A couple of months ago, my blogging friend, Rebecca (a.k.a. Clanmother) and I were discussing America’s Founding Fathers and the books we were reading by them and about them.
She told me a charming story about her reaction to an audiobook on George Washington so I asked her if she would graciously be a guest blogger on my site and share the story with all of you. Luckily, she agreed.
Here is Rebecca’s beautiful guest post:
“The hour is fast approaching, on which the Honor and Success of this army, and the safety of our bleeding Country depend. Remember officers and Soldiers, that you are free men, fighting for the blessings of Liberty — that slavery will be your portion, and that of your posterity, if you do not acquit yourselves like men.”
Books bring back moments long after they have occurred. They allow us to break through barriers of time and location to experience life through the eyes of another. We are living the story, feeling the joys, sorrows and identifying with the hopes and ambitions of the central characters.
Letizia’s post on “Revisiting the Jefferson Bible” reminded me of the biography, “His Excellency: George Washington” by Joseph J. Ellis, which I read via audio-book. (When I walk back and forth from work, I always take an audio-book with me.)
One night, I came home, crying.
My husband asked, “What’s wrong?” I said that George had died.
“George Washington,” I replied
“But you knew that he would die when you read the book, didn’t you?”
“Yes” I sobbed, “but I wish he hadn’t!”
Beginnings are marked by remarkable people doing remarkable deeds. As time goes by, these events take on a mythical aura while the individuals become the “stuff of legends.” We do not see them as mortal beings; rather, we elevate them to a reverential status that separates them from the ordinary.
The Founding Fathers of the United States fit into this category. Benjamin Franklin was considered the wisest, Thomas Jefferson the intellectual, John Adams the scholar, and Alexander Hamilton the most brilliant; yet they all recognized George Washington as their superior. In 1775, he was unanimously elected by the Continental Congress to be commander-in-chief. He lost many battles, but continued, undaunted until the war was won.
Portraits of George Washington show him as distant, even intimidating and cold. Yet, as his life unfolded, I envisioned him at 11 when he lost his father, at 21 when he was appointed emissary for the governor of Virginia, and at 23 as a brave young officer who gained recognition for his valour in the French and Indian War. I imagined him years later at Valley Forge, where he shared the cold winter months with his men. As a president, I saw him exercise sound judgment as he led a fledgling nation. At the end, he embraced death with grace and equanimity.
I treasure those days when I “walked” with George Washington. He reminded me that one person, in the midst of conflict and complexity, can make a difference, be a force for good, an advocate for peaceful outcomes. His legacy will continue to inspire new generations.
First in war—first in peace—and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and enduring scenes of private life; pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified, and commanding, his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting… His last scene comported with the whole tenor of his life—although in extreme pain, not a sigh, not a groan escaped him; and with undisturbed serenity he closed his well-spent life. Such was the man America has lost—such was the man for whom our nation mourns.
Eulogy by Congressman Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee
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What a great way to hear the struggle of a new nation and the men who led it to glory. I shall give walking reading a try. Wouldn’t it be nice if this was required reading our elected officials today. I’m talking Republicans and Democrats. Great post, Rebecca! Another inspiration, Letizia!
‘Walking reading’ – a good phrase. I love that Rebecca listens to a book on her way home from work- such a lovely idea, isn’t it? Thank you, as always, for the retweet, Dannie; you’re a sweetie.
Thank you so much for your heartwarming comments. I love walking and I love reading so I thought that I would combine the two by taking my iPod along with me when I went on my walks. There is only one caveat – always be aware of your surroundings and keep the volume down so that you are able to navigate the sidewalks without incident. It is easy to get lost in the narrative.
George Washington was not the most vocal of the Founding Fathers. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, gave their candid opinions freely. Here is what they had to say to those who would follow in their footsteps:
“Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it.” John Adams
“Experience has shown, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” Thomas Jefferson
Books really do allow us to “experience life through the eyes of another.” As much as I love movies and good TV shows, I don’t feel that connection as closely to the characters as I do in a book. Reading is more visceral, I think.
I agree, Carrie. Perhaps it’s because we create, along with the writer, the world of the book – more imagination is involved.
I agree wholeheartedly! As Letizia said so eloquently, “we create, along with the writer.” Reading is active participation. We are emotionally involved. We cry, we laugh, we feel anger, joy, frustration, despair, hope. It is as if we are in the room, on the stage, in the conversation. As a book comes to an end, I feel that I have lived another life, and now I must return to my own.
Yes, and that departure is more acutely felt with some books than others. 🙂
Well said!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂
History is always more interesting when the characters are well drawn and fully fleshed out. I think that’s why I appreciate a really well researched historical novel so much.
Yes, and a well written biography often reads like a historical novel at times. I hadn’t really thought of that until I read your comment.
You bring up an excellent point. Fiction or non-fiction when it comes to historical biographies. To me, when a novel is well researched and strives for accuracy, there is only subtle nuances between the two. That is the joy of reading – it is our choice on how we connect with others that came before us.
