2017-08-05 03:28:02

George Washington: Biography by William Roscoe Thayer

George Washington: Biography by William Roscoe Thayer

Page Updated: Aug 05, 2017
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Book review

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. W.R.T. CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS June 11, 1922

William Roscoe Thayer
Date of release


George Washington: Biography

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