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teacher of flesh and blood to a mere
effect is, of course, the first great object. voice crying in the wilderness, and the The liberty taken by these biographic pressure of a warm hand to spiritual historians, of selecting from the rich communications rapped through a study field of events—to which, though the table.
subject of their story did not personally In the biography of Washington-a participate in them, he yet had a certain subject well worthy to be treated in relation-such as best admit of rhetorimore shapes than one—there is cer- cal embellishment, while they skip over tainly ample room for such a work as or ignore the rest, is a great advantage that which Washington Irving, of all which they possess over the general hismen in the world, is best able to pro- torian, who feels himself conscientiously duce. Parson Weems and the Rev. bound to tell the whole story, and for Mr. Headley have, indeed, made some whose end of philosophical instruction, very desperate efforts at fine writing the very dullest portion of it may be even upon this subject, but they belong too more essential than its most stirring and much to the spasmodic and melodra- romantic incidents. But this ample matic school to suit all tastes. The liberty of expatiation is not without its biographies of Chief Justice Marshall, dangers and temptations, especially and of Mr. Sparks, are highly respecta- when coupled with the undertaking to ble works. The latter, particularly,
fill a certain number of volumes, since may share the praise which Gibbon be- it is exceedingly apt to interfere with stows on Tillemont, of an accuracy that unity of plan and that justice of which approaches almost to genius. proportion, which, after all, is the There are, however, to be found in the crowning beauty of every work of art, great mass of the Washington papers~ and the neglect of which presents to us the main fund of material common to the best things out of place, as only so Mr. Irving and to the two biographers many specious deformities. last above-named--a good many little Looking at the matter in this point traits and incidents which they would of view, we are under the necessity of have rejected as unworthy of the dignity taking very decided objection to Mr. of Washington, whom they are hardly Irving's first chapter, which bears the willing to have seen except in pre- running title of Genealogy. It is cercise costume, but of which Mr. Irving tainly a great matter, and sometimes a knows how to make excellent use, rather puzzling one, to know exactly thereby recommending Washington to where to begin. The famous History our sympathy and affection, without in of New York,' by Diedrich Knickerany way diminishing our respect for bocker, has gently satirized, in its first him. For it is among the precious gifts book, the habit which historians have, of Irving's genius, that he not only or used to have, of beginning from
the creation of the world. Does not “Finds tongues in trees, books in the running
Mr. Irving, in the first chapter, of brooks, Sermons in stones,"
which we are now speaking, expose
himself a little, as sometimes will hapbut “good in every thing,” even in pen to wits and satirists, to be hit by those very things which more prosaic his own arrows ? Since the recent biographers would have carefully kept discoveries in geology, which carry out of sight, or piously modified, lest back the creation to an indefinite an involuntary smile on the part of the period, the habit of beginning from reader, should seem to be an infraction that epoch has been pretty generally of Washington's dignity.
abandoned. Among English biograBut, although such a work as Mr. phers and historical writers, the era Irving has undertaken seems to us ex- of the Norman Conquest has been tremely well suited to his peculiar tal- usually substituted; and 't is from ents, and likely to do not less credit 'to that point that Mr. Irving—with a him as the author, than to Washing- parade of citations in this first chapter ton as the subject of it, still it cannot not found in the rest of the volume, be denied, that these historical bio- and which again reminds us of the graphies have, also, their peculiar diffi- venerable Knickerbocker-has culties.
