Skip to main content

Letter to Perry L. Derby, 1847 December 27

Letter to Perry L. Derby, 1847 December 27
Letter to Perry L. Derby, 1847 December 27
Written from VMI, Lexington, Virginia. Letter discusses perseverance and value of hard work, problems with chemistry and sciences, and cadet Christmas celebrations.


  • 1847 December 27


From the File: 9 items (Folder 1)


Virginia Military Institute
Dec 27th 1847

Dear Father
I received yesterday morning the letter in which you had enclosed the other half of the twenty dollar note which I am to place in the hands of the treasurer. I was considerably surprised on learning the circumstances which attended the death of Capt Ferguson. Your advice in regard to perseverance I have all along endeavored to follow. If I fail at the next examination it will not be my fault but the fault of nature. One cannot expect to have a talent for every department. One cannot be responsible for the deficiencies of nature; yet it is his duty to improve that with which the Lord has blessed him, however little it may be. It is an admitted fact that application can never create a talent; yet it cannot be denied that by application talents are directed into their proper channels. It is for this reason that a person should while young ascertain that for which he is best fitted in order that he may not in after life be trifling with that for which he has no turn. There are many in my class who are smarter than myself; yet by application I have succeeded in accomplishing more than they have. Indolence is often an attendant of talents; for gifted men frequently trust too much to their talents. It is not always the most talented men who are first at the Bar; it is not always the most talented who have the greatest political fame; it is not always the most talented who are first in the scientific world. The greatest men of whom the world has every boasted have generally been those who with moderate abilities, by their industry made up for their deficiencies, and won the confidence and esteem of all. The lawyer who has the greatest natural ability will if he is careless get but little practice. He may be able to deliver a startling speech; he may be the originator of striking ideas; yet none can place their confidence in him. It is on this account that I never despair. Whenever I do not succeed, I try again. It seems to me that h this year I am peculiarly unfortunate. Of Chemistry I do not profess to know much; yet I do not believe that in this department I have received justice. The opinion which you hand me express in regard to our professor of Natural Sciences has undergone but little change. I have not done well, comparatively speaking in Engineering; yet I by no means find fault with our professor in that department. I believe him to be a perfect gentlemen. The principle reason why I have not done well on these two studies is that a knowledge of them depends upon the memory; and you yourself know that my memory is very poor. Those studies which depend exclusively upon the reasoning faculties I find but little difficulty in mastering. Since I wrote to you last there has been another snow storm in this county. During this Christmas there have been several private entertainments given by Cadets who have lately received boxes of eatables from their homes. This evening I have been enjoying a fine supper of oysters which are the first that I have eaten for more than two years.
I continue to enjoy my usual share of health. Give my love to all.
Your son as ever.
[signed] Chas A Derby

Repository Details

Part of the Virginia Military Institute Archives Repository

VMI Archives
Preston Library
Lexington VA 24450