Difference between revisions of "I A RECONSTRUCTION BOYHOOD"
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his contemporaries chiefly use in describing Page are "alert"
his contemporaries chiefly use in describing Page are "alert"
and "positive. "
and "positive. "
<br><br>But Randolph-Macon did one great thing for Page. Like many
<br><br>But Randolph-Macon did one great thing for Page. Like many
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them had to do with the most abstruse fields of philology. For
them had to do with the most abstruse fields of philology. For
work of this kind Page had little interest and less inclination.
work of this kind Page had little interest and less inclination.
When Professor Gildersleeve would assign him the adverb
When Professor Gildersleeve would assign him the adverb, and direct
him to study the peculiarities of its use from Homer down to the
him to study the peculiarities of its use from Homer down to the
Byzantine writers, he found himself in pretty deep waters. Was
Byzantine writers, he found himself in pretty deep waters. Was
Latest revision as of 03:13, 29 January 2009
THE earliest recollections of any man have great biographical interest, and this is especially the case with Walter Page, for not the least dramatic aspect of his life was that it spanned the two greatest wars in history. Page spent his last weeks in England, at Sandwich , on the coast of Kent; every day and every night he could hear the pounding of the great guns in France, as the Germans were making their last desperate attempt to reach Paris or the Channel ports. His memories of his childhood days in America were similarly the sights and sounds of war. Page was a North Carolina boy; he has himself recorded the impression that the Civil War left upon his mind.
soldiers at the front."
"One day," he writes, "when the cotton fields were white and the elm leaves were falling, in the soft autumn of the Southern climate wherein the sky is fathomlessly clear, the locomotive's whistle blew a much longer time than usual as the train approached Millworth. It did not stop at so small a station except when there was somebody to get off or to get on, and so long a blast meant that someone was coming. Sam and I ran down the avenue of elms to see who it was. Sam was my Negro companion, philosopher, and friend. I was ten years old and Sam said that he was fourteen. There was constant talk about the war. Many men of the neighbourhood had gone away somewhere---that was certain; but Sam and I had a theory that the war was only a story. We had been fooled about old granny Thomas's bringing the baby and long ago we had been fooled also about Santa Claus. The war might be another such invention, and we sometimes suspected that it was. But we found out the truth that day, and for this reason it is among my clearest early recollections.
"For, when the train stopped, they put off a big box and gently laid it in the shade of the fence. The only man at the station was the man who had come to change the mail-bags; and he said that this was Billy Morris's coffin and that he had been killed in a battle. He asked us to stay with it till he could send word to Mr. Morris, who lived two miles away. The man came back presently and leaned against the fence till old Mr. Morris arrived, an hour or more later. The lint of cotton was on his wagon, for he was hauling his crop to the gin when the sad news reached him; and he came in his shirt sleeves, his wife on the wagon seat with him.
"All the neighbourhood gathered at the church, a funeral was preached and there was a long prayer for our success against the invaders, and Billy Morris was buried. I remember that I wept the more because it now seemed to me that my doubt about the war had somehow done Billy Morris an injustice. Old Mrs. Gregory wept more loudly than anybody else; and she kept saying, while the service was going on, 'It'll be my John next.' In a little while, sure enough, John Gregory's coffin was put off the train, as Billy Morris's had been, and I regarded her as a woman gifted with prophecy. Other coffins, too, were put off from time to time. About the war there could no longer be a doubt. And, a little later, its realities and horrors came nearer home to us, with swift, deep experiences.
"One day my father took me to the camp and parade ground ten miles away, near the capital. The General and the Governor sat on horses and the soldiers marched by them and the band played. They were going to the front. There surely must be a war at the front, I told Sam that night. Still more coffins were brought home, too, as the months and the years passed; and the women of the neighbourhood used to come and spend whole days with my mother, sewing for the soldiers. So precious became woollen cloth that every rag was saved and the threads were unravelled to be spun and woven into new fabrics. And they baked bread and roasted chickens and sheep and pigs and made cakes, all to go to the
The quality that is uppermost in the Page stock, both in the past and in the present generation, is that of the builder and the pioneer. The ancestor of the North Carolina Pages was a Lewis Page, who, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, left the original American home in Virginia, and started life anew in what was then regarded as the less civilized country to the south. Several explanations have survived as to the cause of his departure, one being that his interest in the rising tide of Methodism had made him uncongenial to his Church of England relatives; in the absence of definite knowledge, however, it may safely be assumed that the impelling motive was that love of seeking out new things, of constructing a new home in the wilderness, which has never forsaken his descendants. His son, Anderson Page, manifesting this same love of change, went farther south into Wake County, and acquired a plantation of a thousand acres about twelve miles north of Raleigh. He cultivated this estate with slaves, sending his abundant crops of cotton and tobacco to Petersburg, Virginia, a traffic that made him sufficiently prosperous to give several of his sons a college education. The son who is chiefly interesting at the present time, Allison Francis Page, the father of the future Ambassador, did not enjoy this opportunity. This fact in itself gives an insight into his character. While his brothers were grappling with Latin and Greek and theology---one of them became a Methodist preacher of the hortatory type for which the South is famous---we catch glimpses of the older man battling with the logs in the Cape Fear River, or penetrating the virgin pine forest, felling trees and converting its raw material to the uses of a growing civilization. Like many of the Page breed, this Page was a giant in size and in strength, as sound morally and physically as the mighty forests in which a considerable part of his life was spent, brave, determined, aggressive, domineering almost to the point of intolerance, deeply religious and abstemious---a mixture of the frontiersman and the Old Testament prophet. Walter Page dedicated one of his books to his father, in words that accurately sum up his character and career. "To the honoured memory of my father, whose work was work that built up the commonwealth." Indeed, Frank Page ---for this is the name by which he was generally known---spent his whole life in these constructive labours. He founded two towns in North Carolina, Cary and Aberdeen; in the City of Raleigh he constructed hotels and other buildings; his enterprising and restless spirit opened up Moore County---which includes the Pine region; he scattered his logging camps and his sawmills all over the face of the earth; and he constructed a railroad through the pine woods that made him a rich man.