menced his biography. In these compositions, as in other Now, for English writers, treating of departments of the belles lettres, artistic English subjects, to go back to the
Norman Conquest, or the Saxon Con- of place in a biography of Washington. quest, if they see fit and have any The only facts about any of these De lights by which to grope their way, is Wessyngtons, beyond the appearance, all very well. In such a case we should in old records and grants of land, of the not presume to criticise. But American names of some of them-the surname biography, if the subject of it happens to of De Wessyngton having been assumed have a genealogy, seems to us to begin from that of their manor-are these :most fitly with the arrival of the ances- William Weshington, of Weshington, tors of the family upon these American fought for Henry III. against De shores. That is our Norman Conquest, Mountfort, at the battle of Lewes in and Saxon Conquest, too. The matter 1234, at which that feeble prince was which forms the first fifteen pages of taken prisoner; but from what motives Mr. Irving's first chapter, we should William Weshington fought, whether he have no objection to as a note, but brought up the rear of the rout, or was standing in the forefront, as it does, one of the first to run away, we are of Washington's biography, it seems entirely in the dark. Stephen De Westo us decidedly out of place. Nor has syngton, bearing for his device a golden this objection failed to be felt by the rose on an azure shield, took part in a author himself. 6. We have entered, tilt or tournament at Dunstable in 1334, he says at the end of the chapter, but how he acquitted himself on that " with some minuteness, into this gene- occasion we know as little as in the alogical detail, tracing the family step preceding case. Sir William De Weschby step through the pages of historical ington, subsequent to 1367, was one of documents for upwards of six centuries; the privy council of the county palatine; and we have been tempted to do so by whether a wise or a foolish councillor the documentary proofs of the lineal we know not. On his death, leaving and enduring worth of the race. only a daughter, the manor of Weshave shown that for many generations, syington, by her marriage, passed out and through a variety of eventful of the family. This was previous to scenes, it has maintained an equality 1400; but subsequently to that event, in of fortune and respectability with honor 1614, John De Wessyngton, probably and loyalty. Hereditary rank may be some collateral relative, was chosen an illusion, but hereditary virtue gives prior of the Benedictine convent of a patent of innate nobleness beyond all Durham—the rights of which position, the blazonry of the herald's college.” as placing the prior next in rank to the
There are, no doubt, cases which bishop, and endowing him with a certain would well justify, and even demand of palatine-like independence, he zealously an American biographer, a departure maintained, not only against the enfrom the strict rule above laid down; and croachments of the archdeacon, but if, in this instance, the facts of the case against those of the bishop himself. sustained. the excuse offered, we should Some of his polemical tracts are still be willing to admit it.
preserved in manuscript in the library tation in this case, as often happens, of the dean and chapter; and his tombhas assumed a form which does not stone, but with an obliterated inscription, rightfully belong to it. There is nothing is still to be seen in the aisle of the in what we are told of the De Wessyng- church which formerly belonged to the tons, lords of the manor of Wessyngton, priory. (who are set down by the English her- To these barren facts about the De ald-offices as the progenitors of the Wessyngtons, Mr. Irving has added Washingtons) that gives any proof of some conjectures as to what might “ lineal enduring worth,” or “ hereditary have happened. "Hugh De Pusar virtue." About all that is known of (or De Pudsay),” he tells us, “ during them is, th; for three centuries, begin- whose episcopate we meet with the ning with 1183, they were feudal tenants first trace of the De Wessyngtons, of the county palatine of Durham, about was a nephew of King Stephen, and a whose bishops, (who were at the same prelate of great pretensions, proud of time counts palatine, with an almost appearing with a train of ecclesiastics independent jurisdiction) we are told and an armed retinue. When Richard by Mr. Irving a great deal more than Cour de Lion put everything to pawn about the De Wessyngtons. Very cu- and sale to raise funds for a crusade to rious matter, no doubt, but entirely out the Holy Land, the bishop resolved
to accompany him. More wealthy than but that is not exactly the way in which his sovereign, he made magnificent to write biographies, or even genealogies. preparations. Beside ships to convey It is, indeed, by this very sort of prehis troops and retinue, he had a sump- sumptions in which, most generally, tuous galley for himself fitted up with the wish is father to the thought—that a throne or episcopal chair of silver, so many false facts, to use an expressive and all the utensils, even culinary, though somewhat Irish phrase of Jefferwere of the same costly material. son's, have crept and do daily creep into In a word, had not the prelate been history. An historical novelist
be induced to stay at home, and aid the justified in venturing upon such ground, king with his treasures, by being made but hardly an historical biographer. one of the regents of the kingdom, and So, again, we have an account of the Earl of Northumberland for life, the De participation of Hatfield, bishop of DurWessyngtons might have followed the ham, in the battle of Nevel's cross, in banner of St. Cuthbert to the holy 1346, at which David of Scotland was
An ancestor of Washington taken prisoner, and of his subsequently crusading to Palestine, and fighting joining king Edward's camp before Caunder the banner of St. Cuthbert for lais, at the surrender of which he was the Holy Sepulchre, would afford doubt- present; and this, not because we know less a very pretty picture to hang up in that any De Wessyngton was with him, the hall of the family mansion at Mount but because one might have been. Vernon ; but in this case the artist is Now all this would have afforded exobliged to draw rather strongly on his cellent matter for an article in our maimagination. Who knows that, at that gazine, and accordingly we have helped time, the De Wessyngton family had a ourselves without ceremony; but to member capable of such an expedition, meet it in the forefront of a biography of or inclined to undertake it? If such Washington--and that, too, by one on an one there were, he might, to be sure, whose unfailing good taste, amid prehave followed the bishop thither-but, vailing fripperies and affectations, we then, the bishop did not go.
