Abbildungen der Seite

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.



This last chapter cannot begin more fitly than by quoting again the words of Mr. McMaster: "George Washington is an unknown man." Mr. McMaster might have added that to no man in our history has greater injustice of a certain kind been done, or more misunderstanding been meted out, than to Washington, and although this sounds like the merest paradox, it is nevertheless true. From the hour when the door of the tomb at Mount Vernon closed behind his coffin to the present instant, the chorus of praise and eulogy has never ceased, but has swelled deeper and louder with each succeeding year. He has been set apart high above all other men, and reverenced with the unquestioning veneration accorded only to the leaders of mankind and the founders of nations; and in this very devotion lies one secret at least of the fact that, while all men have praised Washington, comparatively few have understood him. He has been lifted high up into a lonely greatness, and unconsciously put outside the range of human sympathy. He has been accepted as a being as nearly perfect as it is given to man to be, but our warm personal 300

interest has been reserved for other and lesser men who seemed to be nearer to us in their virtues and their errors alike. Such isolation, lofty though it be. is perilous and leads to grievous misunderstandings. From it has come the widespread idea that Washington was cold, and as devoid of human sympathies as he was free from the common failings of humanity.

Of this there will be something to say presently, but meantime there is another more prolific source of error in regard to Washington to be considered. Men who are loudly proclaimed to be faultless always excite a certain kind of resentment. It is a dangerous eminence for any one to occupy. The temples of Greece are in ruins, and her marvellous literature is little more than a collection of fragments, but the feelings of the citizens who exiled Aristides because they were weary of hearing him called "just," exist still, unchanged and unchangeable. Washington has not only been called " just," but he has had every other good quality attributed to him by countless biographers and eulogists with an almost painful iteration, and the natural result has followed. Many persons have felt the sense of fatigue which the Athenians expressed practically by their oyster shells, and have been led to cast doubts on Washington's perfection as the only consolation for their own sense of injury. Then, again, Washington's fame has been so overshadowing, and his greatness so immutable, that he has been very inconvenient to the admirers and the biographers of other distinguished men. From these two sources, from the general jealousy of the classic Greek variety, and the particular jealousy born of the necessities of some other hero, much adverse and misleading criticism has come. It has never been a safe or popular amusement to assail Washington directly, and this course usually has been shunned; but although the attacks have been veiled they have none the less existed, and they have been all the more dangerous because they were insidious.

In his lifetime Washington had his enemies and detractors in abundance. During the Revolution he was abused and intrigued against, thwarted and belittled, to a point which posterity in general scarcely realizes. Final and conclusive victory brought an end to this, and he passed to the presidency amid a general acclaim. Then the attacks began again. Their character has been shown in a previous chapter, but they were of no real moment except as illustrations of the existence and meaning of party divisions. The ravings of Bache and Freneau, and the coarse insults of Giles, were all totally unimportant in themselves. They merely define the purposes and character of the party which opposed Washington, and but for him would be forgotten. Among his eminent contemporaries, Jefferson and Pickering, bitterly opposed in all things else, have left memoranda and letters reflecting upon the abilities of their former chief. Jefferson disliked him because he blocked his path,

« ZurückWeiter »