Manly Advice from Robert E. Lee (Plus a Book Giveaway)

by Brett & Kate McKay on October 27, 2008 · 148 comments

in A Man's Life, Lessons In Manliness

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Richard G. Williams, Jr. Richard is a regular contributor to the Washington Times’ Military History Column and the author of The Maxims of Robert E. Lee for Young Gentlemen. Visit his blog: Old Virginia Blog

Becoming a successful man in America today, as always, includes giving due consideration to your father’s admonitions and wisdom.

For the most part, your father is wiser than you are—and he always will be. Wisdom comes chiefly through getting older. Since your father will always be older than you, he will always be wiser. Men should also read the words and deeds of great men of the past—especially fathers. One such example is that great Virginian, Robert E. Lee.

Most remembered for his military leadership of the Confederacy, Lee should also be known for his wisdom as an educator, husband, and father of four girls and three boys. Lee was a man’s man and his example of self-control, self-denial, patience, humility, and principled approach to life is worthy of emulation. As Lee’s military career kept him away from his family for extended periods, he maintained a steady and intimate correspondence with them. His letters often contained words of wisdom for both his wife and children. Lee imparted his accumulated wisdom to not only his own family, but also to the young men of Washington College (renamed Washington and Lee after Lee’s death) while he served as the school’s president. Lee took the opportunity of offering advice seriously. After accepting the presidency of Washington College, he wrote: “I have a self-imposed task. I have led the young men of the South in battle. I must teach their sons to discharge their duty in life.”

Though Lee’s reputation is seen by some as tainted by slavery, Lee was, like many 19th century Americans, cognizant of its evil. Writing in December of 1856, Lee noted: “There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil.” And Lee would have agreed with his father in law, George Washington Parke Custis, that slavery was “a curse upon [our] section by the folly of [our] ancestors.”

Despite this blemish, Lee’s letters and correspondences reveal the character of the man as pointed out by author Bishop Robert R. Brown: “There is no recorded instance when his conversation in the field or barracks could not have been equally acceptable in a lady’s drawing room. An examination of the two-thousand letters which still exist fails to uncover the slightest suggestion of vulgarity.” Fortunately, many of these letters are in the process of being made available online in a searchable database.

For the sake of brevity, I’ve culled what I believe to be the “Top 10″ of Lee’s admonitions appropriate for men in 2008. These are among the best pieces of manly advice I have given my own two sons:

  1. On debt and frugal living: “It is easier to make our wishes conform to our means, than to make our means to conform to our wishes.” ~ Lee writing to one of his sons, 22 August 1860.
  2. On marriage: “Never marry unless you can do so into a family that will enable your children to feel proud of both sides of the house.” ~ General Lee writing to J.B. Hood. Don’t wife hunt in bars or tattoo parlors.
  3. On minding your own business: “Meddle or interfere with nothing with which you have no concern.” ~ Lee to his sons, 30 November 1845.
  4. On humility: “It’s all my fault.” ~ Lee at Gettysburg. Be willing to admit your mistakes and take blame.
  5. On honesty: “Private and public life are subject to the same rules; and truth and manliness are two qualities that will carry you through this world much better than policy, or tact, or expediency, or any other word that was ever devised to conceal or mystify a deviation from a straight line.” ~ One of Lee’s personal maxims. A young man should say what he means and mean what he says. Avoid the demeaning examples of politicians, government bureaucrats, and lawyers.
  6. On manliness: “A man may manifest and communicate his joy, but he should conceal and smother his grief as much as possible.” ~ Lee to Mrs. Ann Fitzhugh.
  7. On work: “There is scarcely anything that is right that we cannot hope to accomplish by labor and perseverance. But the first must be earnest and the second unremitting.” ~ Lee to Martha Williams.
  8. On reading material: “Read history, works of truth, not novels and romances.” ~ Lee’s oft’ repeated advice to his children.
  9. On education: “The education of a man or woman is never completed until they die.” ~ Lee writing to son Custis, 5 December 1860.
  10. On what’s important: “Be true kind, and generous, and pray earnestly to God to enable you to keep His commandments and walk in the same all the days of your life.” ~ Lee to his sons, 31 March 1846.

Now, sons, heed the advice of your father. Go forth, be wise, discharge your duty in life, and prosper.

The Maxims of Robert E. Lee for Young Gentleman Giveaway!

Richard has been kind enough to offer a copy of The Maxims of Robert E. Lee for an Art of Manliness giveaway. It’s full of wise maxims for any man to live by. And it’s signed by the author to boot!

