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PREFACE. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. I (1748-1757) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1889-1893). Vol. I (1748-1757).
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G. P. Putnam’s Sons
It would be impossible to approach a collection of the Writings of Washington without taking some notice of the labors of Mr. Jared Sparks, the earnest, conscientious, and, it must be added, often injudicious pioneer in that great task. It is just to pay first a high tribute to his indefatigable industry in gathering the material, his wide acquaintance with the sources of history of the time, and his extensive and generally accurate knowledge of the men engaged in and the affairs connected with the troublous period of the nation’s birth, with the crucial contest for a nation’s existence. He worked with imperfect instruments, much of almost vital importance to the truth escaped his attention, while family pride and individual selfishness shut him off from manuscript records that would in his hands have added greatly to the value and rounded out more completely the interest of his work. It is fitting that due acknowledgment should be made of the great debt that Americans owe to his efforts, and no one is in a better position to recognize the debt thus due than the writer, who has passed over much of the same territory, encountered the same difficulties, and through experience been brought to a full realization of the greatness of the task accomplished by Mr. Sparks. No small part of the results of his labors has been embodied in these volumes.
In spite, however, of all that can be said in praise of Mr. Sparks’ work, it must be admitted that his zeal led him into a serious error of judgment, so common to hero-worshippers, not only doing his own reputation, as an editor, an injury, but, what is of greater moment, conveying a distorted idea of Washington’s personal character and abilities—an idea that was rapidly developed into a cult, from which it is still difficult to break away, and in which it is dangerous to express unbelief. Finding that Washington had, at a late period of his life, carefully corrected some of his earlier letters, erasing and pruning liberally, and altering the arrangement of sentences and choice of words, wherever his more mature experience pointed out the need, Mr. Sparks took the same liberty with the rest of the letters and messages, and produced what is perhaps a more uniform work than could otherwise be obtained, but one that is singularly colorless when examined to discover the individuality of the writer. Not only did the editor omit sentences, words, proper names, and even paragraphs without notice to the reader, but he materially altered the sense and application of important portions of the letters. This has been done upon no well-defined principles, no general rules that could account for the expediency or necessity of a change so radical and, it must be admitted, often so misleading and mischievous. The young colonel of the Virginia regiment, serving in the colonial wars, writes in Mr. Sparks’ volumes with the same maturity of style and thought as the president of the established republic. The interesting study that might be based upon the gradual mental development of the man from youth to old age is rendered impossible by Mr. Sparks’ methods of treating the written record, and consequently the real character of Washington as a man is as little known to-day as it was to the generation that followed him. The patient antiquary can discover a few inedited records of the man, written in the full freedom of friendly intercourse; but nothing of this nature appears in the collection of Mr. Sparks.
Some protest must be entered against the wholesale and indiscriminate charges of interested motives for his acts that it is now the fashion to bring against Mr. Sparks. The blame for many of the changes and omissions cannot be laid at his door. His correspondents often misled him, wilfully as well as unintentionally; his copyists and proof-readers were liable to err; while in other instances where he depended upon a printed version, the letters were mutilated before they reached his hands, as was the case with the correspondence with Richard Henry Lee, as published by the Lee family.
I have been fortunate enough to find among the Washington manuscripts in the Department of State the originals of two of the earlier letter-books of Washington, on which Mr. Sparks based his editorial work, and which had been mislaid for so many years that their very existence was denied. They contain the original drafts of his letters, all but a few pages are his own writing, and the changes he made at a late period of his life are so distinctive, both in the form of the letters and the colors of the ink, as to make an error of date impossible. It is to be regretted that these books were not discovered until after the first pages of this volume were printed, when it was too late to utilize this remarkable discovery. I have, however, noted the differences in some of the letters written during the campaign of 1758 (Volume II. of this collection), and the general nature of the changes in construction and language can be recognized from them. As a matter of interest, a few sentences are taken from the earlier series, written during the Braddock campaign:—
TO MRS. FAIRFAX.
[As originally written.]
This I took as a gentle rebuke and polite manner of forbidding my corresponding with you and conceive this opinion is not illy founded when I reflect that I have hitherto found it impracticable to engage one moment of your attention. If I NA in this I hope you will excuse my present presumption and lay the imputation to elateness at my successful arrival. If on the contrary these are fearfull apprehensions only, how easy is it to remove my suspicion. 7 June, 1755.
[As corrected by Washington.]
Am I to consider the proposed mode of communication as a polite intimation of your wishes to withdraw your correspondence? To a certain degree it has that appearance; for I have not been honored with a line from you since I parted with you at Belvoir. If this was your object, in what manner shall I apologise for my present disobedience; but on the contrary, if it was the effect of your delicacy, how easy it is to remove my suspicion.
TO WILLIAM BYRD.
For I can very truly say I have no expection of reward, but the hope of meriting the love of my country, and friendly regard of my acquaintance; and as to my prospect of obtaining a commission I have none, as I am perfectly well assured that it is not in Gen’l Braddock’s power to give such an one as I would accept of. 20 April 1755.
