Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

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 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 over now. 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 case. 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; and 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 he would turn aside to visit her with the same respect and devotion as when he was a mere boy. He was ever mindful of his brothers and sisters, and their fortunes. None of them were ever forgotten, and he was especially kind to the children of those who had been least fortunate and most needed his help. He educated and counselled his favorite nephew Bushrod, and did the same for the sons of George Steptoe Washington. Nothing is pleasanter than to read in the midst of official papers the long letters in which he gave these boys great store of wise and kindly advice, guided their education, strove to form their characters, and traced for them the honorable careers which he wished them to pursue. Very few men who had risen to the heights reached by Washington would

have found time, in the midst of engrossing cares, to write such letters as he wrote to friends and kinsmen. A kind heart prompted them, but they were much more than merely kind, for when Washington undertook to do anything he did it thoroughly. Whether it was a treaty with England, the education of a boy, or the service of a friend, he gave it his best thought and his utmost care. Where those he loved were concerned, he was never too busy to think of them, and he spared no pains to help them; censuring faults where they existed, and giving praise in generous manner where praise was due. To any one who carefully studies his life, it is evident that Washington was as warm-hearted and affectionate as he was great in character and ability, and that he was so without noise or pretence. This really only amounts to saying that he was a well-balanced man, and yet even this cannot be said without admitting still another quality. The sanest of all senses is the sense of humor, and the nature in which it is wholly lacking cannot be thoroughly rounded and complete. Humor is not the most lofty of qualities, but it is one of the most essential, and it is generally assumed that Washington was very deficient in humor. This idea has arisen from a hasty consideration of the subject, and from a superficial conception of humor itself. To utter jests, or to say or write witty, brilliant, or amusing things, no doubt imply the possession of humor, but they are not the whole of it, for a man may have a fine sense of humor, and yet never make a joke nor utter a sarcasm. The distinction between humor and the want of it lies much deeper than word of mouth. The man without a sense of humor is sure to make a certain number of solemn blunders. They may be in matters of importance or in the merest trifles, but they are blunders none the less, and come from insensibility to the incongruous, the ludicrous, or the impossible. It may be said that common sense suffices to avoid these pitfalls, but this is really begging the question, inasmuch as common sense of a high order amounting almost to genius cannot exist without humor, for humor is the root and foundation of common sense. Let us apply this test to Washington and we shall find that there never was a man who made fewer mistakes than he, down even to matters of the smallest detail. Search his career from beginning to end, and there is not a solemn blunder to be found in it. He was attacked and assailed both as General and President, but he was never laughed at. In other words, he had a sense of humor which made it impossible for him to blunder solemnly, or to do or Bay anything which ridicule could touch. It is not, however, necessary to leave his possession of a sense of humor to inference from his career and his freedom from blunders. That he had humor strong, sane, and abundant is susceptible of much more direct proof; and the idea that he was lacking in this respect arose undoubtedly from the gravity of demeanor which was characteristic of the man. He had assumed the heavy responsibilities of an important military command in the French war at an age when most men are just leaving college and beginning to study a profession. This of itself sobered him, and added to his natural quiet and reserve, so that in estimating him in after-life this early and severe discipline at a most impressionable age ought never to be overlooked, for it had a very marked effect upon his character.

He was not perhaps exactly joyous or gay of nature, but he had a contented and happy disposition, and, like all robust, well-balanced men, he possessed strong animal spirits and a keen sense of enjoyment. He loved a wild, open-air life, and was devoted to rough out-door sports. He liked to wrestle and run, to shoot, ride or dance, and to engage in all trials of skill and strength, for which his great muscular development suited him admirably. With such tastes, it followed almost as a matter of course that he loved laughter and fun. Good, hearty country fun, a ludicrous mishap, a practical joke, all merriment of a simple, honest kind, were highly congenial to him, especially in his youth and early manhood. Here is the way, for example, in which he described in his diary a ball he attended in 1760: “In a convenient room, detached for the purpose, abounded great plenty of bread and butter, some biscuits, with tea and coffee which the drinkers of could not distinguish from hot water sweetened. Be it remembered that

« ZurückWeiter »