HumanitiesWeb HumanitiesWeb
Sort By Author Sort By Title

Sort By Author
Sort By Title


Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer

& etc

All Rights Reserved.

Site last updated
28 October, 2012
Real Time Analytics
The True George Washington
Tastes and Amusements
by Ford, Paul Leicester

A market trait of Washington's character was his particularity about his clothes; there can be little question that he was early in life a good deal of a dandy, and that this liking for fine feathers never quite left him. When he was about sixteen years old he wrote in his journal, "Memorandum to have my Coat made by the following Directions to be made a Frock with a Lapel Breast the Lapel to Contain on each side six Button Holes and to be about 5 or 6 Inches wide all the way equal and to turn as the Breast on the Coat does to have it made very long Waisted and in Length to come down to or below the bent of the knee the Waist from the armpit to the Fold to be exactly as long or Longer than from thence to the Bottom not to have more than one fold in the Skirt and the top to be made just to turn in and three Button Holes the Lapel at the top to turn as the Cape of the Coat and Bottom to Come Parallel with the Button Holes the Last Button hole in the Breast to be right opposite to the Button on the Hip."

In 1754 he bought "a Superfine blue broad cloth Coat, with Silver Trimmings," "a fine Scarlet Waistcoat full Lac'd," and a quantity of "silver lace for a Hatt," and from another source it is learned that at this time he was the possessor of ruffled shirts. A little later he ordered from London "As much of the best superfine blue Cotton Velvet as will make a Coat, Waistcoat and Breeches for a Tall Man, with a fine silk button to suit it, and all other necessary trimmings and linings, together with garters for the Breeches," and other orders at different times were for "6 prs. of the Very neatest shoes," "A riding waistcoat of superfine scarlet cloth and gold Lace," "2 prs. of fashionable mix'd or marble Color'd Silk Hose," "1 piece of finest and fashionable Stock Tape," "1 Suit of the finest Cloth & fashionable colour," "a New Market Great Coat with a loose hood to it, made of Bleu Drab or broad cloth, with straps before according to the present taste," "3 gold and scarlet sword-knots, 3 silver and blue do, 1 fashionable gold-laced hat."

As these orders indicated, the young fellow strove to be in the fashion. In 1755 he wrote his brother, "as wearing boots is quite the mode, and mine are in a declining state, I must beg the favor of you to procure me a pair that is good and neat." "Whatever goods you may send me," he wrote his London agent, "let them be fashionable, neat and good of their several kinds." It was a great trial to him that his clothes did not fit him. "I should have enclosed you my measure," he wrote to London, "but in a general way they are so badly taken here, that I am convinced that it would be of very little service." "I have hitherto had my clothes made by one Charles Lawrence in Old Fish Street," he wrote his English factor. "But whether it be the fault of the tailor, or the measure sent, I can't say, but, certain it is, my clothes have never fitted me well."

It must not be inferred, however, that Washington carried his dandyism to weakness. When fine clothes were not in place, they were promptly discarded. In his trip to the Ohio in 1753 he states that "I put myself in an Indian walking Dress," and "tied myself up in a Match Coat,"--that is, an Indian blanket. In the campaign of 1758 he wrote to his superior officer "that were I left to pursue my own Inclinations, I would not only order the Men to adopt the Indian dress, but cause the Officers to do it also, and be at the first to set the example myself. Nothing but the uncertainty of its taking with the General causes me to hesitate a moment at leaving my Regimentals at this place, and proceeding as light as any Indian in the Woods. 'T is an unbecoming dress, I confess, for an officer; but convenience, rather than shew, I think should be consulted." And this was such good sense that the general gave him leave, and it was done.

