Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

that Washington, dressed in black velvet, with a military hat and black cockade, was the central figure in the scene, and when he left the chamber the crowds followed him, cheering and shouting to the door of his own house.

There must have been something very impressive about a man who, with no pretensions to the art of the orator and with no touch of the charlatan, could so move and affect vast bodies of men by his presence alone. But the people, with the keen eye of affection, looked beyond the mere outward nobility of form. They saw the soldier who had given them victory, the great statesman who had led them out of confusion and faction to order and good government. Party newspapers might rave, but the instinct of the people was never at fault. They loved, trusted and wellnigh worshiped Washington living, and they have honored and reverenced him with an unchanging fidelity since his death, nearly a century ago.

But little more remains to be said. Washington had his faults, for he was human; but they are not easy to point out, so perfect was his mastery of himself. He was intensely reserved and very silent, and these are the qualities which gave him the reputation in history of being distant and unsympathetic. In truth, he had not only warm affections and a generous heart, but there was a strong vein of sentiment in his composition. At the same time he was in no wise romantic, and the ruling element in his make-up was prose, good

solid prose, and not poetry. He did not have the poetical and imaginative quality so strongly developed in Lincoln. Yet he was not devoid of imagination, although it was here that he was lacking, if anywhere. He saw facts, knew them, mastered and used them, and never gave much play to fancy; but as his business in life was with men and facts, this deficiency, if it was one, was of little moment. He was also a man of the strongest passions in every way, but he dominated them; they never ruled him. Vigorous animal passions were inevitable, of course, in a man of such a physical make-up as his. How far he gave way to them in his youth no one knows, bụt the scandals which many persons now desire to have printed, ostensibly for the sake of truth, are, so far as I have been able to learn, with one or two dubious exceptions, of entirely modern parentage. I have run many of them to earth; nearly all are destitute of contemporary authority, and they may be relegated to the dust-heaps.? If he gave way to these propensities in his youth, the only conclusion that I have been able to come to is that he mastered them when he reached man's estate.

1 The charge in the pamphlet purporting to give an account of the trial of the New York conspirators in 1776 is of such doubtful origin and character that it hardly merits consideration, and the only other allusion is in the well-known intercepted letter of Harrison, which is of doubtful authenticity in certain passages, open to suspicion from having been intercepted and published by the enemy and quite likely to have been at best merely a coarse jest of a character very common at that period and entirely in keeping with the notorious habits of life and speech peculiar to the writer. (See Life of John Adams, iii. 35.)

He had, too, a fierce temper, and although he gradually subdued it, he would sometimes lose control of himself and burst out into a tempest of rage. When he did so he would use strong and even violent language, as he did at Kip's Landing and at Monmouth. Well-intentioned persons in their desire to make him a faultless being have argued at great length that Washington never swore, and but for their argument the matter would never have attracted much attention. He was anything but a profane man, but the evidence is beyond question that if deeply angered he would use a hearty English oath; and not seldom the action accompanied the word, as when he rode among the fleeing soldiers at Kip's Landing, striking them with his sword, and almost beside himself at their cowardice. Judge Marshall used to tell also of an occasion when Washington sent out an officer to cross a river and bring back some information about the enemy, on which the action of the morrow would depend. The officer was gone some time, came back, and found the general impatiently pacing his tent. On being asked what he had learned, he replied that the night was dark and stormy, the river full of ice, and that he had not been able to cross. Washington glared at him a moment, seized a large leaden inkstand from the table, hurled it at the offender's head, and said with a fierce oath, “Be off, and send me a man!The officer went, crossed the river, and brought back the information.

But although he would

to these tremendous bursts of anger, Washington was never unjust. As he said to one officer, “I never judge the propriety of actions by after events;” and in that sound philosophy is found the secret not only of much of his own success, but of the devotion of his officers and men. He might be angry with them, but he was never unfair. In truth, he was too generous to be unjust or even over-severe to any one, and there is not a line in all his writings which even suggests that he ever envied any man, ..So long as the work in hand was done, he cared not who had the glory, and he was perfectly magnanimous and perfectly at ease about his own reputation. He never showed .the slightest' anxiety, to write his own memoirs, and he was not in the least alarmed when it proposed to publish the memoirs of other people, like General Charles Lee, which would probably reflect upon him. . He had the same confidence in the judgment of posterity that he had in the future beyond the grave. He regarded death with entire calmness and even indifference not only when it came to him, but when in previous years it had threatened him. He loved life and tasted of it deeply, but the courage which never forsook him made him ready to face the inevitable at any moment with an unruffled spirit. In this he was helped by his religious faith, which was as simple as it was profound. He had been brought up in the Protestant

was

Episcopal Church, and to that church he always adhered; for its splendid liturgy and stately forms appealed to him and satisfied him. He loved it too as the church of his home and his childhood. Yet he was as far as possible from being sectarian, and there is not a word of his which shows anything but the most entire liberality and toleration. He made no parade of his religion, for in this as in other things he was perfectly simple and sincere. He was tortured by no doubts or questionings, but believed always in an overruling Providence and in a merciful God, to whom he knelt and prayed in the day of darkness or in the hour of triumph with a supreme and childlike confidence.

As I bring these volumes to a close I am oonscious that they speak, so far as they speak at all, in a tone of almost unbroken praise of the great man they attempt to portray. If this be so, it is because I could come to no other conelusions. For many years I have studied minutely the career of Washington, and with every step the greatness of the man has grown upon me, for analysis has failed to discover the act of his life which, under the conditions of the time, I could unhesitatingly pronounce to have been an error. Such has been my experience, and although my deductions may be wrong, they at least have been carefully and slowly made. I see in Washington a great soldier who fought a trying war to a successful end impossible without him; a great statesman who did more than

« ZurückWeiter »