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after the Weems manner, cannot now be determined. There can be no doubt that Washington, like most healthy boys, got into a good deal of mischief, and it is not at all impossible that he injured fruit-trees and confessed that he had done so. It may be accepted as certain that he rode and mastered many unbroken thoroughbred colts, and it is possible that one of them burst a blood-vessel in the process and died, and that the boy promptly told his mother of the accident. But this is the utmost credit which these two anecdotes can claim. Even so much as this cannot be said of certain other improving tales of like nature. That Washington lectured his playmates en the wickedness of fighting, and in the year 1754 allowed himself to be knocked down in the presence of his soldiers, and thereupon begged his assailant's pardon for having spoken roughly to him, are stories so silly and so foolishly impossible that they do not deserve an instant's consideration.
There is nothing intrinsically impossible in either the cherry-tree or the colt incident, nor would there be in a hundred others which might be readily invented. The real point is that these stories, as told by Weems and Mr. Custis, are on their face hopelessly and ridiculously false. They are so, not merely because they have no vestige of evidence to support them, but because they are in every word and line the offspring of a period more than fifty years later. No English-speaking people, certainly no Virginians, ever thought or behaved or talked in
1740 like the personages in Weems's stories, whatever they may have done in 1790, or at the beginning of the next century. These precious anecdotes belong to the age of Miss Edgeworth and Hannah More and Jane Taylor. They are engaging specimens of the " Harry and Lucy " and " Purple Jar" morality, and accurately reflect the pale didacticism which became fashionable in England at the close of the last century. They are as untrue to nature and to fact at the period to which they are assigned as would be efforts to depict Augustine Washington and his wife in the dress of the French revolution discussing the propriety of worshipping the Goddess of Reason.
To enter into any serious historical criticism of these stories would be to break a butterfly. So much as this even has been said only because these wretched fables have gone throughout the world, and it is time that they were swept away into the dust-heaps of history. They represent Mr. and Mrs. Washington as affected and priggish people, given to cheap moralizing, and, what is far worse, they have served to place Washington himself in a ridiculous light to an age which has outgrown the educational foibles of seventy-five years ago. Augustine Washington and his wife were a gentleman and lady of the eighteenth century, living in Virginia. So far as we know without guessing or conjecture, they were simple, honest, and straightforward, devoted to the care of their family and estate, and doing their duty sensibly and after the
fashion of their time. Their son, to whom the greatest wrong has been done, not only never did anything common or mean, but from the beginning to the end of his life he was never for an instant ridiculous or affected, and he was as utterly removed from canting or priggishness as any human being could well be. Let us therefore consign the Weems stories and their offspring to the limbo of historical rubbish, and try to learn what the plain facts tell us of the boy Washington.
Unfortunately these same facts are at first very few, so few that they tell us hardly anything. We know when and where Washington was born; and how, when he was little more than three years old,1 he was tanen from Bridges Creek to the banks of the Rappahannock. There he was placed under the charge of one Hobby, the sexton of the parish, to learn his alphabet and his pothooks; and when that worthy man's store of learning was exhausted he was sent back to Bridges Creek, soon after his father's death, to live with his half-brother Augustine, and obtain the benefits of a school kept by a Mr. Williams. There he received what would now be called a fair common-school education, wholly destitute of any instruction in languages, ancient or modern, but apparently with some mathematical training.
That he studied faithfully cannot be doubted, and we know, too, that he matured early, and was a tall, active, and muscular boy. He could outwalk and outrun and outride any of his companions. As he could no doubt have thrashed any of them too, he was, in virtue of these qualities, which are respected everywhere by all wholesome minds, and especially by boys, a leader among his school-fellows. We know further that he was honest and true, and a lad of unusual promise, not because of the goody-goody anecdotes of the myth-makers, but because he was liked and trusted by such men as his brother Lawrence and Lord Fairfax.
1 There is a conflict about the period of this removal (see above, p. 37). Tradition places it in 17;.">, but the Rev. Mr. McGuire, (Religious Opinions .of Washington) puts it in 1739.
There he was, at all events, in his fourteenth year, a big, strong, hearty boy, offering a serious problem to his mother, who was struggling along with many acres, little money, and five children. Mrs. Washington's chief desire naturally was to put George in the way of getting a living, which no doubt seemed far more important than getting an education, and, as he was a sober-minded boy, the same idea was probably profoundly impressed on his own mind also. This condition of domestic affairs led to the first attempt to give Washington a start in life, which has been given to us until very lately in a somewhat decorated form. The fact is, that in casting about for something to do, it occurred to some one, very likely to the boy himself, that it would be a fine idea to go to sea. His masculine friends and relatives urged the scheme upon Mrs. Washington, who consented very reluctantly, if at all, not liking the notion of parting with her oldest son, even in her anxiety to have him earn his bread. When it came to the point, however, she finally decided against his going, determined probably by a very sensible letter from her brother, Joseph Ball, an English lawyer. In all the ornamented versions we are informed that the boy was to enter the royal navy, and that a midshipman's warrant was procured for him. There does not appear to be any valid authority for the royal navy, the warrant, or the midshipman. The contemporary Virginian letters speak simply of "going to sea," while Mr. Ball says distinctly that the plan was to enter the boy on a tobacco ship, with an excellent chance of being pressed on a manof-war, and a very faint prospect of either getting into the navy, or even rising to be the captain of one of the petty trading-vessels familiar to Virginian planters. Some recent writers have put Mr. Ball aside as not knowing what was intended in regard to his nephew, but in view of the difficulty at that time of obtaining commissions in the navy without great political influence, it seems probable that Mrs. Washington's brother knew very well what he was talking about, and he certainly wrote a very sensible letter. A bold, adventurous boy, eager to earn his living and make his way in the world, would, like many others before him, look longingly to the sea as the highway to fortune and success. To Washington the romance of the sea was represented by the tobacco ship creeping upthe river and bringing all the luxuries and many of the necessaries of life from vaguely distant countries. No doubt he wished to go on one of these vessels and try his luck, and very possibly the royal