are accustomed to rely with so much Other passages we have of the same satisfaction and security-affects us a sort, supported, too, by learned cita- little disagreeably. It calls to mind the tions. “During the splendid pontificate remark of an acute though rather saturof Anthony Beke (or Beak), the knights nine English critic, who speaks of Mr. of the palatinate had continually to be Irving as at the head of a school of in the saddle, or buckled in armor. writers, of whom the distinguishing feaThe prelate was so impatient of rest, ture is the making the most of a subthat he never took more than one sleep, ject. That is a talent by no means to be saying it was unbecoming a man to turn despised, and very useful on fitting ocfrom one side to another in bed. He casions. Who does not feel a certain was perpetually, when within his dio- admiration of Braddock's two cooks, cese, riding from one manor to another, commemorated by Mr. Irving, who or hunting and hawking. Twice he could make an excellent ragout out of assisted Edward with all his force in
a pair of boots, had they but materials invading Scotland.
In the progress
to toss them up with ?" But then, this northward with the king, the bishop led is a skill only to be exercised in times the van, marching a day in advance of of scarcity. We can dispense with the the main body, with a mercenary force, boots when meat is plenty. There are paid by himself, of one thousand foot ample materials for a biography of and five hundred horse. Beside these, Washington, without disturbing the he had his feudatories of the palatinate, mouldering records of the county palasix bannermen and one hundred and sixty
tine of Durham. As to those preux knights, not one of whom, says an old chevaliers, the lords of the manor of poem, but surpassed Arthur himself, Wessyngton, though endowed with the charmed gifts
“Their good swords are rust, of Merlin. We presume the De Wes
Their bodies are dust, syngtons were among the three great
And their souls are with the saints, we trust chevaliers, as the banner of St. Čuthbert had been taken from its shrine —all, a long time ago; and it does on the occasion, and so on. It is easy not appear to
us to have been at to presume, and often very convenient, all necessary to raise the one or to
have called down the other, for the gets or keeps a manor, even with the only practical purpose to which this law of entail to help him, must be a resurrection or invocation is put, name- man of merit—a sufficiently common ly, to explain (see p. 158] by means of notion, no doubt, but one which Mr. the “old chivalrous spirit of the De Irving does not mean to be understood Wessyngtons’,” that“passion for arms": as subscribing to. To sum up the matwhich made Washington, in spite of the ter in a word—the name of Washingremonstrances of his mother, anxious to ton first became illustrious in America. join in Braddock's expedition. In Wash- The old English Washingtons. may, ington's younger days, the pursuit of doubtless, derive a certain illumination arms was still, in a certain sense, regard- from the glory of their American deed as the only one fit for a gentleman; scendant. He shines with a light of and young men who have, as he says his own, to which they can add nothing. he had, the best constitution in the Before ending his first chapter, Mr. world, strengthened and hardened, too, Irving, getting fairly out of the county by such a course of life as he had led, palatine of Durham, and the loyal city are apt, when brought within the sound of Worcester, lands us happily in the of drum and fife, to feel some touches northern neck of Virginia, and in reachof martial ardor, even though not de- ing his second chapter, which gives an scended from or related to any old account of Washington's boyhood—is it feudal family.
not a little odd that, with all his precision The De Wessyngtons at last disposed of dates about the De Wessyngtons, he of, we come next to the Washingtons forgets to tell the year in which our of Sulgrave, in Northamptonshire, and Washington was born ?--we find ourto Sir Henry Washington (nephew of selves much more at home. Still it is not our Washington's grandfather), who yet quite Washington Irving, or at least took arms for Charles I., and whose it is Washington Irving on his good letter (refusing to surrender, except by behavior, and in his dress-coat, going express orders from the captive king, through the common place biographical the town of Worcester, where he com- formulary of showing how, given a mere manded,) is given at length by Mr. shapeless piece of clay, to wit: the boy Irving. Of these respectable cavaliers George--the hereditary virtues of the we have only to say, that whatever De Wessyngtons being for this occasion might have been the course of the kept out of sight—that boy, by the Washingtons of Sulgrave, had the judicious skill of parents and tutors, is Washington of Mount Vernon hap- moulded into Washington the man. pened to have lived in the time of Doubtless the boy George, good and the English civil wars, he certainly dutiful as he was, listened with all prowould have taken sides with the Parlia- per reverence and respect to his mother, liament; and that the theory of here- reading out of Sir Matthew Hale's Conditary tendencies would, in this case, templations, Moral and Divine. Perhaps, have been a good deal better substan- as he was a sober and serious minded tiated had the English Washingtons youth, though not contemplative, Sir happened to have been Roundheads. Matthew found in him a sympathetic