I have also been reading a lot about the founding fathers. Funny coincidence. I read a couple by this same author (Revolutionary Summer and Founding Brothers) but not this particular book.
How funny that you happen to be reading a lot about the Founding Fathers! I’ll have to read all these great books that you all are recommending.
Enjoy them. I just picked up another one by Ellis – American Creation.
I saw those books on Amazon – and have marked them out!! Now all I need to do is find more hours in the day. There is another one that I thought would be interesting. “My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams.” with a forward by Joseph J Ellis.
It would have been amazing to read the letters of George and Martha Washington, Alas! I found out that Martha destroyed all of their personal correspondence.
I wonder why she did that. Any idea?
Why did she burn the letters? There is a great deal of speculation, from what I’ve read. I think that Martha Washington was a more private person than someone like Abigail Adams. She was a marvelous host and excellent financial manager. But she didn’t like the idea of George Washington being president – didn’t even show up to his inauguration. As I “walked with George” I became more and more fascinated by Martha. I have just placed a hold on “Martha Washington: An American Life” by Patricia Brady at the Vancouver Public Library. The reviews are very good.
Thank you Letizia, for the opportunity to write a guest post on your remarkable blog. You invite the world to explore the joy of reading and the art of conversation. I am so very glad that we connected.
“We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?’ asked Piglet.
Even longer,’ Pooh answered.” A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
It’s such a pleasure to have you on my blog, Rebecca! I not only love how we share a passion for books but that, whenever I read your words, I find something new to love about them. Thank you once again for this beautiful post.
I love that A.A. Milne quotation!
What a wonderful post – this really brings to life how we can see the world through others’ eyes through a book.
I am thankful to those wonderful people who chose to be writers. We owe a great debt of gratitude to those who use words to create wonderful narratives and stimulating dialogues. A writer’s life is not for the faint of heart.
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Ernest Hemingway
My stepfather read this book. In fact, he and my mom had a great room decorated with Revolutionary portraits and furniture. It was a beautiful room and they used this book (among others) as decoration. I may have to pick it up and read it.
You will enjoy the read. I listened to the audiobook format, which I found at the local library. I felt I was listening to a storyteller, rather than reading a book. What a great idea to decorate a room that represented the genesis of a new nation. A perfect place to spend an afternoon reading a good book!
I should add this one to my list. I love history. Books on Lincoln always bring me to tears. I know he’s going to die, but still each time I have a glimmer of hope. My partner has the same reaction as yours. “But you knew he died and how.”
And it is that “glimmer of hope” that confirms that we share an emotional tie with those that have gone before. I find that reading allows me to break down the barriers of time, space, and location. I always like H.G.Wells on time…
“There are really four dimensions, three which we call the three planes of Space, and a fourth, Time.” H.G. Wells, The Time Machine
That’s a great quote!
That’s a great idea to go walking through history. I’ll have to give this one a try. Sometimes I’m afraid to read historical biographies because they end up focusing on the negative to make them sound more human, but it’s nice to be able to look up to a few. I also believe we can make a difference. That can be easy to forget so it helps to find inspiration like this.
You make an interesting point, Sheila – that in order to make a biography more human the author sometime paints the subject in a negative light. I think the good biographies try to present them in a human light without being judgmental. It’s something I’ll pay more attention to next time I read a biography (which, no doubt, will be the Washington bio!).
I agree – a very interesting and insightful point!!! When you read a biography, you already know, to some extent, the end of the story. And sometimes that story does not have a “good” ending. There are some books that I have started that I simply cannot finish. Other times, I read only a few chapters at a time. Case in point was “The Last Days of the Incas.” Kim MacQuarrie is brilliant in his research. It was a profoundly moving experience that held so many lessons for us today.
We’ll both have to read it so we can compare notes. 🙂
Books can really move us. It’s wonderful to read in this guest post how that has happen. When I read a historical book, I love finding details I never knew before and I begin to envision myself there too, if I book is well-written. Wonderful guest post.
So true, the small details carry us into the past, letting us in and take a look around!
Thank you for your encouraging comments. I agree – it is the details that make the narrative real, inviting, challenging. By the way, did you know (I didn’t until I read this book) that every year on Christmas Day there is a reenactment of George Washington crossing the Delaware.
Oh that is a very cool thing to know! Thanks for the detail. As well, nice to see you at my site too 🙂
Looking forward to our dialogue!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂
What a beautiful tribute to our first president! Our son just finished reading “Guns for General Washington” for his 4th grade American History section. I, too, read it so we could discuss his homework, and I was so enthralled by Henry Knox’s struggles to get the big cannons from Ft. Ticonderoga to Boston before the lakes froze for the winter, that I couldn’t stop reading. And the letter from Knox to Washington was extremely moving. Of course, I know how the story ended, but it really brought that time period to life. My son read the book in one sitting, if that is any indication about how enjoyable and exciting it was. 😀
Thanks for such a lovely and thoughtful post!
What a great way to experience history – with your son! It will be a wonderful memory for you in years to come. My son is now in University; I treasure those memories of our study times in the past. The act of learning opens up so many possibilities. Perhaps it is knowing that we can all make a difference. And knowing that icons such as George Washington were flesh and blood.
