6 pp, 8 x 12 1/2, July 13, 1886, Lexington, VA, Lula Stearns, Irvine’s Hotel, ALS, to Gertrude Shartin while traveling through Southern states and offering sympathetic Confederate content and with great admiration for Robert E. Lee. “It is so bewildering, I might say, to feel we are walking the same ground over which such illustrious feet have trod...We...saw his office just as he left it, every book and paper in place.” Stearns also provides a detailed description of the Natural Bridge, once owned by Thomas Jefferson, who hired a freed African American to be caretaker.
She writes, “This Monday afternoon finds me in Lexington [VA], the home of our adored Robert E. Lee. It is so bewildering, I might say, to feel that we are walking the same ground over which such illustrious feet have trod and perhaps after our long journey feeling almost as tired as he after a long march at the head of thousands of patriotic Confederates. We reached here Saturday evening about seven P.M. Of course, I had to write home and rest from traveling, which occupied all day yesterday. We had a perfectly delightful trip. Saw more trees in Texas than I had believed it possible could be found in the pine forests of Maine and saw also some sweet gum trees...In Arkansas we passed numerous ponds almost covered with glorious white and yellow water lilies. No matter how swampy the country, nor how ridiculous my recollections of the looks and ways of the ‘lackies’ who inhabit it. I shall always think of Arkansas with pleasure and remember those beautiful lilies fresh from the hand of the Creator, and the feelings they call forth. Our train was late and we reached Memphis at night. Our train and another one crossed the Miss(issippi) River on a huge flat boat...I was bewildered and delighted. We passed through Corinth...and found it a place which appeared old enough to have stood since...I’ll say -- the surrender of Cornwallis.
“Northern Mississippi and Alabama, East Tennessee and Southwestern Virginia are too beautiful for description. The mountains with white clouds against their dark pine clad sides, reaching almost up to the heaven itself, the deep, shadowy silent valleys stretching between and the road all the time half up the mountainside and the fresh mountain breeze fawning my cheek, made me feel more fully than I had ever felt before, the love and power of God...When we reached Roanoke, the extent of our tickets...we were doubtful as to whether there was a train from there to Lexington that we purchased tickets to Natural Bridge Station and did not leave the train. Natural Bridge itself and its attending hotels are good 2 1/2 miles from the station, and we made the distance in an old jogtrot bus, that most jolted and jammed what little vitality we had left out of us. We reached the hotel in time for supper after which we took a walk to the top of the Bridge. We looked over the edge of the almost sold rock 215 1/2 feet to the water. The sides were covered with lovely mosses and long waving ferns. It was twilight and the view was exquisite but we were so tired with the walk and out tedious three days’ and three nights’ traveling we did not stay long. Next morning, we went down underneath the Bridge and Oh! Most glorious sight of all – we saw the Bridge itself, in all majestic loveliness, an arch 215 1/2 ft. high, 63 ft long and 80 ft. wide. Under it flows a clear sparkling stream, the banks of which are equal in height with the arch. We walked under it and looking up were over powered with a sense of awe for the divine and omnipotent Being who created such a magnificent and awe-inspiring structure as this. If all the tongues on earth should argue atheism with the skill and logic of Voltaire, they could never, in my mind weigh so much as the remembrance of this Natural Bridge. As we came back to the hotel, I stopped at the gate house and got a photograph of the Bridge because I never could describe it even in conversation without it...This morning...I went out alone to explore the city. We visited the Chapel of the Washington and Lee University and saw the recumbent statue of Lee. It is elegant. Looks just like all the pictures of him...
“We also saw his office just as he left it – every book and paper in its place, a large armchair drawn up to the table, pen and ink ready for use. After leaving the chapel we went to the university museum where we remained only a few minutes because we were not versed enough in science, know the names of the various skeletons that adorned the room. We saw one thing, however, which completely ‘took my eye’ a clump of gold nugget as large as a water bucket, and valued at $41,800.00 (equivalent to about $1.4 million today)...Mrs. Walden has just been saying that a letter full of slang shows more plainly than anything a low character a great lack of breeding. You may make what inferences you can, but I am afraid the lecture did not impress me...”
ROBERT E. LEE was appointed President of Washington College in August 1885, a few months after the Civil War ended, and served until his death in 1870. As president, he led the college to financial stability and expanded the curriculum. His ideas are credited with the eventual development of the university’s honor code. The college was almost immediately renamed Washington and Lee.
One of Lee’s failings as president was his apparent indifference to crimes of violence towards blacks committed by students at the college. One historian – Elizabeth Brown Pryor – notes that students formed their own chapter of an anti-Black group and committed acts of violence against students at nearby schools for Blacks. Lee seemed indifferent to such acts of violence.
Letter has folds, toning and some fold splits re-enforced with archival tape. Very readable a fine example of Southern Americana.
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