Ft. Monroe, 20th Oct. 65
My dear Wife
Yesterday brought me your letters of Sept. 4 and Oct. 1 with note of Oct. 2. And enclosures, viz. Letter from Ellen, one from Jeff., and circular of the Academy at Sault an Recollet. Though the tones could not be those employed in happier hours, they were consolatory to me and relieved many of my distressing anxieties. You of course understood that in the absence of the requisite data I did not intend on former occasions to do more than suggest what would be preferable if no impediment existed. Not imagining that you would be restricted to a place which I had stated was objectionable on account of the evil effect which the climate would produce, and in which you would be an entire stranger, I only felt the hardship of your being required to go there; and feeling that your constant care was needful to our small children I expressed the wish that you would go with them to some place where they and you would go with them to some places where they and you would be more advantageously situated. You have done what seems to me the best under the circumstances and I trust God will so order all things as to justify the action taken by it’s future results.
Chafed by harsh restraints and agonized by fears for me, it may have been naturally expected that a nervous woman would give expression to her feelings and seek to make her griefs known to her Husband’s friends. [Papers of JD has “and” here; JD Essential Writings does not], perhaps it was therefore that detectives were put around you; and I am proud of your self denial, and grateful that the sickness consequent has had no worse effect upon you and your infant. We should not be surprised that those whose palms itch for gold should attribute to me a like vice, and therefore may have hoped by watching you to find hidden treasure. Newspapers publish silly accounts of large sums of specie possessed by me and abandoned, of course every intelligent man knows that my office did not make me the custodian of public money, but such slanders impose on and serve to inflame the ignorant, the very ignorant who don’t know how public money was kept and how drawn out by the hands of those who were responsible for it. My children as they grow up and prove the pressure of poverty, must be taught the cause of it; and I trust they will feel as I have, when remembering the fact that my Father was impoverished by his losses in the War of the Revolution.
The religion we profess has this peculiar characteristic, that just in proportion as we advance in preparation for the world to come, is our happiness in this increased. Our injuries cease to be grievous in proportion as Christian charity enables us to forgive those who trespass against us, and to pray for our enemies. I rejoice in the sweet, sensitive nature of my little Maggie, but I would she could have been spared the knowledge which inspired her “grace” and the tears which followed it’s utterance [“that the Lord would give father something which he could eat . . . and bring him back to us with his good senses to his little children, for Christ’s sake”, then Maggie would “quit the table to dry her tears”: from VD, JD A Memoir, II, 714].. As none could share my suffering, and as those who loved me were powerless to diminish it, I greatly preferred that they should not know of it. Separated from my friends of this world, my Heavenly Father has drawn nearer to me, His goodness and my unworthiness are more sensibly felt, but this does not press me back, for the atoning Mediator is the way, and his hand upholds me.
I trust Maggie will be happy, her loving temper will suit the government of the Nuns, and they will probably soon become attached to each other. When I was a child the kindness of the Friars so won upon my affection that the impression has never been effaced, but has the rather extended from them to their whole church. Her letter to me has not arrived, nor has your’s of Sept. 1st which you mention as having enclosed to be forwarded. The big boy has not improved much in his writing but the warm heart was not to be hidden or hushed by his want of skill clerkly. You have no doubt answered his inquiry but when you write to him again, tell him how glad I was to see his letter, how anxious I am that he should be a good boy and learn fast, how much I love him and how constantly I pray for him. Where is Robert? Would he not be more useful to you under the present condition of the family than elsewhere. I hope your Ma. is comfortably situated and that she and Billy will get on well together, but unless he has a good nurse you know she will over work herself. Give my love to her when you write and to Margaret who is I suppose there. You will know how to express my feelings for both of them.
