Monday, October 29, 2007

I can not tell a…

historical anachronism from a genuine historical explanation.

A student just asked me if the tale of George Washington and the cherry is true. I did not know, so I consulted my extruded mind, aka Google, and found out, no, it is not true, but was written by Mason Locke Weems in his Life of George Washington; with Curious Anecdotes, Equally Honorable to Himself, and Exemplary to His Young Countrymen (1800).

What I found most interesting in the article that told me all this [#1], is how Ms. Kion explained Weems's motive for writing the book. She says:§

What the public in 1800 needed was something new to talk and think about, no matter if it was true or not. The public was between major wars. The Revolutionary War was behind them. It would be late in 1806 before Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark would trek across the country to the Pacific and return. And the War of 1812 was even further away. The public, in 1800, was badly in need of a hero.

But isn't this highly anachronistic? In 1800 did Americans, the young Americans, know they were in need of a hero? Did they know they were in between wars? How could they? Ms. Kion's claim seems to be sheer conjecture. Of course, considering her conclusion -- "The answer [to whether the tale is true or not] lies is [sic] in the heart, which does not always distinguish between fact and fiction but always knows what it cherishes" -- there is little wonder she is fast and loose with facts.

To be fair, I'd like to see her sources for myself to see if they provide any evidence for the sweeping psychosocial "explanation" Ms. Kion gives for Weems authoring the book. She may be right but her explanation seems just as fabricated as the story it purports to account for.

Yes, I've been pondering the philosophy of history lately.

(Oh, I just added an Firefox plug-in called Bork, in honor of the Muppets' Swedish Chef, and felt he should have a go at quoting Ms. Kion:

Vhet zee poobleec in 1800 needed ves sumetheeng noo tu telk und theenk ebooot, nu metter iff it ves trooe-a oor nut. Zee poobleec ves betveee mejur vers. Zee Refulooshunery Ver ves beheend zeem. It vuoold be-a lete-a in 1806 beffure-a Cepteeens Mereevezeer Looees und Veelliem Clerk vuoold trek ecruss zee cuoontry tu zee Peceeffic und retoorn. Und zee Ver ooff 1812 ves ifee foorzeer evey. Zee poobleec, in 1800, ves bedly in need ooff a heru.)

[#1] "Washington’s Cherry Tree: Legend or Fact?" © Mary Trotter Kion, Apr 14, 2006, at

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