Only edition. Richard Franck, a captain in Cromwell's army during the Battle of Dunbar and other Scots campaigns, lived for a few years in America in the 1680s, during which time he composed his Philosophical Treatise, a strange, euphuistic meditation on God, Mosaic Creation, and the wonders of nature—especially fish and fishing. Franck's book is now regarded as the first work of philosophy written in North America, though it is a confusing, unfocused text complicated by grossly ornamental language—"the vaporings of a disordered mind," Charles E. Goodspeed said in his 1943 monograph on Franck. Goodspeed regards Franck as an enigma, and though he researched him deeply, Goodspeed was unable to pinpoint the exact years Franck was in the Colonies, or even where he lived. The most compelling passage relating to America occurs on p. 75, where the Franck asserts:
"The Americans can tell you that Trees grew naturally where the Native Indians never had a being; and were it not for Europes agriculture, and industry; her florid Fields, and flourishing Pasture, would soon feel the fatal stroke of disorder; so become Forrests, and barren Desarts, fit only for bestial and savage inhabitants."
On p. 34 Franck implies that he actually battled with Native Americans. And on page 112, Franck, an avocational angler (who is better known for his piscatory Northern Memoirs, published at London in 1694), refers to a fish called the American snite, a term on which the OED is silent. The imprint of A Philosophical Treatise is London: John Gain, 1687, but arguments have been made—most lucidly by Worthington Ford—that the book might have been printed in Boston, by none other than Benjamin Harris, who, having been recently liberated from gaol, may have "borrowed" John Gain's identity as a safe, obscure, respectable unbrella under which to resume publishing. Ford, writing in The Boston Book Market 1679-1700, examines the history of the publication of The New England Primer, and not incidentally considers Franck's book:
"Who was this "Master John Gaine" who thus holds the first claim to the title New England Primer? He must have been a member of the Stationers' Company, for he is styled "master," and presumably was a bookseller but without a known place of business. His name does not appear in the Term Catalogues, and it occurs in the Stationers' Registers so infrequently as to suggest an unenterprising publisher. […] In 1687 he issued R. Franck's Phylosophical Treatise of the originall and Produccon of things. Writ in America in a Time of Solitude. On the title-page of that work [Gain] is a printer. With this second venture pertaining to America [Gain] disappears. […] In 1683 Benjamin Harris had been out of prison a year or more, and his situation would lead him to print over his own name as an advertisement of his reentry into the field. […] Later, when safe in New England, it may be imagined that Harris may have seen the possibilities attached to such a title, and deliberately made Gaine's still-born proposition his own—an early instance of a pirate publisher on American soil."
During the late 1680s colonial printers often closely mirrored London imprints, and visual evidence suggests that A Philosophical Treatise could indeed be a Boston printing, especially the layout of the title page. But more rigorous typographic examination must be performed to support this assertion. Richard Franck, for his part, probably returned to England in the early 1690s, but at some point may have journeyed back to America. Cotton Mather, in his diaries, remarks:
"There is an old Man in the Town, who was a Souldier in the Army of my admirable Cromwel, and actually present in the Battel of Dunbar; he is now come to eighty-eight; an honest Man, and in great Penury. I must releeve him, and look after him."
The circumstances of this "old Man" are consonant with Richard Franck's life. Could he have lived out his days in Boston, in the care and society of Cotton Mather? In any case, a most unusual Americanum, well worth renewed study and consideration as a possible colonial imprint.
London: John Gain, 1687.
8vo, 176 x 111 x 16 mm (binding), 172 x 108 x 13 mm (text block); A-M8 N4; , 170 pp. Last two leaves blank and present. Modern quarter calf over marbled boards, new endpapers, spine titled in gilt on citron lettering-piece: FRANCK'S | PHILOS- | OPHICAL | TREATISE. Interior: Margins of title, A2 and final two blanks chipped; head fore-corners of A6 and A7 torn away; first three leaves soiled and stained; leaves foxed at margins throughout; a few dog-ears.
From the Fox Pointe collection of Dr. & Mrs. H. R. Knohl, though no ex-libris present. Old pressure stamp to title, now illegible; a few modern penciled cataloguers' notes to endpapers; older number penned to verso of title: 27499; blank leaves at end pierced with a needle at an early date, forming a volute design and possible two letters: G. R.
Wing F2065; ESTC R20723; Sabin 25467; Alden-Landis 687/65; Barrett, Wendell, ed., Cotton Mather, the Puritan Priest, New York: Dodd; Mead, 1891, p. 244; Ford, Worthington Chauncey, The Boston Book Market, 1679-1700, Boston: Club of Odd Volumes, 1917, pp. 29-33; Goodspeed, Charles E., "Richard Franck," Bookmen's Holiday: Notes and Studies Written and Gathered in Tribute to Harry Miller Lydenberg, New York: NYPL, pp. 151-187.