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[345] be put on or put off; it was the greatness which comes from the very absence of pretension.

And those who came the closest to him give us a still further insight into his nature, by telling us that what struck them most was the extent of his sympathy. Soldiers are commonly supposed to be cold and hard—a temper of mind to which they are inured by their very profession. Those whose business is the shedding of blood are thought to delight in human suffering. It is hard to believe that a soldier can have a very tender heart. Yet few men were more sensitive to others pain than General Lee. All who came near him perceived that with his manly strength there was united an almost womanly sweetness. It was this gentleness which made him great, and which has enshrined him forever in the hearts of his people.

This sympathy for the suffering showed itself, not in any public act so much as a most private and delicate office which imposed upon him a very heavy burden, one that he might have declined, but the taking of which showed the man. He had an unlimited correspondence. Letters poured in upon him by the hundred and the thousand. They came from all parts of the South, not only from his old companions in arms, but from those he had never seen or heard of. Every mother that had lost a son in the war felt that she had the right to pour her sorrow into the ear of one who was not insensible to her grief. Families left in utter poverty appealed to him for aid. Most men would have shrunk from a labor so great as that of answering these letters. Not so General Lee. He read them, not only patiently, as a man performs a disagreeable duty, but with a tender interest, and so far as possible returned the kindest of answers. If he had little money to give he could at least give sympathy, and to his old soldiers and their wives and children it was more than money to know that they had a place in that great heart.

While thus ministering to his stricken people there is one public benefit which he rendered that ought never to be forgotten. Though the war was over he still stood in public relations in which he could render an immeasurable service to the whole country. There are no crises in a nation's life more perilous than those following civil war. The peace that comes after it is peace only in name if the passions of the war still live. After our great struggle the South was full of inflammable materials. The fires were but smouldering in ashes, and might break out at any moment and rage with destructive fury. If

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William H. F. Lee (2)
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