Little Journeys To the Homes of the Great, Volume 3 (of 14)
LITTLE JOURNEYS TO THE HOMES OF AMERICAN STATESMEN
THE LITTLE JOURNEYS CAMP GEORGE WASHINGTON BENJAMIN FRANKLIN THOMAS JEFFERSON SAMUEL ADAMS JOHN HANCOCK JOHN QUINCY ADAMS ALEXANDER HAMILTON DANIEL WEBSTER HENRY CLAY JOHN JAY WILLIAM H. SEWARD ABRAHAM LINCOLN
THE LITTLE JOURNEYS CAMP
A little more patience, a little more charity for all, a little more devotion, a little more love; with less bowing down to the past, and a silent ignoring of pretended authority; a brave looking forward to the future with more faith in our fellows, and the race will be ripe for a great burst of light and life. —Elbert Hubbard
It was not built with the idea of ever becoming a place in history: simply a boys' cabin in the woods.
Fibe, Rich, Pie and Butch were the bunch that built it.
Fibe was short for Fiber, and we gave him that name because his real name was Wood. Rich got his name from being a mudsock. Pie got his because he was a regular pieface. And they called me Butch for no reason at all except that perhaps my great-great-grandfather was a butcher.
We were a fine gang of youngsters, all about thirteen years, wise in boys' deviltry. What we didn't know about killing cats, breaking window-panes in barns, stealing coal from freight-cars, and borrowing eggs from neighboring hencoops without consent of the hens, wasn't worth the knowing.
There used to be another boy in the gang, Skinny. One day when we ran away to the swimming-hole after school, this other little fellow didn't come back with us.
You see, there was the little-kids' swimmin'-hole and the big-kids' swimmin'-hole. The latter was over our heads. Well, Skinny swung out on the rope hanging from the cottonwood-tree on the bank of the big-kids' hole. Somehow he lost his head and fell in.
None of us could swim, and he was too far out to reach. There was nothing to help him with, so we just had to watch him struggle till he had gone down three times. And there where we last saw him a lot of bubbles came up. The inquiry before the Justice of Peace with our fathers, which followed, put fright in our bones, and the sight of the old creek was a nightmare for months to come. After that we decided to keep to the hills and woods. This necessitated a hut. But we had no lumber with which to build it.
However, there were three houses going up in town—and surely they could spare a few boards. So after dark we got out old Juliet and the spring-wagon and made several visits to the new houses. The result was that in about a week we had enough lumber to frame the cabin.
Our site was about three miles from town, high up on the Adams Farm. After many evening trips with the old mare and much figuring we had the thing done, all but the windows, door, and shingles on the roof. Well, I knew where there was an old door and two window-sash taken off our chicken-house to let in the air during Summer. And one rainy night three bunches of shingles found their way from Perkins' lumber-yard to the foot of the hill on the Adams Farm.
In another five days the place was finished. It was ten by sixteen, and had four bunks, two windows, a paneled front door, a back entrance and a porch—altogether a rather pretentious camp for a gang of young ruffians.
But it was a labor of love, and we certainly had worked mighty hard. Our love was given particularly to the three house-builders and to Perkins, down in town.
Of course we had to have a stove.
This we got from Bowen's hardware-store for two dollars and forty cents. He wanted four dollars, and we argued for some time. The stove was a secondhand one and good only for scrap-iron anyway. Scrap was worth fifty cents a hundred, and this stove weighed only two hundred fifty, so we convinced the man our offer was big. At that we made him throw in a frying-pan.
For dishes and cutlery, I believe each of our mothers' pantries contributed. Then a stock of grub was confiscated. The storeroom in the Phalansterie furnished Heinz beans, chutney, and a few others of the fifty-seven. John had run an ad in "The Philistine" for Heinz and taken good stuff in exchange.
For four years after that, this old camp was kept stocked with eats all the time. We would hike out Friday after school and stay till Sunday night. At Christmas-time we would spend the week's vacation there.
Many times had I tried to get my Father to go out and stay overnight. But he wouldn't go. One time, though, I did not come home when I had promised, so Father rode out on Garnett to find me. Instead of my coming back with him he just unsaddled and turned Garnett loose in the woods and stayed overnight.
We gave him the big bunk with two red quilts, and he stuck it out. Next morning we had fried apples, ham and coffee for breakfast.
What there was about it I did not understand, but John was a very frequent visitor after that.
You know we called Father, John, because he said that wasn't his name.
He used to come up in the evening and would bring the Red One or Sammy the Artist or Saint Jerome the Sculptor. Once he brought Michael Monahan and John Sayles the Universalist preacher.
Mike didn't like it.
The field-mice running on the rafters overhead at night chilled his blood. He called them terrible beasts.
From then on we youngsters were gradually deprived of our freedom at camp. These visitors were too numerous for us and we had to seek other fields of adventure.
John got to going out to the camp to get away from visitors at the Shop. He found the place quiet and comforting. The woods gave him freedom to think and write. It so developed that he would spend about four days a month there, writing the "Little Journey" for the next month. How many of his masterpieces were written at the Camp I can not say, but for several years it was his Retreat and he used it constantly.
He reminded us boys several times when we kicked, that he had a good claim on it—for didn't he furnish the door and the window-frames?
I never suspected he would recognize them.
He left as fair a reputation as ever belonged to a human character.... Midst all the sorrowings that are mingled on this melancholy occasion I venture to assert that none could have felt his death with more regret than I, because no one had higher opinions of his worth.... There is this consolation, though, to be drawn, that while living no man could be more esteemed, and since dead none is more lamented. —Washington, on the Death of Tilghman
Dean Stanley has said that all the gods of ancient mythology were once men, and he traces for us the evolution of a man into a hero, the hero into a demigod, and the demigod into a divinity. By a slow process, the natural man is divested of all our common faults and frailties; he is clothed with superhuman attributes and declared a being separate and apart, and is lost to us in the clouds.
When Greenough carved that statue of Washington that sits facing the Capitol, he unwittingly showed how a man may be transformed into a Jove.
But the world has reached a point when to be human is no longer a cause for apology; we recognize that the human, in degree, comprehends the divine.
Jove inspires fear, but to Washington we pay the tribute of affection. Beings hopelessly separated from us are not ours: a god we can not love, a man we may. We know Washington as well as it is possible to know any man. We know him better, far better, than the people who lived in the very household with him. We have his diary showing "how and where I spent my time"; we have his journal, his account-books (and no man was ever a more painstaking accountant); we have hundreds of his letters, and his own copies and first drafts of hundreds of others, the originals of which have been lost or destroyed.
From these, with contemporary history, we are able to make up a close estimate of the man; and we find him human—splendidly human. By his books of accounts we find that he was often imposed upon, that he loaned thousands of dollars to people who had no expectation of paying; and in his last will, written with his own hand, we find him canceling these debts, and making bequests to scores of relatives; giving freedom to his slaves, and acknowledging his obligation to servants and various other obscure persons. He was a man in very sooth. He was a man in that he had in him the appetites, the ambitions, the desires of a man. Stewart, the artist, has said, "All of his features were indications of the strongest and most ungovernable passions, and had he been born in the forest, he would have been the fiercest man among savage tribes."
But over the sleeping volcano of his temper he kept watch and ward, until his habit became one of gentleness, generosity, and shining, simple truth; and, behind all, we behold his unswerving purpose and steadfast strength.
And so the object of this sketch will be, not to show the superhuman Washington, the Washington set apart, but to give a glimpse of the man Washington who aspired, feared, hoped, loved and bravely died.
* * * * *
The first biographer of George Washington was the Reverend Mason L. Weems. If you have a copy of Weems' "Life of Washington," you had better wrap it in chamois and place it away for your heirs, for some time it will command a price. Fifty editions of Weems' book were printed, and in its day no other volume approached it in point of popularity. In American literature, Weems stood first. To Weems are we indebted for the hatchet tale, the story of the colt that was broken and killed in the process, and all those other fine romances of Washington's youth. Weems' literary style reveals the very acme of that vicious quality of untruth to be found in the old-time Sunday-school books. Weems mustered all the "Little Willie" stories he could find, and attached to them Washington's name, claiming to write for "the Betterment of the Young," as if in dealing with the young we should carefully conceal the truth. Possibly Washington could not tell a lie, but Weems was not thus handicapped.
Under a mass of silly moralizing, he nearly buried the real Washington, giving us instead a priggish, punk youth, and a Madame Tussaud, full-dress general, with a wax-works manner and a wooden dignity.
Happily, we have now come to a time when such authors as Mason L. Weems and John S.C. Abbott are no longer accepted as final authorities. We do not discard them, but, like Samuel Pepys, they are retained that they may contribute to the gaiety of nations.
Various violent efforts have been made in days agone to show that Washington was of "a noble line"—as if the natural nobility of the man needed a reason—forgetful that we are all sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be. But Burke's "Peerage" lends no light, and the careful, unprejudiced, patient search of recent years finds only the blood of the common people.