Though he was not especially versed in the learning of the schools, Walter Page's father had a mind that was keen and far-reaching. He was a pioneer in politics as he was in the practical concerns of life. Though he was the son of slave-holding progenitors and even owned slaves himself, he was not a believer in slavery. The country that he primarily loved was not Moore County or North Carolina, but the United States of America. In politics he was a Whig, which meant that, in the years preceding the Civil War, he was opposed to the extension of slavery and did not regard the election of Abraham Lincoln as a sufficient provocation for the secession of the Southern States. It is therefore not surprising that Walter Page, in the midst of the London turmoil of 1916, should have found his thoughts reverting to his father as he remembered him in Civil War days. That gaunt figure of America's time of agony proved an inspiration and hope in the anxieties that assailed the Ambassador. "When our Civil War began," wrote Page to Col. Edward M. House---the date was November 24, 1916, one of the darkest days for the Allied cause---"every man who had a large and firm grip on economic facts foresaw how it would end---not when but how. Young as I was, I recall a conversation between my father and the most distinguished judge of his day in North Carolina. They put down on one side the number of men in the Confederate States, the number of ships, the number of manufactures, as nearly as they knew, the number of skilled workmen, the number of guns, the aggregate of wealth and of possible production. On the other side they put down the best estimate they could make of all these things in the Northern States. The Northern States made two (or I shouldn't wonder if it were three) times as good a showing in men and resources as the Confederacy had. 'Judge,' said my father, 'this is the most foolhardy enterprise that man ever undertook.' But Yancey of Alabama was about that time making five-hour speeches to thousands of people all over the South, declaring that one Southerner could whip five Yankees, and the awful slaughter began and darkened our childhood and put all our best men where they would see the sun no more. Our people had at last to accept worse terms than they could have got at the beginning. This World War, even more than our Civil War, is an economic struggle. Put down on either side the same items that my father and the judge put down and add the items up. You will see the inevitable result."
If we are seeking an ancestral explanation for that moral ruggedness, that quick perception of the difference between right and wrong, that unobscured vision into men and events, and that deep devotion to America and to democracy which formed the fibre of Walter Page's being, we evidently need look no further than his father. But the son had qualities which the older man did not possess---an enthusiasm for literature and learning, a love of the beautiful in Nature and in art, above all a gentleness of temperament and of manner. These qualities he held in common with his mother. On his father's side Page was undiluted English; on his mother's he was French and English. Her father was John Samuel Raboteau, the descendant of Huguenot refugees who had fled from France on the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes; her mother was Esther Barclay, a member of a family which gave the name of Barclaysville to a small town half way between Raleigh and Fayetteville, North is a member of this tribe to whom Page once referred a the "vigorous Barclay who held her receptions to notable men in her bedroom during the years of her bedridden condition." She was the proprietor of the "Half Way House," a tavern located between Fayetteville and Raleigh; and in her old age she kept royal state, in the fashion which Page describes, for such as were socially entitled to this consideration. The most vivid impression which her present-day descendants retain is that of her fervent devotion to the Southern cause. She carried the spirit of secession to such an extreme that she had the gate to her yard painted to give a complete presentment of the Confederate Flag. Walter Page's mother, the granddaughter of this determined and rebellious lady, had also her positive quality, but in a somewhat more subdued form. She did not die until 1897, and so the recollection of her is fresh and vivid. As a mature woman she was undemonstrative and soft spoken; a Methodist of old-fashioned Wesleyan type, she dressed with a Quaker-like simplicity, her brown hair brushed flatly down upon a finely shaped head and her garments destitute of ruffles or ornamentation. The home which she directed was a home without playing cards or dancing or smoking or wine-bibbing or other worldly frivolities, yet the memories of her presence which Catherine Page has left are not at all austere. Duty was with her the prime consideration of life, and fundamental morals the first conceptions which she instilled in her children's growing minds, yet she had a quiet sense of humour and a real love of fun.
