Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

THE DEATH OF WASHINGTON.

Of that event we have but one account in any degree extended or minute. This is from the pen of Mr. Tobias Lear, for some years his private Secretary, and connected by marriage with a branch of his family. The account is here copied as leading to reflections appropriate to the subject.

“On Thursday, Dec. 12, 1799, the General rode out to his farms at about ten o'clock, and did not return till past three. Soon after he went out, the weather became very bad; rain, hail, and snow falling alternately, with a cold wind. When he came in, I carried some letters to him to frank, intending to send them to the post-office. He franked the letters, but said the weather was too bad to send a servant to the office that evening. I observed to him that I was afraid he had got wet; he said no; his great coat had kept him dry : but his neck appeared to be wet—the snow was hanging on his hair.

“He came to dinner without changing his dress. In the evening he appeared as well as usual. A heavy fall of snow took place on Friday, which prevented the General from riding out as usual. He had taken cold, (undoubtedly from being so much exposed the day before,) and complained of having a sore throat; he had a hoarseness, which increased in the evening, but he made light of it, as he would never take any thing to carry off a cold-always observing, let it go as it came. In the evening, the papers having come from the post-office, he sat in the room with Mrs. Washington and myself, reading them till about nine o'clock; and when he met with any thing which he thought diverting or interesting, he would read it aloud. He desired me to read to him the debates of the Virginia assembly on the election of a senator and governor, which I did. On his retiring to bed he appeared to be in perfect health except the cold, which he considered as triling; he had been remarkably cheerful all the evening.

" About two or three o'clock on Saturday morning, he awoke Mrs. Washington, and informed her that he felt very unwell, and had an ague. She observed that he could scarcely speak, and breathed with difficulty, and she wished to get up and call a servant; but he would not permit her lest she should take cold. As soon as the day appeared, the woman Caroline, went into the room to make a fire, and the General desired that Mr. Rawlins, one of the overseers, who was used to bleeding the people

, might be sent for to bleed him before the doctor could arrive. I was sent for-went to the General's chamber, where Mrs. Washington was up, and related to me his being taken ill between two and three o'clock, as before stated. I found him breathing with difficulty, and hardly able to otter a word intelligibly. I went ont instantly, and wrote a line to Dr. Plask, and sent it with all speed. Immediately I returned to the General's chamber, where I found him in the same condition I had left him. A mixture of molasses, vinegar and butter, was prepared, but he could not swallow a drop; whenever he attempted he was distressed, convulsed and almost suffocated.

Mr. Rawlins came in soon after sunrise and prepared to bleed him ; when the arm was ready, the General, observing Rawlins appeared agitated, said, with difficulty, don't be afraid ;' and after the incision was made, he observed the orifice was not large enough : however, the blood ran pretty freely. Mrs. Washington, not knowing whether bleeding was proper in the General's situation, begged that much might not be taken from bim, and desired me to stop it. When I was about to untie the string, the General put up his hand to prevent it, and, as soon as he could speak, said ‘more.'

“ Mrs. Washington still uneasy lest too much blood should be drawn, it was stopped after about half a pint had been taken. Finding that no relief was obtained from bleeding, and that nothing could be swallowed, I proposed bathing the throat externally with sal volatile, which was done ; a piece of flannel was then put round bis neck. His feet were also soaked in warm water, but this gave no relief. By Mrs. Washington's request I despatched a messenger for Dr. Brown, at Port Tobacco. About nine o'clock Dr. Craik arrived, and put a blister of cantharides on the throat of the General, and took more blood, and had some vinegar and hot water set in a tea-pot, for him to draw in the steam from the spout.

