George Washington as seen by William Carlos Williams

From “George Washington” in In the American Grain, a collection of essays by William Carlos Williams,  © 1933, (pp 142-144).

Here was a man of tremendous vitality buried in a massive frame and under a rather stolid and untractable exterior which the ladies somewhat feared, I fancy. He must have looked well to them, from a distance, or say on horseback - but later it proved a little too powerful for comfort. And he wanted them too; violently. One can imagine him curiously alive to the need of dainty waistcoats, lace and kid gloves, in which to cover that dangerous rudeness which he must have felt about himself. His interest in dress at a certain period of his career is notorious.


Some girl at Princeton, was it? had some joke with him about a slipper at a dance. He was full of it. And there was the obscene anecdote he told that night in the boat crossing the Delaware.


America has a special destiny for such men, I suppose, great wench lovers - there is the letter from Jefferson attesting it in the case of Washington, if that were needed - terrible leaders they might make if one could release them. It seems a loss not compensated for by the tawdry stuff bred after them - in place of a splendor, too rare. They are a kind of American swan song, each one.

The whole crawling mass gnaws on them - hates them. He was hated, don't imagine he was not. The minute he had secured their dung heap for them - he had to take their dirt in the face.

From deep within, you may count upon it, came those final words when, his head in his friend's lap, he said with difficulty: “Doctor, I am dying, and have been dying for a long time,..” adding to reassure them, “but I am not afraid to die.”

He is the typical sacrifice to the mob - in a great many ways thoroughly disappointing.




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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


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