« PreviousContinue »
1746.] PATERNAL CONDUCT OF HIS ELDER BROTHER. 19 to manage the most restive steed. Traditional anecdotes remain of his achievements in this respect.
Above all, his inherent probity and the principles of justice on which he regulated all his conduct, even at this early period of life, were soon appreciated by his schoolmates; he was referred to as an umpire in their disputes, and his decisions were never reversed. As he had formerly been military chieftain, he was now legislator of the school; thus displaying in boyhood a type of the future
CHAPTER III. Paternal conduct of an Elder Brother—The Fairfax Family—Wash
ington's Code of Morals and Manners- Soldiers' Tales—Their Influ. ence - Washington prepares for the Navy-A Mother's Objections Return to School Studies and Exercises—A Schoolboy PassionThe Lowland Beauty-Love ditties at Mount Vernon-Visit to Belvoir—Lord Fairfax-Fox-hunting a remedy for Love-Proposition for a Surveying Expedition. The attachment of Lawrence Washington to his brother George seems to have acquired additional strength and tenderness on their father's death; he now took a truly paternal interest in his concerns, and had him as frequently as possible a guest at Mount Vernon. Lawrence had deservedly become a popular and leading personage in the country. He was a member of the House of Burgesses, and Adjutant-General of the district, with the rank of major, and a regular salary. A frequent sojourn with him brought George into familiar intercourse with the family of his father-in-law, the Honourable William Fairfax, who resided at a beautiful seat called Belvoir, a few miles below Mount Vernon, and on the same woody ridge bordering the Potomac.
William Fairfax was a man of liberal education and intrinsic worth; he had seen much of the world, and his mind had been enriched and ripened by varied and adventurous experience. Of an ancient English family in Yorkshire, he had entered the army at the age of twenty-one; had served with honour both in the East and West Indies, and officiated as governor of New Providence, after having aided in rescuing it from pirates. For some years past he had resided in Virginia, to manage the immense landed estates of his cousin, Lord Fairfax, and lived at Belvoir in the style of an English country gentleman, surrounded by an intelligent and cultivated family of sons and daughters.
An intimacy with a family like this, in which the frankness and simplicity of rural and colonial life were united with European refinement, could not but have a beneficial effect in moulding the character and manners of a somewhat homebred schoolboy. It was probably his intercourse with them, and his ambition to acquit himself well in their society, that set him upon compiling a code of morals and manners which still exists in a manuscript in his own handwriting, entitled "Rules for behaviour in company and conversation.” It is extremely minute and circumstantial. Some of the rules for personal deportment extend to such trivial matters, and are so quaint and formal, as almost to provoke a smile ; but in the main a better manual of conduct could not be put into the hands of a youth. The whole code evinces that rigid propriety and self-controi to which he subjected himself, and by which he brought all the impulses of a somewhat ardent temper under conscientious government.
Other influences were brought to bear on George during his visit at Mount Vernon. His brother Lawrence still retained some of his military inclinations, fostered no doubt by his post of Adjutant-General. William Fairfax, as we have shown, had been a soldier, and in many trying scenes. Some of Lawrence's comrades of the provincial regiment, who had served with him in the West Indies, were occasional visitors at Mount Vernon; or a ship of war, possibly one of Vernon's old fleet, would anchor in the Potoinac, and its officers be welcome guests at the tables of Lawrence and his father-in-law. Thus military scenes on sea and shore would become the topics of conversation. The capture of Porto Bello; the bombardment of Carthagena; old stories of cruisings in the East and West Indies, and campaigns against the pirates. We can picture to ourselves George, a grave and earnest boy, with an expanding intellect, and a deep-seated passion for enterprise, listening
RETURN TO SCHOOL.
to such conversations with a kindling spirit and a growing desire for military life. In this way most probably was produced that desire to enter the navy which he evinced when about fourteen years of age. The opportunity for gratifying it appeared at hand. Ships of war frequented the colonies, and at times, as we have hinted, were anchored in the Potomac. The inclination was encouraged by Lawrence Washington and Mr. Fairfax. Lawrence retained pleasant recollections of his cruisings in the fleet of Admiral Vernon, and considered the naval service a popular path to fame and fortune. George was at a suitable age to enter the navy. The great difficulty was to procure the assent of his mother. She was brought, however, to acquiesce; a midshipman's warrant was obtained, and it is even said that the luggage of the youth was actually on board of a man-of-war, anchored in the river just below Mount Vernon.