Washington himself said that in his opinion the history of his ancestors "was of small moment and a subject to which, I confess, I have paid little attention."
He had a bookplate and he had also a coat of arms on his carriage-door. The Reverend Mr. Weems has described Washington's bookplate thus: "Argent, two bar gules in chief, three mullets of the second. Crest, a raven with wings, indorsed proper, issuing out of a ducal coronet, or."
* * * * *
Mary Ball was the second wife of Augustine Washington. In his will the good man describes this marriage, evidently with a wink, as "my second Venture." And it is sad to remember that he did not live to know that his "Venture" made America his debtor. The success of the union seems pretty good argument in favor of widowers marrying. There were four children in the family, the oldest nearly full grown, when Mary Ball came to take charge of the household. She was twenty-seven, her husband ten years older. They were married March Sixth, Seventeen Hundred Thirty-one, and on February Twenty-second of the following year was born a man child and they named him George.
The Washingtons were plain, hard-working people—land-poor. They lived in a small house that had three rooms downstairs and an attic, where the children slept, and bumped their heads against the rafters if they sat up quickly in bed.
Washington got his sterling qualities from the Ball family, and not from the tribe of Washington. George was endowed by his mother with her own splendid health and with all the sturdy Spartan virtues of her mind. In features and in mental characteristics, he resembled her very closely. There were six children born to her in all, but the five have been nearly lost sight of in the splendid success of the firstborn.
I have used the word "Spartan" advisedly. Upon her children, the mother of Washington lavished no soft sentimentality. A woman who cooked, weaved, spun, washed, made the clothes, and looked after a big family in pioneer times had her work cut out for her. The children of Mary Washington obeyed her, and when told to do a thing never stopped to ask why—and the same fact may be said of the father.
The girls wore linsey-woolsey dresses, and the boys tow suits that consisted of two pieces, which in Winter were further added to by hat and boots. If the weather was very cold, the suits were simply duplicated—a boy wearing two or three pairs of trousers instead of one.
The mother was the first one up in the morning, the last one to go to rest at night. If a youngster kicked off the covers in his sleep and had a coughing spell, she arose and looked after him. Were any sick, she not only ministered to them, but often watched away the long, dragging hours of the night.
And I have noticed that these sturdy mothers in Israel, who so willingly give their lives that others may live, often find vent for overwrought feelings by scolding; and I, for one, cheerfully grant them the privilege. Washington's mother scolded and grumbled to the day of her death. She also sought solace by smoking a pipe. And this reminds me that a noted specialist in neurotics has recently said that if women would use the weed moderately, tired nerves would find repose and nervous prostration would be a luxury unknown. Not being much of a smoker myself, and knowing nothing about the subject, I give the item for what it is worth.
All the sterling, classic virtues of industry, frugality and truth-telling were inculcated by this excellent mother, and her strong commonsense made its indelible impress upon the mind of her son.
Mary Washington always regarded George's judgment with a little suspicion; she never came to think of him as a full-grown man; to her he was only a big boy. Hence, she would chide him and criticize his actions in a way that often made him very uncomfortable. During the Revolutionary War she followed his record closely: when he succeeded she only smiled, said something that sounded like "I told you so," and calmly filled her pipe; when he was repulsed she was never cast down. She foresaw that he would be made President, and thought "he would do as well as anybody."
Once, she complained to him of her house in Fredericksburg; he wrote in answer, gently but plainly, that her habits of life were not such as would be acceptable at Mount Vernon. And to this she replied that she had never expected or intended to go to Mount Vernon, and moreover would not, no matter how much urged—a declination without an invitation that must have caused the son a grim smile. In her nature was a goodly trace of savage stoicism that took a satisfaction in concealing the joy she felt in her son's achievement; for that her life was all bound up in his we have good evidence.
Washington looked after her wants and supplied her with everything she needed, and, as these things often came through third parties, it is pretty certain she did not know the source; at any rate she accepted everything quite as her due, and shows a half-comic ingratitude that is very fine.
When Washington started for New York to be inaugurated President, he stopped to see her. She donned a new white cap and a clean apron in honor of the visit, remarking to a neighbor woman who dropped in that she supposed "these great folks expected something a little extra." It was the last meeting of mother and son. She was eighty-three at that time and "her boy" fifty-five. She died not long after.
Samuel Washington, the brother two years younger than George, has been described as "small, sandy-whiskered, shrewd and glib." Samuel was married five times. Some of the wives he deserted and others deserted him, and two of them died, thus leaving him twice a sad, lorn widower, from which condition he quickly extricated himself. He was always in financial straits and often appealed to his brother George for loans. In Seventeen Hundred Eighty-one we find George Washington writing to his brother John, "In God's name! how has Samuel managed to get himself so enormously in debt?" The remark sounds a little like that of Samuel Johnson, who on hearing that Goldsmith was owing four hundred pounds exclaimed, "Was ever poet so trusted before?"
Washington's ledger shows that he advanced his brother Samuel two thousand dollars, "to be paid back without interest." But Samuel's ship never came in, and in Washington's will we find the debt graciously and gracefully discharged.
Thornton Washington, a son of Samuel, was given a place in the English army at George Washington's request; and two other sons of Samuel were sent to school at his expense. One of the boys once ran away and was followed by his uncle George, who carried a goodly birch with intent to "give him what he deserved"; but after catching the lad the uncle's heart melted, and he took the runaway back into favor. An entry in Washington's journal shows that the children of his brother Samuel cost him fully five thousand dollars.
Harriot, one of the daughters of Samuel, lived in the household at Mount Vernon and evidently was a great cross, for we find Washington pleading as an excuse for her frivolity that "she was not brung up right, she has no disposition, and takes no care of her clothes, which are dabbed about in every corner, and the best are always in use. She costs me enough!"
And this was about as near a complaint as the Father of his Country, and the father of all his poor relations, ever made. In his ledger we find this item: "By Miss Harriot Washington, gave her to buy wedding-clothes, $100.00." It supplied the great man joy to write that line, for it was the last of Harriot. He furnished a fine wedding for her, and all the servants had a holiday, and Harriot and her unknown lover were happy ever afterwards—so far as we know.
From Seventeen Hundred Fifty to Seventeen Hundred Fifty-nine, Washington was a soldier on the frontier, leaving Mount Vernon and all his business in charge of his brother John. Between these two there was a genuine bond of affection. To George this brother was always, "Dear Jack," and when John married, George sends "respectful greetings to your Lady," and afterwards "love to the little ones from their Uncle." And in one of the dark hours of the Revolution, George writes from New Jersey to this brother: "God grant you health and happiness. Nothing in this world would add so to mine as to be near you." John died in Seventeen Hundred Eighty-seven, and the President of the United States writes in simple, undisguised grief of "the death of my beloved brother."
John's eldest son, Bushrod, was Washington's favorite nephew. He took a lively interest in the boy's career, and taking him to Philadelphia placed him in the law-office of Judge James Wilson. He supplied Bushrod with funds, and wrote him many affectionate letters of advice, and several times made him a companion on journeys. The boy proved worthy of it all, and developed into a strong and manly man—quite the best of all Washington's kinsfolk. In later years, we find Washington asking his advice in legal matters and excusing himself for being such a "troublesome, non-paying client." In his will the "Honorable Bushrod Washington" is named as one of the executors, and to him Washington left his library and all his private papers, besides a share in the estate. Such confidence was a fitting good-by from the great and loving heart of a father to a son full worthy of the highest trust.
Of Washington's relations with his brother Charles, we know but little. Charles was a plain, simple man who worked hard and raised a big family. In his will Washington remembers them all, and one of the sons of Charles we know was appointed to a position upon Lafayette's staff on Washington's request.
The only one of Washington's family that resembled him closely was his sister Betty. The contour of her face was almost identical with his, and she was so proud of it that she often wore her hair in a queue and donned his hat and sword for the amusement of visitors. Betty married Fielding Lewis, and two of her sons acted as private secretaries to Washington while he was President. One of these sons—Lawrence Lewis—married Nellie Custis, the adopted daughter of Washington and granddaughter of Mrs. Washington, and the couple, by Washington's will, became part-owners of Mount Vernon. The man who can figure out the exact relationship of Nellie Custis' children to Washington deserves a medal.
We do not know much of Washington's father: if he exerted any special influence on his children we do not know it. He died when George was eleven years old, and the boy then went to live at the "Hunting Creek Place" with his half-brother Lawrence, that he might attend school. Lawrence had served in the English navy under Admiral Vernon, and, in honor of his chief, changed the name of his home and called it Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon then consisted of twenty-five hundred acres, mostly a tangle of forest, with a small house and log stables. The tract had descended to Lawrence from his father, with provision that it should fall to George if Lawrence died without issue. Lawrence married, and when he died, aged thirty-two, he left a daughter, Mildred, who died two years later. Mount Vernon then passed to George Washington, aged twenty-one, but not without a protest from the widow of Lawrence, who evidently was paid not to take the matter into the courts. Washington owned Mount Vernon for forty-six years, just one-half of which time was given to the service of his country. It was the only place he ever called "home," and there he sleeps.
