Page images
PDF
EPUB

count. To this determination with respect to pay or profit Washington steadily adhered; and thus after eight arduous years of the chief command he went out no richer than he came in, and no poorer. Mrs. Washington used to join her husband every year in winter-quarters, and return to Mount Vernon whenever the campaign commenced. To his agent at Mount Vernon we find Washington write meanwhile in the most kindly spirit: "Let "the hospitality of the house with respect to the poor be

"kept up. Let no one go hungry away You are

"to consider that neither myself nor wife is now in "the way to do these good offices."*—Thus also as to the culture of his lands the General, even amidst the most stirring and eventful scenes of the war, sent most minute instructions, and required in return frequent and full reports. It was to this beloved home of Mount Vernon, and to the hope of again enjoying it, that at any brief interval of leisure the thoughts of Washington ever fondly turned. There was certainly no period in his career when he would not have joyfully exchanged — had his high sense of duty allowed him — the cares of public for the ease of private life. And this wish for retirement, strong and sincere as it was in Washington, seems the more remarkable since it was not with him, as with so many other great men, prompted in any degree by the love of literature. He was not like Cicero, when shrinking in affright from the storms which rent the Commonwealth, and reverting with fond regret to the well-stored library of Atticus, and to his own favourite little seat beneath the bust of Aristotle f;—he was not like Clarendon at Montpellier, when he turned from an ungrateful age, not worthy of his virtue, and indited for all time to come his immortal History. Neither reading nor writing as such had any charms for Washington. But he was zealously devoted to the earliest and most needful of all the toils of man, —

* To Lund Washington, November 26. 1775. It is remarkable as a peculiarity of language at that period or in that country that Washington writing to his land-agent and own relative speaks of his intended yearly remuneration not as "salary," but as " wages."

'(' " Maloque in ilia tua se lecula, quam habes sub imagine Aris"totelis, sedore, quam in istorum sella curuli." (Cic. ad Att. lib. iv. ep. 10.)

he loved to be a feeder of flocks and a tiller of the ground.

It has been justly remarked that of General Washington there are fewer anecdotes to tell than perhaps of any other great man on record. So equally framed were the features of his mind, so harmonious all its proportions, that no one quality rose salient above the rest. There were none of those chequered hues, none of those warring emotions, in which Biography delights. There was no contrast of lights and shades, no flickering of the flame; it was a mild light that seldom dazzled, but that ever cheered and warmed. His contemporaries or his close observers, as Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Gallatin *, assert that he had naturally strong passions, but had attained complete mastery over them. In self-control indeed he has never been surpassed. If sometimes on rare occasions, and on strong provocation, there was wrung from him a burst of anger, it was almost instantly quelled by the dominion of his will. He decided surely, though he deliberated slowly; nor could any urgency or peril move him from his serene composure, his calm clear-headed good sense. Integrity and truth were also ever present in his mind. Not a single instance, as I believe, can be found in his whole career when he was impelled by any but an upright motive, or endeavoured to attain an object by any but worthy means. Such are some of the high qualities which have justly earned for General Washington the admiration even of the country he opposed, and not merely the admiration but the gratitude and affection of his own. Such was the pure and upright spirit to which, when its toils were over and its earthly course had been run, was offered the unanimous homage of the assembled Congress, all clad in deep mourning for their common loss, as to "the man first in war, first in peace, and first "in the hearts of his fellow citizens."f At this day in the United States the reverence for his character is, as it should be, deep and universal, and not confined, as with nearly all our English statesmen, to one party, one pro- * Sir Augustus Foster's Notes (unpublished). Extracts in Quarterly Review, No. cxxxv. p. 39.

f Resolutions of Congress moved by John Marshall, December 19 1799.

E a

vince, or one creed. Such reverence for Washington is felt even by those who wander furthest from the paths in which he trod. A President when recommending measures of aggression and invasion can still refer to him whose rule was ever to arm only in self-defence as to "the greatest "and best of men !" * States which exult in their bankruptcy as a proof of their superior shrewdness, and have devised "Repudiation" as a newer and more graceful term for it, yet look up to their great General — the very soul of good faith and honour — with their reverence unimpaired! Politicians who rejoice in seeing the Black man the property and chattel of the White, and desire to rank that state of things amongst their noblest " Institutions," are yet willing to forgive or to forget how Washington prayed to God that a spirit to set free the slave might speedily diffuse itself amidst his countrymen! Thus may it be said of this most virtuous man what in days of old was said of Virtue herself, that even those who depart most widely from her precepts still keep holy and bow down to her name.

