I am not a biography reader. Or autobiography for that matter. I’m not entirely sure why, but I think it has something to do with the insane amount of details the authors use to describe “the life” of the person in question. I rarely persist to the end.
A couple of years ago, I read an account of the Lewis and Clark expedition, but even that gave me periods of restlessness and tedium. The overload of descriptions. Heck. I can’t even remember what I bought at the grocery store yesterday. Well, really I can, but I don’t want to bore the hell out of you with the details of those items, and how they were packed into my car, for the journey home.
Nonetheless, I am sure I will receive lists of suggestions of biographies that I should read. And maybe I ought to. There are some astronomically amazing people in our history. But I think I prefer to read about them in snidbits. Small and narrow tidbits.
Like just this morning, I learned how George Washington died. In a snidbit. After his second term in office, he announced he would not run for president again. He had already dedicating his life to the USA’s first 20 years. Yes, his farewell address occurred in 1796. (George was 64 then.) And, by then, he was ready to leave Philadelphia. He wanted to return to the homestead of Mount Vernon and live out his days there.
And he did. But Washington never expected to live long. His ancestors, those Washington men, had a tendency kick the bucket before the age of 50.
So even after the Revolutionary War, at the age of 51, Washington was certain he was dancing in his twilight years.
So. On to Mount Vernon. It is a pretty massive place and there was a lot to take care of. He rode around on his horse for six hours a day, checking on the slaves, the property, the crops, and such. At night, he would come home to house guests. People wanted to meet First George. So they would travel to Mt. Vernon, with some letter from a mutual friend, and George and Martha would have to entertain them. A LOT of thems. According to the Mount Vernon estate, Washington received as many as 677 guests in 1798, the year before he died. That’s just crazy.
Anyway, he went out rain or shine, to do his rounds. And, on December 12, 1799, the weather was nothing but ice, snow, and cold. He made his ride. That evening, he got back a little late. Those pesky dinner guests had already arrived. George was the kind of guy that didn’t want to be rude, so he didn’t change out of his wet clothes. The next day, he went out again. Then, that evening, Washington began to experience chest congestion.
He didn’t feel so great on the morning of December 14. In fact, he rolled over and woke up Martha. He had a sore throat and was having trouble breathing. They called for Dr. James Craik. He was Washington’s physician for more than 40 years.
As you might guess, they (there ended up being three doctors in all) did terrible things to this man. They bled him multiple times. They gave him herbal teas and an enema. The doctors made him drink a concoction of molasses butter and vinegar, and it almost choked him to death. Craik also applied a toxic tonic to Washington’s sore throat. It was a tonic designed to make his throat blister.
They believed all of these remedies would cure him. And then, ta da. Our good founding father died sometime between 10 and 11 p.m. that evening. And it is no wonder. Then enema probably put him over the top.
Now if this had been a biography, we’d have spent 632 pages just to come to this point. And, most biographies about dead people all end up pretty much the same way.
I know we can learn a lot from reading those lengthy books, but I suppose I have other learning to do. Like yesterday, I learned that if you point your car keys to your head, it increases the remote’s signal range. They say this works by using your brain to act as a radio transmitter. This helpful snidbit for my friends who can never remember where they parked.
“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ”
― Michael Crichton
“History, like love, is so apt to surround her heroes with an atmosphere of imaginary brightness.”
― James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans
“The first duty of a man is to think for himself”
― Jose Marti