* * * * *
When Washington was fourteen, his schooldays were over. Of his youth we know but little. He was not precocious, although physically he developed early; but there was no reason why the neighbors should keep tab on him and record anecdotes. They had boys of their own just as promising. He was tall and slender, long-armed, with large, bony hands and feet, very strong, a daring horseman, a good wrestler, and, living on the banks of a river, he became, as all healthy boys must, a good swimmer.
His mission among the Indians in his twenty-first year was largely successful through the personal admiration he excited among the savages. In poise, he was equal to their best, and ever being a bit proud, even if not vain, he dressed for the occasion in full Indian regalia, minus only the war-paint. The Indians at once recognized his nobility, and named him "Conotancarius"—Plunderer of Villages—and suggested that he take to wife an Indian maiden, and remain with them as chief.
When he returned home, he wrote to the Indian agent, announcing his safe arrival and sending greetings to the Indians. "Tell them," he says, "how happy it would make Conotancarius to see them, and take them by the hand."
His wish was gratified, for the Indians took him at his word, and fifty of them came to him, saying, "Since you could not come and live with us, we have come to live with you." They camped on the green in front of the residence, and proceeded to inspect every room in the house, tested all the whisky they could find, appropriated eatables, and were only induced to depart after all the bedclothes had been dyed red, and a blanket or a quilt presented to each.
Throughout his life Washington had a very tender spot in his heart for women. At sixteen, he writes with all a youth's solemnity of "a hurt of the heart uncurable." And from that time forward there is ever some "Faire Mayde" to be seen in the shadow. In fact, Washington got along with women much better than with men; with men he was often diffident and awkward, illy concealing his uneasiness behind a forced dignity; but he knew that women admired him, and with them he was at ease. When he made that first Western trip, carrying a message to the French, he turns aside to call on the Indian princess, Aliguippa. In his journal, he says, "presented her a Blanket and a Bottle of Rum, which latter was thought the much best Present of the 2."
In his expense-account we find items like these: "Treating the ladys 2 shillings." "Present for Polly 5 shillings." "My share for Music at the Dance 3 shillings." "Lost at Loo 5 shillings." In fact, like most Episcopalians, Washington danced and played cards. His favorite game seems to have been "Loo"; and he generally played for small stakes, and when playing with "the Ladys" usually lost, whether purposely or because otherwise absorbed, we know not.
In Seventeen Hundred Fifty-six, he made a horseback journey on military business to Boston, stopping a week going and on the way back at New York. He spent the time at the house of a former Virginian, Beverly Robinson, who had married Susannah Philipse, daughter of Frederick Philipse, one of the rich men of Manhattan. In the household was a young woman, Mary Philipse, sister of the hostess. She was older than Washington, educated, and had seen much more of polite life than he. The tall, young Virginian, fresh from the frontier, where he had had horses shot under him, excited the interest of Mary Philipse, and Washington, innocent but ardent, mistook this natural curiosity for a softer sentiment and proposed on the spot. As soon as the lady got her breath he was let down very gently.
Two years afterwards Mary Philipse married Colonel Roger Morris, in the king's service, and cards were duly sent to Mount Vernon. But the whirligig of time equalizes all things, and, in Seventeen Hundred Seventy-six, General Washington, Commander of the Continental Army, occupied the mansion of Colonel Morris, the Colonel and his lady being fugitive Tories. In his diary, Washington records this significant item: "Dined at the house lately Colonel Roger Morris confiscated and the occupation of a common Farmer."
Washington always attributed his defeat at the hands of Mary Philipse to being too precipitate and "not waiting until ye ladye was in ye mood." But two years later we find him being even more hasty and this time with success, which proves that all signs fail in dry weather, and some things are possible as well as others. He was on his way to Williamsburg to consult physicians and stopped at the residence of Mrs. Daniel Parke Custis to make a short call—was pressed to remain to tea, did so, proposed marriage, and was graciously accepted. We have a beautiful steel engraving that immortalizes this visit, showing Washington's horse impatiently waiting at the door.
Mrs. Custis was a widow with two children. She was twenty-six, and the same age as Washington within three months. Her husband had died seven months before. In Washington's cash-account for May, Seventeen Hundred Fifty-eight, is an item, "one Engagement Ring L2.16.0."
The happy couple were married eight months later, and we find Mrs. Washington explaining to a friend that her reason for the somewhat hasty union was that her estate was getting in a bad way and a man was needed to look after it. Our actions are usually right, but the reasons we give seldom are; but in this case no doubt "a man was needed," for the widow had much property, and we can not but congratulate Martha Custis on her choice of "a man." She owned fifteen thousand acres of land, many lots in the city of Williamsburg, two hundred negroes, and some money on bond; all the property being worth over one hundred thousand dollars—a very large amount for those days. Directly after the wedding, the couple moved to Mount Vernon, taking a good many of the slaves with them. Shortly after, arrangements were under way to rebuild the house, and the plans that finally developed into the present mansion were begun.
Washington's letters and diary contain very few references to his wife, and none of the many visitors to Mount Vernon took pains to testify either to her wit or to her intellect. We know that the housekeeping at Mount Vernon proved too much for her ability, and that a woman was hired to oversee the household. And in this reference a complaint is found from the General that "housekeeper has done gone and left things in confusion." He had his troubles.
Martha's education was not equal to writing a presentable letter, for we find that her husband wrote the first draft of all important missives that it was necessary for her to send, and she copied them even to his mistakes in spelling. Very patient was he about this, and even when he was President and harried constantly we find him stopping to acknowledge for her "an invitation to take some Tea," and at the bottom of the sheet adding a pious bit of finesse, thus: "The President requests me to send his compliments and only regrets that the pressure of affairs compels him to forego the Pleasure of seeing you."
After Washington's death, his wife destroyed the letters he had written her—many hundred in number—an offense the world is not yet quite willing to forget, even though it has forgiven.
* * * * *
Although we have been told that when Washington was six years old he could not tell a lie, yet he afterwards partially overcame the disability. On one occasion he writes to a friend that the mosquitoes of New Jersey "can bite through the thickest boot," and though a contemporary clergyman, greatly flurried, explains that he meant "stocking," we insist that the statement shall stand as the Father of his Country expressed it. Washington also records without a blush, "I announced that I would leave at 8 and then immediately gave private Orders to go at 5, so to avoid the Throng." Another time when he discharged an overseer for incompetency he lessened the pain of parting by writing for the fellow "a Character."
When he went to Boston and was named as Commander of the Army, his chief concern seemed to be how he would make peace with Martha. Ho! ye married men! do you understand the situation? He was to be away for a year, two, or possibly three, and his wife did not have an inkling of it. Now, he must break the news to her.
As plainly shown by Cabot Lodge and other historians, there was much rivalry for the office, and it was only allotted to the South as a political deal after much bickering. Washington had been a passive but very willing candidate, and after a struggle his friends secured him the prize—and now what to do with Martha! Writing to her, among other things he says, "You may believe me, my dear Patsy, when I assure you in the most solemn manner that so far from seeking the appointment I have done all in my power to avoid it." The man who will not fabricate a bit in order to keep peace with the wife of his bosom is not much of a man. But "Patsy's" objections were overcome, and beyond a few chidings and sundry complainings, she did nothing to block the great game of war.
At Princeton, Washington ordered campfires to be built along the brow of a hill for a mile, and when the fires were well lighted, he withdrew his army, marched around to the other side, and surprised the enemy at daylight. At Brooklyn, he used masked batteries, and presented a fierce row of round, black spots painted on canvas that, from the city, looked like the mouths of cannon at which men seek the bauble reputation. It is said he also sent a note threatening to fire these sham cannon, on receiving which the enemy hastily moved beyond range. Perceiving afterwards that they had been imposed upon, the brave English sent word to "shoot and be damned." Evidently, Washington considered that all things are fair in love and war.
Washington talked but little, and his usual air was one of melancholy that stopped just short of sadness. All this, with the firmness of his features and the dignity of his carriage, gave the impression of sternness and severity. And these things gave rise to the popular conception that he had small sense of humor; yet he surely was fond of a quiet smile.
At one time, Congress insisted that a standing army of five thousand men was too large; Washington replied that if England would agree never to invade this country with more than three thousand men, he would be perfectly willing that our army should be reduced to four thousand.
When the King of Spain, knowing he was a farmer, thoughtfully sent him a present of a jackass, Washington proposed naming the animal in honor of the donor; and in writing to friends about the present, draws invidious comparisons between the gift and the giver. Evidently, the joke pleased him, for he repeats it in different letters; thus showing how, when he sat down to clear his desk of correspondence, he economized energy by following a form. So, we now find letters that are almost identical, even to jokes, sent to persons in South Carolina and in Massachusetts. Doubtless the good man thought they would never be compared, for how could he foresee that an autograph-dealer in New York would eventually catalog them at twenty-two dollars fifty cents each, or that a very proper but half-affectionate missive of his to a Faire Ladye would be sold by her great-granddaughter for fifty dollars?
