The name of George Washington has always had about it a glamour that made him appear more in the light of a god than a tall man with large feet and a mouth made to fit an old-fashioned, full-dress pumpkin pie. I use the word glamour, not so much because I know what glamour means, but because I have never used it before, and I am getting a little tired of the short, easy words I have been using so long.
George Washington’s face has beamed out upon us for many years now, on postage stamps and currency, in marble, and plaster, and bronze, in photographs of original portraits, paintings, end stereoscopic views. We have seen him on horseback and on foot, on the war-path and on skates, cussing his troops for their shiftlessness, and then in the solitude of the forest, with his snorting war-horse tied to a tree, engaged in prayer.
We have seen all these pictures of George, till we are led to believe that he did not breathe our air or eat American groceries. But George Washington was not perfect. I say this after a long and careful study of his life, and I do not say it to detract the very smallest iota from the proud history of the Father of his Country. I say it simply that the boys of America who want to become George Washingtons will not feel so timid about trying it.
When I say that George Washington, who now lies so calmly in the limekiln at Mount Vernon, could reprimand and reproach his subordinates at times, in a way to make the ground crack open and break up the ice in the Delaware a week earlier than usual, I do not mention it in order to show the boys of our day that profanity will make them resemble George Washington. That was one of his weak points, and no doubt he was ashamed of it, as he ought to have been. Some poets think that if they get drunk, and stay drunk, they will resemble Edgar A. Poe and George D. Prentice. There are lawyers who play poker year after year, and get regularly skinned, because they have heard that some of the able lawyers of the past century used to come home at night with poker chips in their pockets.
Whisky will not make a poet, nor poker a great pleader. And yet I have seen poets who relied solely on the potency of their breath, and lawyers who knew more of the habits of a bob-tail flush than they ever did of the statutes in such case made and provided.
George Washington was always ready. If you wanted a man to be first in war, you could call on George. If you desired an adult who would be first baseman in time of peace, Mr. Washington could be telephoned at any hour of the day or night. If you needed a man to be first in the hearts of his countrymen, George’s postoffice address was at once secured.
Though he was a great man, he was once a poor boy. How often we hear that in America! It is the place where it is a positive disadvantage to be born wealthy. And yet, sometimes I wish they had experimented a little that way on me. I do not ask now to be born rich, of course, because it is too late; but it seems to me that, with my natural good sense and keen insight into human nature, I could have struggled along under the burdens and cares of wealth with great success. I do not care to die wealthy, but if I could have been born wealthy, it seems to me I would have been tickled almost to death.
I love to believe that true greatness is not accidental. To think and to say that greatness is a lottery is pernicious. Man may be wrong sometimes in his judgment of others, both individually and in the aggregate, but he who gets ready to be a great man will surely find the opportunity.
Many who read the above paragraph will wonder who I got to write it for me, but they will never find out.
In conclusion, let me say that George Washington was successful for three reasons. One was that he never shook the confidence of his friends. Another was that he had a strong will without being a mule. Some people cannot distinguish between being firm and being a big blue jackass.
Another reason why Washington is loved and honored to-day, is that he died before we had a chance to get tired of him. This is greatly superior to the method adopted by many modern statesmen, who wait till their constituency weary of them and then reluctantly and tardily die.