With increase of years his taste in clothes became softened and more sober. "On the other side is an invoice of clothes which I beg the favor of you to purchase for me," he wrote to London. "As they are designed for wearing apparel for myself, I have committed the choice of them to your fancy, having the best opinion of your taste. I want neither lace nor embroidery. Plain clothes, with a gold or silver button (if worn in genteel dress) are all I desire." "Do not conceive," he told his nephew in 1783, "that fine clothes make fine men more than fine feathers make fine Birds. A plain genteel dress is more admired, and obtains more credit than lace and embroidery, in the Eyes of the judicious and sensible." And in connection with the provisional army he decided that "on reconsidering the uniform of the Commander in Chief, it has become a matter of doubt with me, (although, as it respects myself personally, I was against all embroidery,) whether embroidery on the Cape, Cuffs, and Pockets of the Coat, and none on the buff waistcoat would not have a disjointed and awkward appearance." Probably nowhere did he show his good taste more than in his treatment of the idea of putting him in classic garments when his bust was made by Houdon. "In answer to your obliging inquiries respecting the dress, attitude, &c.," he wrote, "which I would wish to have given to the statue in question, I have only to observe, that, not having sufficient knowledge in the art of sculpture to oppose my judgment to the taste of connoisseurs, I do not desire to dictate in the matter. On the contrary I shall be perfectly satisfied with whatever may be judged decent and proper. I should even scarcely have ventured to suggest, that perhaps a servile adherence to the garb of antiquity might not be altogether so expedient, as some little deviation in favor of the modern costume." Washington, as noted, bought his clothes in England; but it was from necessity more than choice. "If there be any homespun Cloths in Philadelphia which are tolerably fine, that you can come reasonably at," he said to his Philadelphia agent in 1784, "I would be obliged to you to send me patterns of some of the best kinds--I should prefer that which is mixed in the grain, because it will not so readily discover its quality as a plain cloth." Before he was inaugurated he wrote "General Knox this day to procure me homespun broadcloth of the Hartford fabric, to make a suit of clothes for myself," adding, "I hope it will not be a great while before it will be unfashionable for a gentleman to appear in any other dress. Indeed, we have already been too long subject to British prejudices." At another time he noted in his diary with evident pride, "on this occasion I was dressed in a suit made at the Woolen Manufactory at Hartford, as the buttons also were." But then, as now, the foreign clothes were so much finer that his taste overcame his patriotism, and his secretary wrote that "the President is desireous of getting as much superfine blk broad Cloth as will make him a suit of Clothes, and desires me to request that you would send him that quantity ... The best superfine French or Dutch black--exceedingly fine--of a soft, silky texture--not glossy like the Engh cloths."

A caller during the Presidency spoke of him as dressed in purple satin, and at his levees he is described by Sullivan as "clad in black velvet; his hair in full dress, powdered and gathered behind in a large silk bag; yellow gloves on his hands; holding a cocked hat with a cockade in it, and the edges adorned with a black feather about an inch deep. He wore knee and shoe buckles; and a long sword, with a finely wrought and polished steel hilt, which appeared at the left hip; the coat worn over the sword, so that the hilt, and the part below the coat behind, were in view. The scabbard was white polished leather."

About his person Washington was as neat as he desired his clothes to be. At seventeen when surveying he records that he was "Lighted into a Room & I not being so good a Woodsman as ye rest of my Company striped myself very orderly & went in to ye Bed as they called it when to my Surprize I found it to be nothing but a Little Straw--Matted together without Sheets or any thing else but only one thread Bear blanket with double its Weight of Vermin such as Lice, Fleas &c. I was glad to get up (as soon as ye Light was carried from us) I put on my Cloths & Lay as my Companions. Had we not have been very tired I am sure we should not have slep'd much that night. I made a Promise not to Sleep so from that time forward chusing rather to sleep in ye open Air before a fire as will appear hereafter." The next day he notes that the party "Travell'd up to Frederick Town where our Baggage came to us we cleaned ourselves (to get Rid of ye Game we had catched y. Night before)" and slept in "a good Feather Bed with clean Sheets which was a very agreeable regale." Wherever he happened to be, the laundress was in constant demand. His bill from the washer-lady for the week succeeding his inauguration as President, and before his domestic ménage was in running order, was for "6 Ruffled shirts, 2 plain shirts, 8 stocks, 3 pair Silk Hose, 2 White hand. 2 Silk Handks. 1 pr. Flanl. Drawers, 1 Hair nett."