In Seventeen Hundred Ninety-three there were on the Mount Vernon plantation three hundred seventy head of cattle, and Washington appends to the report a sad regret that, with all this number of horned beasts, he yet has to buy butter. There is also a fine, grim humor shown in the incident of a flag of truce coming in at New York, bearing a message from General Howe, addressed to "Mr. Washington." The General took the letter from the hand of the redcoat, glanced at the superscription, and said: "Why, this letter is not for me! It is directed to a planter in Virginia. I'll keep it and give it to him at the end of the war." Then, cramming the letter into his pocket, he ordered the flag of truce out of the lines and directed the gunners to stand by. In an hour, another letter came back addressed to "His Excellency, General Washington."
It was not long after this a soldier brought to Washington a dog that had been found wearing a collar with the name of General Howe engraved on it. Washington returned the dog by a special messenger with a note reading, "General Washington sends his compliments to General Howe, and begs to return one dog that evidently belongs to him." In this instance, I am inclined to think that Washington acted in sober good faith, but was the victim of a practical joke on the part of one of his aides.
Another remark that sounds like a joke, but perhaps was not one, was when, on taking command of the army at Boston, the General writes to his lifelong friend, Doctor Craik, asking what he can do for him, and adding a sentiment still in the air: "But these Massachusetts people suffer nothing to go by them that they can lay their hands on." In another letter he pays his compliments to Connecticut thus: "Their impecunious meanness surpasses belief." When Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, Washington refused to humiliate him and his officers by accepting their swords. He treated Cornwallis as his guest, and even "gave a dinner in his honor." At this dinner, Rochambeau being asked for a toast gave "The United States." Washington proposed "The King of France." Cornwallis merely gave "The King," and Washington, putting the toast, expressed it as Cornwallis intended, "The King of England," and added a sentiment of his own that made even Cornwallis laugh—"May he stay there!" Washington's treatment of Cornwallis made him a lifelong friend. Many years after, when Cornwallis was Governor-General of India, he sent a message to his old antagonist, wishing him "prosperity and enjoyment," and adding, "As for myself, I am yet in troubled waters."
* * * * *
Once in a century, possibly, a being is born who possesses a transcendent insight, and him we call a "genius." Shakespeare, for instance, to whom all knowledge lay open; Joan of Arc; the artist Turner; Swedenborg, the mystic—these are the men who know a royal road to geometry; but we may safely leave them out of account when we deal with the builders of a State, for among statesmen there are no geniuses.
Nobody knows just what a genius is or what he may do next; he boils at an unknown temperature, and often explodes at a touch. He is uncertain and therefore unsafe. His best results are conjured forth, but no man has yet conjured forth a Nation—it is all slow, patient, painstaking work along mathematical lines. Washington was a mathematician and therefore not a genius. We call him a great man, but his greatness was of that sort in which we all can share; his virtues were of a kind that, in degree, we too may possess. Any man who succeeds in a legitimate business works with the same tools that Washington used. Washington was human. We know the man; we understand him; we comprehend how he succeeded, for with him there were no tricks, no legerdemain, no secrets. He is very near to us.
Washington is indeed first in the hearts of his countrymen. Washington has no detractors. There may come a time when another will take first place in the affections of the people, but that time is not yet ripe. Lincoln stood between men who now live and the prizes they coveted; thousands still tread the earth whom he benefited, and neither class can forgive, for they are of clay. But all those who lived when Washington lived are gone; not one survives; even the last body-servant, who confused memory with hearsay, has departed babbling to his rest.
We know all of Washington we will ever know; there are no more documents to present, no partisan witnesses to examine, no prejudices to remove. His purity of purpose stands unimpeached; his steadfast earnestness and sterling honesty are our priceless examples.
We love the man.
We call him Father.
I will speak ill of no man, not even in matter of truth; but rather excuse the faults I hear charged upon others, and upon proper occasion speak all the good I know of everybody. —Franklin's Journal
Benjamin Franklin was twelve years old. He was large and strong and fat and good-natured, and had a full-moon face and red cheeks that made him look like a country bumpkin. He was born in Boston within twenty yards of the church called "Old South," but the Franklins now lived at the corner of Congress and Hanover Streets, where to this day there swings in the breeze a gilded ball, and on it the legend, "Josiah Franklin, Soap-Boiler."
Benjamin was the fifteenth child in the family; and several having grown to maturity and flown, there were thirteen at the table when little Ben first sat in the high chair. But the Franklins were not superstitious, and if little Ben ever prayed that another would be born, just for luck, we know nothing of it. His mother loved him very much and indulged him in many ways, for he was always her baby boy, but the father thought that because he was good-natured he was also lazy and should be disciplined.
Once upon a time the father was packing a barrel of beef in the cellar, and Ben was helping him, and as the father always said grace at table, the boy suggested he ask a blessing, once for all, on the barrel of beef and thus economize breath. But economics along that line did not appeal to Josiah Franklin, for this was early in Seventeen Hundred Eighteen, and Josiah was a Presbyterian and lived in Boston.
The boy was not religious, for he never "went forward," and only went to church because he had to, and read "Plutarch's Lives" with much more relish than he did "Saints' Rest." But he had great curiosity and asked questions until his mother would say, "Goodness gracious, go and play!"
And as the boy wasn't very religious or very fond of work, his father and mother decided that there were only two careers open for him: the mother proposed that he be made a preacher, but his father said, send him to sea.
To go to sea under a good strict captain would discipline him, and to send him off and put him under the care of the Reverend Doctor Thirdly would answer the same purpose—which course should be pursued? But Pallas Athene, who was to watch over this lad's destinies all through life, preserved him from either.
His parents' aspirations extended even to his becoming captain of a schooner or pastor of the First Church at Roxbury. And no doubt he could have sailed the schooner around the globe in safety, or filled the pulpit with a degree of power that would have caused consternation to reign in the heart of every other preacher in town; but Fate saved him that he might take the Ship of State, when she threatened to strand on the rocks of adversity, and pilot her into peaceful waters, and to preach such sermons to America that their eloquence still moves us to better things.
Parents think that what they say about their children goes, and once in an awfully long time it does, but the men who become great and learned usually do so in spite of their parents—which remark was first made by Martin Luther, but need not be discredited on that account.
Ben's oldest brother was James. Now, James was nearly forty; he was tall and slender, stooped a little, and had sandy whiskers, and a nervous cough, and positive ideas on many subjects—one of which was that he was a printer. His apprentice, or "devil," had left him, because the devil did not like to be cuffed whenever the compositor shuffled his fonts. James needed another apprentice, and proposed to take his younger brother and make a man of him if the old folks were willing. The old folks were willing and Ben was duly bound by law to his brother, agreeing to serve him faithfully, as Jacob served Laban, for seven years and two years more.
Science has explained many things, but it has not yet told why it sometimes happens that when seventeen eggs are hatched, the brood will consist of sixteen barnyard fowls and one eagle.
James Franklin was a man of small capacity, whimsical, jealous and arbitrary. But if he cuffed his apprentice Benjamin when the compositor blundered, and when he didn't, it was his legal right; and the master who did not occasionally kick his apprentices was considered derelict to duty. The boy ran errands, cleaned the presses, swept the shop, tied up bundles, did the tasks that no one else would do; and incidentally "learned the case." Then he set type, and after a while ran a press. And in those days a printer ranked considerably above a common mechanic. A man who was a printer was a literary man, as were the master printers of London and Venice. A printer was a man of taste. All editors were printers, and usually composed the matter as they set it up in type. Thus we now have the expressions: a "composing-room," a "composing-stick," etc. People once addressed "Mr. Printer," not "Mr. Editor," and when they met "Mr. Printer" on the street removed their hats—but not in Philadelphia.
Young Franklin felt a proper degree of pride in his work, if not vanity. In fact, he himself has said that vanity is a good thing, and whenever he saw it come flaunting down the street, always made way, knowing that there was virtue somewhere back of it—out of sight perhaps, but still there. James, being a brother, had no confidence in Ben's intellect, so when Ben wrote short articles on this and that, he tucked them under the door so that James would find them in the morning. James showed these articles to his friends, and they all voted them very fine, and concluded they must have been written by Doctor So-and-So, Ph.D., who, like Lord Bacon, was a very modest man and did not care to see his name in print.
Yet, by and by, it came out who it was that wrote the anonymous "hot stuff," and then James did not think it was quite so good as he at first thought, and moreover, declared he knew whose it was all the time. Ben was eighteen and had read Montaigne, and Collins, and Shaftesbury, and Hume. When he wrote he expressed thoughts that then were considered very dreadful, but that can now be heard proclaimed even in good orthodox churches. But Ben had wit and to spare, and he leveled it at government officials and preachers, and these gentlemen did not relish the jokes—people seldom relish jokes at their own expense—and they sought to suppress the newspaper that the Franklin brothers published.
