February 22, 1894: Mark Twain Celebrates George Washington’s Birthday

George Washington, first of Americans — George Washington, the Father of his Country — George Washington, the Father of Those Who Cannot Lie. The family has dwindled a good deal. But I am left yet; and when I look back over the waste of years and call up the faces of the others, and know that I shall see them no more in this life and that I must mark-twain-435remain now solitary and forlornly conspicuous to the last, the sole remnant of that old noble stock, it makes me feel sad, sad, and oh, so lonesome.

What I owe to Washington no words of mine can tell. He was my model from my cradle up. All that I am, — morally speaking — I owe to his example. Even in my tenderest youth his spirit was ever near, to guide and succor me.

The first time I ever stole a watermelon in my life — I think it was the first time — it was the thought of Washington that moved me to make restitution, restored me to the path of rectitude, made me morally whole again. When I found out it was a green watermelon, I was sorry; not superficially, but deeply and honestly sorry.

Then came the thought of Washington, and I said to myself, “What would Washington do?” That is what I said to myself. “What would George Washington do if he had stolen a watermelon? Green one. He would make restitution — that is what he would do.” And that is what I did. I rose up spiritually refreshed and strong, and carried the melon back to the farmer’s wagon and restored it to him; and said the merit was not mine, but Washington’s.

washington prayingAnd then I felt that inspiriting something, that electric thrill, that exaltation which rewards duty done, a moral victory won, a moral heroism added to one’s stock of dear and precious memories; and I told the farmer he ought to be ashamed of himself, going around working off green watermelons on people that had confidence in him; and made him give me a ripe one for it. And he was ashamed, and said he wouldn’t ever do it again. So I forgave him.

For when a person has done wrong and acknowledges it and is ashamed of it, that is enough for me. It was Washington that saved me that time; he has been my guardian angel ever since — and has had an active career. I am glad and proud to have an opportunity at last to help celebrate his memory and to do honor to his noble name.

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