Abbildungen der Seite

spirit might take possession of the people of the country, but he wrote to Lafayette that he despaired of seeing it. When he died he did all that lay within his power to impress his views upon his countrymen by directing that all his slaves should be set free on the death of his wife. His precepts and his example in this grave matter went unheeded for many years by the generations that came after him. But now that slavery is dead, to the joy of all men, it is well to remember that on this terrible question Washington's opinions were those of a humane man, impatient of wrong, and of a noble and far-seeing statesman, watchful of the evils that threatened his country." After this digression let us return to the Virginian farmer, whose mind was not disturbed as yet by thoughts of the destiny of the United States, or considerations of the rights of man, but who was much exercised by the task of making an honest income out of his estates. To do this he grappled with details as firmly as he did with the general system under which all plantations in that day were carried on. He understood every branch of farming; he was on the alert for every improvement; he rose early, worked steadily, gave to everything his personal supervision, kept his own accounts with wonderful exactness, and naturally enough his brands of flour went unquestioned everywhere, his credit was high, and he made money — so far as it was possible under existing conditions. Like Shakespeare, as Bishop Blougram has it, he

* For some expressions of Washington's opinions on slavery, see Sparks, viii. 414, ix. 159–163, and x. 224.

“Saved money, spent it, owned the worth of things.”

He had no fine and senseless disregard for money or the good things of this world, but on the contrary saw in them not the value attached to them by vulgar minds, but their true worth. He was a solid, square, evenly-balanced man in those days, believing that whatever he did was worth doing well. So he farmed, as he fought and governed, better than anybody else. While thus looking after his own estates at home, he went further afield in search of investments, keeping a shrewd eye on the western lands, and buying wisely and judiciously whenever he had the opportunity. He also constituted himself now, as in a later time, the champion of the soldiers, for whom he had the truest sympathy and affection, and a large part of the correspondence of this period is devoted to their claims for the lands granted them by the assembly. He distinguished carefully among them, however, those who were undeserving, and to the major of the regiment, who had been excluded from the public thanks on account of cowardice at the Great Meadows, he wrote as follows: “Your impertinent letter was delivered to me yesterday. As I am not accustomed to receive such from any man, nor would have taken the same language from you personally without letting you feel some marks of my resentment, I would advise you to be cautious in writing me a second of the same tenor. But for your stupidity and sottishness you might have known, by attending to the public gazette, that you had your full quantity of ten thousand acres of land allowed you. But suppose you had really fallen short, do you think your superlative merit entitles you to greater indulgence than others? . . . All my concern is that I ever engaged in behalf of so ungrateful a fellow as you are.” The writer of this letter, be it said in passing, was the man whom Mr. Weems and others tell us was knocked down before his soldiers, and then apologized to his assailant. It may be suspected that it was well for the recipient of this letter that he did not have a personal interview with its author, and it may be doubted if he ever sought one subsequently. Just, generous, and magnanimous to an extraordinary degree, Washington had a dangerous temper, held well under control, but blazing out now and again against injustice, impertinence, or oppression. He was a peaceful man, leading a peaceful life, but the fighting spirit only slumbered, and it would break out at wrong of any sort, in a way which was extremely unpleasant and threatening to those who aroused it. Apart from lands and money and the management of affairs, public and private, there were many other interests of varied nature which all had their share of Washington's time and thought. He was a devoted husband, and gave to his step-children the most affectionate care. He watched over and protected them, and when the daughter died, after a long and wasting illness, in 1773, he mourned for her as if she had been his own, with all the tenderness of a deep and reserved affection. The boy, John Custis, he made his friend and companion from the beginning, and his letters to the lad and about him are wise and judicious in the highest degree. He spent much time and thought on the question of education, and after securing the best instructors took the boy to New York and entered him at Columbia College in 1773. Young Custis however did not remain there long, for he had fallen in love, and the following year was married to Eleanor Calvert, not without some misgivings on the part of Washington, who had observed his ward's somewhat flighty disposition, and who gave a great deal of anxious thought to his future. At home as abroad he was an undemonstrative man, but he had abundance of that real affection which labors for those to whom it goes out more unselfishly and far more effectually than that which bubbles and boils upon the surface like a shallow, noisy brook. From the suggestions that he made in regard to young Custis, it is evident that Washington valued and respected education, and that he had that regard for learning for its own sake which always exists in large measure in every thoughtful man. He read well, even if his active life prevented his reading much, as we can see by his vigorous English, and by his occasional allusions to history. From his London orders we see, too, that everything about his house must have denoted that its possessor had refinement and taste. His intense sense of propriety and unfailing instinct for what was appropriate are everywhere apparent. His dress, his furniture, his harnesses, the things for the children, all show the same fondness for simplicity, and yet a constant insistence that everything should be the best of its kind. We can learn a good deal about any man by the ornaments of his house, and by the portraits which hang on his walls; for these dumb things tell us whom among the great men of earth the owner admires, and indicate the tastes he best loves to gratify. When Washington first settled with his wife at Mount Vernon, he ordered from Europe the busts of Alexander the Great, Charles XII. of Sweden, Julius Caesar, Frederick of Prussia, Marlborough, and Prince Eugene, and in addition he asked for statuettes of “two wild beasts.” The combination of soldier and statesman is the predominant admiration, then comes the reckless and splendid military adventurer, and lastly wild life and the chase. There is no mistaking the ideas and fancies of the man who penned this order which has drifted down to us from the past. But as Washington's active life was largely out of doors, so too were his pleasures. He loved the fresh open-air existence of the woods and fields, and there he found his one great amusement. He

« ZurückWeiter »