The barber, too, was a constant need, and Washington's ledger shows constant expenditures for perfumed hair-powder and pomatum, and also for powder bags and puffs. Apparently the services of this individual were only for the arranging of his hair, for he seems never to have shaved Washington, that being done either by himself or by his valet. Of this latter individual Washington said (when the injury to William Lee unfitted him for the service), "I do not as yet know whether I shall get a substitute for William: nothing short of excellent qualities and a man of good appearance, would induce me to do it--and under my present view of the matter, too, who would employ himself otherwise than William did--that is as a butler as well as a valette, for my wants of the latter are so trifling that any man (as William was) would soon be ruined by idleness, who had only them to attend to."

In food Washington took what came with philosophy. "If you meet with collegiate fare, it will be unmanly to complain," he told his grandson, though he once complained in camp that "we are debarred from the pleasure of good living; which, Sir, (I dare say with me you will concur,) to one who has always been used to it, must go somewhat hard to be confined to a little salt provision and water." Usually, however, poor fare was taken as a matter of course. "When we came to Supper," he said in his journal of 1748, "there was neither a Cloth upon ye Table nor a Knife to eat with but as good luck would have it we had Knives of our own," and again he wrote, "we pull'd out our Knapsack in order to Recruit ourselves every one was his own Cook our Spits was Forked Sticks our Plates was a Large Chip as for Dishes we had none." Nor was he squeamish about what he ate. In the voyage to Barbadoes he several times ate dolphin; he notes that the bread was almost "eaten up by Weavel & Maggots," and became quite enthusiastic over some "very fine Bristol tripe" and "a fine Irish Ling & Potatoes." But all this may have been due to the proverbial sea appetite.

Samuel Stearns states that Washington "breakfasts about seven o'clock on three small Indian hoe-cakes, and as many dishes of tea," and Custis relates that "Indian cakes, honey, and tea formed this temperate repast." These two writers tell us that at dinner "he ate heartily, but was not particular in his diet, with the exception of fish, of which he was excessively fond. He partook sparingly of dessert, drank a home-made beverage, and from four to five glasses of Madeira wine" (Custis), and that "he dines, commonly on a single dish, and drinks from half a pint to a pint of Madeira wine. This, with one small glass of punch, a draught of beer, and two dishes of tea (which he takes half an hour before sun-setting) constitutes his whole sustenance till the next day." (Stearns.) Ashbel Green relates that at the state banquets during the Presidency Washington "generally dined on one single dish, and that of a very simple kind. If offered something either in the first or second course which was very rich, his usual reply was--'That is too good for me.'" It is worth noting that he religiously observed the fasts proclaimed in 1774 and 1777, going without food the entire day.

A special liking is mentioned above. In 1782 Richard Varick wrote to a friend, "General Washington dines with me to-morrow; he is exceedingly fond of salt fish; I have some coming up, & tho' it will be here in a few days, it will not be here in time--If you could conveniently lend me as much fish as would serve a pretty large company to-morrow (at least for one Dish), it will oblige me, and shall in a very few days be returned in as good Dun Fish as ever you see. Excuse this freedom, and it will add to the favor. Could you not prevail upon somebody to catch some Trout for me early to-morrow morning?" When procurable, salt codfish was Washington's regular Sunday dinner.

A second liking was honey. His ledger several times mentions purchases of this, and in 1789 his sister wrote him, "when I last had the Pleasure of seeing you I observ'd your fondness for Honey; I have got a large Pot of very fine in the comb, which I shall send by the first opportunity." Among his purchases "sugar candy" is several times mentioned, but this may have been for children, and not for himself. He was a frequent buyer of fruit of all kinds and of melons.

