• The Lees of Virginia
  • The Lees of Virginia
  • The Lees of Virginia
  • The Lees of Virginia

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 It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online.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 editor, Colin Woodward, at  (804) 493-1940, about how you can contribute to this historic project.



American Book Company

Publishers of School and College Text Books

22 February 1900

Atlanta. Ga.

Captain Robert E. Lee,

West Point, Va.

Dear Bob—

The general antagonism between authors and their publishers, many a time excited my wonder, as to the truth between the allegations and the alligators, before I came bodily into this business, and I will tell you right openly that twenty-three years of service with publishers have chocked me plumb full of sympathy with authors (on the whole), and so when you revealed your venture, with a confession of total ignorance about publishing and of dependence on your friends, I could not resist the temptation to make enquiries, through my friends who are recognized (by the author world) as exceptions to the criticisms against publishers, that would determine whether you had fallen into the hands of those whom Mathew Arnold has dubbed “the Philistines”; and the result is enclosed in letters from Mr. Willy Appleton and my boss, Mr. Ambrose. I saw a caricature of the Harpers kicking out Doubleday, I presumed, and suspecting that I had dreamed it, I enquired, and found that other folks remembered the picture, and it was that which led me to make the enquiries. These letters may satisfy your mind, or put you to watching and praying more closely—but no matter what, they can’t do harm. Authors are not careful about contracting—and therein lies the misunderstandings that kick up the after-fuss. Form of contracting is next in importance to the selecting of a publisher of high character and good influence. Publishers are in business to make money—not to keep a school of instruction for authors, and authors, by their very nature, are choice timber for manipulation by a selfish publisher, hence the howling of the author when it is too late and the greed of the publisher to get hold of a good thing in a minute. Don’t hurry or be hurried by them. Your undertaking is a work of deeper import and more enduring significance than will appear to many uninitiated friends to whom you have spoken about it.

You write well—clearly and naturally—your subject is grand—the book will be read by the best people the world over—it will be sought when our great-grandchildren are learning how to read, and the work deserves just such devoted and careful study and work as you will devote, I know. There is much in the name of a book. You will remember the old saw that, “some to the fascination of a name surrender judgment hoodwinked”. How does such an entitlement as this suit your fancy? “HOME REMINISCENCES OF GENERAL ROBERT E. LEE,

By His Son,

With Many Letters, &c. “—or,


By His Son,
With Letters to his Family”—&c.

Have you ever seen the poems of Frank Stanton dedicated to me? Well sir, we spent days and nights conjuring up the title of that book, “Songs of the Soil”, and were as much puzzled in getting one for his second book, “Comes One With a Song”—and I mention this because there is magic in a good title, and many authors regret when too late that they “hadn’t called it” “something else”.

Write and tell me whether I can aid you and how and do not fear imposing on my time and patience.

It is not the best policy to write up a forthcoming book long in advance of day of publication. If you will keep me advised, I will start the ball at the right time, in the daily Constitution and the weekly that has a circulation of 150,000. I can command Uncle Remus (Joe Harris), and this same poet, Frank Stanton, who are on the Constitution. I will see that Glenn makes an announcement—suggestion to all of the States in the South, at the proper time, and in due time before Lee’s next birthday, and I will have it noticed through Hoke Smith’s paper by Walter Cooper of the Journal, and other leading dailies down this way.

                By the by, you should get up a list of select press men to whom the publishers should send gratis copies to get these notices, and in recognition of those that are contributed—publishers don’t send to the right people oftentimes—or you should send them yourself or indirectly, with regards, through some friend. There’s a crowd of Georgia men on the New York press, who are making names for themselves, and I am intimate with several—Stanhope Sams and Walter Howard especially—both well known in the literary world—and so with a little common sense and judgment, the work can be brought to the notice of the world—and that’s what ought to be done, because such a man does illumine the world once in a thousand years. Brace up! Go for it, and do it well!

                Speaking of getting more letters—I had in my safe for safe keeping before General Longstreet published his book, a package of your father’s letters that were addressed to Longstreet after the war, on various topics. I read them all carefully, but years ago, and remember that they were intensely instructive and entertaining. Since his publication and the criticisms that followed, I have seen but little of him, indeed, I have never yet read his book. If those letters would make a valuable acquisition they might be borrowed without your interference, but whether you would care to introduce any letters to Longstreet, after his unjust criticisms, is a delicate point, and I would surely not even approach him with the open, general request that you made, much less ask for them for the purpose, under the circumstances, without consultation with you. Whatever you may feel like having done, or not done, will be sacredly confidential.