She had also strong likes and dislikes, and was not especially hospitable to men and women who fell under her disapproval. A small North Carolina town, in the years preceding and following the Civil War, was not a fruitful soil for cultivating an interest in things intellectual, yet those who remember Walter Page's mother remember her always with a book in her hand. She would read at her knitting and at her miscellaneous household duties, which were rather arduous in the straitened days that followed the war, and the books she read were always substantial ones. Perhaps because her son Walter was in delicate health, perhaps because his early tastes and temperament were not unlike her own, perhaps because he was her oldest surviving child, the fact remains that, of a family of eight, he was generally regarded as the child with whom she was especially sympathetic. The picture of mother and son in those early days is an altogether charming one. Page's mother was only twenty-four when he was horn; she retained her youth for many years after that event, and during his early childhood, in appearance and manner, she was little more than a girl. When Walter was a small boy, he and his mother used to take long walks in the woods, sometimes spending the entire day, fishing along the brooks, hunting wild flowers, now and then pausing while the mother read pages of Dickens or of Scott. These experiences Page never forgot. Nearly all his letters to his mother---to whom, even in his busiest days in New York, he wrote constantly---have been accidentally destroyed, but a few scraps indicate the close spiritual bond that existed between the two. Always he seemed to think of his mother as young. Through his entire life, in whatever part of the world he might be, and however important was the work in which he might be engaged, Page never failed to write her a long and affectionate letter at Christmas.
"Well, I've gossiped a night or two"---such is the conclusion of his Christmas letter of 1893 when Page was thirty-eight, with a growing family of his own---"till I've filled the paper---all such little news and less nonsense as most gossip and most letters are made of. But it is for you to read between the lines. That's where the love lies, dear mother. I wish you were here Christmas; we should welcome you as nobody else in the world can be welcomed. But wherever you are and though all the rest have the joy of seeing you, which is denied to me, never a Christmas comes but I feel as near you as I did years and years ago when we were young. (In those years big fish bit in old Wiley Bancom's pond by the railroad: they must have been two inches long!)---I would give a year's growth to have the pleasure of having you here. You may be sure that every one of my children along with me will look with an added reverence toward the picture on the wall that greets me every morning, when we have our little Christmas frolics---the picture that little Katharine points to and says 'That's my grandmudder.'---The years, as they come, every one, deepen my gratitude to you, as I better and better understand the significance of life and every one adds to an affection that was never small. God bless you.
Such were the father and mother of Walter Hines Page; they were married at Fayetteville, North Carolina, July 5, 1849; two children who preceded Walter died in infancy. The latter was born at Cary, August 15, 1855. Cary was a small village which Frank Page had created; in honour of the founder it was for several years known as Page's Station; the father himself changed the name to Cary, as a tribute to a temperance orator who caused something of a commotion in the neighbourhood in the early seventies. Cary was not then much of a town and has not since become one; but it was placed amid the scene of important historical events. Page's home was, "almost the last stopping place of Sherman's army on its march through Georgia and the Carolinas, and the Confederacy came to an end, with Johnston's surrender of the last Confederate Army, at Durham, only fifteen miles from his native village. Walter, a boy of ten, his brother Robert, aged six, and the negro "companion" Tance---who figures as Sam in the extract quoted above---stood at the second-story window and watched Sherman's soldiers pass their house, in hot pursuit of General "Joe" Wheeler's cavalry. The thing that most astonished the children was the vast size of the army, which took all day to file by their home. They had never realized that either of the fighting forces could embrace such great numbers of men. Nor did the behaviour of the invading troops especially endear them to their unwilling hosts. Part of the cavalry encamped in the Page yard; their horses ate the bark off the mimosa trees; an army corps built its campfires under the great oaks, and cut their emblems on the trunks; the officers took possession of the house, a colonel making his headquarters in the parlour. Several looting cavalrymen ran their swords through the beds, probably looking for hidden silver; the hearth was torn up in the same feverish quest; angry at their failure, they emptied sacks of flour and scattered the contents in the bedrooms and on the stairs; for days the flour, intermingled with feathers from the bayonetted beds, formed. a carpet all over the house. It is therefore perhaps not strange that the feelings which Walter entertained for Sherman's "bummers," despite his father's Whig principles, were those of most Southern communities. One day a kindly Northern soldier, sympathizing with the boy because of the small rations left for the local population, invited him to join the officers' mess at dinner. Walter drew proudly back.
"I'll starve before I'll eat with the Yankees," he said.
earth had been the home of unbroken peace. 
"I slept that night on a trundle bed by my mother's," Page wrote years afterward, describing these early scenes, "for her room was the only room left for the family, and we had all lived there since the day before. The dining room and the kitchen were now superfluous, because there was nothing more to cook or to eat. . . . A week or more after the army corps had gone, I drove with my father to the capital one day, and almost every mile of the journey we saw a blue coat or a gray coat lying by the road, with bones or hair protruding---the unburied and the forgotten of either army. Thus I had come to know what war was, and death by violence was among the first deep impressions made on my mind. My emotions must have been violently dealt with and my sensibilities blunted---or sharpened? Who shall say? The wounded and the starved straggled home from hospitals and from prisons. There was old Mr. Sanford, the shoemaker, come back again, with a body so thin and a step so uncertain that I expected to see him fall to pieces. Mr. Larkin and Joe Tatum went on crutches; and I saw a man at the post-office one day whose cheek and ear had been torn away by a shell. Even when Sam and I sat on the river-bank fishing, and ought to have been silent lest the fish swim away, we told over in low tones the stories that we had heard of wounds and of deaths and of battles.