He was very fond of nuts, buying hazelnuts and shellbarks by the barrel, and he wrote his overseer in 1792 to "tell house Frank I expect he will lay up a more plenteous store of the black common walnuts than he usually does." The Prince de Broglie states that "at dessert he eats an enormous quantity of nuts, and when the conversation is entertaining he keeps eating through a couple of hours, from time to time giving sundry healths, according to the English and American custom. It is what they call 'toasting.'"

Washington was from boyhood passionately fond of horsemanship, and when but seventeen owned a horse. Humphreys states that "all those who have seen General Washington on horseback, at the head of his army, will doubtless bear testimony with the author that they never saw a more graceful or dignified person," and Jefferson said of him that he was "the best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback." His diary shows that he rode on various occasions as much as sixty miles in a day, and Lawrence reports that he "usually rode from Rockingham to Princeton, which is five miles, in forty minutes." John Hunter, in a visit to Mount Vernon in 1785, writes that he went
"to see his famous race-horse Magnolia--a most beautiful creature. A whole length of his was taken a while ago, (mounted on Magnolia) by a famous man from Europe on copper.... I afterwards went to his stables, where among an amazing number of horses, I saw old Nelson, now 22 years of age, that carried the General almost always during the war; Blueskin, another fine old horse next to him, now and then had that honor. Shaw also shewed me his old servant, that was reported to have been taken, with a number of the General's papers about him. They have heard the roaring of many a cannon in their time. Blueskin was not the favorite, on account of his not standing fire so well as venerable old Nelson."
Chastellux relates, "he was so attentive as to give me the horse he rode, the day of my arrival, which I had greatly commended--I found him as good as he is handsome; but above all, perfectly well broke, and well trained, having a good mouth, easy in hand and stopping short in a gallop without bearing the bit--I mention these minute particulars, because it is the general himself who breaks all his own horses; and he is a very excellent and bold horseman, leaping the highest fences, and going extremely quick, without standing upon his stirrups, bearing on the bridle, or letting his horse run wild."

As a matter of course this liking for horses made Washington fond of racing, and he not only subscribed liberally to most of the racing purses, but ran horses at them, attending in person, and betting moderately on the results. So, too, he was fond of riding to the hounds, and when at Mount Vernon it was a favorite pastime. From his diary excerpts of runs are,--
"Went a Fox hunting with the Gentlemen who came here yesterday.... after a very early breakfast--found a Fox just back of Muddy hole Plantation and after a Chase of an hour and a quarter with my Dogs, & eight couple of Doctor Smiths (brought by Mr. Phil Alexander) we put him into a hollow tree, in which we fastened him, and in the Pincushion put up another Fox which, in an hour & 13 Minutes was killed--We then after allowing the Fox in the hole half an hour put the Dogs upon his trail & in half a Mile he took to another hollow tree and was again put out of it but he did not go 600 yards before he had recourse to the same shift--finding therefore that he was a conquered Fox we took the Dogs off, and came home to Dinner."

"After an early breakfast [my nephew] George Washington, Mr. Shaw and Myself went into the Woods back of Muddy hole Plantation a hunting and were joined by Mr. Lund Washington and Mr. William Peake. About half after ten Oclock (being first plagued with the Dogs running Hogs) we found a fox near Colo Masons Plantation on little Hunting Creek (West fork) having followed on his Drag more than half a Mile; and run him with Eight Dogs (the other 4 getting, as was supposed after a Second Fox) close and well for an hour. When the Dogs came to a fault and to cold Hunting until 20 minutes after when being joined by the missing Dogs they put him up afresh and in about 50 Minutes killed up in an open field of Colo Mason's every Rider & every Dog being present at the Death."
During the Revolution, when opportunity offered, he rode to the hounds, for Hiltzheimer wrote in 1781, "My son Robert [having] been on a Hunt at Frankfort says that His Excel'y Gen. Washington was there."

