I wish he lived in my neighborhood, but unfortunately we’re separated by 3,000 miles and more than 200 years. However, books are powerful time travel machines. 2 minutes into a great book, I am right there; wherever there is, I’m living the hot-blooded adventure.
About 25 years ago I stumbled onto George Washington’s letters. I scanned through a couple of them expecting to be either totally bored or put off by the old-fashioned writing. That’s not what happened. He swept me off my feet.
George wrote either by hand with a quill pen or dictated to a secretary who wrote with a quill pen. The process of dipping your pen into ink and writing your thoughts out by hand lends itself to unhurried thoughtfulness.
Letters were considered an art form back then. You were judged on your ability to express yourself, to reach your unseen reader, to provoke an intense intellectual response and evoke powerful emotions. And, even more importantly, to ignite action.
George’s style of writing, coupled with his amazing character and personality, create a magic that feeds an inner part of my soul like no other writer. I also love Thomas Jefferson’s writing and will save that for another blog.
Today is President’s Day, a day which always makes me bemoan the scarcity of knowledge in today’s society about our early presidents. George is known as a military leader and president. It’s not commonly known how profoundly skilled he was as a writer.
He spent most of the Revolutionary War writing letters – he wrote 20-30 each day. He wrote way more than he fought. In his lifetime he wrote approximately 20,000 letters. He knew these letters were recording vital history and that they’d be preserved.
He wrote about honor, conduct, hardship, fortitude, strategy, necessity, love of ideals and leadership. His letters are all eloquent and they take my breath away.
I think if I received one letter today that was similar to one of his letters, I would simply pass out with joy.
I find reading him in the original is way better than reading about him. You can think of a good friend – would you rather have them talk to you directly or have someone else tell you what they said?
George had a beautiful relationship with his wife, Martha (whom he called Patsy). They exchanged many letters but he instructed her to burn their correspondence after his death because it was too personal and intimate to be shared. Only two letters to Martha survive. The first is when he is telling her he won’t be coming home to Virginia from Philadelphia because he’s been named Commander of the American Army and he’s going north. He writes:
“You may believe me, my dear Patsy, when I assure you, in the most solemn manner, that, so far from seeking this appointment, I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it, not only from my unwillingness to part with you and the Family, but from a consciousness of its being a trust too great for my Capacity, and that I should enjoy more real happiness and felicity in one month with you, at home, than I have the most distant prospect of reaping abroad, if my stay was to be Seven times Seven years.”
Isn’t it amazing to read something from an age where they not only didn’t stress short sentences, but you had the freedom to fully express yourself in one of them? I adore the long sentences of that time. They take you on an emotional journey, each one.
I love hanging out with George Washington. His letters nourish my fiery passion for ideals, courage, leadership and most importantly, character. He really understood character. On this special day dedicated to him, I’m going to curl up with a fabulous cup of tea, some good music and his speech to his officers in New York in 1781, the speech that put tears in all eyes in the room.