"But there was the cheerful gentleness of my mother to draw my thoughts to different things. I can even now recall many special little plans that she made to keep my mind from battles. She hid the military cap that I had worn. She bought from me my military buttons and put them away. She would call me in and tell me pleasant stories of her own childhood. She would put down her work to make puzzles with me, and she read gentle books to me and kept away from me all the stories of the war and of death that she could. Whatever hardships befell her (and they must have been many) she kept a tender manner of resignation and of cheerful patience.
"After a while the neighbourhood came to life again. There were more widows, more sonless mothers, more empty sleeves and wooden legs than anybody there had ever seen before. But the mimosa bloomed, the cotton was planted again, and the peach trees blossomed; and the barnyard and the stable again became full of life. For, when the army marched away, they, too, were as silent as an old battlefield. The last hen had been caught under the corn-crib by a 'Yankee' soldier, who had torn his coat in this brave raid. Aunt Maria told Sam that all Yankees were chicken thieves whether they 'brung freedom or no.'
"Every year the cotton bloomed and ripened and opened white to the sun; for the ripening of the cotton and the running of the river and the turning of the mills make the thread not of my story only but of the story of our Southern land---of its institutions, of its misfortunes and of its place in the economy of the world; and they will make the main threads of its story, I am sure, so long as the sun shines on our white fields and the rivers run---a story that is now rushing swiftly into a happier narrative of a broader day. The same women who had guided the spindles in war-time were again at their tasks---they at least were left; but the machinery was now old and worked ill. Negro men, who had wandered a while looking for an invisible 'freedom,' came back and went to work on the farm from force of habit. They now received wages and bought their own food. That was the only apparent difference that freedom had brought them.
"My Aunt Katharine came from the city for a visit, my Cousin Margaret with her. Through the orchard, out, into the newly ploughed ground beyond, back over the lawn which was itself bravely repairing the hurt done by horses' hoofs and tent-poles, and under the oaks, which bore the scars of camp-fires, we two romped and played gentler games than camp and battle. One afternoon, as our mothers sat on the piazza and saw us come loaded with apple-blossoms, they said something (so I afterward learned) about the eternal blooming of childhood and of Nature---how sweet the early summer was in spite of the harrying of the land by war; for our gorgeous pageant of the seasons came on as if the
And so it was a tragic world into which this boy Page had been born. He was ten years old when the Civil War came to an end, and his early life was therefore cast in a desolate country. Like all of his neighbours, Frank Page had been ruined by the war. Both the Southern and Northern armies had passed over the Page territory; compared with the military depredations with which Page became familiar in the last years of his life, the Federal troops did not particularly misbehave, the attacks on hen roosts and the destruction of feather beds representing the extreme of their "atrocities"; but no country can entertain two great fighting forces without feeling the effects for a prolonged period. Life in this part of North Carolina again became reduced to its. fundamentals. The old homesteads and the Negro huts were still left standing, and their interiors were for the most part unharmed, but nearly everything else had disappeared. Horses, cattle, hogs, livestock of all kinds had vanished before the advancing hosts of hungry soldiers; and there was one thing which was even more a rarity than these. That was money. Confederate veterans went around in their faded gray uniforms, not only because they loved them, but because they did not have the wherewithal to buy new wardrobes. Judges, planters, and other dignified members of the community became hack drivers from the necessity of picking up a few small coins. Page's father was more fortunate than the rest, for he had one asset with which to accumulate a little liquid capital; he possessed a fine peach orchard, which was particularly productive in the summer of 1865, and the Northern soldiers, who drew their pay in money that had real value, developed a weakness for the fruit. Walter Page, a boy of ten, used to take his peaches to Raleigh, and sell them to the "invader"; although he still disdained having companionable relations with the enemy, he was not above meeting them on a business footing; and the greenbacks and silver coin obtained in this way laid a new basis for the family fortunes.