“He also had sage tea and vinegar mixed, and used as a gargle, but when he held back his head to let it run down, it almost produced suffocation. When the mixture came out of his mouth some phlegm followed it, and he would attempt to cough, which the doctor encouraged, but without effect. About eleven o'clock Dr. Dick was sent for: Dr. Craik bled the General again; no effect was produced, and he continued in the same state, unable to swallow any thing. Dr. Dick came in about three o'clock, and Dr. Brown arrived soon after; when, after consultation, the General was bled again; the blood ran slowly, appeared very thick, and did not produce any symptoms of fainting. At four o'clock the General could swallow a little. Calomel and tartar emetic were administered without effect. About half past four he requested me to ask Mrs. Washington to come to his bed-side, when he desired her to go down to his room, and take from his desk, two wills which she would find there, and bring them to him, which she did. Upon looking at one, which he observed was useless, he desired her to burn it, which she did. After this was done, I returned again to his bed-side and took his hand. He said to me, 'I find I am going—my breath cannot continue long-I believed from the first attack it would be fatal. Do you arrange and record all my military letters and papers ; arrange my accounts, and settle my books, as you know more about them than any one else ; and let Mr. Rawlins finish recording my other letters, which he has begun.' He asked when Mr. Lewis and Washington would return? I told him that I believed about the twentieth of the month He made no reply.

“ The physicians came in between five and six o'clock, and when they came to his bed-side, Dr. Craik asked him if he would sit up in bed ; he held out his hand to me and was raised up, when he said to the physician--'I feel myself going; you had better not take any more trouble about me, but let me go off quietly ; I cannot last long.” They found what had been done was without effect; he laid down again, and they retired, excepting Dr. Craik. He then said to him, 'Doctor, I die hard, but I am not afraid to go; I believed from the first I should not survive it; my breath cannot last long.' The doctor pressed his hand, but could not utter a word; he retired from the bed-side and sat by the fire absorbed in grief. Abont eight o'clock, the physicians again came into the room, and applied blisters to his legs, but went out without a ray of hope. From this time he appeared to breathe with less dificulty than he had done, but was very restless, continually changing his position, to endeavor to get ease. I aided him all in my power, and was gratified in believing he felt it; for he would look upon me with his eyes speaking gratitude, but unable to utter a word without great distress. About ten o'clock he made several attempts to speak to me before he could effect it; at length he said, 'I am just going. Hare me decently buried, and do not let my body be put into the vault in less than two days after I am dead.' I bowed assent. He looked at me again and said, 'Do you understand me?' I replied, 'Yes, Sir. "'Tis well, said he. About ten minutes before he expired, his breathing became much easier: he withdrew his hand from mine, and felt his own pulse. I spoke to Dr. Craik, who sat by the fire; he came to the bed-side. The General's hand fell from his wrist ; I tonk it in mine, and placed it on my breast. Dr. Craik placed his hands over his eyes; and he expired without a struggle or a sigh.”

The ore eontains no, donbt an accurate relation as far as it goes, of the circumstances attending the last sickness and death of Washington. That the account is not perfect, we beliere, however, to be equally certain. We are assured, on good evidence, that some things of interest were overlooked, or at least omitted by the writer. It is indeed a matter of regret that the individuals who attended the Father of his Country in his last moments, were not such as would most readily encourage the expression of his religious feelings, or carefully record them when uttered. The author of the memoranda, it is known, had but little sympathy with the illustrious subject of his narrative in reference to religion; por had his other attendants, it is believed, any more, at least at that time, though professionally eminent and distinguished men. It was probably thought, that this was not the point of highest worth and dignity in bis noble character; and therefore not to be displayed with very special care and effort. This may explain in some measure the omission of interesting remarks and occurrences, as being, from their nature, undervalued or misunderstood. Such facts, therefore, as are known to have transpired, in addition to those recorded by Mr. Lear, shall be here in. serted for the gratification and instruction of our readers.

One of the Rectors of Mount Vernon parish, already referred to, and who was at much pains to ascertain the most interesting erents of Washington's life and death, informs us, in remarking on the latter occurrence, that he was once or twice heard to say, "I should have been glad, had it pleased God, to die a little easier, but I doubt not it is for my good."

On the same authority we learn that "some hours before his departure, he made the request that every person would leave the room, that he might be alone for a short time.”

The same writer says, that in the moment of death, "he closed his eyes for the last time with his own hands--folded his arms decently on his breast, then breathing out 'Father of mercies, take me to thyself;' -he fell asleep."

The biographer of Mrs. Washington gives the following facts :

“ The illness [of Washington] was short and severe. Mrs. Washington left not the chamber of the sufferer, but was seen kneeling at the bed-side, her head resting upon her Bible, which had been her solace in the many and heavy afilictions she had undergone........ The last effort of the expiring Washington, was worthy of the Roman fame of his life and character. He raised himself up, and casting a look of benignity on all around him, as if to thank them for their kindly attentions, he composed his limbs, closed his eyes, and folding his arms upon his bosom, the Father of his Country expired, gently as though an infant died !

