The Life of George Washington by M. L. Weems, 1832

Weems, M.L. The Life of George Washington; with Curious Anecdotes, Equally Honourable to Himself, and Exemplary to His Young Countrymen. Joseph Allen, Philadelphia, 1832. 12mo. 6 plates. In contemporary boards, professionally rebacked, and tooled in period style, presented with new archival brown cloth slipcase. 

Presented is a scarce 1832 printing of Mason Locke Weems’ The Life of George Washington. Weems’ biography of Washington was first published in 1800 and then expanded twice, in 1806 and in 1832, to include the now famous cherry-tree story and other anecdotes. The book has six plates depicting the Defeat of Braddock, Battle of Lexington, Battle of Bunker Hill, Capture of Andre, and Surrender of Cornwallis.  

Weeks after Washington’s death in 1799, Weems wrote to the Philadelphia publisher Mathew Carey, “Washington, you know is gone! Millions are gaping to read something about him. I am very nearly prim’d & cock’d for ‘em” (Skeel, 1929). In addition to narrating Washington’s military and public career with his biography, Weems planned to describe his virtues for “the imitation of Our Youth.” 

Published the year after Washington's death, Weems' biography served as the point of origin for many long-held myths about Washington, in particular the famous cherry tree story. By Weems' account, on pages 13 and 14 of this printing, a six year-old George Washington, “the wealthy master of a hatchet,” cuts his father's prized cherry tree. When the older Washington demands to know what happened to his tree, young George, “looking at his father with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth... bravely cried ‘I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie.’”  Weems’ book is also considered the origin of the story of Washington praying at Valley Forge, among other unconfirmed claims. 

Weems’ biography “cemented the link between Washington’s – and therefore the nation’s – civic and moral-religious identity...Weems made Washington into the Christian self-made man, more than the republican statesman or the Virginia gentleman. His biography became the most widely circulated life of Washington through the mid-nineteenth century, for it tapped into the mentality of the new century. Schoolbook writers repeated and broadcasted Weems’ anecdotes, however apocryphal, far beyond their original publication” (Casper, 2012). 

CONDITION:

Good condition overall. In contemporary boards, professionally rebacked, and tooled in period style. Gilt titles and raised bands to spine. 12mo. 6 plates. Previous owner mounted his bookplate to the front pastedown and included 2 relevant articles. Interior pages have minor scattered foxing. Presented with a new archival brown cloth slipcase with an inlaid portrait of Washington on the front. Dimensions: 7"H x 4 1/2" W x 1" D (Book); 7 5/8" H x 4 3/4" W x 1 1/2"D (Case).




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