« ElőzőTovább »
take to be, that personal, underived, autonomical worth, is the safest and highest possible patent of nobility anong them all.
In a few succeeding chapters, Mr. Irving has traced, with admirable research and penetration, the seminal elements of Washington's special career and character. We are led among the scenes of his youth, and are indulged with some precious glimpses of the society in which his early years were passed. The subject, we hope, may still be susceptible of a much wider illustration. Cannot some competent hand, ere time shall be permitted to destroy the requisite materials, undertake the task of bringing to view everything that can exhibit society and manners in Virginia, as connected with the old Washington family, previous to the revolution? Doubtless much may be gleaned in this field from letters, family records, papers of the day, books, etc. One or two excellent novels, indeed, have thrown the light of history, as well as of imagination, on some of the scenes and times in question. But we should be glad to know exactly what the history and fact are, uninvested with the imagination, or at least enjoying ourselves the privilege of investing them with our own imagination. Indeed, the whole of a possible rich “Washingtoniana," we are persuaded, remains yet to be compiled. We remember reading a few years ago, in the newspapers, a sketch, by a Virginian eyewitness, of Washington depositing his vote at a popular election, as laté, we think, as 1798 or 1799. IIis dress, his deportment, the impression he made on bystanders, were picturesquely described. We were shown the general beginning to mount an old flight of outside stairs necessary to admit him into the hall of election. The structure being somewhat crazy, a fear was started and circulated, lest it might give way beneath his weight, when several of the electors rushed forward and placed their hands and shoulders beneath the stairs, to secure for him a safe footing. Are there not many persons now living, who can favour us with reminiscences as distinct and personal as this, although not such fine subjects for a picture? Of late years, in many parts of the country there have been family gatherings of all who are connected with particular
A gathering of the “Washingtons," we apprehend, would excite a degree of interest as yet unsurpassed. Were each of them requested to bring to the assemblage whatever memorials he might possess of his ancestors, and could each be induced to unfold his own appropriate treasures of memory and tradition, some worthy chronicler might be on the spot to receive their several contributions, and communicate them to the eager public. So much the better were the chronicler an Irving.
Ainong other recoinmendations which distinguish the present work from the general body of its predecessors, we would advert to the following. Mr. Irving has shed more satisfactory light than we have hitherto enjoyed on the problem of Washington's motives
for joining the resistance against Great Britain. The long injustice and neglect which, notwithstanding his transcendent deservings, he certainly experienced from his superiors, united with his sense of the difficulty, if not hopelessness, of ever surmounting the disadvantages of his colonial position, impart no little plausibility to the theory which would trace his conduct to promptings of a more or less selfish character. Our author has presented an array of circumstances, incidents, and expressed sentiments on the part of Washington, assuredly sufficient very much to weaken the force of such a theory. Our own impressions on this delicate subject are, that as Washington was not above the infirmities of humanity, and must have peculiarly felt the wounds inflicted on the most sensitive and characteristic part of his nature, these painful experiences of his early life may be allowed to have given him a bias towards the principles and aims of the revolution, and never perhaps to have ceased exerting some latent force. But we must remember that his personal experiences represented the wrongs, or the exposure to wrong, of numerous others besides himself, and that, consequently, sympathy must soon have expanded and purified whatever motives originated in self. llis own better sense might have made him feel more keenly, and perceive more clearly, the merits of the general question. As the great struggle advanced, and the higher elements of his soul became developed, there is no doubt that the influence of the loftiest principle restored him fully to that just and grand balance of character, peculiar to him on this as on every other subject.
Another new service rendered in this work to the cause of revolutionary history, consists in the preparatory information it has conveyed in respect to the treason of Arnold." The author has not yet arrived in the course of his narrative at the event itself, and we have no doubt that he will illustrate it by various impressive revelations. Former historians have left the matter comparatively in the dark, and have treated Arnold's defection more as an isolated and independent crime than in the light of a long train of antecedents. Or it has been summarily ascribed to the influence of his dissipated and expensive habits. But Mr. Irving has, with great and continuous industry, brought to view the train of Arnold's previous relations with the army and with Congress; his disappointments, and his sense of injustice and neglect. It is at once affecting and impressive to behold the sympathy which Washington all along cherished in regard to Arnold's afflictions, and the entire confidence he reposed in his integrity and competence. There arises a sort of vivid dramatic interest in the contrast involved between these feelings and the ultimate treason. The continued baffling opposition experienced by Arnold, is also rendered, by the confidence shown him on Washington's part, so much the more unaccountable. · Indeed, the only desideratum we felt in the author's
treatment of the whole topic, was his failure to explain the intrigues, or prejudices, or perhaps the better founded causes, which prevaileri to thwart the claims and aspirations of Arnold, who seems to have long borne them with singular patience and forbearance. And on the whole, although no considerations can justify the treason, or obliterate the damning spot from Arnold's escutcheon, yet we are inclined to predict, that the present work will have set in a fair view those slightly redeeming palliations, which impartial history so often at length produces, to relieve the painful enormity of human transgression. At all events, more explanation will have been furnished to the mystery of the traitor's motives.
