The True George Washington: Friends: Lafayette
As need hardly be said, however, the strongest affection among the general officers was that between Washington and Lafayette. In the advent of this young Frenchman the commander saw only "embarassment," but he received "the young volunteer," so Lafayette said, "in the most friendly manner," invited him to reside in his house as a member of his military family, and as soon as he came to know him he recommended Congress to give him a command. As Lafayette became popular with the army, an endeavor was made by the Cabal to win him to their faction by bribing him with an appointment to lead an expedition against Canada, independent of control by Washington. Lafayette promptly declined the command, unless subject to the General, and furthermore he "braved the whole party (Cabal) and threw them into confusion by making them drink the health of their general." At the battle of Monmouth Washington gave the command of the attacking party to Lafayette, and after the conflict the two, according to the latter, "passed the night lying on the same mantle, talking." In the same way Washington distinguished him by giving him the command of the expedition to rescue Virginia from Cornwallis, and to his division was given the most honorable position at Yorktown. When the siege of that place was completed, Lafayette applied for leave of absence to spend the winter in France, and as he was on the point of sailing he received a personal letter from Washington, for "I owe it to friendship and to my affectionate regard for you my dear Marquis, not to let you leave this country without carrying fresh marks of my attachment to you," and in his absence Washington wrote that a mutual friend who bore a letter "can tell you more forcibly, than I can express how much we all love and wish to embrace you."
A reunion came in 1784, looked forward to by Lafayette with an eagerness of which he wrote, "by Sunday or Monday, I hope at last to be blessed with a sight of my dear General. There is no rest for me till I go to Mount Vernon. I long for the pleasure to embrace you, my dear General; and the happiness of being once more with you will be so great, that no words can ever express it. Adieu, my dear General; in a few days I shall be at Mount Vernon, and I do already feel delighted with so charming a prospect." After this visit was over Washington wrote, "In the moment of our separation, upon the road as I travelled, and every hour since, I have felt all that love, respect and attachment for you, with which length of years, close connexion, and your merits have inspired me. I often asked myself, as our carriages separated, whether that was the last sight I ever should have of you?" And to this letter Lafayette replied,—
"No my beloved General, our late parting was not by any means a last interview. My whole soul revolts at the idea; and could I harbour it an instant, indeed, my dear General, it would make me miserable. I well see you will never go to France. The inexpressible pleasure of embracing you in my own house, of welcoming you in a family where your name is adored, I do not much expect to experience; but to you I shall return, and, within the walls of Mount Vernon, we shall yet speak of olden times. My firm plan is to visit now and then my friend on this side of the Atlantic; and the most beloved of all friends I ever had, or ever shall have anywhere, is too strong an inducement for me to return to him, not to think that whenever it is possible I shall renew my so pleasing visits to Mount Vernon.... Adieu, adieu, my dear General. It is with inexpressible pain that I feel I am going to be severed from you by the Atlantic. Everything, that admiration, respect, gratitude, friendship, and fillial love, can inspire, is combined in my affectionate heart to devote me most tenderly to you. In your friendship I find a delight which words cannot express. Adieu, my dear General. It is not without emotion that I write this word, although I know I shall soon visit you again. Be attentive to your health. Let me hear from you every month. Adieu, adieu."
The correspondence begged was maintained, but Lafayette complained that "To one who so tenderly loves you, who so happily enjoyed the times we have passed together, and who never, on any part of the globe, even in his own house, could feel himself so perfectly at home as in your family, it must be confessed that an irregular, lengthy correspondence is quite insufficient I beseech you, in the name of our friendship, of that paternal concern of yours for my happiness, not to miss any opportunity to let me hear from my dear General."
One letter from Washington told Lafayette of his recovery from a serious illness, and Lafayette responded, "What could have been my feelings, had the news of your illness reached me before I knew my beloved General, my adopted father, was out of danger? I was struck at the idea of the situation you have been in, while I, uninformed and so distant from you, was anticipating the long-waited-for pleasure to hear from you, and the still more endearing prospect of visiting you and presenting you the tribute of a revolution, one of your first offsprings. For God's sake, my dear General, take care of your health!"
Presently, as the French Revolution gathered force, the anxiety was reversed, Washington writing that "The lively interest which I take in your welfare, my dear Sir, keeps my mind in constant anxiety for your personal safety." This fear was only too well founded, for shortly after Lafayette was a captive in an Austrian prison and his wife was appealing to her husband's friend for help. Our ministers were told to do all they could to secure his liberty, and Washington wrote a personal letter to the Emperor of Austria. Before receiving her letter, on the first news of the "truly affecting" condition of "poor Madame Lafayette," he had written to her his sympathy, and, supposing that money was needed, had deposited at Amsterdam two hundred guineas "subject to your orders."
When she and her daughters joined her husband in prison, Lafayette's son, and Washington's godson, came to America; an arrival of which the godfather wrote that, "to express all the sensibility, which has been excited in my breast by the receipt of young Lafayette's letter, from the recollection of his father's merits, services, and sufferings, from my friendship for him, and from my wishes to become a friend and father to his son is unnecessary." The lad became a member of the family, and a visitor at this time records that "I was particularly struck with the marks of affection which the General showed his pupil, his adopted son of Marquis de Lafayette. Seated opposite to him, he looked at him with pleasure, and listened to him with manifest interest." With Washington he continued till the final release of his father, and a simple business note in Washington's ledger serves to show both his delicacy and his generosity to the boy: "By Geo. W. Fayette, gave for the purpose of his getting himself such small articles of Clothing as he might not choose to ask for $100." Another item in the accounts was three hundred dollars "to defray his exps. to France," and by him Washington sent a line to his old friend, saying, "this letter I hope and expect will be presented to you by your son, who is highly deserving of such parents as you and your amiable lady."
Long previous to this, too, a letter had been sent to Virginia Lafayette, couched in the following terms:
"Permit me to thank my dear little correspondent for the favor of her letter of the 18 of June last, and to impress her with the idea of the pleasure I shall derive from a continuance of them. Her papa is restored to her with all the good health, paternal affection, and honors, which her tender heart could wish. He will carry a kiss to her from me (which might be more agreeable from a pretty boy), and give her assurances of the affectionate regard with which I have the pleasure of being her well-wisher,