Abbildungen der Seite

foible which 'sought only a selfish advantage, for the rule which he applied to others he applied also to himself. He meant to have his due, no matter how trivial, and he meant also that others should have theirs. In trifles, as in greater things, he was scrupulously just, and although he was always generous and ready to give, he insisted rigidly on what was justly his. A gift was one thing, a business transaction was another. The man himself who told these very stories was a good example of the kindliness which went hand in hand with this exactness in business affairs. Parkinson was an Englishman, of great narrowness of mind, who came out here to be a farmer, failed, and went home to write a book in denunciation of the country. America never had a more hostile critic. According to this profound observer, there was no good land' in America, and no possibility of successful agriculture. The horses were bad, the cattle were bad, and sheep-raising was impossible. There was no game, the fish and oysters were poor and watery, and no one could ever hope in this wretchedly barren land for either wealth or comfort. It was a country fit only for the reception of convicts, and the cast-off mistress of an Englishman made a good wife for an American. A person who held such views as these was not likely to be biased in favor of anything American, and his evidence as to Washington may be safely trusted as not likely to be unduly favorable. He tells us that on his arrival at Mount Vernon, with letters of introduc


tion, he was kindly received; that this hospitality was never relaxed; and that the general lent him money. He was at least grateful, and these are his last words as to Washington:

“To me he appeared a mild, friendly man, in company rather reserved, in private speaking with candor. His behavior to me was such that I shall ever revere his name.

"General Washington lived a great man, and died the same.

“I am of opinion that the general never knowingly did anything wrong, but did to all men as he would they should do to him.”

Evidently he appeared to Mr. Parkinson kindly and generous, as well as exactly just. It is well to have the truth about Washington, and nothing but the truth. Yet in escaping from the falsehoods of the eulogist and the myth-maker, let us beware of those which spring from the reaction against the current and accepted views. I have quoted the Parkinson stories at length, because they enforce this point admirably. No a priori theory is safe, and to assume that Washington must have committed grave errors and been guilty of mean actions because they are common to humanity, and have not been admitted in his case, is just as misleading as to assume, as is usually done, that he was absolutely perfect and without fault.

Let it be admitted that Washington, ever ready to pay his own dues, was strict, and sometimes

severe, in demanding them of others; but let it be also remembered, this is the worst that can be said. He was always ready to overlook faults of omission or commission; he would pardon easily mismanagement or extravagance on his estate or in his household; but he had no mercy for anything that savored of ingratitude, treachery, or dishonesty, and he carried this same feeling into public as well as private affairs. No officer who had bravely done his best had anything to fear in defeat from Washington's anger. He was never unjust, and he was always kind to misfortune or mistake, but to the coward or the traitor he was entirely unforgiving. This it was which made Arnold's treason so bitter to him. Not only had he been deceived, but the country as well as himself had been most basely betrayed; and for this reason he was relentless to André, whom it is said he never saw, living or dead. The young Englishman had taken part in a wretched piece of treachery, and for the sake of the country, and as a warning to traitors, Washington would not spare him. He would never have ordered a political prisoner to be taken out and shot in a ditch, after the fashion of Napoleon; nor would he have dealt with any people as the Duke of Cumberland dealt with the clansmen after Culloden. Such performances would have seemed to him wanton as well as cr and he was too wise and too humane a man to be either. Indian atrocities, for instance, with which he was familiar, never led him to rer

taliate in kind. But he was perfectly prepared to exact the extremest penalty by just and recognized methods; and had it not been for the urgent entreaties of his friends, he would have sent Asgill to the scaffold, repugnant as it was to his feelings, because he felt that the murder of Huddy was a crime for which the English army was responsible, and which demanded a just and striking vengeance. He was, it may be freely confessed, of anything but a tame nature. There was a good deal of Berserker in his make-up, and he was fierce in his anger when he believed that a great wrong had been done. But because he was stern and unrelenting when he felt that justice and his duty required him to be so, no more proves that he had a cold heart than does the fact that he was silent, dignified, and reserved. Cold-blooded men are not fierce in seeking to redress the wrongs of others, nor are the fluent of speech the only kind and generous members of the human family.

Washington's whole life, indeed, contradicts the charge that he was cold of heart and sluggish of feeling. The man who wrote as he did in his extreme youth, when Indians were harrying the frontier where he commanded, was not lacking in humanity or sympathy; and such as he then was he remained to the end of his life. A soldier by instinct and experience, he never grew indifferent to the miseries of war. Human suffering always appealed to him and moved him deeply, and when it was wantonly inflicted stirred him to anger and to the desire for the wild justice of revenge.

[ocr errors]

The goodness and kindness of man's heart, however, are much more truly shown in the little de. tails of life than in the great matters which affect classes or communities. Washington was considerate and helpful to all men, and if he was ever cold and distant in his manner, it was to the great, and not to the poor or humble. As has been indicated by his recognition of the actor Bernard, he had in high degree the royal gift of remembering names and faces. When he was at Senator Dalton's house in Newburyport, on his New England tour of 1789, he met an old servant whom he had not seen since the French war, thirty years before. He knew the man at once, spoke to him, and welcomed him. So it was with the old soldiers of the Revolution, who were always sure of a welcome, and, if he had ever seen them, of a recognition. No man ever turned from his presence wounded by a cold forgetfulness. When he was at Ipswich, on this same journey, Mr. Cleaveland, the minister of the town, was presented to him. As he approached, hat in hand, Washington said, “Put on your hat, parson, and I will shake hands with you.” “I cannot wear my hat in your presence, general,” was the reply, “when I think of what you have done for this country.” “You did as much as I.” “No, no," protested the parson. “Yes,” said Washington, “you did what you could, and I've done no more. What a gracious, kindly courtesy is this, and not'without the salt of wit! Does it not show the perfec

« ZurückWeiter »