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The Lee Family Digital Archive is the largest online source for primary source materials concerning the Lee family of Virginia. It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online. We are always looking for new letters, diaries, and books to add to our website. Do you have a rare item that you would like to donate or share with us? If so, please contact our curator, Colin Woodward, about how you can contribute to this historic project.



1821. Nov: 27

Fr: Mayo to Lee (fr: original)

Richmd Novr. 27. 1821

Dear Sir,

            I am not insensible of the superior merit requisite to an ingenuous persevering & successful prosecution of a great enterprise, over that of merely conceiving the original design. This only craves some activity of imagination with a few momentary scintillations of the nobler qualities of the heart and may justly be styled a waking dream; while the former demands that these flashes of intellect & ephemeral transports of the soul, should assume the steady & unremitting effulgence of a magnanimous enthusiasm, which knows no abatement but in the accomplishment of the lofty purpose. For I maintain it true that nothing great is ever achieved, which is not put in motion by the all conjuring powers of enthusiasm – not that blind zeal which hazards its own defeat by injudicious precipitancy, but that weary, sagacious & indefatigable ardour, which, while every fibre is continually tense, writes the advantages of patience & acuteness, to wait for, & promptly to embrace the critical tide in events which is otherwise beyond its controul, but taken as the flood conspires with the facilities of its own workmanship, to effect the glorious deed. Weak minds possessed of some sprightliness of imagination, with an occasional susceptibility of generous sentiments may project a vast design, but they shrink into their native frivolousness & insignificance at the first difficulty that opposes their dizy visions. It required a Columbus, not to project merely, but to effect the discovery of the western world. And however many claim the suggestion of her Independence, however numerous were the zealous army that struck the uncountable blows which achieved the valorous deed, it demanded a Washington to direct them with effect, to insure their success & finally to settle the mighty Republic, that infant hope of the future destinies of the human family, upon the broad & substantial basis of liberty. If Columbus had never been born America possibly had never been discovered – if Washington had not been a soldier, a statesman & a philanthropist, these colonies might have seceded from the mother country, & have become so many independent, discordant monarchies, or have assumed some form of tyranny – assuredly they never had attained the present boast or a galaxy of confederate republics. I will also admit that it may sometimes comfort with the views of great and enterprising minds when they arrive to objects which are worthy of their towering ambition, and peculiarly adapted to a prompt and decisive measure, to proceed directly to the point of conflict, and with a single coup de main, compress the purpose of their bold design. But while the romantic eras that inspire my bosom evidently admit not of the single & undivided effort, nay explosion of personal prowess, I hope I shall prove by the wary & indefatigable perseverance which befits the occasion that they are not the airy visions of a waking dream, which like a shadow, the mere evanescence of practical magninimity shrink & vanish before the slightest obstacle that thwarts their achievement.

            I am exceedingly sorry however that it shd have fallen into the scope of policy I thought it prudent to pursue, to inflict on yr mind the uneasiness of a moment’s apprehension of the resolute character of their vows; for I confess that I felt some desire to make assurance doubly sure, in regard to the proudly zeal you have uniformly manifested in my behalf. And it affords me peculiar gratification to have recd the strongest demonstration that the case will admit of; while I hope it will be some atonement to your & Mrs. Lee when I return you my assurance that the grateful spirit of yr: last letter will enable me to appreciate yr friendship much more highly, than any other mode of testing it could possibly have done.

            I am a thousand times indebted to you for the generous light in which you regard the confidence in you in the very embryo of this seemingly romantic impulse of every noble affection of the heart. But the want of time compels me to be brief. I must therefore conclude with requesting you to appeal me in the course of the first week in Decr: - if no reverse interferes – till then adieu,

Yrs. Sincerely,

R. Mayo


Source: The Archives of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Papers of the Lee Family, Box 7, M2009.153

Transcribed by Caitlin Connelly, 2016 June 24

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