Rebecca´s insights on Washington legacies and personality are so powerful that I would say her words touched me.. And I am really grateful for being able to know more about him … Well after all he is the man on the 1U$$ and Washington DC is his own capital city..
That quote about the hour which is fast approaching and the need to fight for freedom and liberty is absolutely remarkable, brave and inspiring.
Great post, Best wishes, Aquileana 🙂
Thank you so much for your encouraging comments. I laughed aloud when you wrote, “Well after all he is the man on the 1U$$. I check out the ranking of presidents. George Washington topped the list, followed shortly thereafter by Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt.round up the top 5.
Freedom and liberty – these are two words that keep our spirits resolute, determined!!
Ah! to return to a time where politicians were respected and trusted…perhaps in an alternate universe of some sort. I confess my ignorance of your nation is quite large…I never got over the destruction of the tea really…
I’m a Canadian who has always had a interest in our neighbours to the south, Canada and the US have a long history. Helen Gordon McPherson, a Canadian writer and speaker once said:
“Canadians have been so busy explaining to the Americans that we aren’t British, and to the British that we aren’t Americans that we haven’t had time to become Canadians.”
I think that you will enjoy this Tom Brokaw clip, which was done during the 2010 Olympics held in Vancouver (where I live).
My apologies for assuming you were American…uncharacteristic outburst of patriotism that made me laugh and then think about all the times that that actually happens over here as well…much to think on…
No apologies needed – I live only a few miles from the border! But there was a time that I lived far north where the winter temperatures were well below 40 F. I have enjoyed our dialogue!!! 🙂
This certainly warmed my heart. To bring history and writing together underneath such a beautiful light is very dear to me. Thank you for revealing such a positive side. Somehow I always knew George had depth and loveliness. A man could never have achieved all that he did without those qualities.
Thank you for your kind words. One of the most memorable detail was Benjamin Franklin’s walking stick. During the 1780’s when Benjamin Franklin was in France, he was given a walking stick. In his will, Franklin was very specific as to who should receive this reminder of the struggle for independence. He bequeathed the stick to George Washington.
“My fine crab-tree walking stick, with a gold head curiously wrought in the form of the cap of liberty, I give to my friend, and the friend of mankind, General Washington. If it were a Sceptre, he has merited it, and would become it.”
I understand that the stick now resides at the Smithsonian.
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Fantastic post, Rebecca. I wonder what he, and the other founding fathers, would think about the masses being too absorbed in television or Facebook to take the time to read about the sacrifices they made and why they made them. More than ever, people need to realize the importance of keeping the things that those men, and everyone who stood with them, fought so hard for. Because liberty is slipping away.
Thank you for your encouraging comments. The founding fathers were visionary in their perspective. In fact, the more I read, the more they amaze me with their clarity of purpose, prudence, and understanding of human behaviour. They were tenacious and outspoken.
Alexander Hamilton said that “In the general course of human nature, A power over a man’s subsistence (salary) amounts to a power over his will.”
Thomas Jefferson predicted: “I sincerely believe that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies, and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.”
To respond to your thoughts on liberty, John Adams stated that “The way to secure liberty is to place it in the people’s hands, that is, to give them the power at all times to defend it in the legislature and in the courts of justice.”
We must safeguard liberty. It came a a dear cost. As Abigail Adams reminds us, “posterity who are to reap the blessings will scarcely be able to conceive the hardships and sufferings of their ancestors.”
I know those quotes well, especially Jefferson’s. This is the root of all of the problems we face today and it is way beyond political parties.
I agree wholeheartedly. The statistics on homelessness, poverty, environmental issues etc are staggering. We cannot live in isolation; rather, we must be global citizens and active participants in seeking peaceful outcomes.
What a great post. Now I want to learn more about George.
He seems to come alive in this biography – I’m looking forward to reading it myself.
Thank you, Naomi!
I just happened to drop in at the Vancouver Public Library (my second home) and picked up “Martha Washington – An American Life” by Patricia Brady.The more I read about George, the more I wanted to know about Martha. From the front flap:
“Martha Dandridge Custis was a wealthy, good-looking widow and the mother of two young children when, in 1759, she started a new life as Martha Washington. Thus began an ardent love affair and one of our country’s most influential partnerships….”
It sounds like a page-turner! 🙂
I would have to say that George Washington is hands-down my favorite founding father AND president. They don’t make them like that anymore, do they?
The more I learn about him, the more fascinated I am by him. And the more I want to learn about him!
A very interesting point you brought up How will future generations view our actions? Our responses? Our value systems? Robert F. Kennedy says it much better than I can –
“Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their peers, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change.”
Even when you know a character will die, if the writer does his job well, it still brings you to tears. 🙂
I agree, it’s a sign of a well told story!
I agree, too! I think it speaks to our longing for good to continue. Even though we know that someone will carry on the vision, we still remember. I always like Thornton Wilder’s thought from “The Bridge of San Luis Rey”
“We ourselves shall be loved for awhile and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”