West Point      29 June 1854


My precious Markie

Your kind long letter reached me in the midst of the Examination, & was a comfort to me every time it fell under my eye. It is still before me, & I now take it up first of my un-official correspondents, & before some of the official have been disposed of. I wish indeed you were here with me. You could be of infinite assistance to me & your fair bold chirography would be so grateful to my correspondents, that the charge would not be the less agreable to them than to me. I should then have nothing to do but to look at you Markie which would soon restore my eyes, & make arrangements for the overcrowded levees of cadets & officers. I have a vivid recollection of your account of Madame, La Baronne, & the friendly regard you felt for her. I sympathize with you in your distress at her death, & trust that the true religion she so loved & admired supported her in her last moments, & that the great God whom she wished to serve in truth & purity, has numbered her with those he in mercy deigns to save. The conflict you feel between the infirmity of human nature, & the aspiration for a high & holy spirit to accomplish all that is right, is not unnatural; & must be constantly experienced by those, who like you, would avoid the one & follow the other. Nor is it possible for us always to do “the good we would,” & omit “the evil we would not.” Still we need not be discouraged either in our efforts or hopes, or be depressed by the failure or futile attempts of others. Toil & trust, must be our aim, as it is our lot.

I have been interrupted by the arrival of Genl Scott, who with his son in law & daughter, Mr & Mrs Hoyt, & some friends called upon the Supt: He has had therefore to conduct them into the Library, order a salute in honour of the Commg Genl shew them around the Academies, & conduct them in presence of the Battery, which has just belched forth its thunder. The Genl has now gone to my qrs, under Major Porters escort, to repose till dinner, when I shall again have the pleasure of his company, & the gentlemen of his suite, with such of our natives as I can collect to do them honour. As my servants have recd but short notice for their preparations for dinner, I fear the Genl will again have an opportunity of taking, if not a hasty, at least a thin plate of soup,1 & but for an Arlington ham, & some of my Shanghai chickens, which I had purposed for my solitary dinner, I should be in doubt whether their hunger could be appeased, as ten additional guests, will have to be provided for. But having given all the required directions, I will wait with patience & hope for their execution. I have just Markie accomplished the most unpleasant office I am called on to perform. The discharge of those cadets found deficient at the examination. There were fortunately only nine of them, but all very nice youths, some sons of officers of the Army, one of the Navy, who having neglected their studies, contrary to all advice & efforts to the contrary, must now suffer the penalty, which they acutely feel, but which they could not be made to realize. I have just closed their connection with the Acady, signed their last orders, taken leave of them, with sincere wishes for their happiness & prosperity & they have been carried off by the Omnibus for the Afternoon Boat. I must now go & see after my guests, with what appetite & what feelings I may Command. Give much love to your GrdMother, Cousin Britt, Sisters, Washn & Jane & little namesake. You will see next week probably our cousin Esther & her boys. They have been here on a short visit & intended returning through the D.C. Esther was not well, & left on a rainy morg, which I thought she ought not to have done, but I suppose she found me such poor compy as to be unbearable.

Truly & as ever your Cousin,

            R E Lee





1. Lee is making a joke at Scott’s expense. During the Mexican War, Scott had a spat with the Secretary of War. At one point, he told him, “Sir, your letter of this date, received about six o’clock P.M., as I sat down to take a hasty plate of soup, demands a prompt reply.” The phrase “hasty plate of soup” was never forgotten, and even Scott’s admirers, such as Lee, found it odd and humorous.



Source: Digital scan of original letter, Letters of Robert E. Lee to Martha Custis Williams, 1844-1870, Huntington Library, San Marino, California

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2017 September 14