Since I have been assigned to talk about my biographies of Washington in relation to the television play that is based upon them, I must first define the volumes themselves.* I started out with the idea of writing a one-volume biography, but finding the subject so rich and so complicated, I ended up with four volumes that were published between 1965 and 1972. Then I decided that by hitting the high spots and relying on the four volumes to supply documentation and greater depth, I could do one volume after all, which I called The Indispensable Man. The television script, however, as has been pointed out in almost every public statement that has been made about it, is based on the larger set, particularly the first two volumes. We all hope for another show, based on the last two.

Before I began my labors on Washington, I had published eleven books on American history and biography, and Washington made a small or a large appearance in many of these. It was as though I had met him again and again, each time in a different social milieu. I became fascinated by the fact that the man I encountered was never the man described in the books I read. I decided that when I was old enough I would write a biography of Washington. Then, the distinguished publishers Little, Brown quite independently asked me to write such a life, and I decided I was old enough.

When I told people that I was working on Washington, I was almost invariably asked how, after two centuries, there could possibly be anything new to say. Had I uncovered a mass of new source material? As it turned out, I was to discover a good many new documents, some important, but that was not the point. The emphasis placed on new documentation is an aspect of conventional scholarship that too often results

An earlier version of this essay appeared in Biography and Books, ed. John Y. Cole ( Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1986), pp. 47-52.


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