For I can truly say I have no expectation of either [fee or reward]. To merit its esteem, and the good will of my friends, is the sum of my ambition, having no prospect of obtaining a commission, being perfectly well assured &c.
It would be an ungrateful task, as well to the reader as to the editor, to attempt an exposition of how Mr. Sparks applied, as he thought, the same methods to the later correspondence of Washington, and of the regrettable consequences. A casual comparison between his collection and the present volumes will demonstrate the extent of the liberties taken with the text. For it has been the wish of the present editor to return to the originals, to give the letters as they were first written by Washington (omitting of course the rough drafts), with all their uncouth construction of sentences, curious use of words, old style of capitalization, and frequent abbreviations, the various spellings of proper names, even of words in ordinary use, and the awkward punctuation, so often calculated to confuse and mislead. In adopting this course I may have erred as much in one direction as Mr. Sparks did in another; but I can plead the requirements of the modern historical method, demanding fulness and accuracy of detail even to an extreme; not to mention the serious obstacles that any middle course would have entailed.
A difficulty presented itself from the outset. The proper management of the enormous mass of material offered was of itself a problem of no small moment; the form in which that material was accessible made a proper and satisfactory solution the more delicate and involved. I have traced, in many instances, not only the original drafts or the original letters, but copies of the letters, sometimes more than one transcript, and again printed editions of them, no two of which would agree exactly in every detail. Here was the chief obstacle to my work. For did I print the original, the variant draft, transcript, or printed copy could be used as the basis of a charge of inaccuracy; and the same charge would lie did I use any but the original form. To note all the variations was out of the question, not merely because of their number, but because of their comparatively little interest to any but the antiquary. Some compromise was necessary, and after a careful examination of the material, I determined to note in my last volume the source of the printed version, whether an original, a draft, a transcript, contemporary letter-book, or a late copy; while in notes appended to each letter, I propose to give any important variation calling for such attention. Whereever possible, the original letter is used in the text.
In following so closely, almost slavishly, the manuscript record, a notable lack of uniformity resulted, and will to many lend an appearance of careless editing to the printed page. This will naturally be more evident in the earlier writings than in those of the revolutionary and subsequent periods, when the burden of the correspondence rested with secretaries. To the beginning of the Revolution Washington composed and wrote all his letters, and carefully copied them himself into letter-books. The personal characteristics of the writer show more clearly in these earlier writings, and it is for this reason that I have given so many of that period, and in such fulness. Pursuing the same idea I have confined my notes, as far as was possible and consistent with clearness, to contemporary records, and generally to the very words of the writers. To attempt even a general summary of what has been said, written, and conjectured on mooted incidents in his life would have swelled the notes to an unwieldly size. The very full and carefully prepared notes in the Narrative and Critical History of America render such a task unnecessary. Where I have found a contemporary judgment of Washington’s character, uncolored by personal hostility or partisan hatred, I have quoted it.
In thus confining myself as closely as possible to what Washington wrote and what those who had relations with him thought of his capacity, position, and acts, no violence is done to his reputation, nothing is taken that derogates from the extraordinary abilities that showed their efficiency in small as well as in great affairs. An awkward word or phrase, a strong expression, or a severely personal criticism on his contemporaries led to an alteration or rejection by Mr. Sparks, not only from a wish to spare individual reputations, but also from an idea that a publication would detract from the greatness of the writer. In the present publication nothing of interest or importance is omitted from the record, but the result is not destructive of any reputations, and brings Washington nearer to us in thought and action than before.
The most agreeable part of my task now lies before me, that of acknowledging the kind assistance so liberally afforded me by the possessors of letters of Washington and by persons interested in American history. Many as have been the rebuffs I have received in pursuing my researches,—and I regret that I have been denied access to some very important collections of Washington letters,—they have been far more than compensated by the voluntary kindness of strangers, and by the generous acts of friends and fellow-students of history on both sides of the ocean. Many difficulties have been made smooth, and much of the drudgery involved has been lightened, by the encouraging words and marks of appreciation of these good friends. To the rich deposit of Washington papers in the Department of State, Washington, I have had full and free access through the courtesy of Hon. Thomas F. Bayard. Mr. Ainsworth R. Spofford and his assistants have freely placed before me the resources of the Library of Congress. Nor should I omit to mention the historical societies throughout the country, which have rarely hesitated to place at my disposal their rich collections of manuscripts and authorities, and afforded me every opportunity to utilize their possessions. Easily first, stands the Massachusetts Historical Society, to whose librarian, Mr. Green, I am especially indebted for favors. To one and all of these assistants I give thanks, reserving special mention for the last volume, when my burden of indebtedness will be paid in full.
I have been specially fortunate in my copyist, to whose industry and accuracy I gladly pay some tribute. Through the courtesy of Mr. Justin Winsor and the publishers of the Narrative and Critical History of America I am enabled to use some of the maps and illustrations prepared for that valuable and encyclopædic work.
Worthington Chauncey Ford.
Washington, January, 1889.