So the decision had to be made. And he made it. 'Then there is nothing left me but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.' His officers protested passionately. 'O General, what will history say of the surrender of the army in the field?'—'Yes, I know, they will say hard things of us; they will not understand how we were overwhelmed by numbers; but that is not the question, Colonel; the question is, is it right to surrender this army? If it is right, then I will take all the responsibility.'
The scene that ensued has been described often: the plain farmhouse room, the officers curious, yet respectful, the formal conversation, as always painfully unequal to the huge event it covered, the short, ungainly, illdressed man, as dignified in his awkwardness almost as the royal, perfectly appointed figure that conferred with him. Lee bore himself nobly, say his admirers; nobly, but a little coldly, say his opponents. And who shall blame him? Then it was over. One moment he paused at the door, as he went out, waiting for his horse, and as he paused, looking far into the tragic future, or the tragic past, he struck his gauntleted hands together in a gesture of immense despair, profoundly significant for so selfcontained a man. Then he rode away, back to his children, back to the Army of Northern Virginia, who had seen him daily for three years and now would never see him any more.
In all this scene two figures of course stand out beyond every other, the man who succeeded and the man who failed. In some respects there are remarkable resemblances between them. Though one had old family traditions behind him and the other had not, both were absolutely simple, democratic, and indifferent to fuss, parade, or show. Both were frank and straightforward, yet both were men of extreme reticence, using as few words as possible and only for the deliberate conveyance of their purposes. Both, under a calm, if not frigid exterior, covered genuine sympathy and human kindness.
But one was a man of the eighteenth century, the other of the nineteenth, one of the old America, the other of the new. Grant stands for our modern world, with its rough, business habits, its practical energy, its desire to do things no matter how, its indifference to the sweet grace of ceremony and dignity and courtesy. Lee had the traditions of an older day, its high beliefs, its grave stateliness, its feeling that the way of doing a thing was almost as much as the thing done. In short, Grant's America was the America of Lincoln, Lee's the America of Washington. It is in part because of this difference and because I would fain believe that without lose of the one we may some day regain something of the other that I have given so much thought to the portrayal of Lee's character and life.
Long ago Milton said that he who would be a great poet must make his own life a true poem. Lee had certainly no care for being a great poet, but if ever man made his own life a true poem, it was he. Grant's career has the vigor, the abruptness, the patness, the roughness, of a terse military dispatch. It fits its place and fills it, and all is said. Lee's has the breadth, the dignity, the majesty, the round and full completeness of a Miltonic epic, none the less inspiring because its end is tragic. It was indeed a life lived in the grand style. Only, in these days so few people care for poetry.