The afflicted relict could with dificulty be removed from the chamber of death, to which she returned no more, but occupied other apartments for the residue of her days."

That the circumstances now detailed, may be duly appreciated, the habitual thoughtfulness of Washington respecting his latter end, may not be unseasonably considered, in connexion with remarks to be added on the event itself.

A favorite nephew, who was much at Mount Vernon (one of those concerning whose return he made inquiries of Mr. Lear,) thus describes his last interview with his revered kinsman.

During this, my last visit to the General, we walked together about the grounds, and talked of various improvements he had in contemplation. The lawn was to be extended down to the river in the direction of the old vault, which was to be removed on account of the inroads made by the roots of the trees, with which it is crowned, which caused it to leak. “I intend to place it there,' said he, pointing to the place where the new vault now stands. 'First of all I shall make this change; for after all I may require it before the rest.'

“When I parted from him he stood on the steps of the front door, where he took leave of myself and another, and wished us a pleasant journey, as I was going to Westmoreland on business. It was a bright frosty morning; he had taken his usual ride, and the clear healthy flush on his cheek, and his sprightly manner, brought the remark from both of us, that we had never seen the General look so well.

*

"A few days afterwards, being on my way home, in company with others, whilst we were conversing about Washington, I saw a servant rapidly riding towards us. On his near approach I recognized him as belonging to Mount Vernon. He rode up--his countenance told the story--be handed me a letter. Washington was dead."*

In a private letter, written on the Saturday before his death, when in perfect health, the following sentence occurs : “For I must, if Mrs. Washington and myself should boih survive another year, find some place to which the supernumerary hands on this Estate could be removed."

* Life of Washington, by J. K. Paulding. 2 Vol. pp. 196, 197.

Thus habitually mindful of death, it may with reason be presumed, that he was not taken by surprise, when the enemy made his approach. Accordingly, it would appear that as soon as the disease became violent, he believed it would be fatal. He did not seek, through a fond desire of life, to delude himself with hopes of recovery ; but resigned himself at once to the will of God, requesting that no more trouble might be taken with him, as he wished to die quietly.

We learn from a memorandum of Mr. Lear, that he said during the day : “ Doctor, I die hard, but I am not afraid to go.In the view of death the pious monarch of Israel expressed himself in corresponding terms : “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no

evil, for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Whence the absence of fear from the bosom of Washington, whilst his body was racked with pain, and eternity opening before him? Was it blindness of mind-a low estimate of sin-an inadequate sense of accountability ? Or was it rather the result of confidence in the mercy of God, assured to mankind through Him whom he was accastomed to regard as the “Divine Author of our blessed religion ?" We cannot doubt but that his remarkable composure, under so sudden a visitation, had its origin in a comfortable sense of the Divine goodness, and bis own readiness for the great change which was at hand. That Saviour, who in pardoning sin deprives death of its sting, and the grave of its victory, was surely his dependence and source of his affectionate gratitude to ministering friends, and his humble resignation to the Divine will and pleasure.

To what but an evangelical source can we refer the language used by • him in reference to his dying pains ? ") should have been glad, had it

pleased God, to die a lille easier, but I doubl not it is for my good." In what way was such an end to be answered ? It was in one way only that they could be so. They could only exert a salutary influence on his spiritual state and prospects. The language of the Scriptures is : " Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not.” Again, it is written : “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." With what other views than these, could the dying Washington regard his sufferings as useful to him? Without the light which religion shed upon the painful dispensation under which he was suffering unto death, the profoundest gloom would have enveloped his mind, and filled him with a sense of unmingled evil in the bitter cup he was draining to the dregs. But Faith turned his eye from things seen to things unseen; and in the assurance that the first were temporal," whilst the last were “eternal," enabled the possessor, though in much affliction of body, to cheer bimself with the happy conviction that "it was for his good."

The request made by the sufferer to be left alone for a short time," is not less pregnant with important meaning than the language just considered. Prayer had been a confirmed habit of his life. From

« ZurückWeiter »