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UNRELATED portions of the diaries of George Washington have been published in the past, at different times and under various editorial plans; some of these publications are not now readily accessible and all of them, added together, comprise hardly one-sixth of the available record. It remained for the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, with patriotic understanding and generosity to undertake the publication of every available diary in a complete and uniform edition.
On page xv is given the first complete list of all the diaries, from the earliest known to the one containing the last words written by Washington, and the diaries are there numbered for convenience of reference. These numbers are assigned arbitrarily to those diaries only whose one-time existence is fairly inferential, and it is to be hoped that some of those now missing have survived and will come to light in the future.
Certain of the diaries were given away by Bushrod Washington, who inherited his uncle's papers; thus, unfortunately, impairing the completeness of the record, but rendering the title of the present owners unassailable; other diaries, however, disappeared in ways decidedly questionable.
At present there are forty original diaries known to be in existence; thirty-six of these came into the possession of the Government when the Washington Papers were purchased from the family in 1834 and 1849, and are now, with those Papers, in the Library of Congress. Four diaries are known to be in private hands; two others (Numbers 3 and 4 of the List) exist only in printed form, and two more (Numbers 40 and 43), which were in exist
ence prior to the Civil War and were then published by Benson J. Lossing, have since disappeared.
It seems unlikely that the diary habit became confirmed until Washington was nearly forty years old, and it is altogether probable that his early diaries were kept only as records of special and unusual times, such as the trip to Barbadoes in 1751-52. The two diaries of the French and Indian War period were more in the nature of official reports than private diaries, and, during the term of Washington's command on the western frontier, after the Braddock expedition, his letter-book was kept in such form as to obviate the need of a diary record so far as his official activities were concerned. The inference is strong that no personal diaries were kept during the years 175559.
The consecutive diary record began apparently in 1760, but the entries were not regularly made until 1767, which year marks the beginning of the full daily record. From February 1, 1767, the record was faithfully kept until Washington's election as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Armies in June, 1775. War activities compelled a discontinuance of the practice, and the attempt to resume, made in 1781, failed for the same reason. Washington returned to Mount Vernon the end of December, 1783, and did not, apparently, recommence his diary until his western journey in the fall of 1784. On his return from this trip there seems to have been another lapse and the regular diary record was not resumed until January 1, 1785. From this date the entries are regular until the Presidential duties interfered. There are now, however, so many gaps during the years 1789-99, gaps for which diaries more than likely existed, that it is difficult to conjecture the real situation. It seems probable, however, that diaries were regularly kept from 1789 to the end of Washington's life; though some months of the year 1797 have no entries,
due probably, to the fatigue and strain of public life, then but recently closed.
The note-books in which the earlier diaries were kept lacked uniformity as to size and shape; the earliest known diary, that of the journey across the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1748, was recorded in a small, parchment-bound pocket-memorandum book, in which were entered also miscellaneous practice forms of letters, survey notes, and random juvenile rhyme. The year 1760 is recorded, in part, in a home-made memorandum book of unusual shape; but, beginning with the year 1759, the record was kept in the interleaved and uniform edition of the Virginia Almanack, published in Williamsburg, by Purdie & Dixon. The diary, discontinued in June, 1775, was renewed in 1781 in the blank memorandum books then in use in the Orderly Office at the headquarters of the Continental Army. These books somewhat resemble in shape, size, and binding the standard stenographer's note-book of to-day; the pages, however, were unruled. The size of this page pleased Washington better, apparently, than the smaller page of the old Virginia Almanack, for, after the war, he continued to use these books for his diaries until 1795, when he again had recourse to the interleaved almanacs of the day.
There is abundant evidence that Washington's method in keeping his diary was to make rough memoranda of the day's occurrences upon loose slips, or improvised notebooks of a few leaves stitched together, and, later, sometimes some days later to copy out these rough notes into a permanent diary record. In this recopying the phraseology was frequently altered to what he thought better diction, or smoother reading; but oftentimes words were inadvertently omitted in the transcribing and transposition of dates and events occasionally occurs. Two of these rough preliminary records have survived (Numbers 34 and 44), but in the latter case the final clean copy is missing.
Ruled paper was unknown in America during Washington's lifetime and his invariable regularity of line spacing was obtained by means of a heavily ruled guide-sheet (which he made himself) beneath his writing-paper; he followed this plan in copying out his diaries. This practice gives us evidence of his failing vision, as the diaries, after the Presidency, show frequent examples of his pen running off the outer edge of the small diary page, and whole words, written on the ruled guide-sheet beneath, escaped notice of not being on the diary page itself.
The value of the diaries as an historical record is such that it is greatly to be regretted that any of them should be missing, or unavailable. As a whole they constitute a most remarkable record of a remarkable man. The matter-offact, unemotional recital carries with it a personal flavor impossible to resist and its biographical value is inestimable. There are touches in the diaries that go far toward correcting the misapprehension, generally existent, that Washington lacked a sense of humor; while the homely record of day after day at Mount Vernon gives us a clearer concept of the real George Washington than can be obtained through the numerous Lives of him that have been published. It may be noted also that in the matter of spelling, a point so often dwelt upon, Washington's weakness lay in the simple words; oddly enough the difficult ones are usually spelled correctly.
A word is necessary as to the plan of this publication. The spelling and capitalization of the original is closely followed; superior letters which occur by the thousands have been brought down to the line; the ampersand, also of frequent occurrence, has been spelled out, except where it occurs in the monthly headings and in the et cetera, which Washington nearly always wrote as '&ca.' The
monthly headings and daily dates have been made uniform, and the disconcerting hyphen, which Washington used so frequently, has been changed to comma, or semicolon as the sense demanded. All other punctuation has been scrupulously followed.
Throughout his entire life Washington kept a record of the weather as an aid, apparently, to his agricultural activities; with the daily record of several years readily available he possessed a rough-and-ready weather indicator of some value to his farm plans. This weather record he kept as a separate and distinct series of entries from the other daily diary memoranda and its exclusion from this publication has been a matter of long consideration. It was finally decided to omit it, as much because Washington himself considered it a thing apart from his regular diary record, as because it has no practical value to that record. Enough of it is included in the early years to show its general character, and where, toward the close of Washington's life, he combined this meteorological record with his regular diary entries, it is included in this publication whenever it seems to have bearing on or connection with the daily events, or its exclusion would cause an awkward reading.
In making acknowledgments and recording thanks for assistance of all kinds received during the progress of the work, the editor is happy to acknowledge, first of all, his obligations to the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union for their effectual coöperation and generous encouragement at all times. The Nation is already their debtor for their intelligent care and perfect management of Mount Vernon. Maintaining the home of Washington in such manner that the original atmosphere of the place is retained, almost as vividly as in Washington's lifetime,