<br /> Lee Letter: a043

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Robert E. Lee
Recipient: Fitzhugh Lee

Your letter of the 22nd Sept my dear son has just been handed to me by a courier from San Antonio. It was as unexpected as welcome, for I had not looked for so much pleasure until my return to San Antonio. I am very glad to find that you have determined to complete your course, & are earnestly, faithfully & regularly studying. I think if you will persevere you will not only find your studies easy & agreable, but also that it is intirely within your power, to take a respectable if not a high standing in your class. You must not think me so unreasonable as to expect you “to be proficient in every branch of literature,” but I do expect you on graduating to have, what you say you will have, “a good foundation for pursuing the studies of any profession,” & of being also above “the general run of educated men” as regards scholarship, gentlemanly deportment & virtue. Is that asking too much? I cannot believe you inferior, & I am sure you do not wish to prove yourself so. You are right to defer making your final decision of a profession until you graduate, & I would not recommend you to do otherwise, for in the next two years, your tastes & feelings, may undergo a great change. My only object has been to bring the subject to your consideration, to let you feel its necessity & to prepare you for it, that you might shape your course & studies accordingly. I regret as much as you can your disappointment in not getting to West Point. But it is solely because you wished it. I think you can be as useful, & consequently as happy in other walks of life. You may have liked the life of a soldier, or as hundreds of others whom I know, had you been able to pursue it, become heartily tired of it. My experience has taught me to recommend no young man to enter the service. Those who prefer it, I am happy to see in it, but in the 5th Regt of Infy, now encamped near me, it is common even among the young officers who graduated under my superintendency, as well as among Captains who were Cadets with me to hear the wish constantly reiterated, that they could earn their bread in some other way. You see therefore all do not love it who are in it, & it must be acknowledged: it is a hard & thankless life. But should the life be so agreable to you, it may not be impossible for you still to enjoy it. There are every year a number of young men from civil life appointed in the army. There have been several this past June, & must be so as long as the yearly number of resignations continue as great. I see no reason why you should not get one of these appointments, if you desire & deserve it. None could present a higher recommendation than a distinguished graduate of Harvard University, with a fair name, fair fame, health & strength. With the knowledge you may acquire there, & with the devotion which you say you feel to the Service & an earnest application to your duties, I will guarantee in a year or two, you will be as well qualified as the graduates of W.P. generally are. I think therefore you are wrong “to curse the day you went to College,” & trust it is in words, thoughtless words, & not reality, you do so. What could you have done more proper? Do not regret the past therefore, but look to the future. The coward looks back, the brave ahead. It is true as you say that your sojourn at Cambridge has separated us “by distance,” but I feel no separation on my part “in heart.” If it has made you “cold & uncommunicative,” it has but animated me with a more intense anxiety & yearning for your welfare & happiness. If by endeavouring to direct you to virtue & deter you from vice, to shew you the beauty of wisdom & evil of folly; to inspire you with a love of the noble characteristics of man, & a detestation for the passions of the brute; is deserving of having my “opinions & love less valued,[“] then am I rightly served. If you could hear the beating of my heart for you, the long wakeful hours of night; & feel the anxious throbbing of my brain for your future, during the busy hours of day, you would find little cause to say that you had lost a “devoted father,” whatever truth there may be in your assertion, that I had lost “an affectionate Son.” An “undutiful” one, I cannot say you have been; nor have I seen a lack of affection. I pray God I may never see it, never think it, never believe it. But that in his mercy, I may first be cold in my grave, & feel the green grass growing over my heart. I too enjoy the retrospect of our former life. I still feel the glow of your infant cheek as I carried you in my arms. I yet feel your arms clasping my neck as I swam with you on my back, & I love to think of the many, many time I have hugged you to my heart. Those days as you say, have passed, but as happy ones may be before us. They may bring everything for our “approval” & produce nothing for our “disapproval.” I trust they are not distant. I long for their arrival. I long to have you near me, with me. To see you, hold you, talk to you. But that cannot be now, for the duty of each keeps us apart. I cannot leave mine & you must perform yours. Let it then be done, so as to give us mutual pleasure. I can see no reason why your being at College should interupt it. There can be but one right & wrong, there as here. I think I know the first, however prone I may be to follow the last. If you will pursue the first, you may feel as well assured of approbation there, as if with me here. I fear this is not the letter you desired. But when I think of the momentous question before you, & that your present as well as future weal, may depend upon its determination, I cannot treat it as if writing to a boy of nine, but must speak as if dealing with a man of nineteen. I can neither divest myself of my responsibility, or exonerate you of yours. But I am done.

Very truly &c

R E Lee

Notes:

Ely-DeButts PapersLibrary of Congress

Transcribed in Francis Raymond Adams, Jr., An Annotated Edition of the Personal Letters of Robert E. Lee, April, 1855 – April, 1861, pp. 195 – 98. Addressed “Wm H Fitzhugh Lee Cambridge Mass:”