Seeing the portraits gathered together—as the friends themselves never were—we can get a sense that something like a scientific community was emerging in
early America. If by nothing else, these men are connected
by the similarities in the pictures.
portrait, as in the
others on these pages, the symbols of
science are nearly
as prominent as the sitter. The device
over his shoulder is
a system of bells and cork balls that told him when the lightning rod outside was electrified. Protected by his own invention, he has the luxury of calm reflection in a fancifully violent storm.
The physician Benjamin Rush (right) is the only one here without a "philosophical" or "mathematical" instrument, as scientific instruments were called. But someone familiar with the conventions of European portraiture might guess that he is a man of science, even without reading the lines he has written ("We come now, gentlemen, to investigate the cause of earthquakes"). Like others here, he sits in a quiet "closet," or study. Like Edward Bromfield and David Rittenhouse (opposite page), he wears a banyan, a long, loosely
fitting gown associated with
studiousness. As Rush
himself said, "Loose dresses contribute to the easy and vigorous
of the mind."
This identification with work and achievements seems perfectly
in keeping with Franklin's idea of America as a place "where people do not inquire concerning a stranger, 'What is he?' but 'What can he do?'" At the same time, it seems that these Americans, by presenting themselves in portraits that drew on established European imagery for the life of the mind, were taking their places in an international community as well.