At the eleventh hour the mother's heart faltered. T'his was her eldest born. A son, whose strong and stedfast character promised to be a support to herself and a protection to her other children. The thought of his being completely severed from her, and exposed to the hardships and perils of a boisterous profession, overcame even her resolute mind, and at her urgent remonstrances the nautical scheme was given up.
To school, therefore, George returned, and continued his studies for nearly two years longer, devoting himself especially to mathematics, and accomplishing himself in those branches calculated to fit him either for civil or military service. Among these, one of the most important in the actual state of the country was land-surveying. In this he schooled himself thoroughly, using the highest processes of the art; making surveys about the neighbourhood, and keeping regular field-books, some of which we have examined, in which the boundaries and measurements of the fields surveyed were carefully entered, and diagrams made, with a neatness and exactness as if the whole related to important land transactions instead of being mere school exercises. Thus, in his earliest days, there was perseverance and completeness in all his undertakings. Nothing was left half done, or done in a hurried and slovenly manner. The habit of mind thus cultivated continued throughout life; so that however complicated his tasks and overwhelming his cares, in the arduous and hazardous situations in which he was often placed, he found time to do everything, and to do it well. He had acquired the magic of method, which of itself works wonders.
In one of these manuscript memorials of his practical studies and exercises, we have come upon some documents singularly in contrast with all that we have just cited, and with his apparently unromantic character. In a word, there are evidences in his own handwriting, that, before he was fifteen years of age, he had conceived a passion for some unknown beauty, so serious as to disturb his otherwise well-regulated mind, and to make him really unhappy. Why this juvenile attachment was a source of unhappiness we have no positive means of ascertaining. Perhaps the object of it may have considered him a mere schoolboy, and treated him as such; or his own shyness may have been in his way, and his “ rules for behaviour and conversation
may as yet have sat awkwardly on him, and rendered him formal and ungainly when he most sought to please. Even in later years he was apt to be silent and embarrassed in female society. “ He was a very bashful young man,” said an old lady, whom he used to visit when they were both in their nonage. " I used often to wish he would talk more.”
Whatever may have been the reason, this early attachment seems to have been a source of poignant discomfort to him. It clung to him after he took a final leave of school in the autumn of 1747, and went to reside with his brother Lawrence at Mount Vernon. Here he continued his mathematical studies and his practice in surveying, disturbed at times by recurrences of his unlucky passion. Though by no means of a poetical temperament, the waste pages of his journal betray several attempts to pour forth his amorous sorrows in verse. They are mere commonplace rhymes, such as lovers at his age are apt to write, in which he bewails his "6 poor restless heart, wounded by Cupid's dart,” and “ bleeding for one who remains pitiless of his griefs and woes.”
The tenor of some of his verses induce us to believe that 1747.]
he never told his love; but as we have already surmised, was prevented by his bashfulness.
“Ah, woe is me, that I should love and conceal;
Long have I wished and never dare reveal.” It is difficult to reconcile one's self to the idea of the cool and sedate Washington, the great champion of American liberty, a woe-worn lover in his youthful days, " sighing like furnace," and inditing plaintive verses about the groves of Mount Vernon. We are glad of an opportunity, however, of penetrating to his native feelings, and finding that under his studied decorum and reserve he had a heart of flesh throbbing with the warm impulses of human nature.
Being a favourite of Sir William Fairfax, he was now an occasional inmate of Belvoir. Among the persons at present residing there was Thomas, Lord Fairfax, cousin of William Fairfax, and of whose immense landed property the latter was the agent. As this nobleman was one of Washington's earliest friends, and in some degree the founder of his fortunes, his character and history are worthy of especial note.
Lord Fairfax was now nearly sixty years of age, upwards of six feet high, gaunt and raw-boned, near-sighted, with light grey eyes, sharp features, and an aquiline nose. However ungainly his present appearance, he had figured to advantage in London life in his younger days. He had received his education at the University of Oxford, where he acquitted himself with credit. He afterwards held a commission, and remained for some time in a regiment of horse called the Blues. His title and connections, of course, gave him access to the best society, in which he acquired additional currency by contributing a paper or two to Addison's Spectator, then in great vogue.
In the height of his fashionable career, he became strongly attached to a young lady of rank; paid his addresses, and was accepted. The wedding-day was fixed; the weddingdresses were provided ; together with servants and equipages for the matrimonial establishment. Suddenly the lady broke her engagement. She had been dazzled by the superior brilliancy of a ducal coronet.