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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Two Soldiers

By Edward Everett (1794–1865)

[Oration on the Character of Washington. 1856.—From Orations and Speeches by Edward Everett. 1850–68.]

THERE is a splendid monumental pile in England, the most magnificent perhaps of her hundred palaces, founded in the time of Queen Anne at the public cost, to perpetuate the fame of Marlborough. The grand building, with its vast wings and spacious courts, covers seven acres and a half of land. It is approached on its various sides by twelve gates or bridges, some of them triumphal gates, in a circumference of thirteen miles, enclosing the noble park of twenty-seven hundred acres (Boston Common has forty-three), in which the castle stands, surrounded by the choicest beauties of forest and garden and fountain and lawn and stream. All that gold could buy, or the bounty of his own or foreign princes could bestow, or taste devise, or art execute, or ostentation could lavish, to perfect and adorn the all but regal structure, without and within, is there. Its saloons and its galleries, its library and its museum, among the most spacious in England for a private mansion, are filled with the rarities and wonders of ancient and modern art. Eloquent inscriptions from the most gifted pens of the age—the English by Lord Bolingbroke, the Latin, I believe, by Bishop Hoadley—set forth on triumphal arches and columns the exploits of him to whom the whole edifice and the domains which surround it are one gorgeous monument. Lest human adulation should prove unequal to the task, Nature herself has been called in to record his achievements. They have been planted, rooted in the soil. Groves and coppices, curiously disposed, represent the position, the numbers, the martial array of the hostile squadrons at Blenheim. Thus, with each returning year, Spring hangs out his triumphant banners. May’s Æolian lyre sings of his victories through her gorgeous foliage; and the shrill trump of November sounds “Malbrook” through her leafless branches.

Twice in my life I have visited the magnificent residence,—not as a guest; once when its stately porticos afforded a grateful shelter from the noonday sun, and again, after thirty years’ interval, when the light of a full harvest moon slept sweetly on the bank once shaded by fair Rosamond’s bower,—so says tradition,—and poured its streaming bars of silver through the branches of oaks which were growing before Columbus discovered America. But to me, at noontide or in the evening, the gorgeous pile was as dreary as death, its luxurious grounds as melancholy as a church-yard. It seemed to me, not a splendid palace, but a dismal mausoleum, in which a great and blighted name lies embalmed like some old Egyptian tyrant, black and ghastly in the asphaltic contempt of ages, serving but to rescue from an enviable oblivion the career and character of the magnificent peculator and miser and traitor to whom it is dedicated; needy in the midst of his ill-gotten millions; mean at the head of his victorious armies; despicable under the shadow of his thick-woven laurels; and poor and miserable and blind and naked amidst the lying shams of his tinsel greatness. The eloquent inscriptions in Latin and English as I strove to read them seemed to fade from arch and column, and three dreadful words of palimpsestic infamy came out in their stead, like those which caused the knees of the Chaldean tyrant to smite together, as he beheld them traced by no mortal fingers on the vaulted canopy which spread like a sky over his accursed revels; and those dreadful words were,—

  • Avarice, Plunder, Eternal Shame!
  • There is a modest private mansion on the bank of the Potomac, the abode of George Washington and Martha his beloved, his loving, faithful wife. It boasts no spacious portal nor gorgeous colonnade, nor massy elevation, nor storied tower. The porter’s lodge at Blenheim Castle, nay, the marble dog-kennels were not built for the entire cost of Mount Vernon. No arch nor column, in courtly English or courtlier Latin, sets forth the deeds and the worth of the Father of his Country; he needs them not; the unwritten benedictions of millions cover all the walls. No gilded dome swells from the lowly roof to catch the morning or evening beam; but the love and gratitude of united America settle upon it in one eternal sunshine. From beneath that humble roof went forth the intrepid and unselfish warrior,—the magistrate who knew no glory but his country’s good; to that he returned happiest when his work was done. There he lived in noble simplicity; there he died in glory and peace. While it stands the latest generations of the grateful children of America will make this pilgrimage to it as to a shrine; and when it shall fall, if fall it must, the memory and the name of Washington shall shed an eternal glory on the spot.