“i Walk On Untrodden Ground”


Washington’s dental problems remained forever unsolved, but he tried to take advantage of the superior skills presumably available in New York by hiring still another dentist, John Greenwood, who applied to his empty gums a complete set of new false teeth. The upper portion was a solid piece of sculpture carved from hippopotamus tusk; the base of the lower was made of the same material but had attached to it by gold pivots (in a manner said to have been invented by Greenwood) actual human teeth. The utility was moderate, the comfort small, and Greenwood’s devices were a long way from answering the need.

Washington was doing his best to behave in a manner satisfactory both to the world and to his own tastes. In accepting the Presidency, which he had certainly never consciously sought, he had not promised to make himself over into a new man. He could, indeed, reasonably conclude that the nation had come to him because of the kind of man he was. A personal and Virginian brand of elegance had become for him second nature, and thus, although untempted by titles and uneasy with such ceremony as would not be suitable in a private setting, he felt that his normal way of life was correctly aimed “to support propriety of character without partaking of the follies of luxury and ostentation.”

Although Washington knew that some republicans thought he was being too aristocratic and Europeanized, he saw on the faces of European aristocratic visitors that they considered his way of life surprisingly plain. Washington believed he was avoiding extremes. His own desires and those of Martha, he wrote, were “limited,” and he believed, after he had set up his schedule of levees and teas and dinners, that “our plans of living will now be deemed reasonable by the considerate part of our species.”