This liking made dogs an interest to him, and he took much pains to improve the breed of his hounds. On one occasion he "anointed all my Hounds (as well old Dogs as Puppies) which have the mange, with Hogs Lard & Brimstone." Mopsey, Pilot, Tartar, Jupiter, Trueman, Tipler, Truelove, Juno, Dutchess, Ragman, Countess, Lady, Searcher, Rover, Sweetlips, Vulcan, Singer, Music, Tiyal, and Forrester are some of the names he gave them. In 1794, in the fall of his horse, as already mentioned, he wrenched his back, and in consequence, when he returned to Mount Vernon, this pastime was never resumed, and his pack was given up.

Kindred to this taste for riding to the hounds was one for gunning. A few entries in his diary tell the nature of his sport. "Went a ducking between breakfast and dinner and kill'd 2 Mallards & 5 bald faces." "I went to the Creek but not across it. Kill'd 2 ducks, viz. a sprig tail and a Teal." "Rid out with my gun but kill'd nothing." In 1787 a man asked for permission to shoot over Mount Vernon, and Washington refused it because
"my fixed determination is, that no person whatever shall hunt upon my grounds or waters--To grant leave to one and refuse another would not only be drawing a line of discrimination which would be offensive, but would subject one to great inconvenience--for my strict and positive orders to all my people are if they hear a gun fired upon my Land to go immediately in pursuit of it.... Besides, as I have not lost my relish for this sport when I find time to indulge myself in it, and Gentlemen who come to the House are pleased with it, it is my wish not to have game within my jurisdiction disturbed."
Fishing was another pastime. He "went a dragging for Sturgeon" frequently, and sometimes "catch'd one" and sometimes "catch'd none." While in Philadelphia in 1787 he went up to the old camp at Valley Forge and spent a day fishing, and in 1789 at Portsmouth, "having lines, we proceeded to the Fishing Banks a little without the Harbour and fished for Cod; but it not being a proper time of tide, we only caught two." After his serious sickness in 1790 a newspaper reports that "yesterday afternoon the President of the United States returned from Sandy Hook and the fishing banks, where he had been for the benefit of the sea air, and to amuse himself in the delightful recreation of fishing. We are told he has had excellent sport, having himself caught a great number of sea-bass and black fish--the weather proved remarkably fine, which, together with the salubrity of the air and wholesome exercise, rendered this little voyage extremely agreeable, and cannot fail, we hope, of being serviceable to a speedy and complete restoration of his health."

Washington was fond of cards, and in bad weather even records "at home all day, over cards." How much time must have been spent in this way is shown by the innumerable purchases of "1 dozen packs playing cards" noted in his ledger. In 1748, when he was sixteen years old, he won two shillings and threepence from his sister-in-law at whist and five shillings at "Loo" (or, as he sometimes spells it, "Lue") from his brother, and he seems always to have played for small stakes, which sometimes mounted into fairly sizable sums. The largest gain found is three pounds, and the largest loss nine pounds fourteen shillings and ninepence. He seems to have lost oftener than he won.

Billiards was a rival of cards, and a game of which he seems to have been fond. In his seventeenth year he won one shilling and threepence by the cue, and from that time won and lost more or less money in this way. Here, too, he seems to have been out of pocket, though not for so much money, his largest winning noted being only seven shillings and sixpence, and his largest loss being one pound and ten shillings.