Washington was descended from an listener; but that those readings had a ancient English gentleman's family. great influence in forming his character, Those who maintain that blood and is not by any means so certain. It has virtue go together are entitled to that been well observed by Gibbon, that fact. Nor is it fair, in our opinion, “the power of instruction is seldom of to attempt to strip them of it, by set- much efficacy, except in those happy ting up, either for the De Wessyng- dispositions where it is superfluous." tons or the English Washingtons, any Washington, we apprehend, would have special claim of personal virtue or merit. been no less Washington, had Sir MatThere is no other basis on which to thew Hale never put his Contemplations rest such a claim, except the fact that upon paper. Our readers will see that they were for centuries lords of the we are jealous of Washington, as a puremanor of Wessyington, and afterwards ly American production, perhaps a little of other manors. But to base a claim over jealous; it would not be wonderful, of "hereditary virtue" and " enduring considering what an antipathy to forworth" on that foundation alone, would eigners and foreign influence pervades, be to assume, that every man who just now, our American atmosphere: but we are not going to yield to Sir in one shape or other for the rest of his Matthew Hale's sermonizings an influ- life. We certainly never were so strongence which we have denied to the blood ly impressed, as in reading Mr. Irving's of the De Wessyngtons,
book, with the strength of his claim to be In Mr. Irving's third chapter, we have appointed Commander-in-Chief of the the boy George, first surveying on the American armies, with the stand which banks of the Shenandoah, and then, at he occupied when called upon to accept sixteen, in love. His foot upon his na- that trying and difficult office, and with tive heather, McGregor is himself again: the completeness of the training which he there is no mistaking Washington Ir- had gone through to prepare himself for ving here, nor in the next chapter, which it. That training commenced, so far as takes us back again to the Shenandoah, employment in a public capacity was and to Greenway Court, the seat of Lord concerned, with his appointment by Fairfax, among the mountains.
Dinwiddie to visit the French posts Though we do not believe that Wash- at Venango, and above, on the upper ingtons spring up out of the transmitted waters of the Alleghany river, the virtues of feudal blood, still less that northern branch of the Ohio. This they are to be manufactured to order, journey, which most of Washington's by any kind of educational contriv- biographers dispatch in a paragraph, ances, yet it is impossible to deny the furnishes Mr. Irving with the materials very powerful influence which circum- for a delightful chapter, exhibiting stances exert, over the development Washington, in this his first public even of the strongest natures, and most service, the same man he always was original minds. If nature was kind to afterwards, called to a constant struggle Washington, in the gifts of body, mind with difficulties, which he met with enand temper, with which she sent him during patience, steady composure, and into the world, fortune did not favor him ready resources. It is in these parts less in the accidents of his surroundings; of his book, in his sketches of such nor is it by any conjunction less fortu- men as Gist, Croghan, Van Bonam, nate than this--good seed in good and, indeed, in his whole account of ground—that the 'rarest of nature's Washington's wild-wood journeys and products, a great and good man, comes Indian campaigns, that Mr. Irving parto perfection. It is in fully bringing ticularly excels. Washington, as a out, as he does in a most admirable Virginian, whether in his private or in manner, the advantages which Wash- his public capacity, has never been so ington enjoyed, in this respect, that well presented before. Mr. Irving has left all others of Wash- The share which Washington perington's biographers, and of those sonally bore in the last of the French who have undertaken to illustrate and Indian wars, of course makes it his career, very far out of sight. We necessary for Mr. Irving to enter at some profess to some acquaintance with this length into the general history of that subject, having had occasion to consid- struggle. It was necessary to mention er it carefully; yet, we are free to say, the fall of Quebec; but as Washington that Mr. Irving, by his extremely skill- had no hand in it, we do not see that ful method of handling it, has given a his biographer was called upon to devote new and fresh distinctness to our ideas an entire chapter to that event, nor to in relation to it. Washington enjoyed go so minutely into its history. More as Mr. Irving has shown, by tracing out, reason would have existed for doing so, from materials furnished by himself,
had the officers and men concerned in little sketches of his daily life and that enterprise been to any considerable occupations—all the advantages of a extent Americans; but, in fact, the capbackwoods education joined to those of ture of Quebec must be set down as being brought up in highly cultivated being almost entirely a British affair. and polished society; while, at the same There was no great enterprise of the time, he escaped the very serious dis- whole war to which the colonists conadvantages which, though of very differ- tributed so little, or as to which the ent sorts, equally attend an exclusive mother country so entirely took the training, either in log-cabins or in draw- laboring oar. The giving such promiing-rooms. Scarcely had he touched nence, as many American writers have upon manhood, when he entered into
done, to Wolfe, does not exactly suit the public service, in which he continued our, perhaps, rather ultra-American