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Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

 Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

My uncle, Smith Lee, was farming on the Potomac, and was constantlysending me messages of condolence through my father. Our experienceswere the same as all others starting to farm under the new order ofthings. My father was very hospitable, and it delighted him to havehis relatives and friends come and see him. So many kindnesses hadbeen shown to himself and family for the last five years that he greatlyenjoyed this, his first opportunity of greeting in his own home thosewho had so often offered my mother and sisters the shelter of theirs.The country around Lexington was most beautiful, and the climate inthe summer and autumn all that could be desired. So, at those seasons,whenever he was at home, there was generally some one visiting him,nearly always relatives or old and dear friends. He entertained verysimply, made every one feel at home, and was always considerate andcareful of the amusement and welfare of his guests.

People came from all over the world to Lexington to see him. Amongstthe visitors from afar were the marquis of Lorne and the Hon. Mr.Cooper, who were on a tour through the United States. They came toLexington to see General Lee. When they called at the house therehappened to be no servant at hand, and my father, meeting them at thedoor, received their cards. Not having on his glasses, he could notread the names, but ushered the strangers into the parlour, andpresented them to Mrs. Lee, without calling their names. My motherthought the tall, slender youth was a new student, and entered intoconversation with him as such. Struck by his delicate appearance, shecautioned him against the harsh winter climate of the mountains, andurged him to be careful of his health. On this, Mr. Cooper explainedwho his companion was, and there was much amusement over the mistake.

The professors and students of the two institutions of learning wereconstant visitors, especially in the evenings, when young men cameto see the girls. If his daughters had guests, my father usually satwith my mother in the dining-room adjoining the drawing-room. Whenthe clock struck ten he would rise and close the shutters carefullyand slowly, and, if that hint was not taken, he would simply say "Goodnight, young gentlemen." The effect was immediate and lasting, andhis wishes in that matter, finally becoming generally known, werealways respected. Captain W., who had very soon found out the General'sviews as to the time of leaving, was told on one occasion that GeneralLee had praised him very much.

"Do you know why?" said the Captain. "It is because I have never beencaught in the parlour at ten o'clock. I came very near it least night,but got into the porch before the General shut the first blind. That'sthe reason he calls me 'a fine young man.'"

A young friend who was a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute calledon my sisters one evening, and remarked, just for something to say:

"Do you know this is the first civilian's house I have entered inLexington."

My father was in the room in the room in his gray Confederate coat,shorn of the buttons; also my two brothers, Custis and Fitzhugh, bothof whom had been generals in the Confederate Army; so there was quitea laugh over the term CIVILIAN. I have already mentioned how particularmy father was about answering all letters. It was a great tax on histime, and some of them must have been a trial to his temper. Thefollowing will explain itself:

"Lexington, Virginia, September 5, 1866.

"A. J. Requier, 81 Cedar St., New York.

"My Dear Sir: I am very much obliged to you for your kind letter ofthe 22d ult. So many articles formerly belonging to me are scatteredover the country that I fear I have not time to devote to theirrecovery. I know no one in Buffalo whom I could ask to reclaim theBible in question. If the lady who has it will use it, as I hope shewill, she will herself seek to restore it to the rightful owner. Iwill, therefore, leave the decision of the question to her and herconscience. I have read with great pleasure the poem you sent me,and thank you sincerely for your interest in my behalf. With greatrespect,

"Your obedient servant,

"R. E. Lee."

Here is another one of many of a similar character:

"Lexington, Virginia, September 26, 1866.

"Mr. A. Pollard, 104 West Baltimore St., Baltimore, Md.

"Dear Sir: I return you my thanks for the compliment paid me by yourproposition to write a history of my life. It is a hazardousundertaking to publish the life of any one while living, and thereare but few who would desire to read a true history of themselves.Independently of the few national events with which mine has beenconnected, it presents little to interest the general reader, nor doI know where to refer you for the necessary materials. All my private,as well as public, records have been destroyed or lost, except whatis to be found in published documents, and I know of nothing availablefor the purpose. Should you, therefore, determine to undertake thework, you must rely upon yourself, as my time is so fully occupiedthat I am unable to promise you any assistance.

