親愛的朋友，上次在芍麗磨坊，舉行遊園會的那天，我們玩得很痛快。 那天良辰美景，到會者個個是風雅仕女，可是你也許還記得，我們在散步的時候，我曾經在路上停留了一會兒，落在大家後面。 原因是園裡有很多蜉蝣的殘屍——所謂蜉蝣，是蒼蠅一類的小昆蟲——有人指給我們看了，而且據說它們的壽命很短，一天之內，生生死死好幾代就過去了。 我聽到之後，信步走去，在一片樹葉上面，發現了這種小蟲有一群之多。 它們似乎在討論什麼東西——你知道我是善知蟲語的；我和你往來這麼久，可是你們貴國美妙的語言我學來學去，始終進步很少，我如何能替自己解嘲呢？ 只好說我研究蟲語用心過度了。 現在這批小蟲在舉行辯論，我好奇心動，不免湊上前去偷聽一番；可是蟲雖小，它們的心卻大，開起口來，都是三四個一起來的，因此聽來很不清楚。 偶爾斷斷續續也可聽清一兩句，原來它們正在熱烈討論兩位外國音樂家的優劣比較——那兩位，一位是蚋先生，一位是蚊先生：討論得非常之熱烈，它們似乎忘記了“蟲生”的短促，好像很有把握可以活滿一個月似的。 你們多快樂呀，我這麼想，你們的政府一定是賢明公正、寬仁待民的，你們沒有牢騷可發，你們也用不著鬧黨派鬥爭，你們竟有閒情逸致在這裡討論外國音樂的優劣。 我轉過頭來，看見另一片樹葉上有一頭白髮老蜉蝣，它一個正在自言自語。 我聽得很有趣，因此把它筆錄下來。 我的好朋友的深情厚誼，我已領受很多，她的清風明月的風度，她的妙音雅奏，一向使我傾倒不已，我這一段筆記，無非博她一粲，聊作報答而已。
好朋友即本文最後一段的白夫人(Madame Brllon de Jouy)，白夫人年輕貌美，富蘭克林駐法期間，與白夫人過往甚密。
The Ephemera: An Emblem of Human Life
by Benjamin Franklin
You may remember, my dear friend, that when we lately spend that happy day in the delightful garden and sweet society of the Moulin Joly, I stopped a little in one of our walks, and stayed some time behind the company. We had been shown numberless skeletons of a kind of little fly, called an ephemera, whose successive generations, we were told, were bred and expired within the day. I happened to see a living company of them on a leaf, who appeared to be engaged in conversation. You know I understand all the inferior animal tongues. My too great application to the study of them is the best excuse I can give for the little progress I have made in your charming language. I listened through curiosity to the discourse of these little creatures; but as they, in their national vivacity, spoke three or four together, I could make but little of their conversation. I found, however, by some broken expressions that I heard now and then, they were disputing warmly on the merit of two foreign musicians, one a cousin, the other a moscheto; in which dispute they spent their time, seemingly as regardless of the shortness of life as if they had been sure of living a month. Happy people! thought I; you are certainly under a wise, just, and mild government, since you have no public grievances to complain of, nor any subject of contention but the perfections and imperfections of foreign music. I turned my head from them to an old gray-headed one, who was single on another leaf, and talking to himself. Being amused with his soliloquy, I put it down in writing, in hopes it will likewise amuse her to whom I am so much indebted for the most pleasing of all amusements, her delicious company and heavenly harmony.
“It was,” said he, “the opinion of learned philosophers of our race, who lived and flourished long before my time, that this vast world, the Moulin Joly, could not itself subsist more than eighteen hours; and I think there was some foundation for that opinion, since, by the apparent motion of the great luminary that gives life to all nature, and which in my time has evidently declined considerably towards the ocean at the end of our earth, it must then finish its course, be extinguished in the waters that surround us, and leave the world in cold and darkness, necessarily producing universal death and destruction. I have lived seven of those hours, a great age, being no less than four hundred and twenty minutes of time. How very few of us continue so long! I have seen generations born, flourish, and expire. My present friends are the children and grandchildren of the friends of my youth, who are now, also, no more! And I must soon follow them; for, by the course of nature, though still in health, I cannot expect to live above seven or eight minutes longer. What now avails all my toil and labor in amassing honey-dew on this leaf, which I cannot live to enjoy! What the political struggles I have been engaged in for the good of my compatriot inhabitants of this bush, or my philosophical studies for the benefit of our race in general! for in politics what can laws do without morals? Our present race of ephemera will in a course of minutes become corrupt, like those of other and older bushes, and consequently as wretched. And in philosophy how small our progress! Alas! art is long, and life is short! My friends would comfort me with the idea of a name they say I shall leave behind me; and they tell me I have lived long enough to nature and to glory. But what will fame be to an ephemera who no longer exists? And what will become of all history in the eighteenth hour, when the world itself, even the whole Moulin Joly, shall come to its end and be buried in universal ruin?”
To me, after all my eager pursuits, no solid pleasures now remain, but the reflection of a long life spent in meaning well, the sensible conversation of a few good lady ephemeræ, and now and then a kind smile and a tune from the ever amiable Brillante.