Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

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A Diary From Dixie.

March 12, 2014

A Diary From Dixie by Mary Boykin Miller Chesnut.

March 12th.—An active campaign has begun everywhere. Kilpatrick still threatens us. Bragg has organized his fifteen hundred of cavalry to protect Richmond. Why can’t my husband be made colonel of that? It is a new regiment. No; he must be made a general!

“Now,” says Mary Preston, “Doctor Darby is at the mercy of both Yankees and the rolling sea, and I am anxious enough; but, instead of taking my bed and worrying mamma, I am taking stock of our worldly goods and trying to arrange the wedding paraphernalia for two girls.”

There is love-making and love-making in this world. What a time the sweethearts of that wretch, young Shakespeare, must have had. What experiences of life’s delights must have been his before he evolved the Romeo and Juliet business from his own internal consciousness; also that delicious Beatrice and Rosalind. The poor creature that he left his second best bedstead to came in second best all the time, no doubt; and she hardly deserved more. Fancy people wondering that Shakespeare and his kind leave no progeny like themselves! Shakespeare’s children would have been half his only; the other half only the second best bedstead’s. What would you expect of that commingling of materials? Goethe used his lady-loves as school-books are used: he studied them from cover to cover, got all that could be got of self-culture and knowledge of human nature from the study of them, and then threw them aside as if of no further account in his life.

Byron never could forget Lord Byron, poet and peer, and mauvais sujet, and he must have been a trying lover; like talking to a man looking in the glass at himself. Lady Byron was just as much taken up with herself. So, they struck each other, and bounded apart.

[Since I wrote this, Mrs. Stowe has taken Byron in hand. But I know a story which might have annoyed my lord more than her and Lady Byron’s imagination of wickedness—for he posed a fiend, but was tender and kind. A clerk in a country store asked my sister to lend him a book, he “wanted something to read; the days were so long.” “What style of book would you prefer? ” she said. “Poetry.” “Any particular poet?” “Brown. I hear him much spoken of.” “Browning?” “No; Brown— short—that is what they call him.” “Byron; you mean.” “No, I mean the poet, Brown.”]

“Oh, you wish you had lived in the time of the Shakespeare creature!” He knew all the forms and phases of true love. Straight to one’s heart he goes in tragedy or comedy. He never misses fire. He has been there, in slang phrase. No doubt the man’s bare presence gave pleasure to the female world; he saw women at their best, and he effaced himself. He told no tales of his own life. Compare with him old, sad, solemn, sublime, sneering, snarling, faultfinding Milton, a man whose family doubtless found “Les absences délicieuses.” That phrase describes a type of man at a touch; it took a Frenchwoman to do it.

“But there is an Italian picture of Milton, taken in his youth, and he was as beautiful as an angel.” “No doubt. But love flies before everlasting posing and preaching—the deadly requirement of a man always to be looked up to —a domestic tyrant, grim, formal, and awfully learned. Milton was only a mere man, for he could not do without women. When he tired out the first poor thing, who did not fall down, worship, and obey him, and see God in him, and she ran away, he immediately arranged his creed so that he could take another wife; for wife he must have, à la Mohammedan creed. The deer-stealer never once thought of justifying theft simply because he loved venison and could not come by it lawfully. Shakespeare was a better man, or, may I say, a purer soul, than self-upholding, Calvinistic, Puritanic, king-killing Milton. There is no muddling of right and wrong in Shakespeare, and no Pharisaical stuff of any sort.”

Then George Deas joined us, fresh from Mobile, where he left peace and plenty. He went to sixteen weddings and twenty-seven tea-parties. For breakfast he had everything nice. Lily told of what she had seen the day before at the Spottswood. She was in the small parlor, waiting for someone, and in the large drawing-room sat Hood, solitary, sad, with crutches by his chair. He could not see them. Mrs. Buckner came in and her little girl who, when she spied Hood, bounded into the next room, and sprang into his lap. Hood smoothed her little dress down and held her close to him. She clung around his neck for a while, and then, seizing him by the beard, kissed him to an illimitable extent. “Prettiest picture I ever saw,” said Lily. “The soldier and the child.”

John R. Thompson sent me a New York Herald only three days old. It is down on Kilpatrick for his miserable failure before Richmond. Also it acknowledges a defeat before Charleston and a victory for us in Florida.

General Grant is charmed with Sherman’s successful movements; says he has destroyed millions upon millions of our property in Mississippi. I hope that may not be true, and that Sherman may fail as Kilpatrick did. Now, if we still had Stonewall or Albert Sidney Johnston where Joe Johnston and Polk are, I would not give a fig for Sherman’s chances. The Yankees say that at last they have scared up a man who succeeds, and they expect him to remedy all that has gone wrong. So they have made their brutal Suwarrow, Grant, lieutenant-general.

Doctor —— at the Prestons’ proposed to show me a man who was not an F. F. V. Until we came here, we had never heard of our social position. We do not know how to be rude to people who call. To talk of social position seems vulgar. Down our way, that sort of thing was settled one way or another beyond a peradventure, like the earth and the sky. We never gave it a thought. We talked to whom we pleased, and if they were not comme il faut, we were ever so much more polite to the poor things. No reflection on Virginia. Everybody comes to Richmond.

Somebody counted fourteen generals in church to-day, and suggested that less piety and more drilling of commands would suit the times better. There were Lee, Longstreet, Morgan, Hoke, Clingman, Whiting, Pegram, Elzey, Gordon, and Bragg. Now, since Dahlgren failed to carry out his orders, the Yankees disown them, disavowing all. He was not sent here to murder us all, to hang the President, and burn the town. There is the note-book, however, at the Executive Office, with orders to hang and burn.

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