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Author of “Men, Women, and Manners in Colonial Times,”
tion of the Constitution,” etc.
“If rigid moral analysis be not the purpose of historical
This analysis of the life and caracter of Franklin has in view a similar object to that of the volume entitled “The True George i rashington,” which was prepared for the publishersby Mr. Paul Leicester Ford and issued a year or two ago.
Washington sadly needed to be humanized, to be rescued from the myth-making process which had been destroying all that was lovable in his character and turning him into a mere bundle of abstract qualities which it was piously supposed would be wholesome examples for the American people. This assumption that our people are children who must not be told the eternal truths of human nature, but deceived into goodness by wooden heroes and lay figures, seems, fortunately, to be passing away, and in a few years it will be a strange phase to look back upon.
So thorough and systematic has been the expurgating during the last century that some of its details are very curious.
It is astonishing how easily an otherwise respectable editor or biographer can get himself into a state of complete intellectual dishonesty. It is interesting to follow one of these literary criminals and see the minute care with which he manufactures an entirely new and imaginary being out of the real man who has been placed in his hands. He will not allow his victim to say even a
single word which he considers unbecoming. The story is told that Washington wrote in one of his letters that a certain movement of the
would not amount to a flea-bite; but one of his editors struck out the passage as unfit to be printed. He thought, I suppose, that Washington could not take care of his own dignity.
Franklin in his Autobiography tells us that when working as a journeyman printer in London he drank nothing but water, and his fellow-workmen, in consequence, called him the “Water-American;" but Weems in his version of the Autobiography makes him say that they called him the “American Aquatic,” an expression which the vile taste of that time was pleased to consider elegant diction. In the same way Temple Franklin made alterations in his grandfather's writings, changing their vigorous Anglo-Saxon into stilted Latin phrases.
It is curious that American myth-making is so unlike the ancient myth-making which as time went on made its gods and goddesses more and more human with mortal loves and passions. Our process is just the reverse. Out of a man who actually lived among us and of whose life we have many truthful details we make an impossible abstraction of idealized virtues. It may be said that this could never happen among a people of strong artistic instincts, and we have certainly in our conceptions of art been theatrical and imitative rather than dramatic and real. Possibly the check which is being given to our peculiar myth-making is a favorable sign for our art. The myth-makers could not work with Franklin