Smithfield Preston Foundation
Papers, 1784-1881, n.d., Ms1997-002
October 16, 1831 -- letter from James Patton Preston at Smithfield to Susanna McDowell in Lexington, VA
Smithfield Oct. 16th 1831
My Dear Nephew
Your letter of the 4th was handed to me by my son James, whose delay had given some uneasiness. Your statement of the affair which ---- about his dismissal is precisely the same which he had given me, and altho as you say "his offence was of a description in no respect calculated to impact any ones confidence in his morals or lesser his standing even with the faculty that dismissed him, as an honorable young man" I deeply regret it, because I fear among the illiberal and straight laced it will be recollected to his disadvantage. The indiscretion of a silly serenade deserved admonition, had the dismissal of a student, for playing on a jews harp in the hearing of the profession, without a demand for explanation, or a ---- appology for so trivial ---- childish an act, was certainly a punishment too severe for the nature of the offince; either censure or suspension, would have seemed like acting less under the momentary influence of resentment, and personal feeling. There is no man more sensible of the ---- of discipline among Virginia boys, & students, than I am, but from the nature of their education and state of society, they must be made to feel the authority of the laws and not of persons over them. To correct a spirit of insubordination it was right to make an example, but as James declares that he had no intention of offering disrespect to the professors, by his childishness, in playing on a jews harp at the time he did, and as his reputation for attention to his duties had even interested the hard feelings of Doctr. Marshall for him, I think it fell unfortunately on an improper object, and I am therefore not ---- at his indiscreet resentment under the ---- punishment. He has attoned for all, and I rejoice that you have been able to get him back to College priviledges again, as I should have considered it a calamity to have had his prospects ruined and overthrown by an idle boyish folley at the early age of seventeen. I have not expressed these opinions to my son. Your affectionate ----, with your declaration that "competent vigilent and attached teachers, with cultivated associates afford advantages to ---- which should not be yielded on a whim" has induced me to decide upon sending him back to your parental roof and care. He is my youngest son, and I have thought an hopeful one, pure and innocent I believe, and if with the faculty his reputation has been impaired, I desire that his conduct and their justice may restore it upon the spot where it occured. Your other reasons for his return are the ---- of your benevolence and affection, and ---- all I have to offer for them, my sincere and grateful acknowledgements.
Should you take Susan with you to richmond, I wish you to board my son at Mrs. Brians, or some other suitable place, I do not wish him to live in a public house or one where there are may boarders until he is older.
My wife will give James another home ----, and we hope his studys will be not to ---- in dress, but in college duties and that his cheif desire wil be to become distinguished for his gentlemany and subordinate department and high college reputation.
We all desire to be affectionately remembered ---- our Rockbridge clan.
James P. Preston
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