The blame for all the trouble James heaped upon Benjamin, and all the credit for success he took to himself. James declared that Ben had the big head—and he probably was right; but he forgot that the big head, like mumps and measles and everything else in life, is self-limiting and good in its way. So, to teach Ben his proper place, James reminded him that he was only an apprentice, with three years yet to serve, and that he should be seen seldom and not heard all the time, and that if he ran away he would send a constable after him and fetch him back.
Ben evidently had a mind open to suggestive influences, for the remark about running away prompted him to do so. He sold some of his books and got himself secreted on board a ship about to sail for New York.
Arriving at New York, in three days he found the broad-brimmed Dutch had small use for printers and no special admiration for the art preservative; and he started for Philadelphia.
Every one knows how he landed in a small boat at the foot of Market Street with only a few coppers in his pocket, and made his way to a bakeshop and asked for a threepenny loaf of bread, and being told they had no threepenny loaves, then asked for threepenny's worth of any kind of bread, and was given three loaves. Where is the man who in a strange land has not suffered rather than reveal his ignorance before a shopkeeper? When I was first in England and could not compute readily in shillings and pence, I would toss out a gold piece when I made a purchase and assume a 'igh and 'aughty mien. And that Philadelphia baker probably died in blissful ignorance of the fact that the youth who was to be America's pride bought from him three loaves of bread when he wanted only one.
The runaway Ben had a downy beard all over his face, and as he took his three loaves and walked up Market Street, with a loaf under each arm, munching on the third, he was smiled upon in merry mirth by the buxom Deborah Read, as she stood in the doorway of her father's house. Yet Franklin got even with her, for some months after, he went back that way and courted her, grew to love him, and they "exchanged promises," he says. After some months of work and love-making, Franklin sailed away to England on a wild-goose chase. He promised to return soon and make Deborah his wife. But he wrote only one solitary letter to the broken-hearted girl and did not come back for nearly two years.
* * * * *
Time is the great avenger as well as educator; only the education is usually deferred until it no longer avails in this incarnation, and is valuable only for advice—and nobody wants advice. Deathbed repentances may be legal-tender for salvation in another world, but for this they are below par, and regeneration that is postponed until the man has no further capacity to sin is little better. For sin is only perverted power, and the man without capacity to sin neither has ability to do good—isn't that so? His soul is a Dead Sea that supports neither ameba nor fish, neither noxious bacilli nor useful life. Happy is the man who conserves his God-given power until wisdom and not passion shall direct it. So, the younger in life a man makes the resolve to turn and live, the better for that man and the better for the world.
Once upon a time Carlyle took Milburn, the blind preacher, out on to Chelsea embankment and showed the sightless man where Franklin plunged into the Thames and swam to Blackfriars Bridge. "He might have stayed here," said Thomas Carlyle, "and become a swimming-teacher, but God had other work for him!" Franklin had many opportunities to stop and become a victim of arrested development, but he never embraced the occasion. He could have stayed in Boston and been a humdrum preacher, or a thrifty sea-captain, or an ordinary printer; or he could have remained in London, and been, like his friend Ralph, a clever writer of doggerel, and a supporter of the political party that would pay the most.
Benjamin Franklin was twenty years old when he returned from England. The ship was beaten back by headwinds and blown out of her course by blizzards, and becalmed at times, so it took eighty-two days to make the voyage. A worthy old clergyman tells me this was so ordained and ordered that Benjamin might have time to meditate on the follies of youth and shape his course for the future, and I do not argue the case, for I am quite willing to admit that my friend, the clergyman, has the facts.
Yes, we must be "converted," "born again," "regenerated," or whatever you may be pleased to call it. Sometimes—very often—it is love that reforms a man, sometimes sickness, sometimes sore bereavement.
Doctor Talmage says that with Saint Paul it was a sunstroke, and this may be so, for surely Saul of Tarsus on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians was not in love. Love forgives to seventy times seven and persecutes nobody.
We do not know just what it was that turned Franklin; he had tried folly—we know that—and he just seems to have anticipated Browning and concluded:
"It's wiser being good than bad; It's safer being meek than fierce; It's better being sane than mad."
On this voyage the young printer was thrust down into the depths and made to wrestle with the powers of darkness; and in the remorse of soul that came over him he made a liturgy to be repeated night and morning, and at midday. There were many items in this ritual—all of which were corrected and amended from time to time in after-years. Here are a few paragraphs that represent the longings and trend of the lad's heart. His prayer was:
"That I may have tenderness for the meek; that I may be kind to my neighbors, good-natured to my companions and hospitable to strangers. Help me, O God!
"That I may be averse to craft and overreaching, abhor extortion and every kind of weakness and wickedness. Help me, O God!
"That I may have constant regard to honor and probity; that I may possess an innocent and good conscience, and at length become truly virtuous and magnanimous. Help me, O God!
"That I may refrain from calumny and detraction; that I may abhor deceit, and avoid lying, envy and fraud, flattery, hatred, malice and ingratitude. Help me, O God!".
Then, in addition, he formed rules of conduct and wrote them out and committed them to memory. The maxims he adopted are old as thought, yet can never become antiquated, for in morals there is nothing either new or old, neither can there be.
On that return voyage from England, he inwardly vowed that his first act on getting ashore would be to find Deborah Read and make peace with her and his conscience. And true to his vow, he found her, but she was the wife of another. Her mother believed that Franklin had run away simply to get rid of her, and the poor girl, dazed and forlorn, bereft of will, had been induced to marry a man by the name of Rogers, who was a potter and also a potterer, but who Franklin says was "a very good potter."
After some months, Deborah left the potter, because she did not like to be reproved with a strap, and went home to her mother.
Franklin was now well in the way of prosperity, aged twenty-four, with a little printing business, plans plus, and ambitions to spare. He had had his little fling in life, and had done various things of which he was ashamed; and the foolish things that Deborah had done were no worse than those of which he had been guilty. So he called on her, and they talked it over and made honest confessions that are good for the soul. The potter disappeared—no one knew where—some said he was dead, but Benjamin and Deborah did not wear mourning. They took rumor's word for it, and thanked God, and went to a church and were married.
Deborah brought to the firm a very small dowry; and Benjamin contributed a bright baby boy, aged two years, captured no one knows just where. This boy was William Franklin, who grew up into a very excellent man, and the worst that can be said of him is that he became Governor of New Jersey. He loved and respected his father, and called Deborah mother, and loved her very much. And she was worthy of all love, and ever treated him with tenderness and gentlest considerate care. Possibly a blot on the 'scutcheon may, in the working of God's providence, not always be a dire misfortune, for it sometimes has the effect of binding broken hearts as nothing else can, as a cicatrice toughens the fiber.
Deborah had not much education, but she had good, sturdy commonsense, which is better if you are forced to make choice. She set herself to help her husband in every way possible, and so far as I know, never sighed for one of those things you call "a career." She even worked in the printing-office, folding, stitching, and doing up bundles.
Long years afterward, when Franklin was Ambassador of the American Colonies in France, he told with pride that the clothes he wore were spun, woven, cut out, and made into garments—all by his wife's own hands. Franklin's love for Deborah was very steadfast. Together they became rich and respected, won world-wide fame, and honors came that way such as no American before or since has ever received.
And when I say, "God bless all good women who help men do their work," I simply repeat the words once used by Benjamin Franklin when he had Deborah in mind.
* * * * *
When Franklin was forty-two, he had accumulated a fortune of seventy-five thousand dollars. It gave him an income of about four thousand dollars a year, which he said was all he wanted; so he sold out his business, intending to devote his entire energies to the study of science and languages. He had lived just one-half his days; and had he then passed out, his life could have been summed up as one of the most useful that ever has been lived. He had founded and been the life of the Junto Club—the most sensible and beneficent club of which I ever heard.
The series of questions asked at every meeting of the Junto, so mirror the life and habit of thought of Franklin that we had better glance at a few of them:
1. Have you read over these queries this morning, in order to consider what you might have to offer the Junto, touching any one of them?
2. Have you met with anything in the author you last read, remarkable, or suitable to be communicated to the Junto; particularly in history, morality, poetry, physics, travels, mechanical arts, or other parts of knowledge?
3. Do you know of a fellow-citizen, who has lately done a worthy action, deserving praise and imitation; or who has lately committed an error, proper for us to be warned against and avoid?
4. What unhappy effects of intemperance have you lately observed or heard; of imprudence, of passion, or of any other vice or folly?
5. What happy effects of temperance, of prudence, of moderation, or of any other virtue?
6. Do you think of anything at present in which the members of the Junto may be serviceable to mankind, to their country, to their friends, or to themselves?
7. Hath any deserving stranger arrived in town since last meeting that you have heard of? And what have you heard or observed of his character or merits? And whether, think you, it lies in the power of the Junto to oblige him, or encourage him as he deserves?
