George Washington

George Washington

George Washington

George Washington

Excerpt

It might be said that Washington's earlier biographers found him a paradox and left him a paragon, but if this be true, it is true only in part. For these biographers were, it seems to me, writing not of Washington, but of a great American legends; and legends are not made up of light and shade. In them, men and motives are clear and unmistakable. No secret impulses, no strange, tortuous reasoning, are there to puzzle or mislead. All action is as inevitable as it is right. And interpretation is a simple matter to be set forth with the fine integrity of a Marshall or the curious idiosyncrasy of a Weems.

But, to quote Pliny the Younger, "vita hominum altos recessûs magnasque latebras habet." And these hidden depths and secret places in each man make biography at once the most fascinating and most treacherous of literary forms. If the task is approached equally without prejudice and without partiality (and it may be assumed that honest biography cannot be written under any other circumstances) so much even in the life of a contemporary is obscure that it is dangerous to draw conclusions. With the life of a man who has been dead an hundred and thirty years, with the life of a man about whom a legend was growing up before he died, the ordinary danger of conclusions is increased enormously. Naturally, the visible picture itself is not intact. Small pieces here and there have been cut away; and how important these are, no one now can say. A great mass of authenticated facts is at hand. Thousands of letters written or dictated or sent over his signature, remain. Diaries and journals and account books may be examined. Letters, diaries, journals and memoirs of his contemporaries are of incalculable value. But much has been destroyed. And a great deal, it must be supposed, was never set down at all. To a greater or less degree this is true of everyone. So remarkable a document as James Boswell Life of Johnson was . . .

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