February 24, 2008

Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Yesterday's lighthearted post (or so intended) has prompted me to examine the Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee in a bit more depth. The book's title can be sneakily deceptive to the casual reader. Lee died in 1870, before he had the opportunity to write his autobiography although he had been mulling it over for several years. This collection of Lee's unpublished letters was collected by his son, Captain Robert Edward Lee, who also fought for the Confederacy, while the recollections are also written by the son and are of the father. Much of the recollections are anecdotal and provide charming accounts written by a clearly devoted son. In spite of the book's lack of objectivity, it provides an invaluable insight into the Marble Man and is necessary for any study of Lee. Of particular note is that almost half the book covers Lee's five post-war years. As historian Richard Harwell noted in In Tall Cotton, this book is "as close to an autobiography of Lee as it is possible to come." On the other hand, Harwell felt that the book "lacks unity and is otherwise less than satisfying" while Nevins referred to it as "disjointed and sentimental."

The first edition was published in 1904 by Doubleday and Co. It was bound in gray cloth with a square shaped gilt, green and red device on the front cover, and featured gilt lettering on the spine. The book has been in print practically from the day it first appeared. An early 1920's reprint in uncommon jacket is pictured and available for sale here. The book was also reprinted in 1926 with ten pages of new material and then fully reissued in 1960 with a new introduction by Philip Van Doren Stern. An inexpensive facsimile has also been published in the last decade by the reprint house of Konecky & Konecky (pictured). Nevertheless, for a book of such age and importance, first edition copies are still reasonably priced. The book is also readily available for online reading at Google print.

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