So how can you get your hands on a copy of the Maxims of Robert E. Lee? Share your comments on Lee’s maxims or share your favorite maxim to live by in the comment box. Every person who comments will be entered into a drawing for the book. The contest will end Monday, November 3. We’ll announce the winner on Tuesday (Election Day here in the U.S. Make sure to vote~) We’re looking forward to reading your comments and maxims!

{ 148 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Justin October 27, 2008 at 7:14 pm

I would amend the maxim on minding one’s own business (“Meddle or interfere with nothing with which you have no concern.”) to suggest that one should not try to affect decisions on topics about which one is uninformed. (I sincerely wish some of my cow-orkers would follow that line of thought.)

2 Ryan October 27, 2008 at 7:24 pm

“Control your emotion or it will control you” — Samurai maxim

3 Andrew October 27, 2008 at 7:47 pm

“It takes two seconds to tell the truth and it costs nothing. A lie takes time and it costs everything.” – Randi Rhodes, the best line ever on a Starbuck’s Cup

4 Bernie Franks October 27, 2008 at 8:01 pm

Aww, makes me sad to see my ancestor belittling literature.

5 Jesse October 27, 2008 at 8:02 pm

I like the education one. one of the best ones that I know is:

“Allow your curiosity to lead you to the answer you seek”

I got it from a fortune cookie at a Chinese restaurant.

6 ScottK October 27, 2008 at 8:32 pm

I like the maxim on honesty. It is very easy to slowly but surely blur that straight line until you can’t remember what a straight line is.

I disagree with the maxim on reading material. Some novels can contain a great deal of truth and moral instruction. Remember, Jesus taught with stories.

7 Michael October 27, 2008 at 8:35 pm

One day I heard Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on C-SPAN sharing a quotation that he keeps in his wallet. Ever since that day I’ve kept the maxim ever-present in my mind: “The rewards of self-discipline are far greater than the rewards of self-indulgence.”

Great site, keep it up!

8 Ben October 27, 2008 at 8:38 pm

i think number 6 goes against number 5. If one is to be truly honest, one must be honest with their emotions as well as their words.

besides that, I’m a big of fan of most of General Lee’s principals.

9 Kyle Collins October 27, 2008 at 9:13 pm

#9 is brilliant, and so true. If only we really treated it like it was…

10 scott October 27, 2008 at 9:16 pm

So, now that I’m married and have children, what am I supposed to do about that kids feeling proud of both sides thing???

11 Scott H. October 27, 2008 at 9:41 pm

Avoid making decisions based on fear.

Never let your heart overrule your head. There’s nothing less manly than out-of-control emotions trumping reason.

Honor your commitments to yourself: it’s a crucial and character-strengthening habit that will carry over into your dealings with others.

12 Dan October 27, 2008 at 10:14 pm

“on debt and frugal living”… something a lot of people should be listening to right now.

13 Matt S. October 27, 2008 at 11:04 pm

Its never too late to be who you might have been.

14 Augustus October 27, 2008 at 11:44 pm

For all the trials we go through and the devil seeks to enslave our will power: pain is temporary.pride is forever

15 Klemanius October 28, 2008 at 12:23 am

General Lee was clearly a very wise man, I agree with his principles. His maxims are smart and as true today as they were then. I must say I am very Interested in this book, and may think to order.

A quote “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone elses opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” – Oscar Wilde
Irish dramatist, novelist, & poet (1854 – 1900)

16 Alan Kim October 28, 2008 at 1:40 am

I’m going to have to agree with Scott K. on the maxim of reading material? What’s wrong with novels? Just because stories are of fiction do not mean they cannot teach us something valuable and important. Also I am in disagreement with the maxim on manliness. I’ll just refer to the post, “When Is It Okay for a Man to Cry?” that was posted on this very blog. There’s nothing wrong with just letting it out sometimes. Shows that you’re human…

17 Scott October 28, 2008 at 3:23 am

On marriage: “Never marry unless you can do so into a family that will enable your children to feel proud of both sides of the house.” ~ General Lee writing to J.B. Hood.

-This is an oft overlooked piece of marriage that is very true. When you marry you are not just marrying your spouse, but you are also marrying the family – both the joys and the baggage.

18 Eric October 28, 2008 at 3:35 am

My fav is definitely: “It is easier to make our wishes conform to our means, than to make our means to conform to our wishes”

Every personal financial blog and recent book in existence could be distilled in to this one sentence =).

