Mar. 28, 2021

The Wisdom of the Flock: Franklin and Mesmer in Paris

The Wisdom of the Flock: Franklin and Mesmer in Paris by Steve M. Gnatz

Category: Adult Fiction (18+), 541 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Leather Apron Press

Content Rating: PG-13. There is mild (romantic) sexual content and very mild profanity.

Book Description:

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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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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My Review:

First off, I would like to say a big thank you to the author for giving me another ARC of this book. The first one came in damaged and well, the author was more than happy to provide me with another one! Now that I have finally finished reading, I'm proud to present my thoughts on it.

"The Wisdom of the Flock: Franklin and Mesmer in Paris" puts an excellent take on history as we know it. This has got to be one of the most well-written books out there. Everything is put together neatly and organized. The writing style is very fluid and captivating, you can tell the author did his research and took his time. I was addicted to this book!

I found the characters to be raw and exquisite. Each one had its own goals, challenges, and personalities. Something about this book, say even if it were written without a plot, would still be intriguing to me.

I just loved everything about this book and I'm so, so, so grateful to the author for providing me another ARC so I could finish it off. Needless to say, the ending was quite satisfying. I think it put a good stopping point to the story and is also a great starting point if the author wants to make another book citing the events that happened after "Franklin and Mesmer in Paris."

I love long books, especially because it's always a long journey into the story. But I also hate them after you finish them, you know it's not going to be the same. If I could reread this book with a fresh mind, I definitely would! I learned so much throughout... The characters, the history, etc.

"The Wisdom of the Flock: Franklin and Mesmer in Paris" is one of those books you need to pick up NOW. 5/5!

Author Interview:

Why was Franklin sent to France in 1776?

Between the late 1750’s and 1775 Franklin spent most of his time in London as an agent for the colonies. He lobbied for fair trade practices between the colonies and the British. However, by 1775, it was becoming clear that reconciliation was not going to happen. When Benjamin Franklin returned to Philadelphia in May 1775 there had already been skirmishes between the colonists and the British at Lexington and Concord. Franklin helped draft the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Shortly thereafter, he was sent to Paris by the Continental Congress to assist in securing the support of the French king for the anticipated war with Britain. France at that time was no friend of the British – and of course, “the enemy of your enemy is your friend”. Securing the support of the French munitions would prove key to the success of the American revolution. Franklin at that time was arguably the most well-known American in France, having had an audience with the king previously regarding his pioneering research on electricity. It was a good choice, but also a bold move.

How did Franklin assimilate in Paris?

John Adams was quoted as being aghast that Franklin “acted like a Parisian” in terms of his behaviors in France, but Franklin just seemed to fit in. He seemed to be a natural hedonist. He dined out often, socialized in all the right circles, drank plenty of French wine, and openly flirted with the French ladies. It is a matter of historical debate as to whether his activities with these ladies ever actually resulted in a consummated relationship. Of course, I take the affirmative approach in The Wisdom of the Flock. And he did really ask Minette to marry him. I doubt that he would have done that if they weren’t up to something. Nonetheless, it has been said that no other American could have won over the French as Franklin did. And France responded by at first clandestinely, but later openly, supporting the American revolution.

Was Franklin really a “spymaster”?

There were plenty of spies in France (and England) in the late 1700’s. Franklin’s relationship to, and interactions with, these spies remain a matter of some historical debate. As you can imagine, there is not much evidence in the historical record – that would be against the point of keeping such activities secret. In particular, one close member of Franklin’s group in Paris, Edward Bancroft, was long suspected of being a spy – even during his lifetime. However, it was later revealed in British letters unsealed in the 1800’s, that Bancroft had been in fact a double agent – spying for both the Americans and the British. Considering how intelligent Franklin was, I chose to take the position that Franklin knew of Bancroft’s double agency and treated him as such. This would fit with the historically accurate fact that no information Bancroft shared ever had any major deleterious effect on the American war effort. However, other historians have argued that King George was so suspicious of the intelligence provided by Bancroft (since he tended to plant information intended to game the British stock market and thereby reap a profit) that he refused to heed any information Bancroft supplied. Who knows?

The other main spy in The Wisdom of the Flock, Reverend Smith, is fictional – but based on the real historical Reverend Smith who was suspected of being a spy. So, I made him one. And his existential struggle is between his allegiance to the Church of England and his adopted home, the Colonies. I hope that he truly was one of the many “unsung heroes” of the American Revolution.

It seems like science was blossoming in the Late 1700’s, is that true?

Of course, it became known thereafter as the Age of Enlightenment. Just think about the discoveries that were happening. Electricity, Oxygen, Hydrogen, the Periodic Table, the first manned balloon flights - the list of revelations of nature’s mysteries goes on and on. It is not much of a stretch to think that Mesmer might have discovered a new “fluid” or force involved with healing. In fact, while it was clearly not a “fluid emanating from the stars” as he described it, Mesmer had tapped into something that we still don’t fully understand. A powerful unexplained force that binds all creatures at a subconscious level. May the Force be with you!

What is your next project?

I really have two projects in mind.

The first concerns when Franklin lived in England (1757-1775). This time period fascinates me almost as much as his time in France and could become a “prequel” to The Wisdom of the Flock. During this time, Franklin circulated in London high society, invented the glass armonica for Marianne Davies (and kindled their relationship – at least in my mind), lived in the home of Margaret Stevenson and her daughter Polly (who Ben taught science and treated like a surrogate daughter). Polly married the brilliant anatomist William Hewson who performed human dissections in the Stevenson basement. There are literally skeletons in that closet - or basement, as the case may be. Ben’s trials and tribulations with the British Parliament leading up to the American revolution will make a fascinating backdrop.

The second possible project concerns the period of time after Ben returned from France to Philadelphia in 1785 until his death in 1790. A sequel, if you will. Franklin returned a hero and was asked to assume a national governmental role – but declined. He was elected to a state post – becoming the first governor of Pennsylvania. As such, he was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. He knew Dr. Benjamin Rush, the father of American psychiatry and another signatory on the Declaration of Independence. I imagine that Ben might have had some role in understanding the treatment for the mentally ill at Pennsylvania Hospital that Dr. Rush pioneered. The two could have debated many things, including their role in and love for American independence, their mutual opposition to slavery, and the role of the subconscious mind in sickness and in health.