Joe. D[avis] & S[mith]. have not disappointed and if you should hereafter require the services of either of them they will no doubt come as fully at your command as when they recently came to you unbidden. Please write to Ellen for me thank her for the kind true hearted letter she wrote to me. It is in the spirit I honor and expected from her, may she never be shaken in her confidence in the supremacy of justice and the protecting power of innocence. Little Winnie in the photograph grows more like herself than she seemed when it first came. My Winnie’s sadness continues. May a brighter sun lighten her heart and enliven her picture. William’s conduct surprises me. I will only say of it that it was unlike either his Father or his Mother, and of him that I wish never to hear of him again. I am sorry you did not see Sam.; when he joins “old Bob” there will be supplied to him the only thing he needs, judgement. Tom & Charley expressed to you what is I believe the feeling of all our family negroes. I hope their fidelity will be duly rewarded and regret that we are not in a situation to aid and protect them. There is I observe a controversy which I regret as to allowing negroes to testify in court. From Brother Joe, many years ago, I derived the opinion that they should be made competent witnesses, the jury judging of their credibility; out of my opinion on that point arose my difficulty with Mr. Cox, and any doubt which might have existed in my mind was removed at that time. The change of relation diminishing protection, must increase the necessity. Truth only is consistent, and they must be acute and well trained, who can so combine as to make falsehood appear like truth when closely examined. After full consideration I believe Jim innocent and that the story was the invention of a lower man having higher position.
I will try to get the commentaries of which you write. Would like to read the same books with you, but under present circumstances this would be difficult and objectionable. Difficult because I have little field for selection and objectionable because entertaining books, poetry and romance would excite, whereas my effort is to keep sentiment subdued and to live in the region of driest fact, I would not have you reduced to the same fare, as mingling with the world the impressions of poetry and romance come as a relief and do not remain to injure.
Dear Le Pi’s hair came safely and softly lies with me; you are now in that condition which is the symbol of occupation. May you soon have all your cares and objects of love about you again.
Brother Joe. should not I think return to the river place. All is changed, he will be troubled beyond his strength by the confusion which must exist, an Agent will suit the new regime much better than the old one. If he goes back why not take the Brierfield House. He can claim possession, as owner of the land. But my decided opinion is that in the existing condition neither he nor Lize should stay there. I cannot write to him.
The saddest effect which has been produced on me is in impaired memory. Accustomed to rely on it with confidence it is painfully embarassing [sic] to me, especially as to names and dates. In regard to events it is less felt and by association only can I measure time. This year came in on Sunday and thus the tables in the Prayer book [sic] serve as a calendar. Acircumstance to which I am much indebted. Have you retained our family Bible? If so the dates you ask for are there. 1859 & 1864 must be the years – The month of the first was I think April & day 18th. the last was Saturday preceding the meeting of Congress__ I have nothing to refer to in aid of memory. It was very kind of these friends. Pardon me I cannot. * x x x For say, three months after I was imprisoned here two hours of consecutive sleep were never allowed to me, more recently it has not been so bad, but it is still only broken sleep which I get at night, and by day my attention is distracted by the passing of the Sentinels who are kept around me as well by day as by night. I have not sunk under my trials, am better than a fortnight ago and trust shall be sustained under any affliction which it may [be] required of me to bear. My sight is affected but less than I would have supposed if it had been foretold that a light was to be kept where I was to sleep, and that I was at short intervals to be aroused and the expanded pupils thus frequently subjected to the glare of a lamp. You have repeated the request for a description of my situation and I have complied in part. Already regret having done so and hope you will be satisfied of the correctness of the rule heretofore observed. Of my occupation a brief account will suffice. In the morning as soon as dressed I read the morning prayer (family) sometimes adding a chapter of the new Testament and a Psalm. After breakfast read, at this time Bancroft’s History of the United States. Soon after read the morning service, on Sundays, Wednesdays & Fridays, add the communion service, the Collect, Epistle and Gospel and the Litany. [All these services, prayers, and readings are in BCP.] In the afternoon read whatever book occupies me and when Genl. Miles comes, go out to walk say, for an hour on the parapet. In the evening read the service as appointed. Family prayers at night. To the morning & evening service a modified form of the prayer for a person going to sea and of the prayer for a person under affliction are always added. [See Felicity Allen, JD, Unconquerable Heart, App: C] of [sic] food I am quite satisfactorily supplied by the Doctor’s family, and my appetite is to blame for any want of appreciation. My cot is now comfortable and I have plenty of water and fire – do not imagine horrible things and suffer vicariously for me. If President Johnson ever finds out the exact state of the case, I think he will remove the most disagreeable features in the discipline and until then or some other change, be assured I will bear it with the patience that lightens burdens, and expect me to get better rather than worse. There is soon to be a change of the garrison here, I will be sorry to part from many of the officers – but as they are to go home I should rejoice for such as are entitled to my gratitude. Au reste [French: As for the rest], as I cannot control, so I may hope it will be for the better.