19 Mark October 28, 2008 at 3:43 am

On honesty: “Private and public life are subject to the same rules; and truth and manliness are two qualities that will carry you through this world much better than policy, or tact, or expediency, or any other word that was ever devised to conceal or mystify a deviation from a straight line.” ~ One of Lee’s personal maxims. A young man should say what he means and mean what he says. Avoid the demeaning examples of politicians, government bureaucrats, and lawyers.

—–

I favor his honesty comment, life is just better all around if you are honest with people and so many problems are created when you are not honest. Sure, sometimes being honest makes things hard but I’ve never noticed lying making things better.

20 Mark H October 28, 2008 at 4:04 am

“It is easier to make our wishes conform to our means, than to make our means to conform to our wishes.”

That quote is so relevant to today’s crisis. I wish that people would have found the wisdom of it 10 and 15 years ago, as it would have saved us a LOT of grief today.

Great words to live by…

21 Paul October 28, 2008 at 4:29 am

On perseverence: Good things come to those who wait. Great things come to those who don’t.

22 Brian October 28, 2008 at 4:33 am

On Debt: The borrower is the slave of the lender. (Proverbs 22:7, often quoted by Dave Ramsey).

23 Bryan October 28, 2008 at 4:41 am

Lee’s maxim of honesty is my favorite, and I am proud to say that I have lived by it for years. It has always worked out for the best that I am honest, even when it seems lying is easier. But there is more too it as Lee hints. You have to speak clearly and to the point. Some people dislike lying but they mask their true thoughts or intentions in careful words, this is nearly the same as lying because it conveys the same message as a lie would. Speak clear and honestly.

Good blog.

24 Waltman October 28, 2008 at 4:50 am

“Never marry unless you can do so into a family that will enable your children to feel proud of both sides of the house.” ~ General Lee

Awesome.

I usually sign with
“In order to be effective, the Truth must penetrate like an arrow. That is likely to hurt” – Posthumous Pieces by Wei Wu Wei

25 PaulK October 28, 2008 at 5:21 am

It is unfortunate that Lee gets a bad rap from history in a lot of places. It was next to impossible to produce a man of his stature and character after the 1860s. Remember that Arlington National Cemetery is his former plantation.

My favorite Lee maxim is among his most enduring: the sole rule by which he governed Washington College (now Washington and Lee University): “We have but one rule, and it is that every student is a gentleman.”

26 Eric M October 28, 2008 at 5:46 am

“Live every act fully, as if it were your last” — attributed to Buddha.

27 Ricky B October 28, 2008 at 5:46 am

“Help yourself, then everyone will help you. Principle of Brotherly Love.”
~Friedrich Nietzsche

28 Stuart October 28, 2008 at 5:46 am

“You cannot be a true man until you learn to obey.”

29 Mark October 28, 2008 at 6:01 am

“With great power comes great responsibility” – Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben

30 Bob Iger October 28, 2008 at 6:09 am

I am pleasantly surprised to discover (after some research and reading this article) that Robert E. Lee was actually opposed to slavery. I like his stance on marriage the best: “Never marry unless you can do so into a family that will enable your children to feel proud of both sides of the house.” ~ General Lee writing to J.B. Hood.

Or in other words: Don’t wife hunt in bars or tattoo parlors.

This old adage is very true. When I’m dating someone I’m not just willing to date anyone. I don’t mean that in a materialistic sense, but the woman who I will marry one day should definitely have a healthy set of moral values, a normal childhood (no abuse) and at least some form of self-esteem. That’s the kind of woman I can be proud of.

31 Malachi October 28, 2008 at 6:19 am

My favorite Maxim is one of Lee’s, where he says

“Always do your best, you can not do more, and you certainly should not desire to do any less.”

I wrote a paper on this, it’s a pretty awesome maxim.

32 Nate October 28, 2008 at 6:22 am

One of my favorite quotes is this quote by Thomas Jefferson about history.

“History, by apprizing them of the past, will enable them to judge of the future; it will avail them of the experience of other times and other nations; it will qualify them as judges of the actions and designs of men.” – Thomas Jefferson, 1781

33 Nate October 28, 2008 at 6:27 am

This is an excellent quotation outlining the rights of the colonists.

“The natural rights of the colonists are these: first, a right to life; second to liberty; third to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can.” Samuel Adams, 1772

34 John October 28, 2008 at 6:34 am

The maxim, “Be true kind, and generous, and pray earnestly to God to enable you to keep His commandments and walk in the same all the days of your life”, is one I am trying to not only instill in my two sons, but in my two daughters as well. What a world we would live in if all could follow this rule of life!

