(1). Letter dated Baltimore, May 4, 1851, from General Lee to Custis Lee, then a cadet at West Point. This letter is printed on pages 71-74, of Dr. J. William Jones' second book on General Lee, published in 1906, entitled "Life and Letters of Robert E. Lee." The time at which this letter was first printed, and other circumstances, indicate that it is one of those left at Arlington, and afterwards recovered by the Lee family, but the fact cannot be fully established by external evidence. But the internal evidence points strongly to its use by the forger, as supplying the topics—Frankness and Duty—discussed in The Duty Letter.
2. Among the letters left at Arlington, and since returned to the Lee family, there are two which refer to the topics of The Duty Letter, and which may have been used by the forger.
- The first two paragraphs of this letter (all that were used by the forger, the remainder of the letter, a long one, being filled up with personal and domestic matters), are as follows:
Baltimore, May 4, 1851.
"My Dearest Son:
"Your letter of the 27th ultimo, which I duly received, has given me more pleasure than any that I now recollect having ever received. It has assured me of the confidence you feel in my love and affection, and with what frankness and candor you open to me all your thoughts.
"So long as I meet with such return from my children, and see them strive to respond to my wishes, and exertions, for their good and happiness I can meet with calmness and unconcern all else the world may have in store for me. I cannot express my pleasure at hearing you declare your determination to shake off the listless fit that has seized upon you, and to arouse all your faculties into activity and exertion. The determination is alone wanting to accomplish the wish. At times the temptation to relax will be hard upon you, but will grow feebler and more feeble by constant resistance. The full play of your young and growing powers, the daily exercise of all your energies, the consciousness of acquiring knowledge, and the pleasure of knowing your efforts to do your duty, will bring you a delight and gratification far surpassing all that idleness and selfishness can give. Try it fairly and take your own experience. I know it will confirm you in your present
that The Duty Letter is spurious, that any letter now produced purporting to be its original, and to be in General Lee's handwriting, should be closely scrutinized, as probably itself a forgery. As to the sentence, "Duty, then, is the sublimest word in our language," it is, of course, not impossible that he wrote it in some other letter, and that the letter may yet be returned. But after fifty years, if the intense interest in the authenticity of this sentence has not caused its production, it is most improbable that a letter containing it will yet be found. Like old Montaigne, one may say of this: "I believe in no miracles outside of the Scriptures."