Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

else. Let us look, then, at another and widely different case.

Of all the men whom the fortunes of war brought across Washington's path there was none who became dearer to him than Lafay-, ette, for the generous, high-spirited young Frenchman, full of fresh enthusiasm and brave as a lion, appealed at once to Washington's heart. He quickly admitted him to his, confidence, and the excellent service of Lafayette in the field, together, with his invaluable help in securing the French alliance, deepened and strengthened the sympathy and affection which were entirely reciprocal. After Lafayette departed, a constant correspondence was maintained; and when the Bastille fell, it was to Washington that Lafayette sent its key, which still hangs on the wall of Mt. Vernon. As Lafay. ; ette rose rapidly to the dangerous heights of revolutionary leadership, he had at 'every step Washington's advice and sympathy. Then the tide turned; he fell headlong from power, and brought up in an Austrian prison. From that moment Washington spared no pains to help his unhappy; friend, although his own position was one of ex-; treme difficulty. Lafayette was not only the proscribed exile of one country, but also the political prisoner of another, and the President could not compromise the United States at that critical moment by showing too much interest in the fate of his unhappy friend. He nevertheless went to the very edge of prudence in trying to save him, and the ministers of the United States were instructed

[ocr errors]

to use every private effort to secure Lafayette's release, or at least the mitigation of his confinement. All these attempts failed, but Washington was more successful in other directions. He sent money to Madame de Lafayette, who was absolutely beggared at the moment, and represented to her that it was in settlement of an account which he owed the marquis. When Lafayette's son and his own namesake came to this country for an asylum, he had him cared for in Boston and New York by his personal friends; George Cabot in the one case, and Hamilton in the other. As soon as public affairs made it proper for him to do it, he took the lad into his own household, treated him like a son, and kept him near him until events permitted the boy to return to Europe and rejoin his father. The sufferings and dangers of Lafayette and his family were indeed a source of great unhappiness to Washington, and we have the authority of Bradford, his attorney-general, that when the President attempted to talk about Lafayette he was so much affected that he shed tears,

a very rare exhibition of emotion in a man so intensely reserved.

Absence had as little effect upon his memory of old friends as misfortune. The latter stimulated recollection, and the former could not dim it. He found time, in the very heat and fire of war and revolution, to write to Bryan Fairfax lamenting the death of the good old lord " whose house had been open to him, and whose hand had ever he him when he was a young and unknown man just

beginning his career. When he returned to Mount Vernon after the presidency, full of years and honors, one of his first acts was to write to Mrs. Fairfax in England to assure her of his lasting remembrance, and to breathe à sigh over the changes time had brought, and over the by-gone years when they had been young together.

The loyalty of nature which made his remembrance of old friends so real and lasting found expression also in the thoughtfulness which he showed toward casual acquaintances, and this was especially the case when he had received attention or service at any one's hands, or when he felt that he was able to give pleasure by a slight effort on his own part. A little incident which occurred during the first year of his presidency illustrates this trait in his character very well. Uxbridge was one among the many places where he stopped on his New England tour, and when he got to Hartford he wrote to Mr. Taft, who had been his host in the former town, and who evidently cherished for him a very keen admiration, the following note:

“November 8, 1789. “Sir: Being informed that you have given my name to one of your sons, and called another after Mrs. Washington's family, and being moreover very much pleased with the modest and innocent looks of your two daughters, Patty and Polly, I do for these reasons send each of these girls a piece of chintz; and to Patty, who bears the name

of Mrs. Washington, and who waited more upon us than Polly did, I send five guineas, with which she may buy herself any little ornament she may want, or she may dispose of them in any other manner more agreeable to herself. As I do not give these things with a view to having it talked of, or even to its being known, the less there is said about the matter the better

you

will please me; but, that I may be sure the chintz and money have got safe to hand, let Patty, who I dare say is equal to it, write me a line informing me thereof, directed to 'The President of the United States at New York.' I wish you and your family well, and am,” etc.

Let us turn now from friendship to nearer and closer relations. Washington was not only too reserved, but he had too much true sentiment, to leave his correspondence with Mrs. Washington behind him; for he knew that his vast collection of papers would become the material of history, and he had no mind that strangers should look into the sacred recesses of his private life. Only one letter to Mrs. Washington apparently has survived. It is simple and full of affection, as one would expect, and tells, as well as many volumes could, of the happy relations between husband and wife. Washington had many love affairs in his youth, but he proved in the end a constant lover. His wife was a high-bred, intelligent woman, simple and dignified in her manners, efficient in all

over now.

case.

ways to be the helpmate of her husband in the high places to which he was called. No shadow ever rested on their married life, and when the end came Mrs. Washington only said, “All is

I shall soon follow him." She could not conceive of life without the presence of the unchanging love and noble character which had been by her side so long.

Children were denied to Washington, but although this was a disappointment it did not chill him nor narrow his sympathies, as is so often the

He took to his heart his wife's children as if they were his own. He watched over them and cared for them, and their deaths caused him the deepest sorrow. He afterwards adopted his wife's two grandchildren, and watched over them, too, in the same way. In the midst of all the cares of the presidency, Washington found time always to write to George Custis, a boy at school or at college; while Nellie Custis was as dear to him as his own daughter, and her marriage a source of the most affectionate interest. Indeed, it is evident from various little anecdotes that he was much less strict with these children than was Mrs. Washington, and much more disposed to condone faults. Certain it is that they loved him tenderly, and in a way that only long years of loving-kindness could have made possible.

He showed the same feeling to all his own kindred. His mother was ever the object of the most loyal affection, and even at the head of the armies

VOL. II.

« ZurückWeiter »