Saturday, February 19, 2011

Lexington and Robert E. Lee.

A recent trip to Lexington taught me all I never knew about Robert E. Lee:

He was big on details, precision, and real-world utility. He studied intensely, and was a master at topography, artillery placement and a ton of other specialties that would make him a good guy to go camping with. He would probably be a strong contender to win "Survivor". He would most definitely be depressed (even more so than he was in his day) to see the descendants of those he fought for using a GPS to get to the McDonald's two blocks away.

He was big on gentlemen being gentlemen, and instilled manners and courtesy as a tenant of education at Washington College (now Washington and Lee University). A glance at the Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour, which follow this school of thought, shows how far we've fallen as a society. My personal favorite: "When in Company, put not your Hands to any Part of the Body, not usualy Discovered." Point taken.

Lee was big on useful education, and he created the nation's first school of journalism, along with law and business schools that would complement the existing liberal arts curriculum at Washington College. This arrangement was unheard of at the time; however, I have not yet found a market for my college essays on female identity in The Great Gatsby, so I can say with some certainty that Lee might have been on to something.

He was also upfront with his strengths and weaknesses, which was probably for the better of his college's students. On teaching (and why he didn't do it):

"There is an art in making a subject agreeable which I have never found I possessed."

If only we could all be that self-aware. All this intense Civil War history, and the part that gets me the most? He was a sucker for animals (like, buried-with-his-horse kind of a sucker):

"Traveller is my only companion . . . he and I wander out in the mountains and enjoy sweet confidence."

Sweet confidence = loving what you have in front of you, and needing nothing else. If that doesn't sum up what it is to love a pet, I'm not sure what does.

More about visiting the Lee Chapel and Museum in Lexington, VA

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