Despite this happy windfall, life for the next few years proved an arduous affair. The horrors of reconstruction which followed the war were more agonizing than the war itself. Page's keenest inspiration in after life was, democracy, in its several manifestations; but the form in which democracy first unrolled before his astonished eyes was a phase that could hardly inspire much enthusiasm. Misguided sentimentalists and more malicious politicians in the North had suddenly endowed the Negro with the ballot. In practically all Southern States that meant government by Negroes---or what was even worse, government by a combination of Negroes and the most vicious white elements, including that which was native to the soil and that which had imported itself from the North for this particular purpose. Thus the political vocabulary of Page's formative years consisted chiefly of such words as "scalawag," "carpet bagger," "regulator," "Union League," "Ku Klux Klan," and the like. The resulting confusion, political, social, and economic, did not completely amount to the destruction of a civilization, for underneath it all the old sleepy ante-bellum South still maintained its existence almost unchanged. The two most conspicuous and contrasting figures were the Confederate veteran walking around in a sleeveless coat and the sharp-featured New England school mar'm, armed with that spelling book which was overnight to change the African from a genial barbarian into an intelligent and conscientious social unit; but more persistent than these forces was that old dreamy, "unprogressive" Southland---the same country that Page himself described in an article on "An Old Southern Borough " which, as a young man, he contributed to the Atlantic Monthly. It was still the country where the "old-fashioned gentleman " was the controlling social influence, where a knowledge of Latin and Greek still made its possessor a person of consideration, where Emerson was a "Yankee philosopher" and therefore not important, where Shakespeare and Milton were looked upon almost as contemporary authors, where the Church and politics and the matrimonial history of friends and relatives formed the staple of conversation, and where a strong prejudice still existed against anything that resembled popular education. In the absence of more substantial employment, stump speaking, especially eloquent in praise of the South and its achievements in war, had become the leading industry.
"Wat" Page---he is still known by this name in his old home---was a tall, rangy, curly-headed boy, with brown hair and brown eyes, fond of fishing and hunting, not especially robust, but conspicuously alert and vital. Such of his old playmates as survive recall chiefly his keenness of observation, his contagious laughter, his devotion to reading and to talk. He was also given to taking long walks in the woods, frequently with the solitary companionship of a book. Indeed, his extremely efficient family regarded him as a dreamer and were not entirely clear as to what purpose he was destined to serve in a community which, above all, demanded practical men. Such elementary schools as North Carolina possessed had vanished in the war; the prevailing custom was for the better-conditioned families to join forces and engage a teacher for their assembled children. It was in such a primary school in Cary that Page learned the elementary branches, though his mother herself taught him to read and write. The boy showed such aptitude in his studies that his mother began to hope, though in no aggressive fashion, that he might some day become a Methodist clergyman; she had given him his middle name, "Hines," in honour of her favourite preacher---a kinsman. At the age of twelve Page was transferred to the Bingham School, then located at Mebane. This was the Eton of North Carolina, from both a social and an educational standpoint. It was a military school; the boys all dressed in gray uniforms built on the plan of the Confederate army; the hero constantly paraded before their imaginations was Robert E. Lee; discipline was rigidly military; more important, a high standard of honour was insisted upon. There was one thing a boy could not do at Bingham and remain in the school; that was to cheat in class-rooms or at examinations. For this offence no second chance was given. "I cannot argue the subject," Page quotes Colonel Bingham saying to the distracted parent whose son had been dismissed on this charge, and who was begging for his reinstatement. "In fact, I have no power to reinstate your boy. I could not keep the honour of the school---I could not even keep the boys, if he were to return. They would appeal to their parents and most of them would be called home. They are the flower of the South, Sir!" And the social standards that controlled the thinking of the South for so many years after the war were strongly entrenched. "The son of a Confederate general," Page writes, "if he were at all a decent fellow, had, of course, a higher social rank at the Bingham School than the son of a colonel. There was some difficulty in deciding the exact rank of a judge or a governor, as a father; but the son of a preacher had a fair chance of a good social rating, especially of an Episcopalian clergyman. A Presbyterian preacher came next in rank. I at first was at a social disadvantage. My father had been a Methodist---that was bad enough; but he had had no military title at all. If it had become known among the boys that he had been a 'Union man'---I used to shudder at the suspicion in which I should be held. And the fact that my father had held no military title did at last become known!"
A single episode discloses that Page maintained his respect for the Bingham School to the end. In March, 1918, as American Ambassador, he went up to Harrow and gave an informal talk to the boys on the United States. His hosts were so pleased that two prizes were established to commemorate his visit. One was for an essay by Harrow boys on the subject: "The Drawing Together of America and Great Britain by Common Devotion to a Great Cause." A similar prize on the same subject was offered to the boys of some American school, and Page was asked to select the recipient. He promptly named his old Bingham School in North Carolina.