                Possibly they contain some sentiments, opinions or facts that Longstreet does not care to have published, after taking the stand that he holds about Gettysburg. I had an opportunity of copying every one, but I had no other permission than to read them and would not take copies although it was suggested by others that I had the right and ought to do so, and something prevented my asking his permission, before the order came to deliver the package to his son, which was in my absence.

                Knowing the sweets whereof you write, of a dear, devoted wife and baby, I can truly sympathize with you in your environments. I verily believe, Bob, that the better classes of Northern people—misled by the terrible exaggeration of Mrs Harriet Butcher Stowe—and I mean butcher—are now slowly awakening to the injustice of keeping these slaves with their heels on our necks. Why is it that in the bonds of (our form of) slavery these negroes committed no rapes or murders, and now are hell-bent on daily diabolical outrages? Punishment for rape, in slavery times, would not have been more prompt and severe than now—these rapists are sons of our slaves—they have the same passions of their fathers—they are living among (though separated from) their former masters—they are dependent on these masters; now then why is it that they have become absolutely devoid of all moral instincts and responsibilities and utterly disregardful of the pains even of burning at the stake? What are the causes that have combined to make this strange and lamentable transformation just within the space of thirty-five years?

                My old-age-joys are grand-babies—three of the gentlest, brightest, sweetest little cupids that a man ever taught Mother Hubbard and Babe in the Woods. One lives with us—named Lidda Herbert Nash—whose lovely mother is lying out yonder in the cold of the church graveyard, and she is the joy of my heart. I composed a tale of the country for her, the heroine being your two and half year old baby—Lida is five—and asked her what she had to say about it, and she replied, “when I see her I will give her my curly-headed doll and dat jumpin’ rabbit, caus she lives in de country”—and we determined to go up town some day (I live in the suburbs) so she could buy a toy to send to your baby. You must write me her name and put it in the little books I send with this—God bless her heart! I love children, especially those of friends.

                As to the University book, I would not be bothered with it for the money in it laid down at my feet, for I hate the work after my experience. No! I am not seeking either to make anything out of it nor hunting a partner. My position is this—Here’s my copyright, my experience, my good will and aid, my plates—take them all, whoever has a heart full of love for his Alma Mater, and desires also to reap an honest penny. If you choose, you may suggest my position to the gentlemen whom you name. But it may be that Col. Carter would to perpetuate the later students’ names and deeds and doings, in this way. It would be the easiest, day-by-day-work for him, and he could put his hand right on the shoulders of the students, from Dan to Beersheba, and get through them, all data needed from their sections to complete the work to date. Being a mere compilation, I did not put my name to the book, and that would never be necessary. Schele1 made a preface and that’s all needed to show why the book is made.

                I am coming out soon with my announcement—of compiling facts, and making a history of Lee’s cavalry Brigade and its doings—which will be extended to include the division, possibly. That noble man will not forever lie in his grave without a true and faithful record of his worth, his merit and achievements, unless I turn up my toes in a jiffy. I have letters from him applauding and urging me to this work, that was first proposed at a reunion at Suffolk. I will not publish those letters for fear that some infernal critic might choose to insinuate that he strove to have his history written—which is not the fact, as his requests were entirely impersonal. Nevertheless several of our friends will join me in this project as soon as I am ready to go for it, and it shall be well done—in justice to his memory.

                I hope that some day when you go off with your people to sojourn at the springs, or elsewhere, we may have a chance of getting together for a long, quiet, old time chat, under the trees, but this side of the river, every time.

Your old friend,

Jos. Van Holt Nash2



Source: Photocopy of original letter, Lee Family Papers, Mss1 L51 g, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond

Transcribed by Katie Hall, 2018 July 23


1. Maximillian Schele De Vere (1820-1898), a professor at the University of Virginia from 1844 to 1895.

2. Joseph Van Holt Nash (1834-1900) served as captain and adjutant-general to William Henry Fitzhugh Lee (1837-1891). He worked in the book trade and various publishing houses after the war; he was manager of the American Book Company from 1894 until his death.

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