It is worthy of note that the officers appointed by the Congress to act under Washington with the rank of Brigadier or Major-General were not all Americans by birth. — Horatio Gates was an Englishman, and a godson of Horace Walpole f, having reached the rank of Major in the British service. — Charles Lee was another Englishman, a correspondent of Burke and Charlemont +, and holding a Royal Commission as Colonel which he now resigned.—Montgomery, who had likewise served in our ranks, was a native of the north of Ireland.

Throughout the twelve Colonies, with only slight exceptions, the decisions of the Congress both as to measures and appointments were readily adopted and obeyed.

* Message of President Polk, December 1847.

f On the 22d of March 1762 Walpole writes to George Montagu: "Perhaps you may think me proud, but you don't know that I had "some share in the reduction of Martinico; the express was brought "by my godson, Mr. Horatio Gates!"

} See, for example, in Hardy's Life of Charlemont the letter dated June 1. 1765, in which Lee gives more suo a most prejudiced and passionate account of Poland. "Were I," says he, "to call the '• common people brutes, I should injure the quadruped creation!"

In nearly all it may be said that the established Royal government fell without a blow. The Governors took to flight or sought refuge on board a King's ship, while their partisans found themselves far outnumbered and over-matched, and their place was supplied by Committees of Safety or by the popular chiefs of each Assembly.

The appointment of Washington as General-in-Chief took place on the 15th of June. Six days afterwards His Excellency (for thus was he addressed on service) set out to assume the command of the army engaged in the blockade of Boston. But during that interval events of no common importance had there occurred. At the close of May and beginning of June the expected reinforcements from England had arrived. They were headed by General Burgoyne, General William Howe, the brother of Lord Howe, and General Henry Clinton, officers who, as will be seen hereafter, bore a principal part in the subsequent transactions of the war. By this accession the whole force under General Gage as Commander-in-Chief was raised to nearly ten thousand men. With these troops—which were courageous and well disciplined, and which should have been well commanded,—an attack might have been made with every prospect of complete success against the bodies of American Militia, superior in mere numbers, but extended along a line of ten miles, not being as yet inured to arms, and not having as yet among them any General in whom they felt entire confidence. Either conciliation or else conquest should have been strenuously pursued. But it was the bane of England not merely on this occasion, but throughout the whole early part of this war, to have for chiefs men brave indeed and honourable, skilled in the details of the service, and zealous for Old England and King George, but in genius fitted only for a second place, not gifted by Nature with that energy and firmness essential for a chief command. Take, for instance, the career of Burgoyne. He was an illegitimate son of Lord Bingley, and had raised his fortune by a run-away match with a daughter of the Earl of Derby.* In Por- * H. Walpole to the Rev. W. Mason, October 5. 1777. See the tugal he had served with much distinction; at Preston he had been a candidate at the expense, it was said, of no less than ten thousand pounds. In war his bravery was never questioned, and in civil life he was gifted with many high accomplishments; a fluent speaker in Parliament, and an agreeable writer of plays. His comedy"The Heiress" is still acted with applause. But judging by the event at least we might be tempted to apply to him those humorous words, with which another playwright—no less a one than Lope de Vega—describes himself during his own days of soldiery,—as a man who in his youth had done nothing, and who since his youth had done less! * Of the other chiefs some might be superior to Burgoyne, but all were far from equal to Clive; and in an evil hour for the military fame of England, though happily perhaps as sparing the protraction of an inevitable issue, Lord Clive had fallen by his own hand only six months before. There was wanting in the Cabinet that energy which enables a Prime Minister to discard the rules of seniority in the selection of a General. There was wanting in short a mastermind like Chatham's to discover and call forth a mastermind like Wolfe's.

On the arrival of his reinforcements General Gage issued a proclamation declaring martial law to be in force, but offering a free pardon to all who would lay down their arms, excepting only John Hancock and Samuel Adams, whose offences were described as too flagitious to be thus forgiven. No result of any kind attended the publication of this Manifesto, except perhaps an increase of enterprise on the part of the Americans.—Opposite to Boston stands the small town, or rather perhaps the suburb, of Charleston, severed from the capital by an arm

series of letters published in 1851, vol. i. p. 316. See also a note to Woodfall's Junius, voL ii. p. 57. ed. 1812.

* See the commencement of the Petition which Lope in his old age addressed to Philip IV.:

"Lope dice, Senor, que a vuestro abuelo
"Sirvio en Ynglaterra con la espada,
"Y aunque con ella entonces no hizo nada,
"Menot despues, mas fue valiente el zelo." (Obras, voL xvii. p. 401.)

« PreviousContinue »