Washington possessed in a peculiar degree the great gift of remembering faces. Once, while visiting in Newburyport, he saw at work in the grounds of his host an old servant whom he had not seen since the French and Indian war, thirty years before. He knew the man at once, and stopped and spoke kindly to him.
Any collection of anecdotes about Washington is sure to refer to his extreme modesty. Upon one occasion, when the speaker of the Assembly returned thanks in glowing terms to Colonel Washington for his services, he rose to express his acknowledgments, but he was so embarrassed that he could not articulate a word. “Sit down, Mr. Washington,” said the speaker, “your modesty equals your valor, and that surpasses the power of any language which I possess.”
When Adams suggested that Congress should appoint a general, and hinted plainly at Washington, who happened to sit near the door, the latter rose, “and, with his usual modesty, darted into the library room.”
Washington’s favorite quotation was Addison’s “’Tis not in mortals to command success,” but he frequently quoted Shakespeare.
Taste for Literature
His taste for literature is indicated by the list of books which he ordered for his library at the close of the war: “Life of Charles the Twelfth,” “Life of Louis the Fifteenth,” “Life and Reign of Peter the Great,” Robertson’s “History of America,” “Voltaire’s Letters,” Vertol’s “Revolution of Rome,” “Revolution of Portugal,” Goldsmith’s “Natural History,” “Campaigns of Marshal Turenne,” Chambaud’s “French and English Dictionary,” Locke “On the Human Understanding,” and Robertson’s “Charles the Fifth.” “Light reading,” he wrote to his step-grandson, “(by this I mean books of little importance) may amuse for the moment, but leaves nothing behind.”
Although always very particular about his dress, Washington was no dandy, as some have supposed. “Do not,” he wrote to his nephew in 1783, “conceive that fine clothes make fine men any more than fine feathers make fine birds. A plain, genteel dress is more admired and obtains more credit than lace or embroidery in the eyes of the judicious and sensible.”
Sullivan thus describes Washington at a levee: “He was dressed in black velvet, his hair full dress, powdered, and gathered behind in a large silk bag, yellow gloves on his hands; holding a cocked hat, with a cockade in it, and the edges adorned with a black feather about an inch deep. He wore knee and shoe buckles, and a long sword.... The scabbard was of white polished leather.”
After Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, Washington said to his army: “My brave fellows, let no sensation of satisfaction for the triumphs you have gained induce you to insult your fallen enemy. Let no shouting, no clamorous huzzaing increase their mortification. It is sufficient for us that we witness their humiliation. Posterity will huzza for us.”