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pocket handkerchiefs served the purposes of tablecloths, and that no apologies were made for them. I shall therefore distinguish this ball by the style and title of the bread-and-butter ball.” The wit is not brilliant, but there was a good hearty laugh in the young man who jots down this little memorandum in his diary.
The years after the French war were happy years, free from care and full of simple pleasures. Then came the Revolution, bringing with it a burden such as has seldom been laid upon any man, and the seriousness bred by earlier experiences came back with tenfold force. The popular saying was that Washington never smiled during the war, and, roughly speaking, this was quite true. In all those years of danger and trial, inasmuch as he was a man big of heart and brain, he had the gravity and the sadness born of responsibility, and the suffering sure to come to an unselfish mind. It was at this time that he began to be most closely observed of men, and hence came the idea that he never laughed, and therefore was a being devoid of humor, the most sympathetic of gifts. But as a matter of fact, the old sense of fun never left him. It would come to his aid at the most serious moments, just as an endless flow of stories brought relief to Lincoln and carried him round many jagged corners. With Washington it was hearty, laughing mirth at some ludicrous incident. Putnam riding into Cambridge with an old woman clinging behind him ; Greene searching for his wig
while it was on his head ; a young braggart flung over the head of an unbroken colt; or a good, rollicking story from Colonel Scammel or Major Fairlie, — all these would delight Washington, and send him off into peals of inextinguishable laughter. It was ever the old, hearty love of fun born of animal spirits, which never left him, and which would always break out on sufficient provocation. Mr. Parton would have us believe that this was all, and that the commonplace hero whom he describes never rose above the level of the humor conveyed by grinning through a horse - collar. Even admitting the truth of this, a real love of honest fun and of a hearty laugh is a kindly quality that all men like.
But was this all? Is it quite true that Washington had only a love of boisterous fun, and nothing else? It is worth looking a little deeper than the current stories of the camp to find out, and yet one of these very camp-stories raises at once a strong suspicion that Mr. Parton's conclusion in this regard, like so many conclusions about Washington, is unfounded. When General Lee took the oath of allegiance to the United States, he remarked, in making abjuration of his former allegiance, that he was perfectly ready to abjure the king, but could not bring himself to abjure the Prince of Wales, at which bit of irony Washington was greatly amused. The wit of the remark is a little cold to-day, but at the moment, accompanying as it did a solemn act of abjuration, it was
keen enough. Washington himself, moreover, was perfectly capable of good-natured banter. Colonel Humphreys challenged him one day to jump over a hedge. Washington, always ready to accept a challenge where riding was concerned, told the Colonel to go on. Humphreys put his horse at the hedge, cleared it, and landed in a quagmire on the other side up to his horse's girths; whereupon Washington rode up, stopped, and looking blandly at his struggling friend, remarked, " Ah, Colonel, you are too deep for me. “ Take care,” he wrote to young Custis, when he sent him money for his college gown,“ not to buy without advice; otherwise
you may be more distinguished by your folly than your dress.”
We find in his letters here and there a goodnatured raillery and jesting, which show a sense of humor that goes beyond the limits of mere fun and horse-play. Here is a letter he wrote toward the close of the war, asking some ladies to dine with him in his quarters at West Point:
“WEST POINT, August 16, 1779. “ DEAR DOCTOR: I have asked Mrs. Cochran and Mrs. Livingston to dine with me to-morrow; but ought I not to apprise you of their fare? As I hate deception, even where imagination is concerned, I will
“It is needless to premise that my table is large enough to hold the ladies : of this they had ocular demonstration yesterday. To say how it is usu
ally covered is rather more essential, and this shall be the purport of my letter.
“Since my arrival at this happy spot, we have had a ham, sometimes a shoulder of bacon, to grace the head of the table. A piece of roast beef adorns the foot, and a small dish of green beans — almost imperceptible decorates the centre. When the cook has a mind to cut a figure, and this I
presume he will attempt to-morrow, we have two beefsteak pies, or dishes of crabs, in addition, one on each side of the centre dish, dividing the space, and reducing the distance between dish and dish to about six feet, which without them would be nearly twelve feet apart.' Of late he has had the surprising luck to discover that apples will make pies; and it is a question if, amidst the violence of his efforts, we do not get one of apples instead of having both of beef.
“If the ladies can put up with such entertainment, and submit to partake of it on plates once tin, but now iron, not become so by the labor of hard scouring, I shall be happy to see them."
We may be sure that the ladies found their dinner a pleasant one, and that the writer of the note was neither a stiff nor unsocial host. A much more charming letter is one to Nellie Custis, on the occasion of her first ball. It is too long for quotation, but it is a model of affectionate wisdom tinged with a gentle humor, and designed to guide a young girl just beginning the world of society.
Here, however, is another extract from a letter to Madame de Lafayette, of rather more serious purport, but in the same strain, and full of a simple and, as we should call it, an old-fashioned grace. He was replying to an invitation to visit France, which he felt obliged to decline. After giving his reasons, he said : “This, my dear Marchioness (indulge the freedom), is not the case with you. You have youth (and, if you should incline to leave your children, you can leave them with all the advantages of education), and must have a curiosity to see the country, young, rude, and uncultivated as it is, for the liberties of which your husband has fought, bled, and acquired much glory, where everybody admires, everybody loves him. Come, then, let me entreat you, and call my cottage your home; for your own doors do not open
with more readiness than mine would. You will see the plain manner in which we live, and meet with rustic civility; and you shall taste the simplicity of rural life. It will diversify the scene, and may give you a higher relish for the gayeties of the court when you return to Versailles.”
There is also apparent in many of his letters a vein of worldly wisdom, shrewd but kindly, too gentle to be called cynical, and yet touched with the humor which reads and appreciates the foibles of humanity. Of an officer who grumbled at disappointments during the war he wrote: “General McIntosh is only experiencing upon a small scale what I have had an ample share of upon a large one;