Thanks for the chance to win this great book!

John

35 Nate October 28, 2008 at 6:37 am

Here is a quote by Lee’s body servant, William Mack, speaking about him.

“I was raised by one of the greatest men in the world. There was never one born of a woman greater than Gen. Robert E. Lee, according to my judgment. All of his servants were set free ten years before the war, but all remained on the plantation until after the surrender.” – William Mack Lee, Robert E. Lee’s servant/slave

36 RJ October 28, 2008 at 6:43 am

“It’s all my fault.”

Humility and acceptance is worth a thousand silvered words. (Note that this doesn’t seem to hold sway in the corporate world.)

37 Bryan Casassa October 28, 2008 at 6:44 am

My father always said “There is no failure in trying, there is failure in failing to try”. This advise has always helped me try things that have always seemed impossible. Sometimes I suceeded and sometimes I have not but I have learned valuable lessons every time.

38 Eddie Kennedy October 28, 2008 at 6:53 am

On reading material: “Read history, works of truth, not novels and romances.” ~ Lee’s oft’ repeated advice to his children.

That too me is fascinating; its not often remembered by young men today that the “norms” of our entertainment now, e.g Rock Music, Novels, Even T.V were regarded by many as terrible and culturally offensive when they were first introduced. While we can fairly state nowadays some of the fears and aprhensions were unfounded, when you see the Jonas Brothers, dime-a-dozen detective novels and certain cable news channels one appeciates that the warnings past critics have perhaps have some currency – if only in so far as trash.

39 PAUL October 28, 2008 at 6:58 am

My father always told me ” what you get for nothing you value as nothing” .

I miss him and my grandfathers- wise men all .

40 Wayne October 28, 2008 at 7:02 am

I like #8. Sure I sread novels now and then, but I think he was warning against becoming addicted to entertainment. Books were their TV. People who need to be constantly entertained get lazy and lead sloppy lives. Just look at how many women are divorcing their husbands because the man spends more time with his Xbox than with the kids. Or the men who are dissatisfied/disgusted with their stay at home wives that spend all day on the internet and watching tv instead of cleaning the house and enriching the kids’ lives. (Which is the reason they give for not wanting to work). I need this book!

41 Harry October 28, 2008 at 7:07 am

You can never know everything, and part of what you know is always wrong. Perhaps even the most important part. A portion of wisdom lies in knowing that. A portion of courage lies in going on anyways.
-Robert Jordan, Wheel of Time

42 Ariston Collander October 28, 2008 at 7:07 am

Granted old age can sometimes yield wisdom, but not if it is spent in the shadows of those around you. The best way to gain experience, knowledge, and wisdom, is to challenge yourself to become a better man and to get off your butt and live life. If you live your life in fear of the unknown, so much will be missed that on your death bed you will look back and have no legacy to leave for future generations.

43 Jody Dawkins October 28, 2008 at 7:10 am

I never cease to enjoy these articles. Thank you very much.

44 Nick October 28, 2008 at 7:30 am

My favorites are the Frugal Living quote: “It is easier to make our wishes conform to our means, than to make our means to conform to our wishes.”

As well as Number 9, which is like I always say: “If you aren’t leanring, you aren’t living!”

45 Ced October 28, 2008 at 7:30 am

“What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world, remains and is immortal.” Albert Pine

“Try not. Do or Do not” Yoda

46 Jason October 28, 2008 at 7:38 am

Wow, what a great list they are all very much applicable today. However, No 4. Is the first one that jumped out at me it is probably used the least in this era of blame everyone else. After all thats why we have law suits for stupid things that are done. This maxim is very fitting for us in todays society, “On humility: “It’s all my fault.” ~ Lee at Gettysburg. Be willing to admit your mistakes and take blame.” In other words if you spilled the cup of coffee on yourself admit its your fault.

47 Matt October 28, 2008 at 7:44 am

The ten are great maxims, but before that the author mentions how Lee’s speech “There is no recorded instance when his conversation in the field or barracks could not have been equally acceptable in a lady’s drawing room. An examination of the two-thousand letters which still exist fails to uncover the slightest suggestion of vulgarity” was beyond reproach because:

“Swearing is the attempt of a feeble mind to express itself forcefully”.

Another maxim to live by.

48 BaconIsGood4You October 28, 2008 at 7:45 am

He’s got some good advice.

49 Richard Williams October 28, 2008 at 7:45 am

@Wayne

Wayne:

Exactly! You get it.

