Dispatches: Dear Son (Letters From Cicero, Lord Chesterfield and Robert E. Lee)

Back in the day, namely 44 BC, Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote an essay, three books long, that took the form of a letter to his son, also named Marcus. In the essay, titled De Officiis, the Roman statesman and philosopher detailed how to live and behave honorably, meaning mostly how to fulfill personal duties and observe civic obligations. Published after his death – only, as it happened, the second book produced by the printing press after the Gutenberg Bible – this classic of wisdom and common sense, though lofty in its aspirations, offers practical advice anyone can use. A case in point: We must live for others as well as for ourselves, Cicero wrote (“Our country, our friends, have a share in us”). http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=542&chapter=83344&layout=html&Itemid=27

Philip Stanhope, also known as the Fourth Earl of Chesterfield – or, if you prefer, simply Lord Chesterfield – took a similar path with his namesake, Philip. For more than 30 years, from 1737 to 1768, the aristocratic statesman, literally a man of letters, wrote 400-plus letters to his son, who was born, as they say, illegitimately. Those letters sought to overcome the presumed taint of illegitimacy, offering guidance in topics ranging from history and politics to literature and geography, as well as personal instruction about basic manners. Every word wound up compiled in a book called Letters To His Son On the Art of Becoming A Man of the World and a Gentleman. “A man’s own good-breeding is the best security against other people’s ill manners,” Lord Chesterfield wrote. http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/chesterfield/letters/

In 1861, Robert E. Lee, the general who led the Confederate Army in the Civil War, wrote a letter to his son, George Washington Custis Lee, himself a Major General (for the record, he also wrote heartfelt letters to his daughter, Annie). In plain language, the military leader gives his son personal, practical advice about basic tenets to follow in life. Say what you mean to do and then do it. If you have an issue with someone, tell him to his face. If a friend asks for a reasonable favor, grant it. http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/to%20his%20son.htm

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.

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