Vital Signs

Studies of Character

“Teach him he must deny himself,” said Lee.  That was the general’s advice to a young mother who brought her infant to him after the War Between the States to receive his blessing.  In his classic four-volume biography R.E. Lee, Douglas Southall Freeman chose this as the incident that best exemplifies Robert E. Lee’s message for the young men and women of the South in the reunited nation.  Lee himself—through four years of war, followed by surrender and subjugation—was the very model of Christian self-denial.  Though written in the early 20th century, Freeman’s biography of Lee contains a vital message for the young men and women of today.  Lee, especially as presented by Freeman, provides an excellent model for young people to emulate.  Freeman’s Lee shows us how to live, how to face both triumph and adversity with courage, humility, and grace.

Freeman’s biography of Lee, awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1935, was written at a time when skilled amateurs could still have their books appreciated by academic historians.  Some of the finest histories and biographies of the first half of the 20th century were written by amateur historians.  Freeman, like Claude Bowers and Frederick Lewis Allen, was a journalist who knew how to write for an educated public.  When, in 1948, academic historians were asked to rank...

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