All the best,
RGW

50 Ozy White October 28, 2008 at 7:54 am

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
–Dalai Lama

51 Jared October 28, 2008 at 8:38 am

Few more of his I like:

Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more, you should never wish to do less

I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.

Whiskey – I like it, I always did, and that is the reason I never use it.

52 Jeff October 28, 2008 at 8:50 am

I read the Shaara trilogy on the Civil War and the part that struck me the most about Lee was his decision to support the Confederacy.
He was respected by many of his peers and fellow soldiers and when they began to choose sides they were naturally interested to see if he would choose the union or the confederacy.
Lee said, “I shall never bear arms against the Union, but it may be necessary for me to carry a musket in the defense of my native state, Virginia, in which case I shall not prove recreant to my duty.”
I think this is the perfect example of man being a man. He’s not picking a side to be extreme, hes not trying to win a popularity contest. He went through his own internal struggle, he came to the understand of who he was, and he stayed strong in his conviction. When a man does that, you can disgree with the outcome but you will always respect the decision.

53 James B. October 28, 2008 at 8:58 am

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” — Pretty much sums up every other maxim.

54 M. Karkari October 28, 2008 at 9:27 am

My Personal Maxims in the spirit of Robert E. Lee:

1. On debt and frugal living: Know the difference between what you want and what you need. Pay yourself first (within an investment strategy), then pay the bills, then get what is needed. What’s left over is play money.
2. On marriage: Don’t marry for love, marry for a shared future. In the lattice of mutual trust, respect, honesty, and common values and goals, love inevitably grows and flourishes.
3. On minding your own business: If it is not your individual, communal, or civic responsibility, it’s not your business. Stay your hand and be not the fool.
4. On humility: True strength is in recognizing we are insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and accepting that we regularly make mistakes from which we may grow. And laughing at yourself.
5. On honesty: Never lie. Especially if it hurts. Remember that honesty is mindless if it is not paired with discretion. So I repeat, never lie. In the long-run, the pay-off is huge.
6. On manliness: Manliness is that fleeting state of being that all men at times exhibit, though few live always. It is a state combining Granddad, Superman, Aristotle, and a myriad of masculine ideals and values, and is a cornerstone of the human experience.
7. On work: There is no dishonor in honest work. Work wisely and hard, and ensure you play just as well.
8. On reading material: Read everything. If it interests you, it shall enhance you, even if it is just a comic book. By reading, you glean the perspective of another and another, and are the brighter for it.
9. On education: Stagnation is death – never stop learning, it is the tilling of the soil of one’s being.
10. On what’s important: Live wisely and well, valuing the most important people and matters in your life, and meet your Maker having done right. Prioritize by remembering that today can be the first day of your life just as easily as it can be your last. Hug your children, and give of your time and resources to those whom you love, not just those who love you.

M. Karkari

55 James III October 28, 2008 at 9:36 am

May favorite Current Maxim is from the first letter of St. Peter.

The end of all things is at hand. Therefore, be serious and sober for prayers. Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins.

56 Avraham October 28, 2008 at 9:37 am

Robert E. Lee is a prime example of honor and thus manlyness. It is about doing this well, whether others agree with them or not. You do these things for those around you, those who care about you, and your fellow man. He did what he did with a clear conscience and he did it well. For this reason, such a defeated man is remembered so triumphantly.

57 James III October 28, 2008 at 9:38 am

Also

A mind without instruction can no more bear fruit than can a field, however fertile, without cultivation.

Cicero

58 Edmundo October 28, 2008 at 9:49 am

I think all are great except 6, I it is healthy to express grief, under the appropriate circumstances.

59 Roberto October 28, 2008 at 9:50 am

A maxim written from the book Dune-

Never be in the company of anyone with whom you would not want to die.

The book has a ton of them on various topics. Despite Lee’s misgivings I think we can learn a lot of how to act from fiction. A good book is filled with examples of how to act, and how not to act.

60 Uberhack October 28, 2008 at 9:59 am

Not sure where it comes from but I love this one:

“A gentleman is a man who knows how to play the accordion, but doesn’t.”

61 TIm October 28, 2008 at 10:16 am

Not sure if this was an original but my Grandfather liked to say it often. He would take me everywhere including to Board meetings for church an what not. Often after a meeting he say something like
“Most people would do well to learn that It is best to hold your tongue and let a man think you are an idiot rather than let loose and prove it.”
He publicly suffered fools well, privately he did not.

62 Richard Williams October 28, 2008 at 10:38 am

@Uberhack

I LOVE that one!

