A History of the Life and Death, Virtues and Exploits of General George Washington

CHAPTER I

Oh ! as along the stream of time thy name
Expanded flies, and gathers all its fame;
May then these lines to future days descend,
And prove thy COUNTRY'S good shine only end !

" AH, gentlemen!"--exclaimed Bonaparte--'twas just as he was about to embark for Egypt--some young Americans happening at Toulon, and anxious to see the mighty Corsican, had obtained the honour of an introduction to him. Scarcely were past the customary salutations, when he eagerly asked, "how fares your countryman, the great WASHINGTON? " "He was very well," replied the youths, brightening at the thought, that they were the countrymen of Washington; " he was very well, general, when we left America."--"Ah, gentlemen! " rejoined he, " Washington can never be otherwise than well.--The measure of his fame is full.--Posterity will talk of him with reverence as the founder of a great empire, when my name shall be lost in the vortex of Revolutions! "

Who, then, that has a spark of virtuous curiosity, but must wish to know the history of him whose name could thus awaken the sigh even of Bonaparte? But is not his history already known ? Have not a thousand orators spread his fame abroad, bright as his own Potomac, when he reflects the morning sun, and flames like a sea of liquid gold, the wonder and delight of all the neighboring shores ? Yes, they have indeed spread his fame abroad.... his fame as Generalissimo of the armies, and first President of the councils of his nation. But this is not half his fame.... True, he has been seen in greatness: but it is only the greatness of public character, which is no evidence of true greatness; for a public character is often an artificial one. At the head of an army or nation, where gold and glory are at stake, and where a man feels himself the burning focus of unnumbered eyes; he must be a paltry fellow, indeed, who does not play his part pretty handsomely.... even the common passions of pride, avarice, or ambition, will put him up to his mettle, and call forth his best and bravest doings. But let this heat and blaze of public situation and incitement be withdrawn; let him be thrust back into the shade of private life; and you shall see how soon, like a forced plant robbed of its hot-bed, he will drop his false foliage and fruit, and stand forth confessed in native stickweed sterility and worthlessness.--There was Benedict Arnold-while strutting a BRIGADIER GENERAL on the public stage, he could play you the great man, on a handsome scale--he out-marched Hannibal, and out-fought Burgoyne--he chased the British like curlews, or cooped them up like chickens! and yet in the private walks of life, in Philadelphia, he could swindle rum from the commissary's stores, and, with the aid of loose women, retail it by the gill!!--And there was the great duke of Marlborough too his public character, a thunderbolt in war! Britain's boast, and the terror of the French! But his private character, what? Why a swindler to whom Arnold's self could hold a candle; a perfect nondescript of baseness; a shaver of farthings from the poor sixpenny pay of his own brave soldiers!!

It is not, then, in the glare of public, but in the shade of private life, that we are to look for the man. Private life, is always real life. Behind the curtain, where the eyes of the million are not upon him, and where a man can have no motive but inclination, no incitement but honest nature, there he will always be sure to act himself; consequently, if he act greatly, he must be great indeed. Hence it has been justly said, that, " our private deeds, if noble, are noblest of our lives."

Of these private deeds of Washington very little has been said. In most of the elegant orations pronounced to his praise, you see nothing of Washington below the clouds--nothing of Washington the dutiful son--the affectionate brother--the cheerful school-boy--the diligent surveyor--the neat draftsman--the laborious farmer--the widow's husband--the orphan's father--the poor man's friend. No! this is not the Washington you see; 'tis only Washington, the HERO,and the Demigod--Washington the sun-beam in council, or the storm in war.

And in all the ensigns of character amidst which he is generally drawn, you see none that represent him what he really was, "the jupiter Conservator,"the friend and benefactor of men. Where's his bright ploughshare that he loved--or his wheat-crowned fields, waving in yellow ridges before the wanton breeze--or his hills whitened over with flocks-or his clover covered pastures spread with innumerous herds--or his neat-clad servants with songs rolling the heavy harvest before them? Such were the scenes of peace, plenty, and happiness, in which Washington delighted. But his eulogists have denied him these, the only scenes which belong to man the GREAT; and have trick'd him up in the vile drapery of man the little. See! there he stands! with the port of Mars "the destroyer," dark frowning over the fields of war-- the lightning of Potter's blade is by his side--the deep-mouthed cannon is before him, disgorging its flesh- mangling balls--his war-horse pants with impatience to bear him, a speedy thunderbolt, against the pale and bleeding ranks of Britain!--These are the drawings usually given of Washington; drawings masterly no doubt, and perhaps justly descriptive of him in some scenes of his life. But scenes they were, which I am sure his soul abhorred, and in which, at any rate, you see nothing of his private virtues. These old fashioned commodities are generally thrown into the back ground of the picture; and treated, as the grandees at the London and Paris routs, treat their good old aunts and grandmothers, huddling them together into the back rooms, there to wheeze and cough by themselves, and not depress the fine laudanum-raised spirits of the young sparklers. And yet it was to those old fashioned virtues that our hero owed every thing. For they in fact were the food of the great actions of him, whom men call Washington. It was they that enabled him, first to triumph over himself; then over the British; and uniformly to set such bright examples of human perfectibility and true greatness, that, compared therewith, the history of his capturing Cornwallis and Tarleton, with their buccaneering legions, sounds almost as small as the story of General Putnam's catching his wolf and her lamb-killing whelps.

Since then it is the private virtues that lay them foundation of all human excellence--since it was these that exalted Washington to be "Columbia's first and greatest Son," be it our first care to present these, in all their lustre, before the admiring eyes of our children. To them his private character is every thing; his public, hardly any thing. For how glorious soever it may have been in Washington to have undertaken the emancipation of his country; to have stemmed the long tide of adversity; to have baffled every effort of a wealthy and warlike nation; to have obtained for his countrymen the completest victory, and for himself the most unbounded power, and then to have returned that power, accompanied with all the weight of his own great character and advice to establish a government that should immortalize the blessings of liberty--however glorious, I say, all this may have been to himself, or instructive to future generals and presidents, yet does it but little concern our children. For who among us can hope that his son shall ever be called, like Washington, to direct the storm of war, or to ravish the ears of deeply listening Senates ? To be constantly placing him then, before our children, in this high character, what is it but like springing in the clouds a golden Pheonix, which no mortal calibre can hope to reach? Or like setting pictures of the Mammoth before the mice, whom "not all the manna of Heaven" can ever raise to equality? Oh no! give us his private virtues! In these, every youth is interested, because in these every youth may become a Washington--Washington in piety and patriotism,--in industry and honour--and consequently a Washington, in what alone deserves the name, SELF-ESTEEM and UNIVERSAL RESPECT.


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