8. Do you know of any deserving young beginner, lately set up, whom it lies in the power of the Junto in any way to encourage?
9. Have you lately observed any defect in the laws of your country, of which it would be proper to move the legislature for an amendment? Or do you know of any beneficial law that is wanting?
10. Have you lately observed any encroachment on the just liberties of the people?
11. In what manner can the Junto, or any of its members, assist you in any of your honorable designs?
12. Have you any weighty affair on hand in which you think the advice of the Junto may be of service?
13. What benefits have you lately received from any man not present?
14. Is there any difficulty in matters of opinion, of justice and injustice, which you would gladly have discussed at this time?
The Junto led to the establishment, by Franklin, of the Philadelphia Public Library, which became the parent of all public libraries in America. He also organized and equipped a fire-company; paved and lighted the streets of Philadelphia; established a high school and an academy for the study of English branches; founded the Philadelphia Public Hospital; invented the toggle-joint printing-press, the Franklin Stove, and various other useful mechanical devices.
After his retirement from business, Franklin enjoyed seven years of what he called leisure, but they were years of study and application; years of happiness and sweet content, but years of aspiration and an earnest looking into the future. His experiments with kite and key had made his name known in all the scientific circles of Europe, and his suggestive writings on the subject of electricity had caused Goethe to lay down his pen and go to rubbing amber for the edification of all Weimar.
Franklin was in correspondence with the greatest minds of Europe, and what his "Poor Richard Almanac" had done for the plain people of America, his pamphlets were now doing for the philosophers of the Old World.
In Seventeen Hundred Fifty-four, he wrote a treatise showing the Colonies that they must be united, and this was the first public word that was to grow and crystallize and become the United States of America. Before that, the Colonies were simply single, independent, jealous and bickering overgrown clans. Franklin showed for the first time that they must unite in mutual aims.
In Seventeen Hundred Fifty-seven, matters were getting a little strained between the Province of Pennsylvania and England. "The lawmakers of England do not understand us—some one should go there as an authorized agent to plead our cause," and Franklin was at once chosen as the man of strongest personality and soundest sense. So Franklin went to England and remained there for five years as agent for the Colonies.
He then returned home, but after two years the Stamp Act had stirred up the public temper to a degree that made revolution imminent, and Franklin again went to England to plead for justice. The record of the ten years he now spent in London is told by Bancroft in a hundred pages. Bancroft is very good, and! have no desire to rival him, so suffice it to say that Franklin did all that any man could have done to avert the coming War of the Revolution. Burke has said that when he appeared before Parliament to be examined as to the condition of things in America, it was like a lot of schoolboys interrogating the master.
With the voice and tongue of a prophet, Franklin foretold the English people what the outcome of their treatment of America would be. Pitt and a few others knew the greatness of Franklin, and saw that he was right, but the rest smiled in derision.
He sailed for home in Seventeen Hundred Seventy-five, and urged the Continental Congress to the Declaration of Independence, of which he became a signer. Then the war came, and had not Franklin gone to Paris and made an ally of France, and borrowed money, the Continental Army could not have been maintained in the field.
He remained in France for nine years, and was the pride and pet of the people. His sound sense, his good humor, his distinguished personality, gave him the freedom of society everywhere. He had the ability to adapt himself to conditions, and was everywhere at home.
Once, he attended a memorable banquet in Paris shortly after the close of the Revolutionary War. Among the speakers was the English Ambassador, who responded to the toast, "Great Britain." The Ambassador dwelt at length on England's greatness, and likened her to the sun that sheds its beneficent rays on all. The next toast was "America," and Franklin was called on to respond. He began very modestly by saying: "The Republic is too young to be spoken of in terms of praise; her career is yet to come, and so, instead of America, I will name you a man, George Washington—the Joshua who successfully commanded the sun to stand still." The Frenchmen at the board forgot the courtesy due their English guest, and laughed needlessly loud.
Franklin was regarded in Paris as the man who had both planned the War of the Revolution, and fought it. They said, "He despoiled the thunderbolt of its danger and snatched sovereignty out of the hand of King George of England." No doubt that his ovation was largely owing to the fact that he was supposed to have plucked whole handfuls of feathers from England's glory, and surely they were pretty nearly right.
In point of all-round development, Franklin must stand as the foremost American. The one intent of his mind was to purify his own spirit, to develop his intellect on every side, and make his body the servant of his soul. His passion was to acquire knowledge, and the desire of his heart was to communicate it.
The writings of Franklin—simple, clear, concise, direct, impartial, brimful of commonsense—form a model which may be studied by every one with pleasure and profit. They should constitute a part of the curriculum of every college and high school that aspires to cultivate in its pupils a pure style and correct literary taste.
We know of no man who ever lived a fuller life, a happier life, a life more useful to other men, than Benjamin Franklin. For forty-two years he gave the constant efforts of his life to his country, and during all that time no taint of a selfish action can be laid to his charge. Almost his last public act was to petition Congress to pass an act for the abolition of slavery. He died in Seventeen Hundred Ninety, and as you walk up Arch Street, Philadelphia, only a few squares from the spot where stood his printing-shop, you can see the place where he sleeps.
The following epitaph, written by himself, not, however, appear on the simple monument that marks his grave:
The Body of Benjamin Franklin, Printer (Like the cover of an old book, Its contents torn out, And stripped of its lettering and gilding,) Lies here food for worms. Yet the work itself shall not be lost, For it will (as he believes) appear once more In a new And more beautiful Edition Corrected and Amended By The Author.
If I could not go to Heaven but with a Party, I would not go there at all. —Jefferson, in a Letter to Madison
William and Mary College was founded in Sixteen Hundred Ninety-two by the persons whose names it bears. The founders bestowed on it an endowment that would have been generous had there not been attached to it sundry strings in way of conditions.
The intent was to make Indians Episcopalians, and white students clergymen; and the assumption being that between the whites and the aborigines there was little difference, the curriculum was an ecclesiastic medley.
All the teachers were appointed by the Bishop of London, and the places were usually given to clergymen who were not needed in England.
To this college, in Seventeen Hundred Sixty, came Thomas Jefferson, a tall, red-haired youth, aged seventeen. He had a sharp nose and a sharp chin; and a youth having these has a sharp intellect—mark it well.
This boy had not been "sent" to college. He came of his own accord from his home at Shadwell, five days' horseback journey through the woods. His father was dead, and his mother, a rare gentle soul, was an invalid.
Death is not a calamity "per se," nor is physical weakness necessarily a curse, for out of these seeming unkind conditions Nature often distils her finest products. The dying injunction of a father may impress itself upon a son as no example of right living ever can, and the physical disability of a mother may be the means that work for excellence and strength. The last-expressed wish of Peter Jefferson was that his son should be well educated, and attain to a degree of useful manliness that the father had never reached. And into the keeping of this fourteen-year-old youth the dying man, with the last flicker of his intellect, gave the mother, sisters and baby brother.
We often hear of persons who became aged in a single night, their hair turning from dark to white; but I have seen death thrust responsibility upon a lad and make of him a man between the rising of the sun and its setting. When we talk of "right environment" and the "proper conditions" that should surround growing youth, we fan the air with words—there is no such thing as a universal right environment.
An appreciative chapter might here be inserted concerning those beings who move about only in rolling chairs, who never see the winter landscape but through windows, and who exert their gentle sway from an invalid's couch, to which the entire household or neighborhood come to confession or to counsel. And yet I have small sympathy for the people who professionally enjoy poor health, and no man more than I reverences the Greek passion for physical perfection. But a close study of Jefferson's early life reveals the truth that the death of his father and the physical weakness of his mother and sisters were factors that developed in him a gentle sense of chivalry, a silken strength of will, and a habit of independent thought and action that served him in good stead throughout a long life.
Williamsburg was then the capital of Virginia. It contained only about a thousand inhabitants, but when the Legislature was in session it was very gay.
At one end of a wide avenue was the Capitol, and at the other the Governor's "palace"; and when the city of Washington was laid out, Williamsburg served as a model. On Saturdays, there were horse-races on the "Avenue"; everybody gambled; cockfights and dogfights were regarded as manly diversions; there was much carousing at taverns; and often at private houses there were all-night dances where the rising sun found everybody but the servants plain drunk.
At the college, both teachers and scholars were obliged to subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles and to recite the Catechism. The atmosphere was charged with theology.
Young Jefferson had never before seen a village of even a dozen houses, and he looked upon this as a type of all cities. He thought about it, talked about it, wrote about it, and we now know that at this time his ideas concerning city versus country crystallized.
Fifty years after, when he had come to know London and Paris, and had seen the chief cities of Christendom, he repeated the words he had written in youth, "The hope of a nation lies in its tillers of the soil!"
On his mother's side he was related to the "first families," but aristocracy and caste had no fascination for him, and he then began forming those ideas of utility, simplicity and equality that time only strengthened.