In 1751, at Barbadoes, Washington "was treated with a play ticket to see the Tragedy of George Barnwell acted: the character of Barnwell and several others was said to be well perform'd there was Musick a Dapted and regularly conducted." This presumptively was the lad's first visit to the playhouse, but from that time it was one of his favorite amusements. At first his ledger shows expenditures of "Cash at the Play House 1/3," which proves that his purse would bear the cost of only the cheapest seats; but later he became more extravagant in this respect, and during the Presidency he used the drama for entertaining, his ledger giving many items of tickets bought. A type entry in Washington's diary is, "Went to the play in the evening--sent tickets to the following ladies and gentlemen and invited them to seats in my box, viz:--Mrs. Adams (lady of the Vice-President,) General Schuyler and lady, Mr. King and lady, Majr. Butler and lady, Colo Hamilton and lady, Mrs. Green--all of whom accepted and came except Mrs. Butler, who was indisposed."

Maclay describes the first of these theatre parties as follows: "I received a ticket from the President of the United States to use his box this evening at the theatre, being the first of his appearances at the playhouse since his entering on his office. Went The President, Governor of the State, foreign Ministers, Senators from New Hampshire, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, M.[aryland] and South Carolina; and some ladies in the same box. I am old, and notices or attentions are lost on me. I could have wished some of my dear children in my place; they are young and would have enjoyed it. Long might they live to boast of having been seated in the same box with the first Character in the world. The play was the 'School for Scandal,' I never liked it; indeed, I think it an indecent representation before ladies of character and virtue. Farce, the 'Old Soldier.' The house greatly crowded, and I thought the players acted well; but I wish we had seen the Conscious Lovers, or some one that inculcated more prudential manners."

Of the play, or rather interlude, of the "Old Soldier" its author, Dunlap, gives an amusing story. It turned on the home-coming of an old soldier, and, like the topical song of to-day, touched on local affairs:
"When Wignell, as Darby, recounts what had befallen him in America, in New York, at the adoption of the Federal Constitution, and the inauguration of the president, the interest expressed by the audience in the looks and the changes of countenance of this great man [Washington] became intense. He smiled at these lines, alluding to the change in the government--

There too I saw some mighty pretty shows;
A revolution, without blood or blows,
For, as I understood, the cunning elves,
The people all revolted from themselves.
But at the lines--
A man who fought to free the land from we,
Like me, had left his farm, a-soldiering to go:
But having gain'd his point, he had like me,
Return'd his own potato ground to see.
But there he could not rest. With one accord
He's called to be a kind of--not a lord--
I don't know what, he's not a great man, sure,
For poor men love him just as he were poor.
They love him like a father or a brother,
As we poor Irishmen love one another.

The president looked serious; and when Kathleen asked,

How looked he, Darby? Was he short or tall?
his countenance showed embarrassment, from the expectation or one of those eulogiums which, he had been obliged to hear on many public occasions, and which must doubtless have been a severe trial to his feelings: but Darby's answer that he had not seen him, because he had mistaken a man 'all lace and glitter, botherum and shine,' for him, until all the show had passed, relieved the hero from apprehension of farther personality, and he indulged in that which was with him extremely rare, a hearty laugh."

Washington did not even despise amateur performances. As already mentioned, he expressed a wish to take part in "Cato" himself in 1758, and a year before he had subscribed to the regimental "players at Fort Cumberland," His diary shows that in 1768 the couple at Mount Vernon "& ye two children were up to Alexandria to see the Inconstant or 'the way to win him' acted," which was probably an amateur performance. Furthermore, Duer tells us that "I was not only frequently admitted to the presence of this most august of men, in propria persona, but once had the honor of appearing before him as one of the dramatis personae in the tragedy of Julius Caesar, enacted by a young 'American Company,' (the theatrical corps then performing in New York being called the 'Old American Company') in the garret of the Presidential mansion, wherein before the magnates of the land and the elite of the city, I performed the part of Brutus to the Cassius of my old school-fellow, Washington Custis."

The theatre was by no means the only show that appealed to Washington. He went to the circus when opportunity offered, gave nine shillings to a "man who brought an elk as a show," three shillings and ninepence "to hear the Armonica," two dollars for tickets "to see the automatum," treated the "Ladies to ye Microcosm" and paid to see waxworks, puppet shows, a dancing bear, and a lioness and tiger. Nor did he avoid a favorite Virginia pastime, but attended cockfights when able. His frequent going to concerts has been already mentioned.

