Abbildungen der Seite

by shallow minds. He simply valued them rightly, and enjoyed the good things of this world. He had the best possible taste and the keenest sense of what was appropriate, and it was this good taste and sense of fitness which saved him from blundering in trifles, as much as his ability and his sense of humor preserved him from error in the conduct of great affairs.

The value of all this to the country he served cannot be too often reiterated, for ridicule was a real danger to the Revolutionary cause when it started. The raw levies, headed by volunteer officers from the shop, the plough, the work-shop, or the trading vessel, despite their patriotism and the nobility of their cause, could easily have been made subjects of derision, a perilous enemy to all new undertakings. Men prefer to be shot at, if they are taken seriously, rather than to be laughed at and made objects of contempt. The same principle holds true of a revolution seeking the sympathy of a hostile world. When Washington drew his sword beneath the Cambridge elm and put himself at the head of the American army, effective ridicule became impossible, for the dignity of the cause was seen in that of its leader. The British generals soon found that they not only had a dangerous enemy to encounter, but that they were dealing with a man whose pride in his country and whose own sense of self-respect reduced any assumption of personal superiority on their part to speedy contempt. In the same way he brought

dignity to the new government of the Constitution when he was placed at its head. The confed eration had excited the just contempt of the world, and Washington as President, by the force of his own character and reputation, gave the United States at once the respect not only of the American people, but of those of Europe as well. Men felt instinctively that no government over which he presided could ever fall into feebleness or disrepute.

In addition to the effect on the popular mind of his character and services was that of his personal presence. If contemporary testimony can be believed, few men have ever lived who had the power to impress those who looked upon them so profoundly as Washington. He was richly endowed by nature in all physical attributes. Over six feet high, powerfully built, and of uncommon muscular strength, he had the force that always comes from great physical power. He had a fine head, a strong face, with blue eyes set wide apart in deep orbits, and beneath, a square jaw and firm-set mouth which told of a relentless will. Houdon the sculptor, no bad judge, said he had no conception of the majesty and grandeur of Washington's form and features until he studied him as a subject for a statue. Pages might be filled with extracts from the descriptions of Washington given by French officers, by all sorts of strangers, and by his own countrymen, but they all repeat the same story. Every one who met him told of the commanding presence, the noble person, the ineffable dignity, and

No man

the calm, simple, and stately manners. ever left Washington's presence without a feeling of reverence and respect amounting almost to awe.

I will quote only a single one of the many descriptions of Washington, and I select it because, although it is the least favorable of the many I have seen, and is written in homely phrase, it displays the most evident and entire sincerity. The extract is from a letter written by David Ackerson of Alexandria, Va., in 1811, in answer to an inquiry by his son. Mr. Ackerson commanded a company in the Revolutionary war.

“ Washington was not,” he wrote, “what ladies would call a pretty man, but in military costume a heroic figure, such as would impress the memory ever afterward.”

The writer had a good view of Washington three days before the crossing of the Delaware.

“Washington,” he says, “had a large thick nose, and it was very red that day, giving me the impression that he was not so moderate in the use of liquors as he was supposed to be. I found afterward that this was a peculiarity. His nose was apt to turn scarlet in a cold wind. He was standing near a small camp-fire, evidently lost in thought and making no effort to keep warm. He seemed six feet and a half in height, was as erect as an Indian, and did not for a moment relax from a military attitude. Washington's exact height was six feet two inches in his boots. He was then a little lame from striking his knee against a tree.


His eye was so gray that it looked almost white, and he had a troubled look on bis colorless face. He had a piece of woollen tied around his throat and was quite hoarse. Perhaps the throat trouble from which he finally died had its origin about then. Washington's boots were enormous. They were number 13. His ordinary walking-shoes were number 11. His hands were large in proportion, and he could not buy a glove to fit him and had to have his gloves made to order. His mouth was his strong feature, the lips being always tightly compressed. That day they were compressed so tightly as to be painful to look at. At that time he weighed two hundred pounds, and there was no surplus flesh about him. He was tremendously muscled, and the fame of his great strength was everywhere. His large tent when wrapped up with the poles was so heavy that it required two men to place it in the camp-wagon. Washington would lift it with one hand and throw it in the wagon as easily as if it were a pair of saddle-bags. He could hold a musket with one hand and shoot with precision as easily as other men did with a horsepistol. His lungs were his weak point, and his voice was never strong. He was at that time in the prime of life. His hair was a chestnut brown, his cheeks were prominent, and his head was not large in contrast to every other part of his body, which seemed large and bony at all points. His finger-joints and wrists were so large as to be genuine curiosities. As to his habits at that period I

found out much that might be interesting. He was an enormous eater, but was content with bread and meat, if he had plenty of it. But hunger seemed to put him in a rage. It was his custom to take a drink of rum or whiskey on awakening in the morning. Of course all this was changed when he grew

old. I saw him at Alexandria a year before he died. His hair was very gray, and his form was slightly bent. His chest was very thin. He had false teeth, which did not fit and pushed his under lip outward.” 1

This description is certainly not a flattering one, and all other accounts as well as the best portraits prove that Washington was a much handsomer man than this letter would indicate. Yet the writer, despite his freedom from all illusions and his readiness to state frankly all defects, was profoundly impressed by Washington's appearance as he watched him meditating by the camp-fire at the crisis of the country's fate, and herein lies the principal interest of his description.

This personal impressiveness, however, affected every one upon all occasions.

Mr. Rush, for instance, saw Washington go on one occasion to open Congress. He drove to the hall in a handsome carriage of his own, with his servants dressed in white liveries. When he had

1 This letter, recently printed, is in the collection of Dr. Toner at Washington. It contains some obvious errors, as in regard to the color of the eyes, but it is nevertheless very interesting and valuable.

« ZurückWeiter »