Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 40.djvu/121
THE FORGED LETTER OF GENERAL LEE. 117 letter to his son is too valuable to have its authenticity cast in doubt by historical mistakes that seem to have been introduced by some one attempting to edit the letter." And he adds: "As Custis Lee was a cadet on April 5, 1852, there appears no prob- ability of an error in the date of the letter." This theory, then, retaining both the date of the letter and the adressee, justifies the reference to "classmates"; and by the omission of the first two sentences corrects the anachronism of General Lee's leaving home to join his "fine old regiment" three years before it came into existence. Undoubtedly, this theory is the most favorable to the genuineness of The Duty Letter, and it deserves careful consideration. The difficulties in the way of its adoption are as follows : (i). It seems an easy mode of avoiding anachronism the rock on which literary impostures are usually wrecked to re- sort to the heroic treatment of expunging the anachronism as itself a forgery, and this with no other evidence than the fact of anachronism. Assuming that whoever sent the copy of The Duty Letter to the New York Sun had the original letter in his possession, why should he wish to "queer" it, by adding the first two sentences, and that with utter disregard of well-known facts ? The genuine letter, if there was one, began, no doubt, with some kind of introduction. If something preceded the third sentence: "I have but little to add in reply to your letters of March 26, 27, and 28," why not leave it as General Lee wrote it, instead of substituting something else? And if nothing pre- ceded the third sentence, was not that sentence a sufficient in-
a letter dated June 5, 1913, from Mr. Robert E. Kelly, to whom I am much indebted for assistance in my researches in re The Duty Letter. After stating that the letter was sent to him a mere lad at a boarding school by his father in 1873, he says : "Ever since that now far-off time of my happy boyhood that letter has been to me and mine a vade mecum, friend and philosopher." And he adds : "You can never know, or even remotely feel, the acute and deep chagrin and bitter diappointment which pierced my innermost soul when I saw a doubt cast on the authenticity of that which I had so reverenced and held sacred for so many years." Assuredly one assumes a great responsibility when he dares to dis- turb such sentiments as these. But to the writer it has seemed due to General Lee's memory to settle, if possible, before death destroyed the testimony of witnesses, the doubt that overhung The Duty Letter, andto prevent the recurrence of disputes as to its authenticity.