Lexington, Va: 12 March 1868
My dear Cousin Harriet
I wish I may be able to aid you in the important matter you have now to decide, the selection of a school for your fine boy. The most any of them can offer are opportunities to learn; the rest he must do for himself. If he does not apply himself earnestly & diligently to his work, he will accomplish very little at any College & the only good he will receive will be by absorption & attrition. As he has expressed a preference for the Va: Mil: Institute I would gratify him. His special tastes may be accommodated & in that way he may be induced to study more earnestly. It is an excellent school & has a good corps of teachers. I do not think he will find the labour hard & the only exposure to which he will be subject that I am aware of is the guard duty in winter, which I believe is light.
I know it will give Custis great pleasure to do anything for him he can, though in assigning the new students to rooms, it is difficult at first to ascertain their characters. Still precautions can be taken. As I am sure in his home training he has been taught to know good from evil, & the stern necessity of self denial & self control; I know it will be practicable for him to pursue the proper course. September will be the best time for him to enter the Institute & you must urge him to determine at the commencement to devote himself to his duties & conform to all the regulations. Young men upon entering the world are obliged to meet trials & temptations. All that we can do is to prepare them for what they must undergo. I find great advantage in placing the younger students of Washington College with certain families, where they are made to feel themselves a member of the house, are cared for in sickness & in health, & are surrounded by home influences & beneficial associations. In this way the parental restraint to which they have been accustomed, & which in many instances is still necessary, is in a measure supplied. They are also removed from the mass of the students, separated into family communities & only visit college at their hours of lectures. At military schools, if their discipline is good they can take more individual controul of the students than at colleges & hold them to a stricter account.
When at the latter, a student is deaf to admonition & hardened by forbearance, all that can be done is to return him to his parents, who in nine cases out of ten are to blame for his conduct in not having trained him properly. See Hatty what a heavy responsibility you have upon your little shoulders. I am sure your son has that affection & consideration for you as to shield you from any censure on his account.
Your poor Cousin M. is suffering more than usual from her rheumatic pains, on account of a cold she has taken. I am the only other poorly one of the family. All however unite in much love to you. You must present my kindest regards to your Mother, Sisters, & brothers. I wish very much to see you & them, but at present have no prospect.
If you conclude to send your boy to the Institute & will send him to me, I will have him established in the best manner I can.
Should John Lloyd, the son of Mr. J. Lloyd of Mt. Ida, return to Washington College next session he will take good care of him. He is an excellent young man, a good student, & in every way can be relied on.
Wishing you every happiness.
I am your affection Cousin,
R E Lee
Mrs. H.E. Cazenove
Source: The Archives of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Papers of the Lee Family, Box 4, M2009.357, Jessie Ball duPont Library, Stratford Hall. Gift of James O'Hara Cazenove, 1970.
Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2015 September 25