Adams Family Correspondence, volume 5

Abigail Adams 2d to Elizabeth Cranch

Abigail Adams to Elizabeth Cranch

2.

This is the celebrated Anne-Catherine, Comtesse de Ligniville d'Autricourt, Madame Helvétius, widow of the philosophe Claude Adrien Helvétius, a near neighbor of the Adamses at Auteuil, and hostess of a major salon, often called l'Académie d'Auteuil. She was sixty-five in 1784. The dinner occurred on 1 Sept. (AA2, Jour. and Corr. , 1:17); AA describes Mme. Helvétius even more vividly on that occasion in her letter to Lucy Cranch, 5 Sept., below. Madame Helvétius had been one of Benjamin Franklin's most intimate friends from his arrival in Passy in 1777. He called her Notre Dame d'Auteuil, proposed marriage to her in the winter of 1779–80 (she declined), and maintained a correspondence with her after his return to America. See Claude-Anne Lopez, Mon Cher Papa: Franklin and the Ladies of Paris, New Haven, 1966, chaps. 9–10, and the descriptive list of illustrations.