Considerable elucidation is also afforded in regard to the cabals among Conway, Lee, Gates, and others, to supplant the influence, and perhaps the position, of Washington. No regular conspiracy to overthrow him seems distinctly brought to view. Insubordinate and insurrectionary sentiments, it is true, are deeply scattered here and there in the correspondence of those officers and others. There were periods during the war, when we can scarcely wonder that Washington's popularity should have declined, and his policy be distrusted. Disaster followed disaster, in most disheartening succession. On a few occasions, one of which especially was the battle of Brandywine, he was certainly outgeneraled. Then, too, his frequent inaction could not be understood. He had himself rally caused his forces to be publicly overrated, in order to deceive the enemy. His daring enterprises themselves seemed to throw reproach and suspicion on his own Fabian strategy. Even the loyal scent of the noble and faithful bulldog, Israel Putnam, became at times perplexed. Thus, the unavoidable disappointments in the public mind, and the bewildering excitements of an untried national life and death adventure, concurring with the criticisms of those officers who claimed to be Washington's rivals in military art and experience, almost naturally produced some movements of secret opposition against him, which ought not perhaps to be entirely ascribed to sinister impulses. The biographers of Washington, we observe, are generally inclined to treat this subject as onesided advocates, without those comprehensive allowances, which deal impartial and charitable constructions all round to the unseen hearts of men.
In these days of dark alarm and peril to the country and the institutions which owed so much to Washington, we cannot resist transcribing out of the present work a quotation from one of the hero's general orders, in which he animadverts on the sectional jealousies prevailing as early as the year 1776 among the American troops. In subjoining to it the brief commentary of the author, we would express our profound sympathy and approval at his patriotic suggestion:
“It is with great concern that the general understands that jealousies have arisen among the troops from the different provinces, and reflections are frequently thrown out which can only tend to irritate each other, and injure the noble cause in which we are engaged, and which we ought to support with one hand and one heart. The general most earnestly entreats the officers and soldiers to consider the consequences; that they can no way assist our soldiers more effectually than by making divisions among ourselves; that the honour and success of the army, and the safety of our bleeding country, depend upon harmony and good agreement with each other ; that the provinces are all united to oppose the common enemy, and all distinctions sunk in the name of an American. To make this name honourable, and to preserve the liberty of our country, ought to be our only emulation; and he will be the best soldier and the best patriot, who contributes most to this glorious work, whatever be his station, or from whatever part of the continent he may come. Let all distinction of nations, coun. tries, and provinces, therefore, be lost in the general contest who shall behave with most courage against the enemy, and the most kindness and good humour to each other.”
“The urgency of such a general order," remarks Dr. Irving, “is apparent in that early period of our general confederation, when its various parts had not as yet been sufficiently welded together to acquire a thorough feeling of nationality; yet what an enduring lesson does it furnish for every stage of our Union !”– Vol. ii, p. 300.
The same penetration which guided the anthor among the earliest formative elements of Washington's career, accompanies him also along the course of his narrative, when occasionally elucidating some of the finest points of the hero's character. No one has been more felicitous or deeply searching in the views presented upon that subject. We are impatient to welcome, if not curious to witness, the completed portraiture that awaits us from the same hand. Cicero, in his description of Cæsar, enumerates good fortune ainong the qualifications of a military commander. We have often considered this a large element in Washington's mingled career; but have never seen it noticed in any summary of his attributes. And is it not high time for the biographer of Washington, in estimating his whole character, to assume more comprehensive ground than a mere positive eulogistic assertion of his good and great qualities? Ile may sometimes have to be defended, as well as eulogised. An antagonistic attitude may bring out the deeper truth about him. Negation seems an essential help to a better definition and comprehension of infinity itself. Certain ethical questions are from time to time started, involving perhaps the highest fame of our revered hero. The scrutinizing genius of modern history, which subjects to its crucible every character of the past, the awakening moral sense of mankind, and the increasingly recognized lofty standard of Christian morality, would summon even
repeatedly urging his bleedi "ino
Washington to their awful bar, and place him on his defence. While awarding him some of the brightest virtues and glories of the warrior, they may arraign him for too eagerly rushing along the darker and rougher paths usually trodden by the warrior. They may put to the question his early and long cherished taste for the bloody contests of the field. They may ask, if he never contemplated with too much indifference, or even with an exultant, unchristian pleasure, the distresses and destruction of his enemies. They may demand why he readily lent himself to the deceptions and falsehoods of war, such as so many have severely condemned when practised by a Bonaparte. They may fancy some inconsistency in his deliberately and habitually tempting hundreds of his countrymen to the danger of perishing as spies and criminals, while punishing the same function in André with unyielding severity. They may interrogate him, and in this they will especially be joined by rulers and subjects of the present day, whose mutual relations are everywhere growing more and more critical, as to his an apparently hopeless contest, when the decision of the question seemed almost to rest upon himself alone, and when, had he quailed for an instant, the cause must have been given up as lost. They may demand, whether there were no alloy of obstinacy or of mere desperation, in the patriotism of his decision? Whether the contest were of as much importance to the multitude of combatants as to the ambition and security of himself and his class ? Whether the probabilities of success were sufficient to warrant a perseverance in the perilous struggle? Whether the growing strength of the colonies would not, in a few years, have enabled them to assert their independence without the enormous moral and material sacrifices of the actual revolution? Whether, in short, he would have deserved no chastisement, had he proved an UNSUCCESSFUL REBEL? In regard to his military reputation, also, a severe if not unfriendly criticism may yet inquire, whether many of his misfortunes might not have been expected ? Whether many of them might not have been avoided? And how far his successes may have been owing to the blunders, the incapacity, and the perverseness of the enemy? Does not tradition, too, speak of his having carried some of his stern and exacting qualities to extremes in private life? Believing that the freest discussion of these queries will result in the undiminished elevation of our hero's position-flaws even sometimes revealing the inherent vigour of the strained and burdened metal and that the points in question have never yet been all adequately met by preceding writers, we shall gladly see them entered upon by the finely ethical, yet comprehensive and accomplished spirit, which is now fondly brooding over and influencing Washington's undying fame. Doubtless, also, his general policy as a statesman will be instructively discussed in connection with the other topics ;