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always been a man of great physical vigor, and although he had had one or two acute and dangerous illnesses arising from mental strain and much overwork, there is no indication that he had any organic disease, and since his retirement from the presidency he had been better than for many years. There was not only no sign of breaking up, but he appeared full of health and activity, and led his usual wholesome outdoor life with keen enjoyment.
The morning of December 12th was overcast. He wrote to Hamilton warmly approving the scheme for a military academy; and having finished this, which was probably the last letter he ever wrote, he mounted his horse and rode off for his usual round of duties. He noted in his diary, where he always described the weather with methodical exactness, that it began to snow about one o'clock, soon after to hail, and then turned to a settled cold rain. He stayed out notwithstanding for about two hours, and then came back to the house and franked his letters. Mr. Lear noticed that his hair was damp with snow, and expressed a fear that he had got wet; but the General said no, that his coat had kept bim dry, and sat down to dinner without changing his clothes. The next morning snow was still falling so that he did not ride, and he complained of a slight sore throat, but nevertheless went out in the afternoon to mark some trees that were to be cut down. His hoarseness increased toward night, yet still he made light of it, and read the newspapers and chatted with Mrs. Washington during the evening.
When he went to bed Mr. Lear urged him to take something for his cold. “No," he replied, “ you know I never take anything for a cold. Let it go as it came.” In the night he had a severe chill, followed by difficulty in breathing; and between two and three in the morning he awoke Mrs. Washington, but would not allow her to get up and call a servant lest she should take cold. At daybreak Mr. Lear was summoned, and found Washington breathing with difficulty and hardly able to speak. Dr. Craik, the friend and companion of many years, was sent for at once, and meantime the General was bled slightly by one of the overseers. A futile effort was also made to gargle his throat, and external applications were tried without affording relief. Dr. Craik arrived between eight and nine o'clock with two other physicians, when other remedies were tried and the patient was bled again, all without avail. About half-past four he called Mrs. Washington to his bedside and asked her to get two wills from his desk. She did so, and after looking them over be ordered one to be destroyed and gave her the other to keep. He then said to Lear, speaking with the utmost difficulty, but saying what he had to say with characteristic determination and clearness : “I find I am going; my breath cannot last long. I believed from the first that the disorder would prove fatal. Do you arrange and record all my late military letters and papers. Arrange my accounts and settle my books, as you know more
about them than any one else ; and let Mr. Rawlins finish recording my other letters, which he has begun.” He then asked if Lear recollected anything which it was essential for him to do, as he had but a very short time to continue with them. Lear replied that he could recollect nothing, but that he hoped the end was not so near. Washington smiled, and said that he certainly was dying, and that as it was the debt which we must all pay, he looked to the event with perfect resignation.
The disease which was killing him was acute ædematous laryngitis, which is as simple as it is rare and fatal,” and he was being slowly strangled to death by the closing of the throat. He bore the
1 It was called at the time a quinsy.
2 See Memoir on The Last Sickness of Washington, by James Jackson, M. D. In response to an inquiry as to the modern treatment of this disease, Dr. F. H. Hooper of Boston, well known as an authority on diseases of the throat, writes me : “Washington's physicians are not to be criticised for their treatment, for they acted according to their best light and knowledge. To treat such a case in such a manner in the year 1889 would be little short of criminal. At the present time the physicians would use the laryngoscope and look and see what the trouble was. (The laryngoscope has only been used since 1857.) In this disease the function most interfered with is breathing. The one thing which saves a patient in this disease is a timely tracheotomy. (I doubt if tracheotomy had ever been performed in Virginia in Washington's time.) Washington ought to have been tracheotomized, or rather that is the way cases are saved to-day. No one would think of antimony, calomel, or bleeding now. The point is to let in the air, and not to let out the blood. After tracheotomy has been performed, the ædema and swelling of the larynx subside in three to six days. The tracheotomy tube is then removed, and respiration goes on again through the natural channels.”
suffering, which must have been intense, with his usual calm self-control, but as the afternoon wore on the keen distress and the difficulty of breathing made him restless. From time to time Mr. Lear tried to raise him and make his position easier. The General said, “I fear I fatigue you too much;” and again, on being assured to the contrary, “ Well, it is a debt we must pay to each other, and I hope when you want aid of this kind you will find it.” He was courteous and thoughtful of others to the last, and told his servant, who had been standing all day in attendance upon him, to sit down. To Dr. Craik he said: “I die hard, but I am not afraid to go. I believed from my first attack that I should not survive it. My breath cannot last long.” When a little later the other physicians came in and assisted him to sit up, he said: “I feel I am going. I thank you for your attentions, but I pray you will take no more trouble about me. Let me go off quietly. I cannot last long." He lay there for some hours longer, restless and suffering, but utterly uncomplaining, taking such remedies as the physicians ordered in silence. About ten o'clock he spoke again to Lear, although it required a most desperate effort to do so. “I am just going,” he said. “ Have me decently buried, and do not let my body be put into the vault in less than three days after I am dead.” Lear bowed, and Washington said, “Do you understand me?” Lear answered, “ Yes.” “ 'T is well,” he said, and with these last words again fell silent. A little later he felt his own pulse, and, as he was counting the strokes, Lear saw his countenance change. His hand dropped back from the wrist he had been holding, and all was over.
The end had come. Washington was dead. He died as he had lived, simply and bravely, without parade and without affectation. The last duties were done, the last words said, the last trials borne with the quiet fitness, the gracious dignity, that even the gathering mists of the supreme hour could neither dim nor tarnish. He had faced life with a calm, high, victorious spirit. So did he face death and the unknown when Fate knocked at the door.