Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Chapter XVI: An Advisor of Young Men: His advice on agricultural matters

The Document

So wrote Professor Edward S. Joynes in an article published soon after General lee's death, in the "University Monthly." All of this had not been accomplished as yet, but the work was well advanced, and the results began to be evident. His health had not been strong since the middle of the summer, but he never ceased in his endeavour to better the condition of the college, and to improve the minds, morals, and bodies of the young men committed to his charge. He writes to me about this time, encouraging me to renewed efforts, telling me how to better my condition, and advising me not to be cast down by difficulties:

"Lexington, Viriginia, October 26, 1867.

"My Dear Rob: Your letter of the 10th did not give me a very favourable account of yourself or your prospects, but I have no doubt it was true and therefore commendable. We must not, however, yield to difficulties, but strive the harder to overcome them. I am sorry for the failure of your crops, your loneliness and uncomfortableness, and wish it were in my power to visit you and advise with you. But you must come up this winter, when convenient, and we will discuss the whole matter. Fitzhugh, I hope, will be married soon, and then he will have more time to counsel with you. I hope, between you two, you will devise some mode of relief. The only way to improve your crop is to improve your land, which requires time, patience, and good cultivation. Lime, I think, is one of the chief instruments, and I advise you to apply that systematically and judiciously. I think, too, you had better purchase another pair of mules. I can help you in these items, and, if you need, can advance you $500. Then, as regards a house, I can help you in that too, but you must first select a site and a plan. The first can only be found on the land, and the latter might be adopted on the progressive principle, commencing with the minor members, and finishing with the principal ones as convenience or necessity might authorise. If no better can be found, how would the present site answer? If you are going to cultivate the lower part of the farm, it would at least have the advantage of convenience, or if you thought it better to divide and sell your farm it would answer for one of the divisions. I am clear for your marrying, if you select a good wife; otherwise you had better remain as you are for a time. An imprudent or uncongenial woman is worse than THE MINKS [I had written to him that they had destroyed all my hens]. I think, upon the whole, you are progressing very well and have accomplished the worst part. A failure in crops will occur occasionally to every farmer, even the best, with favourable surroundings. It serves a good purpose, inculcates prudence and economy, and excites energy and perseverance. These qualities will overcome everything. You are very young still, and if you are virtuous and laborious you will accomplish all the good you propose to yourself. Let me know if you want the money. We are pretty well. I am better and your poor mother more comfortable, I think, than she was last year. The girls are as usual, and Custis is in far better health than he was before his visit to the Springs. He seems, however, not happy, and I presume other people have their troubles as well as farmers. God bless you, my son, and may He guard, guide, and direct you in all you do. All would unite in love did they know I was writing.

"Truly and affectionately, your father,

"R. E. Lee.

"Robert E. Lee, Jr."

Next: His affection for his prospective daughter-in-law

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How to cite this article

Lee, Robert E. jr., The Recollections & Letters of Robert E. Lee,, webpage created by Rickard, J (8 June 2006),

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