Richard Williams

63 Robert October 28, 2008 at 11:12 am

@ Wayne

Read “Consumed”. I believe that the condition you are describing is called infantilized consumerism. It is not the man’s fault, it is the fault of both parties in the marriage and the constant ads, commercials, etc.

Also, I have a bit of trouble with this post. I have noticed a lot of talk about this blog being a venue for the 1950′s post war mentality. This post reinforces that notion. Making a hero out of a man that was responsible for the deaths of millions and was a proponent of slavery, that does not sit well with me. (And yes I read the part about him not really being for slavery, that is bumpkiss, if you have slaves, you are pro-slavery). A return to the earlier potion of the blog, with a more international and diverse focus might be a good idea. Maybe do some pieces on the father son relationships in Latin American culture, or Japenese culture and how that is good or bad, that might be a good thing to do.

Just my bit, thanks for the great blog otherwise guys!

64 JS October 28, 2008 at 11:18 am

As Spiritual Founder of my Fraternal Order I am well versed in the maxim’s put forth by Robert E. Lee. One of my favorite lines from the Definition of a Gentleman:

“He cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past.”

Many would be wise to heed Gen. Lee’s thoughts on such a matter as vengeance, grudges and the like as they only seed evil in a man’s heart and bear no fruit for his future visions of success.

65 Andy October 28, 2008 at 11:36 am

@Robert – I can understand your concern, but most Americans during the Civil War (on the North and the South) had their hands tarnished by slavery. General and later President Ulysses S. Grant owned a slave that he didn’t set free until 1859 and his wife owned four. He fought on the North. Do you think he was really fighting for the rights of slaves. Doubtful. Like most Americans during that time, he probably looked down on African-Americas as sub-human. But he’s exonerated because he was on the winning side.

Even Lincoln wasn’t that big of a proponent of freeing slaves as he’s set out to be. During the Civil War he said this: “My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it, if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it.”

During the Lincoln-Dounglas debate, he also said: “I will say then that I am not, nor have I ever been in the favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races . . . There must be a position of superior and inferior, and I… am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race … I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position that the negroe should be deprived everything. ”

And the Emancipation Proclamation was more a political and strategic war move than about freeing slaves.

Yet, we praise Lincoln as the Great Emancipator and lover of equal rights. Again, he was on the winning side and winners write the history books.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Lincoln was a great President. He kept the country together. But I think it’s unfair to single out General Lee as unworthy of being hero when men on both sides of the conflict were culpable of the slave issue and racism.

66 J.W. October 28, 2008 at 12:04 pm

Robert E. Lee is one of the best role models for any man. Although everything from the Civil War era generally carries a bad connotation, Gen. Lee rose above the fray and, as noted above, provided many maxims that will applicable regardless of the time. My favorite epitaph of advice ever given by Gen. Lee is his definition of a gentleman, if one follows this definition he to will become a pillar of his community. The second advice for the General that I strive to remember in heated situations is his stance on forgiveness. Whoever wins this book, will receive some very sound advice. Enjoy and thanks.

67 Confident Nerd October 28, 2008 at 12:38 pm

I agree that wisdom does come somewhat through age, but so does ignorance and I disagree that the father is always going to be wiser than you.

With that being said, one should practice humility.

68 Brian Bowman October 28, 2008 at 12:40 pm

#6 Reveal your joy and conceal your grief seems to be an attitude lost in this present culture. With the prevalence of tears and vitriol among men today, one would think that doom is imminent with every stroke of bad luck.

69 Oscar H. Castillon October 28, 2008 at 1:12 pm

I liked the one on education – You never stop learning!

70 John V Nelson October 28, 2008 at 1:20 pm

My fathers favorite comment about marriage: “If you get in a disagreement with your wife, you can be right, or you can be happy, but you can’t be both at the same time> — John R. Nelson

71 Valerie October 28, 2008 at 1:22 pm

Great article. Here’s my favorite- also it’s impressive that “woman” is added in, in a time with little or no equality seen between the sexes.
9. On education: “The education of a man or woman is never completed until they die.” ~ Lee writing to son Custis, 5 December 1860.

72 Stephen M. October 28, 2008 at 1:45 pm

“The only behavior that exists is that which is enabled.”

Makes it hard to come up with excuses and explanations for things you don’t like when the above saying is your bottom line.