It was at Bingham that Page gained his first knowledge of Greek, Latin, and mathematics, and he was an outstanding student in all three subjects. He had no particular liking for mathematics, but he could never understand why any one should find this branch of learning difficult; he mastered it with the utmost case and always stood high. In two or three years he had absorbed everything that Bingham could offer and was ready for the next step. But political conditions in North Carolina now had their influence upon Page's educational plans. Under ordinary conditions he would have entered the State University at Chapel Hill; it had been a great headquarters in ante-bellum days for the prosperous families of the South. But by the time that Page was ready to go to college the University had fallen upon evil days. The forces which then ruled the state, acting in accordance with the new principles of racial equality, had opened the doors of this, one of the most aristocratic of Southern institutions, to Negroes. The consequences may be easily imagined. The newly enfranchised blacks showed no inclination for the groves of Academe, and not a single representative of the race applied for matriculation. The outraged white population turned its back upon this new type of coeducation; in the autumn of 1872 not a solitary white boy made his appearance. The old university therefore closed its doors for lack of students and for the next few years it became a pitiable victim to the worst vices of the reconstruction era. Politicians were awarded the presidency and the professorships as political pap, and the resources of the place, in money and in books, were scattered to the wind. Page had therefore to find his education elsewhere. The deep religious feelings of his family quickly settled this point. The young man promptly betook himself to the backwoods of North Carolina and knocked at the doors of Trinity College, a Methodist Institution then located in Randolph County. Trinity has since changed its abiding place to Durham and has been transformed into one of the largest and most successful colleges of the new South; but in those days a famous Methodist divine and journalist described it as "a college with a few buildings that look like tobacco barns and a few teachers that look as though they ought to be worming tobacco." Page spent something more than a year at Trinity, entering in the autumn of 1871, and leaving in December, 1872. A few letters, written from this place, are scarcely more complimentary than the judgment passed above. They show that the young man was very unhappy. One long letter to his mother is nothing but a boyish diatribe against the place. "I do not care a horse apple for Trinity's distinction," he writes, and then he gives the reasons for this juvenile contempt. His first report, he says, will soon reach home; he warns his mother that it will be unfavourable, and he explains that this bad showing is the result of a deliberate plot. The boys who obtain high marks, Page declares, secure them usually by cheating or through the partisanship of the professors; a high grade therefore really means that the recipient is either a humbug or a bootlicker. Page had therefore attempted to keep his reputation unsullied by aiming at a low academic record! The report on that three months' work, which still survives, discloses that Page's conspiracy against himself did not succeed for his marks are all high. "Be sure to send him back" is the annotation on this document, indicating that Page had made a better impression on Trinity than Trinity had made on Page.
But the rebellious young man did not return. After Christmas, 1872, his schoolboy letters reveal him at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va. Here again the atmosphere is Methodistical, but of a somewhat more genial type. "It was at Ashland that I first began to unfold," said Page afterward. "Dear old Ashland!" Dr. Duncan, the President, was a clergyman whose pulpit oratory is still a tradition in the South, but, in addition to his religious exaltation, he was an exceedingly lovable, companionable, and stimulating human being. Certainly there was no lack of the religious impulse. "We have a preacher president, " Page writes his mother, "a preacher secretary, a preacher chaplain, and a dozen preacher students and three or more preachers are living here and twenty-five or thirty yet-to-be preachers in college!" In this latter class Page evidently places himself; at least he gravely writes his mother---he was now eighteen---that he had definitely made up his mind to enter the Methodist ministry. He had a close friend---Wilbur Fisk Tillett---who cherished similar ambitions, and Page one day surprised Tillett by suggesting that, at the approaching Methodist Conference, they apply for licensing as "local preachers" for the next summer. His friend dissuaded him, however, and henceforth Page concentrated on more worldly studies. In many ways he was the fife of the undergraduate body. His desire for an immediate theological campaign was merely that passion for doing things and for self-expression which were always conspicuous traits. His intense ambition as a boy is still remembered in this sleepy little village. He read every book in the sparse college library; he talked to his college mates and his professors on every imaginable subject; he led his associates in the miniature parliament ---the Franklin Debating Society---to which he belonged; he wrote prose and verse at an astonishing rate; he explored the country for miles around, making frequent pilgrimages to the birthplace of Henry Clay, which is the chief historical glory of Ashland, and to that Hanover Court House which was the scene of the oratorical triumph of Patrick Henry; he flirted with the pretty girls in the village, and even had two half-serious love affairs in rapid succession; he slept upon a hard mattress at night and imbibed more than the usual allotment of Greek, Latin, and mathematics in the daytime. One year he captured the Greek prize and the next the Sutherlin medal for oratory. With a fellow classicist he entered into a solemn compact to hold all their conversation, even on the most trivial topics, in Latin, with heavy penalties for careless lapses into English. Probably the linguistic result would have astonished Quintilian, but the experiment at least had a certain influence in improving the young man's Latinity. Another favourite dissipation was that of translating English masterpieces into the ancient tongue; there still survives among Page's early papers a copy of Bryant's "Waterfowl " done into Latin iambics. As to Page's personal appearance, a designation coined by a fellow student who afterward be came a famous editor gives the suggestion of a portrait. He called him one of the "seven slabs" of the college. And, as always, the adjectives which his contemporaries chiefly use in describing Page are "alert" and "positive. "
