WASHINGTON, George] LEAR, Tobias (1762-1816). Autograph letter (a retained copy), to an unidentified correspondent, docketed "copy of a letter from Mr. Lear...on the death of Washington." Mount Vernon, 16 December 1799. 3 pages, folio, endorsed on ve...
Estimate: US$3,000 - US$5,000
Price realised: US$29,900
WASHINGTON, George] LEAR, Tobias (1762-1816). Autograph letter (a retained copy), to an unidentified correspondent, docketed "copy of a letter from Mr. Lear...on the death of Washington." Mount Vernon, 16 December 1799. 3 pages, folio, endorsed on verso, small tears to folds, neat repair to center fold . LEAR'S ACCOUNT OF "THE DEATH OF THE GREATEST AND BEST OF MEN" A compelling first-hand account of the final illness and death of George Washington, by his close friend and personal secretary Tobias Lear: "Before this reaches you - the information of the death of the greatest and best of men will have got to Portsmouth. A loss so great ...can hardly be realized." He gives the following account: "On Thursday last the weather was very disagreeable...the General had rode out to visit his farm as usual, and as he never regarded the weather, he kept out from about ten till three o'Clock - when he came in, I offered that he was very wet about his hair and neck and told him that I was afraid he would take cold. He said there was no danger, for his great coat had kept him from getting wet. On Friday he complained of a sore throat;...he took no measures to remove it - for he was always adverse to nursing himself for any slight complaint. About 3 o'clock on Saturday morning he became ill, and...Mrs. Washington sent for me...[I]" Lear sent for "Doctor Craik as I found he could scarcely speak and breathed with difficulty." Doctor Craik in turn "sent for Doctor Dicks of Alexandria and Doctor Brown...Every aid that medicine can give was administered; but...between ten & eleven o'clock at night he resigned his breath into the hand that gave it. His distress through the day was extreme; but not a groan or a complaint escaped him;...and in full possession of his reason to the last moment - he gave up his life..." Recounting Washington's last words, Lear writes: "'My dear friend, I am just about to change the scene. My breath can continue but a few Moments, you will have me decently interred and do not let my body be put into the Tomb in less than two days after my death.' He then felt his own pulse...the pulse leapt and he was launched into happier scenes." He concludes: "The pious resignation...of Mrs. Washington in this distressing scene is beyond description...She observed 'It is now all over I have no more trials to pass through in this life, I shall soon follow him and rejoice when that moment arrives.'...On Wednesday at 12 o'clock the remains will be deposited in the Tomb - and America will mourn the loss of the first and greatest of men." Lear is one of the foremost sources for the sequence of events leading up to Washington's death. One version was published by Jared Sparks from Lear's personal diary (the original is now lost), others are in letters from Lear to William Washington and to Burgess Ball, both dated 15 December (see J.A. Carroll & M. W. Ashworth, George Washington: First In Peace , Chapter xxii and pp.617-627, which draws upon these parallel narratives). The present letter is apparently unpublished.
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