Jefferson Davis to Jefferson Davis, Jr.
Memphis Tenn. 21st July 1874
My dear Son,
Yours of the 12th Inst. mailed the 17th was received this morning. Your instincts and pride as a Gentleman will sufficiently impress you with the degree of mortification I feel at the fact of your having been found deficient not only in your studies but in your conduct. The former I must hope you could have avoided, the latter you surely could. It is humiliating in the extreme that your continuance in the Institution should be due to the kindness of the Board, instead of being desirable on account of your conduct and acquirement. There is one sure and easy way to redeem the consideration you have forfeited, which is at the same place and among the same persons to prove yourself capable of better things. All duty requires self sacrifice, and the habit of making such sacrifice as a matter of conscience, renders each new one easier than those which preceded it. Remember always, that each report marks a case of failure to perform something which you have pledged yourself to do, or to abstain from doing. If I could bear your burdens, and gather for you knowledge and reputation, there is no toil or deprivation from which I would shrink; to accomplish it.
You have your fortune to make or to mar, summon your just pride to sustain you, and as auxiliary call in your affection for your Mother & your Father who feel to their core every wound you receive.
If you had been made a Corporal, instead of a lance or a pro. tempore appointment, it would have furnished higher evidence of the estimate put on your soldierly character. But act well the part assigned to you that it may be seen, if you were worthy of more.
In reviewing the course for the Sept. examination you should be careful to learn thoroughly the first elements, without that solid foundation there can be no sound superstructure. The first lessons in Algebra must be understood not merely so as to recite, but so as to be able to teach, or if all the existing books were destroyed, that you be able to write another. You do not study for the present or for the Professor, but for future use and for own advancement in life. Acquire as far as possible the habit of forethought and ability to concentrate your thoughts. These are the constantly recurring wants of active life. For example, you would not with forethought be late at roll call, or absent, or with shoes untied and with concentration would not be looking about or laughing in ranks.
Unless the mind is closely applied you will /learn/ little from books and less from demonstrations and lectures.
Let me advise you, if you have passed the first lessons of Algebra without entirely having mastered them, spend your leisure moments in reviewing and do not fail to pore over them until you make them absolutely your own. So much being fully learned, the rest will be easier and if each step be in like manner mastered you will climb with profit and honor to the highest plane it shall be yours to reach, in literature and science. I trust these remarks may be useful to you, and that the pain it has given to write them may be /compensated for in their proving/ the cause of greater happiness to us both in the coming year.
Your Mother suffers frequently from those dreadful nervous attacks to which she was occasionally subject before you went away. She does not think a change of climate would benefit her, and as whatever distressed or in any manner agitated her has been the immediate precursor of an attack, it may be that /her/ preference for staying in our own house is not without reason. Maggie is quite thin, but says she is well, Winnie is about as usual, though somewhat affected by the hot weather. I am not as well as when I returned from Europe, but hope to get on without illness for the time it is needful to remain here. Memphis has thus far been unusually healthy for the season, and good sanitary measures are enforced, that the City may be protected from another epidemic.
I hope you go often to visit my true and much esteemed friend, Col: Johnston. In any trouble, you could not find a better counsellor.
I did not see Lord Campbell, he was not able to receive me, something the matter with his eyes. Your friend Maj. Barlow inquired specially for you. He was expecting the appointment of Governor for the South Sea Islands, lately acquired by Great Britain. Mrs. Walker is in bad health and came last spring to Baltimore, is now somewhere in the mountains of Va. Lord and Lady Abinger were in Scotland. They have a Son of whom they are very proud. My visit to Scotland did not extend so far as Inverlochy, their castle, and therefore had not the pleasure of seeing them. Your Aunt was less robust than formerly, but active and very busy with her two sweet children, the elder a girl named Christine, the younger a boy named Philip.
Col. Mann, of Paris, inquired with sincere interest about you. Miss James, I heard of as Governess in a family near to Liverpool.
Farewell my dear boy, you are the daily subject of kind wishhes by each of the family here; you the only Son; yours the arm on which your Mother and Sisters may have, soon in the course of nature, to look for protection; you to whom I leave my name and in whom I fondly hope to see it reach higher distinction; will need no words of mine to stimulate you to manly effort, or to keep you in the path of truth & honor. Ever affectionately your Father
ALS (LNT, Barret Coll.).