His tutors and professors served chiefly as "horrible examples," with the shining exception of Doctor Small. The friendship that ripened between this man and young Jefferson is an ideal example of what can be done through the personal touch. Men are great only as they excel in sympathy; and the difference between sympathy and imagination has not yet been shown us.
Doctor Small encouraged the young farmer from the hills to think and to express himself. He did not endeavor to set him straight or explain everything for him, or correct all his vagaries, or demand that he should memorize rules. He gave his affectionate sympathy to the boy who, with a sort of feminine tenderness, clung to the only person who understood him.
To Doctor Small, pedigree and history unknown, let us give the credit of being first in the list of friends that gave bent to the mind of Jefferson. John Burke, in his "History of Virginia," refers to Professor Small thus: "He was not any too orthodox in his opinions." And here we catch a glimpse of a formative influence in the life of Jefferson that caused him to turn from the letter of the law and cleave to the spirit that maketh alive. After school-hours the tutor and the student walked and talked, and on Saturdays and Sundays went on excursions through the woods; and to the youth there was given an impulse for a scientific knowledge of birds and flowers and the host of life that thronged the forest. And when the pair had strayed so far beyond the town that darkness gathered and the stars came out, they conversed of the wonders of the sky.
The true scientist has no passion for killing things. He says with Thoreau, "To shoot a bird is to lose it." Professor Small had the gentle instinct that respects life, and he refused to take that which he could not give. To his youthful companion he imparted, in a degree, the secret of enjoying things without the passion for possession and the lust of ownership.
There is a myth abroad that college towns are intellectual centers; but the number of people in a college town (or any other) who really think, is very few.
Williamsburg was gay, and, this much said, it is needless to add it was not intellectual. But Professor Small was a thinker, and so was Governor Fauquier; and these two were firm friends, although very unlike in many ways. And to "the palace" of the courtly Fauquier, Small took his young friend Jefferson. Fauquier was often a master of the revels, but after his seasons of dissipation he turned to Small for absolution and comfort. At these times he seemed to Jefferson a paragon of excellence. To the grace of the French he added the earnestness of the English. He quoted Pope, and talked of Swift, Addison and Thomson. Fauquier and Jefferson became friends, although more than a score of years and a world of experience separated them. Jefferson caught a little of Fauquier's grace, love of books and delight in architecture. But Fauquier helped him most by gambling away all his ready money and getting drunk and smoking strong pipes with his feet on the table. And Jefferson then vowed he would never handle a card, nor use tobacco, nor drink intoxicating liquors. And in conversation with Small, he anticipated Buckle by saying, "To gain leisure, wealth must first be secured; but once leisure is gained, more people use it in the pursuit of pleasure than employ it in acquiring knowledge."
* * * * *
Had Jefferson lived in a great city he would have been an architect. His practical nature, his mastery of mathematics, his love of proportion, and his passion for music are the basic elements that make a Christopher Wren. But Virginia, in Seventeen Hundred Sixty-five, offered no temptation to ambitions along that line; log houses with a goodly "crack" were quite good enough, and if the domicile proved too small the plan of the first was simply duplicated. Yet a career of some kind young Jefferson knew awaited him.
About this time the rollicking Patrick Henry came along. Patrick played the violin, and so did Thomas. These two young men had first met on a musical basis. Some otherwise sensible people hold that musicians are shallow and impractical; and I know one man who declares that truth and honesty and uprightness never dwelt in a professional musician's heart; and further, that the tribe is totally incapable of comprehending the difference between "meum" and "tuum." But then this same man claims that actors are rascals who have lost their own characters in the business of playing they are somebody else. And yet I'll explain for the benefit of the captious that, although Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry both fiddled, they never did and never would fiddle while Rome burned. Music was with them a pastime, not a profession.
As soon as Patrick Henry arrived at Williamsburg, he sought out his old friend Thomas Jefferson, because he liked him—and to save tavern bill. And Patrick announced that he had come to Williamsburg to be admitted to the bar.
"How long have you studied law?" asked Jefferson.
"Oh, for six weeks last Tuesday," was the answer.
Tradition has it that Jefferson advised Patrick to go home and study at least a fortnight more before making his application. But Patrick declared that the way to learn law is to practise it, and he surely was right. Most young lawyers are really never aware of how little law they know until they begin to practise.
But Patrick Henry was duly admitted, although George Wythe protested. Then Patrick went back home to tend bar (the other kind) for Laban, his father-in-law, for full four years. He studied hard and practised a little betimes—and his is the only instance that history records of a barkeeper acquiring wisdom while following his calling; but for the encouragement of budding youth I write it down.
* * * * *
No doubt it was the example of Patrick Henry that caused Jefferson to adopt his profession. But it was the literary side of law that first attracted him—not the practise of it. As a speaker he was singularly deficient, a slight physical malformation of the throat giving him a very poor and uncertain voice. But he studied law, and after all it does not make much difference what a man studies—all knowledge is related, and the man who studies anything if he keeps at it will become learned.
So Jefferson studied in the office of George Wythe, and absorbed all that Fauquier had to offer, and grew wise in the companionship of Doctor Small. From a red-headed, lean, lank, awkward mountaineer, he developed into a gracious and graceful young man who has been described as "auburn-haired." And the evolution from being red-headed to having red hair, and from that to being auburn-haired, proves he was the genuine article. Still he was hot handsome—that word can not be used to describe him until he was sixty—for he was freckled, one shoulder wets higher than the other, and his legs were so thin that they could not do justice to small-clothes.
Yet it will not do to assume that thin men are weak, any more than to take it for granted that fat men are strong. Jefferson was as muscular as a panther and could walk or ride or run six days and nights together. He could lift from the floor a thousand pounds.
When twenty-four, he hung out his lawyer's sign under that of George Wythe at Williamsburg. And clients came that way with retainers, and rich planters sent him business, and wealthy widows advised with him—and still he could not make a speech without stuttering. Many men can harangue a jury, and every village has its orator; but where is the wise and silent man who will advise you in a way that will keep you out of difficulty, protect your threatened interests, and conduct the affairs you may leave in his hands so as to return your ten talents with other talents added! And I hazard the statement, without heat or prejudice, that if the experiment should be made with a thousand lawyers in any one of our larger cities, four-fifths of them would be found so deficient, either mentally, morally or both, that if ten talents were placed in their hands, they would not at the close of a year be able to account for the principal, to say nothing of the interest. And the bar of today is made up of a better class than it was in Jefferson's time, even if it has not the intellectual fiber that it had forty years ago.
But at the early age of twenty-five, Jefferson was a wise and skilful man in the world's affairs (and a man who is wise is also honest), and men of this stamp do not remain hidden in obscurity. The world needs just such individuals and needs them badly. Jefferson had the quiet, methodical industry that works without undue expenditure of nervous force; that intuitive talent which enables the possessor to read a whole page at a glance and drop at once upon the vital point; and then he had the ability to get his whole case on paper, marshaling his facts in a brief, pointed way that served to convince better than eloquence. These are the characteristics that make for success in practise before our Courts of Appeal; and Jefferson's success shows that they serve better than bluster, even with a backwoods bench composed of fox-hunting farmers.
In Seventeen Hundred Sixty-eight, when Jefferson was twenty-five, he went down to Shadwell and ran for member of the Virginia Legislature. It was the proper thing to do, for he was the richest man in the county, being heir to his father's forty thousand acres, and it was expected that he would represent his district. He called on every voter in the parish, shook hands with everybody, complimented the ladies, caressed the babies, treated crowds at every tavern, and kept a large punch-bowl and open house at home. He was elected. On the Eleventh of May, Seventeen Hundred Sixty-nine, the Legislature convened, with nearly a hundred members present, Colonel George Washington being one of the number. It took two days for the Assembly to elect a Speaker and get ready for business. On the third day, four resolutions were introduced—pushed to the front largely through the influence of our new member.
These resolutions were:
1. No taxation without representation.
2. The Colonies may concur and unite in seeking redress for grievances.
3. Sending accused persons away from their own country for trial is an inexcusable wrong.
4. We will send an address on these things to the King beseeching his royal interposition.
The resolutions were passed: they did not mean much anyway, the opposition said. And then another resolution was passed to this effect: "We will send a copy of these resolutions to every legislative body on the continent." That was a little stronger, but did not mean much either.
It was voted upon and passed.
Then the Assembly adjourned, having dispatched a copy of the resolutions to Lord Boutetourt, the newly appointed Governor who had just arrived from London.
Next day, the Governor's secretary appeared when the Assembly convened, and repeated the following formula: "The Governor commands the House to attend His Excellency in the Council-Chamber." The members marched to the Council-Chamber and stood around the throne waiting the pleasure of His Lordship. He made a speech which I will quote entire. "Mr. Speaker and Gentlemen of the House of Burgesses: I have heard your resolves, and augur ill of their effect. You have made it my duty to dissolve you, and you are dissolved accordingly."
And that was the end of Jefferson's first term in office—the reward for all the hand-shaking, all the caressing, all the treating!