Washington seems to have been little of a reader except of books on agriculture, which he bought, read, and even made careful abstracts of many, and on this subject alone did he ever seem to write from pleasure. As a lad, he notes in his journal that he is reading The Spectator and a history of England, but after those two brief entries there is no further mention of books or reading in his daily memorandum of "where and how my time is spent." In his ledger, too, almost the least common expenditure entered is one for books. Nor do his London invoices, so far as extant, order any books but those which treated of farming and horses. In the settlement of the Custis estate, "I had no particular reason for keeping and handing down to his son, the books of the late Colo Custis saving that I thought it would be taking the advantage of a low appraisement, to make them my own property at it, and that to sell them was not an object."

With the broadening that resulted from the command of the army more attention was paid to books, and immediately upon the close of the Revolution Washington ordered the following works: "Life of Charles the Twelfth," "Life of Louis the Fifteenth," "Life and Reign of Peter the Great," Robertson's "History of America," Voltaire's "Letters," Vertot's "Revolution of Rome" and "Revolution of Portugal," "Life of Gustavus Adolphus," Sully's "Memoirs," Goldsmith's "Natural History," "Campaigns of Marshal Turenne," Chambaud's "French and English Dictionary," Locke "on the Human Understanding," and Robertson's "Charles the Fifth." From this time on he was a fairly constant book-buyer, and subscribed as a "patron" to a good many forthcoming works, while many were sent him as gifts. On politics he seems to have now read with interest; yet in 1797, after his retirement from the Presidency, in writing of the manner in which he spent his hours, he said, "it may strike you that in this detail no mention is made of any portion of time allotted to reading. The remark would be just, for I have not looked into a book since I came home, nor shall I be able to do it until I have discharged my workmen; probably not before the nights grow long when possibly I may be looking into Doomsday book." There can be no doubt that through all his life Washington gave to reading only the time he could not use on more practical affairs.

His library was a curious medley of books, if those on military science and agriculture are omitted. There is a fair amount of the standard history of the day, a little theology, so ill assorted as to suggest gifts rather than purchases, a miscellany of contemporary politics, and a very little belles-lettres. In political science the only works in the slightest degree noticeable are Smith's "Wealth of Nations," "The Federalist," and Rousseau's "Social Compact," and, as the latter was in French, it could not have been read. In lighter literature Homer, Shakespeare, and Burns, Lord Chesterfield, Swift, Smollett, Fielding, and Sterne, and "Don Quixote," are the only ones deserving notice. It is worthy of mention that Washington's favorite quotation was Addison's "'Tis not in mortals to command success," but he also utilized with considerable aptitude quotations from Shakespeare and Sterne. There were half a dozen of the ephemeral novels of the day, but these were probably Mrs. Washington's, as her name is written in one, and her husband's in none. Writing to his grandson, Washington warned him that "light reading (by this, I mean books of little importance) may amuse for the moment, but leaves nothing solid behind."

[Illustration Removed: WASHINGTON'S BOOK-PLATE]

One element of Washington's reading which cannot be passed over without notice is that of newspapers. In his early life he presumably read the only local paper of the time (the Virginia Gazette), for when an anonymous writer, "Centinel," in 1756, charged that Washington's regiment was given over to drunkenness and other misbehavior, he drew up a reply, which he sent with ten shillings to the newspaper, but the printer apparently declined to print it, for it never appeared.

