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America to Britain. - Why, you old bloodthirsty bully! You, who have been everywhere vaunting your own prowess, and defaming the Americans as poltroons! You, who have boasted of being able to march over all their bellies with a single regiment ! You, who by fraud have possessed yourself of their strongest fortress, and all the arms they had stored up in it! You, who have a disciplined army in their country, intrenched to the teeth, and provided with everything! Do you run about begging all Europe not to supply those poor people with a little powder and shot? Do you mean, then, to fall upon them naked and unarmed, and butcher them in cold blood? Is this your courage? Is this your magnanimity ?
Britain. -Oh ! you wicked - Whig - Presbyterian -- Serpent ! Have you the impudence to appear before me after all your disobedience? Surrender immediately all your liberties and properties into my hands, or I will cut you to pieces. Was it for this that I planted your country at so great an expense? That I protected you in your infancy, and defended you against all your enemies?
America. - I shall not surrender my liberty and property, but with my life. It is not true, that my country was planted at your expense. Your own records refute that falsehood to your face. Nor did you ever afford me a man or a shilling to defend me against the Indians, the only enemies I had upon my own account. But, when you have quarrelled with all Europe, and drawn me with you into all your broils, then you value yourself upon protecting me from the enemies you have made for me.
I have no natural cause of difference with Spain, France, or Holland, and yet by turns I have joined with you in wars against them all. You would not suffer me to make or keep a separate peace with any of them, though I might easily have done it to great advantage. Does your protecting me in those wars give you a right to fleece me? If so, as I fought for you, as well as you for me, it gives me a proportionable right to fleece you. What think you of an American law to make a monopoly of you and your commerce, as you have done by your laws of me and mine? Content yourself with that monopoly if you are wise, and learn justice if you would be respected!
Britain. – You impudent ! Am I not your mother country? Is not that a sufficient title to your respect and obedience?
Saxony. — Mother country! Ha! ha! ha! What respect have you the front to claim as a mother country? You know that I am your mother country, and yet you pay me none. Nay, it is but the other day that you hired ruffians to rob me on the highway and burn my house! For shame! Hide
face and hold your tongue! If you continue this conduct, you will make yourself the contempt of Europe !
Britain. — O Lord! Where are my friends?
France, Spain, Holland, and Saxony all together. — Friends ! Believe us, you have none, nor ever will have any, till you mend your manners. How can we who are your neighbors have any regard for you, or expect any equity from you, should your power increase, when we see how basely and unjustly you have used both your own mother and your own children ?
[Works, vol. vi, pp. 118-122.]
[George Washington was born, of old English stock, in Westmoreland Co., Va., on Feb. 22, 1732. He was brought up chiefly by his mother, received a limited education, and was early thrown upon his own resources as a surveyor. The prosecution of his profession brought him into contact with frontier life and led finally to his taking an active part in the campaigns against the French and Indians for the possession of the Ohio region. After his marriage with Mrs. Custis in 1759, he settled at Mt. Vernon as a prosperous planter. Having sympathized from the first with the colonies in their contentions with the mother country, he was made a member of the first Continental Congress, and in 1775 became Commander-in-chief of the American forces. It is now generally acknowledged that his prudence, determination, and military skill were the greatest single factor in bringing the Revolution to a successful issue. After the close of the war he retired to Mt. Vernon, where he took an active interest in the efforts made to strengthen the union of states. He presided over the Convention of 1787, and was subsequently elected first President under the new constitution. He served with great wisdom for two terms (1789-1797), declining reëlection in his famous Farewell Address. After his retirement he was appointed lieutenant-general of the American forces, in view of the war that seemed impending with France. He lived only a year longer, dying of laryngitis and bad medical attention, on Dec. 14, 1799. The best edition of his works is that of W. C. Ford, in fourteen volumes; but that of Jared Sparks, in twelve volumes, is also valuable. The best biography, in moderate compass, is that by Henry Cabot Lodge.
The appearance of Washington's name in a volume devoted to the chief prose-writers of America seems to need some explanation. He was extremely diffident of his own powers as a writer, and although his fame has been growing steadily for over a century, few of his admirers have ever ventured to claim for him the honors of authorship. His Farewell Address has been assigned in considerable part to Hamilton, and at least one editor of his letters has felt obliged to correct his orthography and to elevate his diction. His style, when at its best, possesses little grace or variety; his voluminous writings are read by few who are not historical students; he does not need the added prestige of being considered a man of letters, even if his lack of general culture does not preclude him from acquiring it; -why, then, is he made to keep company with Franklin and Jefferson?
This question may be answered by one word, character. Washington's character was so great and noble that whatever he wrote became great and noble also. No defects of early training, no lack of the elements of style, no shrinking from authorship, could prevent such a man from producing, whenever he wrote down what was uppermost in his mind and heart, literature marked by the most important of all qualities, — “high seriousness.” If, as we must believe, true literature, the “literature of power,” is separated from pseudo-literature, the literature of mere knowledge, by the fact that it appeals powerfully to the emotions, then Washington's writings are in the main literature of no mean order. It is impossible to read his more important letters, or his proclamations to his soldiers, or such documents as his address to the governors of all the states on the occasion of his laying down his command, or the rough draft of his Farewell Address, without feeling emotions of the most elevated kind. It is true that these emotions are moral and intellectual rather than ästhetic in character, yet at times they are ästhetic too, for the sonorous and stately dignity of some of his pages gives a pleasure that is not unconnected with pure charm. The noble simplicity of the superb address of 1783, which follows this criticism, a document which it would be impossible to praise too highly for its spirit and, one might almost add, for its style — will illustrate the truth of the contention here made.
Character, then, in the highest sense of the term, is what makes Washington's writings live as literature to those who have learned to revere him after long and zealous study. It is character combined with one splendid opportunity that gives Lincoln fame as a literary man, and it is by no means certain that Washington did not have his splendid opportunity when he disbanded his troops, even if we do not go further and attribute to him the only qualities that make the Farewell Address an ever memorable document. Washington, with his character, and perhaps his two great opportunities to express this character in words that move us still, is as truly a literary man as Lincoln, and should stand with the latter
in a class apart from all our other writers. Criticism of these two great men, certainly the technical criticism of the student of rhetoric, is almost an impertinence; yet it would be equally an impertinence for the student of history to claim them for his own behoof, since they not merely did noble deeds, but uttered and recorded noble words, that will stir mankind as long as sublime characters inspire reverent admiration.
W. P. TRENT