The members looked at one another, but no one said anything, because there was nothing to say. The secretary made an impatient gesture with his hand to the effect that they should disperse, and they did.
Just how these legally elected representatives and now legally common citizens took their rebuff we do not know.
Did Washington forget his usual poise and break out into one of those swearing fits where everybody wisely made way? And how did Richard Henry Lee like it, and George Wythe, and the Randolphs? Did Patrick Henry wax eloquent that afternoon in a barroom, and did Jefferson do more than smile grimly, biding his time?
Massachusetts kept a complete history of her political heresies, but Virginia chased foxes and left the refinements of literature to dilettantes. But this much we know: Those country gentlemen did not go off peaceably and quietly to race horses or play cards. The slap in the face from the gloved hand of Lord Boutetourt awoke every boozy sense of security and gave vitality to all fanatical messages sent by Samuel Adams. Washington, we are told, spoke of it as a bit of upstart authority on the part of the new Governor; but Jefferson with true prophetic vision saw the end.
* * * * *
One of the leading lawyers at Williamsburg, against whom Jefferson was often pitted, was John Wayles. I need not explain that lawyers hotly opposed to each other in a trial are not necessarily enemies. The way in which Jefferson conducted his cases pleased the veteran Wayles, and he invited Jefferson to visit him at his fine estate, called "The Forest," a few miles out from Williamsburg. Now, in the family of Mr. Wayles dwelt his widowed daughter, the beautiful Martha Skelton, gracious and rich as Jefferson in worldly goods. She played the spinet with great feeling, and the spinet and the violin go very well together. So, together, Thomas and Martha played, and sometimes a bit of discord crept in, for Thomas was absent-minded and, in the business of watching the widow's fingers touch the keys, played flat.
Long years before, he had liked and admired Becca, gazed fondly at Sukey, and finally loved Belinda. He did not tell her so, but he told John Page, and vowed that if he did not wed Belinda he would go through life solitary and alone. In a few months Belinda married that detested being—another. Then it was he again swore to his friend Page he would be true to her memory, even though she had dissembled. But now he saw that the widow Skelton had intellect, while Belinda had been but clever; the widow had soul, while Belinda had nothing but form. Jefferson's experience seems to settle that mooted question, "Can a man love two women at the same time?" Unlike Martha Custis, this Martha was won only after a protracted wooing, with many skirmishes and occasional misunderstandings and explanations, and sweet makings-up that were surely worth a quarrel.
Then they were married at "The Forest," and rode away through the woods to Monticello. Jefferson was twenty-seven, and although it may not be proper to question closely as to the age of the widow, yet the bride, we have reason to believe, was about the age of her husband.
It was a most happy mating—all their quarreling had been done before marriage. The fine intellect and high spirit of Jefferson found their mate. She was his comrade and helpmeet as well as his wife. He could read his favorite Ossian aloud to her, and when he tired she would read to him; and all his plans and ambitions and hopes were hers. In laying out the grounds and beautifying that home on Monticello mountain, she took much more than a passive interest. It was "Our Home," and to make it a home in very sooth for her beloved husband was her highest ambition. She knew the greatness of her mate, and all the dreams she had for his advancement were to come true. With her, ideality was to become reality. But she was to see it only in part.
Yet she had seen her husband re-elected to the Virginia Legislature; sent as a member to the Colonial Congress at Philadelphia, there to write the best known of all American literary productions; from their mountain home she had seen British troops march into Charlottesville, four miles away, and then, with household treasure, had fled, knowing that beautiful Monticello would be devastated by the enemy's ruthless tread. She had known Washington, and had visited his lonely wife there at Mount Vernon when victory hung in the balance; when defeat meant that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington would be the first victims of a vengeful foe. She saw her husband War-Governor of Virginia in its most perilous hour; she lived to know that Washington had won; that Cornwallis was his "guest," and that no man, save Washington alone, was more honored in proud Virginia than her beloved lord and husband. She saw a messenger on horseback approach bearing a packet from the Congress at Philadelphia to the effect that "His Excellency, the Honorable Thomas Jefferson," had been appointed as one of an embassy to France in the interests of the United States, with Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane as colleagues, and, knowing her husband's love for Franklin, and his respect for France, she leaned over his chair and with misty eyes saw him write his simple "No," and knew that the only reason he declined was because he would not leave his wife at a time when she might most need his tenderness and sympathy.
And then they retired to beloved Monticello to enjoy the rest that comes only after work well done—to spend the long vacation of their lives in simple homekeeping work and studious leisure, her husband yet in manhood's prime, scarce thirty-seven, as men count time, and rich, passing rich, in goods and lands.
And then she died.
And Thomas Jefferson, the strong, the self-poised, the self-reliant, fell in a helpless swoon, and was laid on a pallet and carried out, as though he, too, were dead. For three weeks his dazed senses prayed for death. He could endure the presence of no one save his eldest daughter, a slim, slender girl of scarce ten years, grown a woman in a day. By her loving touch and tenderness he was lured back from death and reason's night into the world of life and light. With tottering steps, led by the child who had to think for both, he was taken out on the veranda of beautiful Monticello. He looked out on stretching miles of dark-blue hills and waving woods and winding river. He gazed, and as he looked it came slowly to him that the earth was still as when he last saw it, and realized that this would be so even if he were gone. Then, turning to the child, who stood by, stroking his locks, it came to him that even in grief there may be selfishness, and for the first time he responded to the tender caress, saying, "Yes, we will live, daughter—live in memory of her!"
* * * * *
When two men of equal intelligence and sincerity quarrel, both are probably right. Hamilton and Jefferson were opposed to each other by temperament and disposition, in a way that caused either to look with distrust on any proposition made by the other. And yet, when Washington pressed upon Jefferson the position of Secretary of State, I can not but think he did it as an antidote to the growing power and vaunting ambition of Hamilton. Washington won his victories, as great men ever do, by wisely choosing his aides. Hamilton had done yeoman's service in every branch of the government, and while the chief sincerely admired his genius, he guessed his limitations. Power grows until it topples, and when it topples, innocent people are crushed. Washington was wise as a serpent, and rather than risk open ruction with Hamilton by personally setting bounds, he invited Jefferson into his cabinet, and the acid was neutralized to a degree where it could be safely handled.
Jefferson had just returned from Paris with his beloved daughter, Martha. He was intending soon to return to France and study social science at close range. Already, he had seen that mob of women march out to Versailles and fetch the King to Paris, and had seen barricade after barricade erected with the stones from the leveled Bastile; he was on intimate and affectionate terms with Lafayette and the Republican leaders, and here was a pivotal point in his life. Had not Washington persuaded him to remain "just for the present" in America, he might have played a part in Carlyle's best book, that book which is not history, but more—an epic. So, among the many obligations that America owes to Washington, must be named this one of pushing Thomas Jefferson, the scholar and man of peace, into the political embroglio and shutting the door. Then it was that Hamilton's taunting temper awoke a degree of power in Jefferson that before he wist not of; then it was that he first fully realized that the "United States" with England as a sole pattern was not enough.
A pivotal point! Yes, a pivotal point for Jefferson, America and the world; for Jefferson gave the rudder of the Ship of State such a turn to starboard that there was never again danger of her drifting on to aristocratic shoals, an easy victim to the rapacity of Great Britain. Hamilton's distrust of the people found no echo in Jefferson's mind.
He agreed with Hamilton that a "strong government" administered by a few, provided the few are wise and honorable, is the best possible government. Nay, he went further and declared that an absolute monarchy in which the monarch was all-wise and all-powerful, could not be improved upon by the imagination of man.
In his composition, there was a saving touch of humor that both Hamilton and Washington seemed to lack. He could smile at himself; but none ever dared turn a joke on Hamilton, much less on Washington. And so when Hamilton explained that a strong government administered by Washington, President; Jefferson, Secretary of State; Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury; Knox, Secretary of War; and Randolph, Attorney-General, was pretty nearly ideal, no one smiled. But Jefferson's plain inference was that power is dangerous and man is fallible; that a man so good as Washington dies tomorrow and another man steps in, and that those who have the government in their present keeping should curb ambitions, limit their own power, and thus fix a precedent for those who are to follow.
The wisdom that Jefferson as a statesman showed in working for a future good, and the willingness to forego the pomp of personal power, to sacrifice self if need be, that the day he should not see might be secure, ranks him as first among statesmen. For a statesman is one who builds a State—and not a politician who is dead, as some have said.
Others, since, have followed Jefferson's example, but in the world's history I do not recall a man before him who, while still having power in his grasp, was willing to trust the people.
The one mistake of Washington that borders on blunder was in refusing to take wages for his work. In doing this, he visited untold misery on others, who, not having married rich widows, tried to follow his example and floundered into woeful debt and disgrace; and thereby were lost to useful society and to the world. And there are yet many public offices where small men rattle about because men who can fill the place can not afford it. Bryce declares that no able and honest man of moderate means can afford to take an active part in municipal affairs in America—and Bryce is right.