After the Revolution he complained to his Philadelphia agent, "I have such a number of Gazettes, crowded upon me (many without orders) that they are not only expensive, but really useless; as my other avocations will not afford me time to read them oftentimes, and when I do attempt it, find them more troublesome, than profitable; I have therefore to beg, if you Should get Money into your hands on Acct of the Inclosed Certificate, that you would be so good as to pay what I am owing to Messrs Dunlap & Claypoole, Mr. Oswald & Mr. Humphrey's. If they consider me however as engaged for the year, I am Content to let the matter run on to the Expiration of it" During the Presidency he subscribed to the Gazette of the United States, Brown's Gazette, Dunlap's American Advertiser, the Pennsylvania Gazette, Bache's Aurora, and the New York Magazine, Carey's Museum, and the Universal Asylum, though at this time he "lamented that the editors of the different gazettes in the Union do not more generally and more correctly (instead of stuffing their papers with scurrility and nonsensical declamation, which few would read if they were apprised of the contents,) publish the debates in Congress on all great national questions."

Presently, for personal and party reasons, certain of the papers began to attack him, and Jefferson wrote to Madison that the President was "extremely affected by the attacks made and kept up on him in the public papers. I think he feels these things more than any person I ever met with." Later the Secretary of State noted that at an interview Washington "adverted to a piece in Freneau's paper of yesterday, he said that he despised all their attacks on him personally, but that there never had been an act of government ... that paper had not abused ... He was evidently sore and warm." At a cabinet meeting, too, according to the same writer, "the Presidt was much inflamed, got into one of those passions when he cannot command himself, ran on much on the personal abuse which had been bestowed on him, defied any man on earth to produce a single act of his since he had been in the govmt which was not done on the purest motives, that he had never repented but once the having slipped the moment of resigning his office, & that was every moment since, that by god he had rather be in his grave than in his present situation. That he had rather be on his farm than to be made emperor of the world and yet that they were charging him with wanting to be a king. That that rascal Freneau sent him 3 of his papers every day, as if he thought he would become the distributor of his papers, that he could see in this nothing but an impudent design to insult him. He ended in this high tone. There was a pause."

To correspondents, too, Washington showed how keenly he felt the attacks upon him, writing that "the publications in Freneau's and Bache's papers are outrages on common decency; and they progress in that style in proportion as their pieces are treated with contempt, and are passed by in silence, by those at whom they are aimed," and asked "in what will this abuse terminate? The result, as it respects myself, I care not; for I have consolation within, that no earthly efforts can deprive me of, and that is, that neither ambitious nor interested motives have influenced my conduct. The arrows of malevolence, therefore however barbed and well pointed, never can reach the most vulnerable part of me; though, whilst I am up as a mark, they will be continually aimed."

On another occasion he said, "I am beginning to receive, what I had made my mind up for on this occasion, the abuse of Mr. Bache, and his correspondents." He wrote a friend, "if you read the Aurora of this city, or those gazettes, which are under the same influence, you cannot but have perceived with what malignant industry and persevering falsehoods I am assailed, in order to weaken if not destroy the confidence of the public."

When he retired from office he apparently cut off his subscriptions to papers, for a few months later he inquired, "what is the character of Porcupine's Gazette? I had thought when I left Philadelphia, of ordering it to be sent to me; then again, I thought it best not to do it; and altho' I should like to see both his and Bache's, the latter may, under all circumstances, be the best decision; I mean not subscribing to either of them." This decision to have no more to do with papers did not last, for on the night he was seized with his last illness Lear describes how "in the evening the papers having come from the post office, he sat in the room with Mrs. Washington and myself, reading them, till about nine o'clock when Mrs. Washington went up into Mrs. Lewis's room, who was confined, and left the General and myself reading the papers. He was very cheerful; and, when he met with anything which he thought diverting or interesting, he would read it aloud as well as his hoarseness would permit. He desired me to read to him the debates of the Virginia Assembly, on the election of a Senator and Governor; which I did--and, on hearing Mr. Madison's observations respecting Mr. Monroe, he appeared much affected, and spoke with some degree of asperity on the subject, which I endeavored to moderate, as I always did on such occasions."


Terms Defined

Referenced Works