Washington could not depart from his own great self. His country was free. He was no longer a general. Sublime spectacle! more elevating to the pride of virtue than the sovereignty of the globe united to the scepter of the ages! Enthroned in the hearts of his countrymen, the gorgeous pageantry of prerogative was unworthy the majesty of his dominion. That effulgence of military character which in ancient states has blasted the rights of the people whose renown it had brightened, was not here permitted, by the hero from whom it emanated, to shine with so destructive a luster. Its beams, though intensely resplendent, did not wither the young blossoms of our Independence; and Liberty, like the burning bush, flourished, unconsumed by the glory which surrounded it.
To the illustrious founder of our Republic it was reserved to exhibit the example of a magnanimity that commanded victory, of a moderation that retired from triumph. Unlike the erratic meteors of ambition, whose flaming path sheds a disastrous light on the pages of history, his bright orb, eclipsing the luminaries among which it rolled, never portended “fearful change” to religion, nor from its “golded tresses” shook pestilence on empire.
What to other heroes has been glory, would to Washington have been disgrace. To his intrepidity it would have added no honorary trophy, to have waded, like the conqueror of Peru, through the blood of credulous millions, to plant the standard of triumph at the burning mouth of a volcano. To his fame, it would have erected no auxiliary monument to have invaded, like the ravager of Egypt, an innocent though barbarous nation, to inscribe his name on the pillar of Pompey.
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THE GENIUS OF WASHINGTON
The history, so sad and so glorious, which chronicles the stern struggle in which our rights and liberties passed through the awful baptism of fire and blood, is eloquent with the deeds of many patriots, warriors, and statesmen; but these all fall into relations to one prominent and commanding figure, towering up above the whole group in unapproachable majesty, whose exalted character, warm and bright with every public and private virtue, and vital with the essential spirit of wisdom, has burst all sectional and national bounds, and made the name of Washington the property of all mankind.
This illustrious man, at once the world’s admiration and enigma, we are taught by a fine instinct to venerate, and by a wrong opinion to misjudge. The might of his character has taken strong hold upon the feelings of great masses of men; but, in translating this universal sentiment into an intelligent form, the intellectual element of his wonderful nature is as much depressed as the moral element is exalted, and consequently we are apt to misunderstand both. Mediocrity has a bad trick of idealizing itself in eulogizing him,