A Footnote on Famous First Dog Lover George Washington
Yesterday, in honor of President's Day, this column celebrated George Washington's love of dogs. Here's something Ineglected to mention:The father of ourcountryevidentlytook the "Love Me, Love My Dogs"policy quite literally.
As discussed here, dog author Stanley Coren contends that Washington's path to politicalpower began with a stroll down Philadelphia's Walnut Street in the company of hisFoxhound, Sweet Lips. On their walk, the dashing duo got noticed by one Elizabeth Powel (right), the brilliant, charming, wealthy, well-connectedwife ofthe city's mayorSamuel Powel.
Here's how Mrs. Powel described the first time she saw Washington: His movements and gestures are graceful, his walk majestic, and he was walking with a tall, exceedingly graceful dog of the hound type as he strode down Walnut Street.
As Coren says in his book"The Pawprints of History: Dogs and the Course of Human Events," "There is suggestive evidence that although Elizabeth had been attracted to the Virginia hound that she saw walking beside Washington on the sidewalk, she was also probably attracted to the idea of petting the Virginia delegate as well."
Washington was a frequent house guest at the Powels' - in fact, Coren writes that, "For much of the time he was in Philadelphia, Washington stayed in the Powels' home, even though Samuel was often away for days at a time ... [Later,] Elizabeth was known to have had several overnight visits at the presidential residence."
When he wasn't in her house and she wasn't in his, Mr. Washington and Mrs. Powelexchanged letters. In one, Washington thanks her with lovingkindness for the gift of a lamp, addressing her as "Dear Madam":
"The reflecting lamp, with which you have been so obliging as to present me, I shall highly esteem. The benefits which will flow from the general use of such Lamps, are too apparent for the light of them to be long hid from the American World. Neat simplicity, is among the most desirable properties of the one you have sent me, but that which stamps the highest value thereon, is the hand from which it comes. I have the honor to be with affectionate regard."
Later on, saysnoted historian and authorRichard R. Beeman, President Washington confessed to his friendthat he was considering stepping down after his first term; she minced no words in advising himagainst it.
"Your resignation,"Elizabeth wrote, "would use it as an argument for dissolving the Union, and would urge that you, from Experience, had found the present System a bad one, and had, artfully, withdrawn from it that you might not be crushed under its Ruins."
He was, she continued, "the only Man in America that dares to do right on all public Occasions," the only American who consistently refused "to be intoxicated by Power or misled by Flattery." And most important, Elizabeth said, he possessed remarkable self-control: "You have demonstrated that you possess an Empire over yourself."
For her 50th birthday, Washington sent Elizabeth a poem written by Elizabeth GraemeFerguson, which the presidenthad his personal secretary copy out:
Like Mira, Virtue's Self possess
Let her adorn your Mind
For Virtue in a pleasing dress
Has Charms for all Mankind
Her spotless Mantle shall be shown
When its blest Owner flies
The Flaming Chariot make it known
When Soaring to the Skies.
According to Coren, "Most of the correspondence that was sent by Elizabeth to Washington was destroyed by his wife, Martha, shortly after his death... In the few surviving bits of correspondence between them there are cryptic phrases (such as 'Considering what passed between us yesterday')."
Back in the days when discretion was a top priority, such a phrase would be sizzling hot - especially coming from a lady to a gentleman. And you know what? It kind of still is, even inour post-tell-all age. No wonder Martha Washington destroyed most of her husband's lettersfrom Elizabeth Powel.
Elizabeth's comment onWashington's impressive self-control -his "Empire over [himself]" -suggests that maybe, perhaps, their friendship never did cross the line into intimacy. Then what transpiredon those nights they allegedly spent alone together? And what made Martha jealous?
Coren coyly concludes, "It is, of course, possible that Elizabeth and George spent those long nights discussing foxhunting and hounds."
This has never happened to me, but I can only imagine that, ifone ismagnetically drawn to a person andhis/her dog with equal force, andthe friendship lasts the test of time as theirs did, it would be virtually impossibleto deny animal attraction -if only justonce.
Dogsters, what do you think? WereWashington and Elizabeth Powellovers, or friends who loved dogs? Have you ever experienced simultaneous, dual-species love at first sight? Please tell all in the comments!