73 ricardo vera October 28, 2008 at 1:45 pm

I am a fan of the marriage maxim. It is particularly strong in that it implies that you yourself should be worth the pride your children will (hopefully) have in you, and that you should settle for no less than what you deserve. Both these ideas are very manly, touching on the idea of Honor, the manliest virtue of all.

74 Lucas October 28, 2008 at 1:45 pm

I tell my kids this all the time:

Power is nothing without control.

When throwing baseballs, my 11 year old like to put everything into it, but on many occasions fails to even remotely have it end up where it belongs.

Power can be gained quite easily, but control over oneself and said power takes years to develop.

This can apply to many things in life, and I hope that all my kids take it to heart.

Cheers

Lucas

75 John Yost October 28, 2008 at 1:46 pm

These are all examples of great wisdom that people like myself need to be reminded of often. Thanks for the article.

76 Tim S. October 28, 2008 at 1:52 pm

I like the maxim on marriage. It took me a few years to realize I wouldn’t be happy with any of the women and met in bars.

77 Ben from Bedford October 28, 2008 at 1:59 pm

Glad to see the wisdom of a fellow Southerner is in this post. I thoroughly enjoy this blog, and am glad that you have gotten this to the rest of us.

78 Brian October 28, 2008 at 2:02 pm

“A man may manifest and communicate his joy, but he should conceal and smother his grief as much as possible.”

I disagree with this one- a man shouldn’t be a sad mess all the time, but it’s good to let out your grief once in a while.

79 Patrick October 28, 2008 at 2:03 pm

I just have a comment on the criticism by readers dealing with the reading material quote. Now although Lee states that you should only read history and not novels, I am sure this wise man will not be turning over in his grave because you decided to crack open Grapes of Wrath. I do agree with Lee that we should read as much history as you can. History is the greatest teacher we have. We can learn about a certain event that occured and based on if the results were good or bad allows us to make better decisions in our life time. Basically if your not reading novels like An Erotic Journey from Milan to Minsk and try to stick to more Ernest Hemingway I think that will satisfy Lee’s Maxim on reading material. I suggest checking out the link on this page for the best books for a man to read, many of these novels deals with history.

80 Kevin Cox October 28, 2008 at 2:13 pm

“Never marry unless you can do so into a family that will enable your children to feel proud of both sides of the house.” Something I’m going to pass on to my grandsons.

81 Richard Williams October 28, 2008 at 2:15 pm

@John V Nelson

So true, so true!!

Richard Williams

82 Adam Haile October 28, 2008 at 2:32 pm

“Whatever you are be a good one”
Abraham Lincoln
I live by this quote because it is so open ended. I am a senior in High School and don’t know what to do with my life after school. I am not motivated to go to college at all.

83 Scott October 28, 2008 at 3:10 pm

I see a lot of parallels between Lee and his fellow Virginian, Thomas Jefferson. Both owned slaves, yet abhorred the institution of slavery. It’s a pity that both get such bad PR for the fact that they owned slaves (Jefferson couldn’t free many of his, no matter how much he wanted to), but they were both very admirable in most other respects.

With about 8 months left before my own wedding, Lee’s advice on marriage rings especially true. I’m just glad to have followed it. :-)

84 Steven R. Graves October 28, 2008 at 3:38 pm

I have read many different books on the art of how to be a man. One of the main theard running threw them all is “you must stand for something or you will fall for any thing”, I have no idea where this first came from. I heard it many years ago in some country song. In this day and age where we as a thinking people are being told what we should believe and not belive in by the spin doctors of the media, if you do not have some idea of what yoiu believe in then you will be lead away by any thing that they tell you is true. If you stand up for what you believe is true and right, even if ever one is telling you that it is not, you will be be a true man. And in the end even if you were wrong then people can fault you for sticking to your believes. Robert E. Lee was such a man, even if he did not belive in slavery, he felt that he had to stand and fight for the rights of his state to choose what is to be the law of the land in his own hometown. I truly fear that we as a nation have lost the strength to fight for what is right, because of this we will be swept away as a free people. I hope that I am wrong, only time will tell.

85 Shawn Roser October 28, 2008 at 4:18 pm

From my military days and now here back in college, Lee has always been one of my heroes to model his chivalry and manhood on. These are 2 of my favorite quotes from him:

“Duty is the sublimest word in the language. You can never do more than your duty. You should never wish to do less. ”

“The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past. A true man of honor feels humbled himself when he cannot help humbling others.”

So, in other words, “Man Up!”

Semper Vigilans!

86 Nate S. October 28, 2008 at 4:49 pm

In the book Robert E. Lee on Leadership, it talks about a young mother who once asked General Lee what was the most important thing that she could teach her son. His answer was to teach him to deny himself.

