Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 17.djvu/342
334 Southern Historical Society Papers.
This moral perfection, breathing the very spirit of his Christian faith, is no illusive legend of a succeeding generation exaggerating the worth of the past. Our belief in it rests upon the unanimous testimony of the men who lived and acted with him, among whom nothing is more common than the declaration, that Lee was the purest and best man of action whose career history has recorded. In his whole life, laid bare to the gaze of the world, the least friendly criticism has never discovered one single deviation from the narrow path of rectitude and honor.
What was strained eulogy when Montesquieu said of another great soldier — Turenne — that **his life was a hymn in praise of hu- manity*' — is, if applied to Lee, the language of sober truth. No man can consider his life without a feeling of renewed hope and trust in mankind. There is about his exhibitions of moral excellence the same quality of power in reserve that marks him as a soldier. He never failed to come up to the full requirements of any situation, and his conduct communicated the impression that nothing could arise to which he would be found unequal. His every action went straight to the mark without affectation or display. It cost him no visible effort to be good or great. He was not conscious that he was ex- ceptional in either way, and he died in the belief that, as he had been sometimes unjustly blamed, so he had as often been too highly praised.
Such is the holy simplicity of the noblest minds. Such was the pure and lofty man, in whom we see the perfect union of Christian virtue and old Roman manhood. His goodness makes us love his greatness, and the fascination, which this matchless combination exerts, is itself a symptom and a source in us of moral health. As long as our people truly love and venerate him, there will remain in them a principle of good. For all the stupendous wealth and power, which in the last thirty years have lifted these States to foremost rank among the nations of the earth, are less a subject for pride than this one heroic man — this human product of our country and its in- stitutions.
Let this monument, then, teach to generations yet unborn these lessons of his life ! Let it stand, not a record of civil strife, but as a perpetual protest against whatever is low and sordid in our public and private objects ! Let it stand as a memorial of personal honor that never brooked a stain, of knightly valor without thought of self, of far-reaching military genius unsoiled by ambition, of heroic con- stancy from which no cloud of misfortune could ever hide the path