But Randolph-Macon did one great thing for Page. Like many small struggling Southern colleges it managed to assemble several instructors of real mental distinction. And at the time of Page's undergraduate life it possessed at least one great teacher. This was Thomas R. Price, afterward Professor of Greek at the University of Virginia and Professor of English at Columbia University in New York. Professor Price took one forward step that has given him a permanent fame in the history of Southern education. He found that the greatest stumbling block to teaching Greek was not the conditional mood, but the fact that his hopeful charges were not sufficiently familiar with their mother tongue. The prayer that was always on Price's lips, and the one with which he made his boys most familiar, was that of a wise old Greek: "O Great Apollo, send down the reviving rain upon our fields; preserve our flocks; ward off our enemies; and---build up our speech!" "It is irrational," he said, "absurd, almost criminal, to expect a young man, whose knowledge of English words and construction is scant and inexact, to put into English a difficult thought of Plato or an involved period of Cicero." Above all, it will be observed, Price's intellectual enthusiasm was the ancient tongue. A present-day argument for learning Greek and Latin is that thereby we improve our English; but Thomas R. Price advocated the teaching of English so that we might better understand the dead languages. To-day every great American educational institution has vast resources for teaching English literature; even in 1876, most American universities had their professors of English; but Price insisted on placing English on exactly the same footing as Greek and Latin. He himself became head of the new English school at Randolph-Macon; and Page himself at once became the favourite pupil. This distinguished scholar---a fine figure with an imperial beard that suggested the Confederate officer---used to have Page to tea at least twice a week and at these meetings the young man was first introduced in an understanding way to Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Tennyson, and the other writers who became the literary passions of his maturer life. And Price did even more for Page; he passed him on to another place and to another teacher who extended his horizon. Up to the autumn of 1876 Page had never gone farther North than Ashland; he was still a Southern boy, speaking with the Southern drawl, living exclusively the thoughts and even the prejudices of the South. His family's broad-minded attitude had prevented him from acquiring a too restricted view of certain problems that were then vexing both sections of the country; however, his outlook was still a limited one, as his youthful correspondence shows. But in October of the centennial year a great prospect opened before him.
Two or three years previously an eccentric merchant named Johns Hopkins had died, leaving the larger part of his fortune to found a college or university in Baltimore. Johns Hopkins was not an educated man himself and his conception of a new college did not extend beyond creating something in the nature of a Yale or Harvard in Maryland. By a lucky chance, however, a Yale graduate who was then the President of the University of California, Daniel Coit Gilman, was invited to come to Baltimore and discuss with the trustees his availability for the headship of the new institution. Dr. Gilman promptly informed his prospective employers that he would have no interest in associating himself with a new American college built upon the lines of those which then existed. Such a foundation would merely be a duplication of work already well done elsewhere and therefore a waste of money and effort. He proposed that this large endowment should he used, not for the erection of expensive architecture, but primarily for seeking out, in all parts of the world, the best professorial brains in certain approved branches of learning. In the same spirit he suggested that a similarly selective process be adopted in the choice of students: that only those American boys who had displayed exceptional promise should be admitted and that part of the university funds should be used to pay the expenses of twenty young men who, in undergraduate work at other colleges, stood head and shoulders above their contemporaries. The bringing together of these two sets of brains for graduate study would constitute the new university. A few rooms in the nearest dwelling house would suffice for headquarters. Dr. Gilman's scheme was approved; he became President on these terms; he gathered his faculty not only in the United States but in England, and he collected his first body of students, especially his first twenty fellows, with the same minute care.
It seems almost a miracle that an inexperienced youth in a little Methodist college in Virginia should have been chosen as one of these first twenty fellows, and it is a sufficient tribute to the impression that Page must have made upon all who met him that he should have won this great academic distinction. He was only twenty-one at the time---the youngest of a group nearly every member of which became distinguished in after life. He won a Fellowship in Greek. This in itself was a great good fortune; even greater was the fact that his new life brought him into immediate contact with a scholar of great genius and lovableness. Someone has said that America has produced four scholars of the very first rank---Agassiz in natural science, Whitney in philology, Willard Gibbs in physics, and Gildersleeve in Greek. It was the last of these who now took Walter Page in charge.
The atmosphere of Johns Hopkins was quite different from anything which the young man had previously known. The university gave a great shock to that part of the American community with which Page had spent his life by beginning its first session in October, 1876, without an opening prayer. Instead Thomas H. Huxley was invited from England to deliver a scientific address---an address which now has an honoured place in his collected works. The absence of prayer and the presence of so audacious a Darwinian as Huxley caused a tremendous excitement in the public prints, the religious press, and the evangelical pulpit. In the minds of Gilman and his abettors, however, all this was intended to emphasize the fact that Johns Hopkins was a real university, in which the unbiased truth was to be the only aim. And certainly this was the spirit of the institution. "Gentlemen, you must light your own torch," was the admonition of President Gilman, in his welcoming address to his twenty fellows; intellectual independence, freedom from the trammels of tradition, were thus to be the directing ideas. One of Page's associates was Josiah Royce, who afterward had a distinguished career in philosophy at Harvard. "The beginnings of Johns Hopkins," he afterward wrote, "was a dawn wherein it was bliss to be alive. The air was full of noteworthy work done by the older men of the place and of hopes that one might find a way to get a little working power one's self. One longed to be a doer of the word, not a hearer only, a creator of his own infinitesimal fraction of the product, bound in God's name to produce when the time came."
