George Washington’s birthday

February 23, 2010

George Washington’s birthday occurred yesterday. Sadly, it is no longer celebrated as a public holiday, having been replaced by the movable and insipid “Presidents’ Day” which was celebrated last week. If General Washington were alive today, he would be 278 years old. One wonders what he would think of the America he would find, and what Americans would think of him. Although his portrait appears on the dollar bill and on the quarter, and his name has been given to the nation’s capital and to a state in the Pacific Northwest, and his visage is carved prominently upon Mount Rushmore, I would venture to say that most Americans, at present, have more pressing matters weighing on their minds than the burden of gratitude they owe to their nation’s chief founder. Perhaps old General Washington suffers guilt by association; the name “Washington” is now commonly associated in our thoughts with filibustering, demagoguery, inaction, deceit, and corruption; and surely the Father of our Country would be unhappy to see what has become of the city that is named after him; as used to be said of Rome, it has become a sewer through which all the world’s filth passes.

A biography of Washington, written in Latin by a certain Frederick Glass of Ohio in the early nineteenth century, may be found at the Perseus Project website; it testifies to the esteem in which Washington was held in the early days of the Republic, and to the better educational principles that were then in force. I have no doubt that anyone who would spend his or her time reading this book would find it a richly rewarding exercise. Here is the Prooemium:

PATRIS Patriæ vitam, opus, sive ad viri virtutes, sive ad præclaras res ab illo et inceptas et perfectas spectemus, omni curâ omnique diligentiâ dignissimum, sermone Latino, procul quidem Roma et Romuleo flumine, ignotus exarare aggredior. Nullus autem dubito quin permultos invenerim, qui genus hoc scribendi naturâ suâ nimis inusitatum, meque, quod ad veteris Latii normam attineat, plane hospitem esse judicarint. Utcunque erit, juvabit tamen famam viri, omnium sæculorum facile principis, pro virili parte me ipsum consecrasse, factaque ejus pulcherrima memoriæ tradidisse Latinâ immortalitate donata. Apud quoscunque autem labores nostri benevolentiam atque favorem sibimetipsis concilient, meminerint illi quam sit inter difficillima res novas ornatu antiquo vestire, et, si in aliquâ parte titubantes inveniamur, æquo illi acceperint animo atque errori veniam concesserint.

Scripsi Tertio Idus Martii, Anno Salutis a Christo recuperatæ Millesimo Octingentesimo vicesimo quarto, in Republicâ Ohioënsi.

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