"Very respectfully,

"R. Lee."

This autumn my sister Mildred paid a visit to our cousins, Mr. andMrs. George Golsborough, living at "Ashby," near Easton, on the EasternShore of Maryland. She remained away there and elsewhere for severalmonths. My father's letters to her, many of which have been preserved,are most interesting. They show very plainly many beautiful phasesof his noble character and disposition:

"Lexington, Virginia, December 21, 1866.

"My Precious Life: I was very glad to receive your letter of the 15thinst., and to learn that you were well and happy. May you be alwaysas much so as is consistent with your welfare here and hereafter, ismy daily prayer. I was much pleased, too, that, while enjoying thekindness of your friends, we were not forgotten. Experience will teachyou that, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, you willnever receive such a love as is felt for you by your father and mother.That lives through absence, difficulties, and times. Your own feelingswill teach you how it should be returned and appreciated. I want tosee you very much, and miss you at every turn, yet am glad of thisopportunity for you to be with those who, I know, will do all in theirpower to give you pleasure. I hope you will also find time to readand improve your mind. Read history, works of truth, not novels andromances. Get correct views of life, and learn to see the world inits true light. It will enable you to live pleasantly, to do good,and, when summoned away, to leave without regret. Your friends hereinquire constantly after you, and wish for your return. Mrs. Whiteand Mrs. McElwee particularly regret your absence, and the formersends especial thanks for your letter of remembrance. We get on inour usual way. Agnes takes good care of us, and is very thoughtfuland attentive. She has not great velocity, but is systematic andquiet. After to-day, the mornings will begin to lengthen a little,and her trials to lessen. It is very cold, the ground is covered withsix inches of snow, and the mountains, as far as the eye can reach inevery direction, elevate their white crests as monuments of winter.This is the night for the supper for the repairs to the Episcopalchurch. Your mother and sisters are busy with their contributions.It is to take place at the hotel, and your brother, cousins, and fatherare to attend. On Monday night (24th), the supper for the Presbyterianchurch is to be held at their lecture-room. They are to have musicand every attraction. I hope both may be productive of good. But youknow the Episcopalians are few in numbers and light in purse, andmust be resigned to small returns.... I must leave to your sistersa description of these feasts, and also an account of the operationof the Reading Club. As far as I can judge, it is a great institutionfor the discussion of apples and chestnuts, but is quite innocent ofthe pleasures of literature. It, however, brings the young peopletogether, and promotes sociability and conversation. Our felinecompanions are flourishing. Young Baxter is growing in gracefulnessand favour, and gives cat-like evidences of future worth. He possessesthe fashionable colour of 'moonlight on the water,' apparently a dingyhue of the kitchen, and is strictly aristocratic in appearance andconduct. Tom, surnamed 'The Nipper,' from the manner in which heslaughters our enemies, the rats and the mice, is admired for hisgravity and sobriety, as well as for his strict attention to thepursuits of his race. They both feel your absence sorely. Travellerand Custis are both well, and pursue their usual dignified gait andhabits, and are not led away by the frivolous entertainments of lecturesand concerts. All send united love, and all wish for your return.Remember me most kindly to Cousins Eleanor and George, John, Mary,Ida, and all at 'Myrtle Grove,' and to other kind friends when youmeet them. Grady carried yesterday to Mr. Charles Kerr, inBaltimore, a small package for you. Be careful of your health, anddo not eat more than half the plum-puddings Cousin Eleanor has preparedfor Xmas. I am glad to hear that you are fattening, and I hope youwill reach 125 lbs. Think always of your father, who loves you dearly.

"R. Lee.

"P.S., 22d.--Rob arrived last night with 'Lucy Long.' He thinks ittoo bad you are away. He has not seen you for two years.

"R. Lee."