I have not seen Jordan’s critique [Thomas Jordan, “Jefferson Davis” (Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Oct. 1865, 610-20)] and am at a loss to know where that game was played and was lost by my interference. If the records are preserved they dispose summarily of his romances past, passing and to come. Be not distressed by the conduct of those who willfully misrepresent, neither of the others whose timidity but not their will consents. If those whom I have served turn against me theirs is the shame, and time will make them feel it. The events were of a public character and it is not possible for men to shift their responsibility to another. Every one who has acted must have made mistakes, and the frank acknowledgement of his errors will be the best defence he can make to the public and the only one beneficial to his conscience. Let him who has changed his theory confess it, let him whose opinons are unchanged conform his action to the changed circumstances, and both classes may preserve their integrity and live and work in harmony. Our life is spent in choosing between evils. and he would be most unwise who would refuse the comparative good thus to be obtained. History is ever repeating itself, but the influence of Christianity and letters has softened its harsher features. The wail of the destitute woman and children who were left on the shore of Cork after the treaty of Limerick, still rings in the ears of all who love right and hate oppression; but bad as was the treatment of the Irish then, those scenes of which you were reading not long before you left Richmond, enacted by Philip of Spain in the low countries were worse. The unfortunate have always been deserted and betrayed; but did ever man have less to complain of when he had lost power to serve. The critics are noisy – perhaps they hope to enhance their wares by loud crying. The multitude are silent, why should they speak save to Him who hears best the words most secretly uttered. My own heart tells me the sympathy exists, that the prayers from the family hearth have not been hushed. Then be ye, not charitable, but loving and confiding still to those from whom I have received much more that I deserved and as you know far more of official honors that I desired.
Little Polly will I suppose resume French, the boy has probably forgotten much and will be almost a beginner. If the course of the school is to put boys early at Latin I would not object. It is the root of the languages of Southern Europe, and enters largely into the etimology [sic] of our own; but the argument for it’s study most conclusive with me is that it is the best exercise for the mind of which a small boy is capable. Strange though it may seem I have generally found when a school boy, that those from warm countries would expose themselves most to cold and for a time at least would bear it best. It will be well that care should be taken to prevent our children from being thus injured. Some of our friends might get the little dog, especially if it’s history is not known. Horrible you say, I answer generally true. The individual may be an exception of that I know nothing, though his reputation for gallantry is suggestive of generosity and humanity. I have asked for the Schomlerg Cotte family and Cumming, [sic] Scripture readings – The latter I hope the Chaplain may have. The Psalter and Lessons for the day will give us that daily reading in common which you suggest. It is not easy for me to know the hour except by the relieving of Sentinels – which is every two hours beginning at 9 A.M. When in the casement I constructed on the floor of the embrasure a partial dial, here it is not practicable. To me hours are alike, but to you these will be frequent occurrences, visitors, domestic employments etc, etc which will not leave you entire command of your time. When I read though you shall not be at the same time reading or praying with me, I will know you have been or will be uttering the same words, engaged with the same thoughts. There are other things of which I would write yet do not. The events in your letter are understood, I think thoroughly, but it would avail nothing to comment on them. It is generally true that complaint diminishes the capacity to bear, certainly it does the freedom of inquiry into the nature of the grievance.
It was not my intention to have entered on a third sheet yet I must stop before having written of many things affecting us all. Imprisonment in solitude gives much time for speculation, but in this rapidly changing current of events thoughts not having fresh data are little worth.
Kiss the Baby for me, may God grant to me the sight of you both, may he preserve you from all harm in this world and gives [sic] us all grace to meet in Heaven as we assemble specially in my prayers twice or oftener daily.
Farewell my dear Wife. You have a key to my heart and know its unuttered feelings. That God may remember us in mercy, and grant our petitions as His wisdom will provide ever prays with unchanging devotion your Husband
Mrs. Varina Davis Jeffn Davis