To obviate misunderstanding, it seems well to warn the reader that
this book aims only at giving a sketch of George Washington's life
and acts. I was interested to discover, if I could, the human residue
which I felt sure must persist in Washington after all was said. Owing
to the pernicious drivel of the Reverend Weems no other great man in
history has had to live down such a mass of absurdities and deliberate
false inventions. At last after a century and a quarter the rubbish
has been mostly cleared away, and only those who wilfully prefer to
deceive themselves need waste time over an imaginary Father of His
Country amusing himself with a fictitious cherry-tree and hatchet.
The truth is that the material about George Washington is very
voluminous. His military records cover the eight years of the
Revolutionary War. His political work is preserved officially in
the reports of Congress. Most of the public men who were his
contemporaries left memoirs or correspondence in which he figures.
Above all there is the edition, in fourteen volumes, of his own
writings compiled by Mr. Worthington C. Ford. And yet many persons
find something that baffles them. They do not recognize a definite
flesh and blood Virginian named Washington behind it all. Even so
sturdy an historian as Professor Channing calls him the most elusive
of historic personages. Who has not wished that James Boswell could
have spent a year with Wellington on terms as intimate as those he
spent with Dr. Johnson and could have left a report of that intimacy?
In this sketch I have conceived of Washington as of some superb
athlete equipped for every ordeal which life might cause him to face.
The nature of each ordeal must be briefly stated; brief also, but
sufficient, the account of the way he accomplished it. I have quoted
freely from his letters wherever it seemed fitting, first, because in
them you get his personal authentic statement of what happened as he
saw it, and you get also his purpose in making any move; and next,
because nothing so well reveals the real George Washington as those
letters do. Whoever will steep himself in them will hardly declare
that their writer remains an elusive person beyond finding out or
understanding. In the course of reading them you will come upon many
of those "imponderables" which are the secret soul of statecraft.
And so with all humility--for no one can spend much time with
Washington, and not feel profound humility--I leave this little sketch
to its fate, and hope that some readers will find in it what I strove
to put in it.