What greater principle in life is there than that?

87 Ken S. October 28, 2008 at 5:32 pm

Choose: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.

This is life boiled down to the simplest terms, regardless of the arena–athletic, financial, religious, educational or vocational.

Second quote is related to the first: failure to choose is, in fact, a choice. Don’t whine to me about what could have been if you had chosen to pursue (x) more diligently.

And a third, while I’m at it: it’s never too late to choose to better yourself.

88 Matthew October 28, 2008 at 5:36 pm

I think its ok to show your emotions as a man, but as a husband and a father I have found that more than not you have to be the stable rock for your family. I have noticed numerous times where my wife is looking for me for strength and I fail by showing to much grief or sadness. Now I am not advocating for men to become stoic beyond showing any type of emotion, I am just saying the Lee understood that men were created to be a rock to his family and to society as a whole.

89 The Process Ninja October 28, 2008 at 5:44 pm

My favourite Maxim to live by is “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” (Edmund Burke).

90 AMManess October 28, 2008 at 6:03 pm

I am a great admirer of Lee. His maxims are truly something men today should take time to read and reflect. We can learn a lot from that man – his sense of duty, honor, and importantly, how he conducted himself in all matters. My favorite of Lee’s is: “. You cannot do more, you should never wish to do less.”

I also look to other important people for inspiration, especially in their words. They have unique perspectives, which can say a lot about being a man and a human. Here are a few:

“A man is the sum of his actions, of what he has done, of what he can do, Nothing else.” Gandhi.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen” Churchill

“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. ” JFK

Finally, sometimes a person has great maxims that are profound and funny. My favorite is “You can observe a lot by just watching.” Yogi Berra.

91 Brad October 28, 2008 at 6:03 pm

I read a biography of Lee many, many years ago, and one anecdote has stuck with me: When Lee was president of Washington College, a young man approached him and asked him for a copy of the school’s honor code. Lee replied (paraphrasing) “There is no honor code. You know the right thing to do”.

92 RebekahC October 28, 2008 at 6:11 pm

I’d love to enter this on behalf of my husband. My hubby’s a history buff, plus this just sounds like a good guy read. I really agree with the manly advice listed above. Some great poitns there.

RebekahC
littleminx@cox.net

93 bubba noneck October 28, 2008 at 6:23 pm

Love your site and the maxims by Lee are just another awesome point of direction for us all to “MAN UP” when living a day to day manly life.

94 Bill October 28, 2008 at 6:30 pm

during this political season, the maxim on honesty really hits home. “A young man should say what he means and mean what he says. Avoid the demeaning examples of politicians, government bureaucrats, and lawyers.” Maybe our candidates should read this.

95 Bumpas October 28, 2008 at 6:35 pm

#9 ” On education: ‘The education of a man or woman is never completed until they die.’ ~ Lee writing to son Custis, 5 December 1860.”
This is exactly why our fathers are wiser then us younger people. Life is learning, and I would rather learn from my father’s time in the academy of hard knocks, then to go through the academy myself. Why reinvent the wheel?

96 The Justice October 28, 2008 at 6:51 pm

From The Art of War:

“The general who advances without coveting fame, who retreats without fearing disgrace, whose sole thought is to protect his country and do good service to his sovereign, is the treasure of the kingdom.”

Call it Lee’s 11th maxim.

97 Ben October 28, 2008 at 6:59 pm

I would add this:

There are no such thing as secrets, simply delayed truth; truth will always come out in the end.

I understad what E. Lee says about literature: he lived in a time where there were a ton of books that were useless for instruction back in those days. Paperbacks were starting to arise and takeaway time from the classics and Bible reading.Now we have the internet and television. While both have valuable content, more and more of it is being diluted with fluff. Just look at Digg. How much of the top ten is actually relevant to truth and betterment? Not as much as I hoped after it reached maturity

98 Lawrence Lujan October 28, 2008 at 7:23 pm

I really enjoyed the post and it is another reason why I keep coming back the site My son in sixt grade made the following statement while writing about what it is to be a hero. It was great to see him “manning up” at such an early age.

“A hero need not speak, nor brag. When has gone, the world will speak for him”

99 John October 28, 2008 at 7:56 pm

“On work” I firmly believe in the principle of perseverance when tackling any obstacle in ones path.

100 Alessandro October 28, 2008 at 8:14 pm

I gotta say, I like this the best: “It’s all my fault.”
LOL.

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