1821 Augt 21
Dr. Mayo to Lee (fr: original)
I have just returned from my friends in Matthews & Gloucester & regret that so long an interval has elapsed without affording me a suitable opportunity of writing to you, to assure you how gratefully my heart cherishes the recollection of civilities, & the inestimable value I set on your acquaintance – in a word on the pleasure & edification I expect to derive from your correspondence.
Independently of the particular object for which I took the liberty of calling upon you, shd that ultimately assume the character of a chimera from any perverse course of events in defiance of my most anxious hopes, I shall yet esteem it the happiest occurrence of my life, which bestowed on me the advantages of an epistolary intercourse with you. I am very confident, from your profound research in polite literature, & general science, that a continual consultation with you, will enable me to effect tenfold more practical service to the community in the department of school learning, which I have undertaken to modify & improve than I shd be able [to] achieve by the most indefatigable single handed industry. And, indeed, shd you yet be inclined to devote a few of your leisure hours to the lofty temple of literary fame, I cd possibly suggest to a topic that might prove perhaps as agreeable to yourself as it wd delightful and instructive to all future ages in the perusal – A Digest of what is curious & beautiful in literature. Such a work selected with good judgment and accompanied with appropriate editorial remarks wd raise you to the very summit of literary fame in either hemisphere. And how infinitely is it more worthy of your ambition than the limited subject of a memoir! I have a mutilated copy of a book entitled “The curiosities of literature” which may give you some faint notion of the plan which your own judgment & taste wd enable you to extend and improve. I wd send it to you with a copy of my “inaugural dissertation on the sensorium or living principle”, & some other books that I have no doubt will entertain you, if you will inform me of the most suitable conveyance. Perhaps you wd get them more readily from Mr. Beverly to whom I can easily convey them by stage or steamboat. You may suppose at first that such a work wd require the fabulous powers & persevering labours of Trismagistus; but a single word may possibly convince you of the practicality of the design. First get possession of the catalogues of the most extensive libraries in this Country – run over them to mark out the books of merit which may contain matter to your purpose, working at the same time with greater emphasis, those which seem to have had somewhat the same design in view and let such be the first subject of your periodical. In there you will find much to adopt and a great deal to reject. The editorial remarks will improve your taste for that wit of criticism and upon their model you will be enabled to form a system comparatively perfect; to which your subsequent perusal of other valuable books will lay them under contribution with a facility inconceivable to any imagination that is not disciplined in this way.
I beg you will not fail to mention whatever may have transpired, or may be likely to occur touching the other subject with any remarks you may think calculated to beguile the moments that linger on an impatient mind. Though I say but little on this at present. you can easily suppose that I wd be glad to find your letter almost exclusively devoted to it.
Be pleased to present my best respects to Mrs. Lee & Mrs. Beverly. It wd give me much pleasure to hear that Mrs. Lee is better of headache & Mrs. Beverly’s little daughters of their ague & fever. Accept the sincere regard of
Yr. obedt servant
Source: The Archives of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Papers of the Lee Family, Box 7, M2009.133
Transcribed by Caitlin Connelly, June 16 2016