« ZurückWeiter »
“Grandmamma always spoiled Washington," his sister would say; and his daughter, in a late memoir of him, has said—“ He was the pride of her heart, while the public duties of the veteran prevented the exercise of his influence in forming the character of the boy, too softly nurtured under his roof, and gifted with talents, which, under a sterner discipline, might have been more available for his own and his country's good."
Notwithstanding her indulgent disposition, Mrs. Washington was a thorough disciplinarian in her household, and Nelly Custis experienced many a tearful hour when compelled by her grandmother to attend assiduously to her studies in letters and music. Washington made her a present of a fine harpsichord, at the cost of one thousand dollars-Schroeder's beautiful invention, the piano-forte, not being then much used in America. In England, even, where Zumpe had introduced it, with many improvements, between twenty and thirty years before, the piano had by no means supplanted its parent the harpsichord, and the latter instrument, or the spinet, might be found in almost every family of wealth in the kingdom.
The best teachers were employed to instruct Nelly in the use of the harpsichord, and her grandmother made her practise upon it four or five hours every day. "The poor girl," says her brother, the late Mr. Custis, "would play and cry, and cry and play, for long hours, under the immediate eye of her grandmother, a rigid disciplinarian in all things.”
That harpsichord, according to the inscription upon a plate above the keys, was manufactured by "Longman and Broderip, musical instrument makers, No. 26 Cheapside, and No. 13 Haymarket, London." It was carefully packed and taken
to Mount Vernon when Washington retired from office the last time. It was used there until his death, for Nelly and her husband resided at Mount Vernon for more than
a year after their marriage in February, 1779. It is now (1859) in the possession of Mrs. Lee, of Arlington House, who intends to present it to the Mount Vernon Ladies' Associa tion, when the home of Washington shall have passed into their absolute possession, that it may take its ancient place in the parlor of the hallowed mansion.
The instrument was one of the most elegant of its kind. It is about eight feet long, three and a half feet wide, and three
feet in length, with two banks, containing one hundred and twenty keys in all. The case is mahogany.
On the 4th of March, 1793, Judge Cushing, of Massachusetts, administered to Washington, in the senate chamber, in Philadelphia, the oath of office as President of the United States, he having been, by unanimous vote of the electoral college, speaking the will of the people, re-elected to the exalted station of chief magistrate. It was with great reluctance that he consented to serve another prescribed term of four years. He had looked forward to retirement from office with real pleasure, and when he agreed to serve his country still longer, he endured a sacrifice which none but a disinterested patriot could have made. For himself he preferred the quiet of domestic life at his pleasant home on the Potomac, to all the honors and emoluments that the world could offer. But in this instance, as in all others, he yielded his own wishes to the more important demands of his country. He knew, as well as any man living, the dangers to which the country was then exposed from the influence of French politics and of domestic factions; and the representations of the true friends of government convinced him that his further service in public life was demanded by every consideration of patriotism.
Hamilton, in whose judgment and purity of motives Washington had the most entire confidence, had urged him, in a touching letter, to accept the high office a second term; and while his cabinet was agitated by discordant opinions upon other subjects, they all agreed that Washington's retirement from office at that time would be a serious calamity to the country. Every one felt that the affairs of the national gov ernment were not yet firmly established: that its enemies
were many and inveterate, and that Washington could not retire without damaging his reputation as a patriot. "I trust, sir, and I pray God, that you will determine to make a further sacrifice of your tranquillity and happiness to the public good," said Hamilton, at the close of his letter just alluded to.
Such sacrifice was made, and for four years longer Mount Vernon was without its master, except at long intervals.
Although Washington's second inauguration was in public, there was far less parade than at the first. It had been determined by those with whom he had consulted respecting the matter, as the democratic feeling was very strong, that the President should go to the senate-chamber "without form, attended by such gentlemen as he may choose, and return without form, except that he be preceded by the marshal.”
Thus he went and thus he returned, conveyed in his own beautiful cream-colored coach, drawn by six splendid bay horses. And thus he went to that senate-chamber a few months later, when he presented his annual message to the Congress, for in those days the President read the address before the assembled wisdom of the nation, and did not, as now, send it in manuscript by his private secretary.
An eye-witness on one of these occasions has left a pleasant picture of it on record. "As the President alighted,” he says, "and, ascending the steps, paused upon the platform, looking over his shoulder, in an attitude that would have furnished an admirable subject for the pencil, he was preceded by two gentlemen bearing long white wands, who kept back the eager crowd that pressed on every side to get a nearer view. At that moment I stood so near that I might have touched his clothes; but I should as soon have thought of touching an
electric battery. I was penetrated with a veneration amounting to the deepest awe. Nor was this the feeling of a schoolboy only; it pervaded, I believe, every human being that approached Washington; and I have been told that, even in his social and convivial hours, this feeling in those who were honored to share them never suffered intermission. I saw him a hundred times afterward, but never with any other than that same feeling. The Almighty, who raised up for our hour of need a man so peculiarly prepared for its whole dread responsibility, seems to have put an impress of sacredness upon His own instrument. The first sight of the man struck the heart with involuntary homage, and prepared every thing around him to obey. When he 'addressed himself to speak,' there was an unconscious suspension of the breath, while every eye was raised in expectation.
"The President, having seated himself, remained in silence, serenely contemplating the legislature before him, whose members now resumed their seats, waiting for the speech. No house of worship, in the most solemn pauses of devotion, was ever more profoundly still than that large and crowded chamber.
"Washington was dressed precisely as Stuart has painted him in Lord Lansdowne's full-length portrait-in a full suit of the richest black velvet, with diamond knee-buckles, and square silver buckles set upon shoes japanned with the most scrupulous neatness, black silk stockings, his shirt ruffled at the breast and wrists, a light dress-sword, his hair profusely powdered, fully dressed, so as to project at the sides, and gathered behind in a silk bag, ornamented with a large rose of black riband. He held his cocked hat, which had a large