Washington and Lee University

Review of “To Markie”
Brainerd Dyer

Note: The following is taken from the March 1934 issue of The Pacific Historical Review (volume 3), pp. 98–99


“To Markie“: The Letters of Robert E. Lee to Martha Custis Williams. From the originals in The Huntington Library; edited and with an introduction by Avery Craven. (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1933. vii+91 pp. $1.50).

The latest of The Huntington Library publications presenting material from the collections of the Library and issued in co-operation with the Harvard University Press is this delightful little volume of letters from Robert E. Lee to a distant cousin, Martha Custis Williams, who was also a first cousin of Mrs. Lee. The collection consists of thirty-nine letters written between September, 1844, and August, 1870. Of the twenty-five letters written before the Civil War, seven are from New York where Lee was engaged in work on the harbor fortifications, thirteen are from West Point during the years Lee was Superintendent of the United States Military Academy (September 1, 1852–March 31, 1855), and the remaining five are from such scattered places as Mexico City, Arlington, Baltimore, and Fort Mason, Texas. The fourteen post-war letters were written from various points in Virginia, but chiefly from Lexington, the seat of Washington College of which Lee was president after the war. No letters for the period of the war are included.

It is not surprising that military problems and public affairs find very little place in these letters to Miss Williams—“Dearest Markie,” as Lee addressed her. Except for a brief discussion of progress in the ratification of the peace treaty at the close of the war with Mexico, and some comment in the letter of January 22, 1861, on the approaching civil strife, the content of the letters is largely news of friends and relatives. The chief value of the letters is the additional light they throw on the character and personality of General Lee. As Professor Craven states in his introduction, the letters “give us no new Robert E. Lee. They only bring out certain traits already well known but not always properly emphasized” (vi). They reveal his humor, his love of young people, his sympathy, his kindliness and thoughtfulness, his humility, and above all, his deep faith and trust in God “who never afflicts us unnecessarily, or punishes us without a merciful purpose” (66). Though the post-war letters show a continued interest on Lee's part in young folks and their prospects for marriage, they are much more somber and contain definite evidence of Lee's weariness with life.

Professor Craven has done his editorial work with great care and has supplied in footnotes much helpful information. The letters as printed contain a few misspellings and other minor errors. All of these may be in the originals but as this is in no way indicated the reader is left in doubt.

BRAINERD DYER
University of California at Los Angeles