George Washington: The Forge of Experience, 1732-1775

By James Thomas Flexner | Go to book overview

Introduction

THIS VOLUME tells about considerably more than half George Washington's life, the forty-three years that elapsed from his birth to his acceptance, at the outbreak of the American Revolution, of the command of the Continental Army. I have elected to call the book George Washington: The Forge of Experience, but it might just as well have been called The Man Almost Nobody Knows. The great historian Samuel Eliot Morison has stated that, according to popular attitudes, "Washington is the last person you would ever suspect of having been a young man with all the bright hopes and black despairs to which young men are subject." 1

The Washington who actually lived has been transmuted in the group memory of his people into an impersonal "Father of Our Country." Here is Sigmund Freud's description of how recurring "infantile phantasies" concerning their own fathers affect biographers: "They obliterate the individual features of their subject's physiognomy; they smooth over the traces of his life's struggles with internal and external resistances, and they tolerate in him no vestige of human weakness and imperfection. Thus, they present us with what is in fact a cold, strange, ideal figure, instead of a human being to whom we might feel ourselves distantly related." 2

Without the least thought of the American, Freud described exactly the somewhat repellent "marble image" that has displaced, in the nation which to so great an extent owes to him its birth, the true George Washington.

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