Friday, March 22, 2019

Ben Franklin On Crossing From Dover To Calais

Courtesy of P.W. Gallaudet, 1818.

In J. Frost's book, The Art Of Swimming that was published in 1818, he included a passage by Benjamin Franklin in which he pondered about crossing the English Channel:

"When I was a boy, I amused myself one day with flying a paper kite; and, approaching the bank of a pond, which was near a mile broad, I tied the string to a stake, and the kite ascended to a very considerable height above the pond, while I was swimming.

In a little time, being desirous of amusing myself with my kite, and enjoying at the same time the pleasure of swimming, I returned; and loosing from the stake the string with the little stick which was fastened to it, went again into the water, where I found that, lying on my back and holding the stick in my hands, I was drawn along the surface of the water in a very agreeable manner.

Having then engaged another boy to carry my clothes round the pond, to a place which I pointed out to him on the other side, I began to cross the pond with my kite, which carried me quite over without the least fatigue, and with the greatest pleasure imaginable. I was only obliged occasionally to halt a little in my course, and resist its progress, when it appeared that, by following too quick, I lowered the kite too much: by doing which, occasionally, I made it rise again.

I have never since practise this singular mode of swimming, though I think it is not impossible to cross in this manner from Dover to Calais.

Historical Note: Franklin (1706 – 1790) was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and is inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame (Honor Contributor in the Class of 1984) and the International Swimming Hall of Fame (Honor Swimmer in the Class of 1968). He was an author, diplomat, inventor, physicist, politician, printer, oceanographer, satirist, political theorist, scientist, and statesman of his era. He was a lifelong swimmer, teaching himself how to swim in Boston Harbor and advocated learn-to-swim classes as an early proponent of physical fitness, both for peace of mind and for safety in one's life. He wrote, "I had a strong inclination for the sea; living near the water, I was much in it and about it and learnt early to swim well."

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