Monday, March 16, 2009

George Washington, Giggling Little Homunculus

A fascinating post over at Millard Fillmore's Bathtub illuminates a boyhood letter from George Washington to fellow Virginian Richard Henry Lee (whom he called "Dickey"), as well as a Grant Wood 1939 painting of a young George with an adult head (a homunculus).

As Ed Darrell points out, Lee and Washington were lifetime friends, and Lee went on to become a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and President of the Continental Congress.

Darrell notes that Washington's childhood was not what you would call Norman Rockwellesque:

"Adult influences in Washington’s early life were not so good as some might imagine. His father died when he was 11. At some point he became estranged from his mother, with her repeated accusations that all her children ignored her (to Washington’s great embarrassment). Washington’s other great adult male influence was his half-brother Lawrence. George was sent to live with his Lawrence, but Lawrence died in 1752, when George was turning 20. Also, Washington got little direction from him after he went to sea with the British. By the time he was 20, Washington was a military commander in the Virginia militia, making adult decisions and living in an adult world. Where did his childhood go? What was it that enabled him to pick himself up and aspire to greatness so often, in so many different ways? What was it bent the twig of the childhood Washington, who grew into the great man the adult Washington became?"

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