A choice group of five aspiring Grecians, of whom Page was one, periodically gathered around a long pine table in a second-story room of an old dwelling house on Howard Street, with Professor Gildersleeve at the head. The process of teaching was thus the intimate contact of mind with mind. Here in the course of nearly two years' residence, Page was led by Professor Gildersleeve into the closest communion with the great minds of the ancient world and gained that intimate knowledge of their written word which was the basis of his mental equipment. "Professor Gildersleeve, splendid scholar that he is!" he wrote to a friend in North Carolina. "He makes me grow wonderfully. When I have a chance to enjoy Æschylus as I have now, I go to work on those immortal pieces with a pleasure that swallows up everything." To the extent that Gildersleeve opened up the literary treasures of the past---and no man had a greater appreciation of his favourite authors than this fine humanist---Page's life was one of unalloyed delight. But there was another side to the picture. This little company of scholars was composed of men who aspired to no ordinary knowledge of Greek; they expected to devote their entire lives to the subject, to edit Greek texts, and to hold Greek chairs at the leading American universities. Such, indeed, has been the career of nearly all members of the group. The Greek tragedies were therefore read for other things than their stylistic and dramatic values. The sons of Germania then exercised a profound influence on American education; Professor Gildersleeve himself was a graduate of Göttingen, and the necessity of "settling hoti's business" was strong in his seminar. Gildersleeve was a writer of English who developed real style; as a Greek scholar, his fame rests chiefly upon his work in the field of historical syntax. He assumed that his students could read Greek as easily as they could read French, and the really important tasks he set them had to do with the most abstruse fields of philology. For work of this kind Page had little interest and less inclination. When Professor Gildersleeve would assign him the adverb, and direct him to study the peculiarities of its use from Homer down to the Byzantine writers, he found himself in pretty deep waters. Was it conceivable that a man could spend a lifetime in an occupation of this kind? By pursuing such studies Gildersleeve and his most advanced pupils uncovered many new facts about the language and even found hitherto unsuspected beauties; but Page's letters show that this sort of effort was extremely uncongenial. He fulminates against the "grammarians" and begins to think that perhaps, after all, a career of erudite scholarship is not the ideal existence. "Learn to look on me as a Greek drudge," he writes, "somewhere pounding into men and boys a faint hint of the beauty of old Greekdom. That's most probably what I shall come to before many years. I am sure that I have mistaken my lifework, if I consider Greek my lifework. In truth at times I am tempted to throw the whole thing away. . . . But without a home feeling in Greek literature no man can lay claim to high culture." So he would keep at it for three or four years and "then leave it as a man's work." Despite these despairing words Page acquired a living knowledge of Greek that was one of his choicest possessions through life. That he made a greater success than his self-depreciation would imply is evident from the fact that his Fellowship, was renewed for the next year.
But the truth is that the world was tugging at Page more insistently than the cloister. "Speaking grammatically," writes Prof. E. G. Sihler, one of Page's fellow students of that time, in his "Confessions and Convictions of a Classicist," "Page was interested in that one of the main tenses which we call the Present." In his after life, amid all the excitements of journalism, Page could take a brief vacation and spend it with Ulysses by the sea; but actuality and human activity charmed him even more than did the heroes of the ancient world. He went somewhat into Baltimore society, but not extensively; he joined a club whose membership comprised the leading intellectual men of the town; probably his most congenial associations, however, came of the Saturday night meetings of the fellows in Hopkins Hall, where, over pipes and steins of beer, they passed in review all the questions of the day. Page was still the Southern boy, with the strange notions about the North and Northern people which were the inheritance of many years' misunderstandings. He writes of one fellow student to whom he had taken a liking. "He is that rare thing, " he says, "a Yankee Christian gentleman." He particularly dislikes one of his instructors, but, as he explains, "he is a native of Connecticut, and Connecticut, I suppose, is capable of producing any unholy human phenomenon." Speaking of a beautiful and well mannered Greek girl whom he had met, he writes: "The little creature might be taken for a Southern girl, but never for a Yankee. She has an easy manner and even an air of gentility about her that doesn't appear north of Mason and Dixon's Line. Indeed, however much the Southern race (I say race intentionally: Yankeedom is the home of another race from us) however much the Southern race owes its strength to Anglo-Saxon blood, it owes its beauty and gracefulness to the Southern climate and culture. Who says that we are not an improvement on the English? An improvement in a happy combination of mental graces and Saxon force?" This sort of thing is especially entertaining in the youthful Page, for it is precisely against this kind of complacency that, as a mature man, he directed his choicest ridicule. As an editor and writer his energies were devoted to reconciling North and South, and Johns Hopkins itself had much to do with opening his eyes. Its young men and its professors were gathered from all parts of the country; a student, if his mind was awake, learned more than Greek and mathematics; he learned much about that far-flung nation known as the United States.
And Page did not confine his work exclusively to the curriculum. He writes that he is regularly attending a German Sunday School, not, however, from religious motives, but from a desire to improve his colloquial German. "Is this courting the Devil for knowledge?" he asks. And all this time he was engaging in a delightful correspondence---from which these quotations are taken ---with a young woman in North Carolina, his cousin. About this time this cousin began spending her summers in the Page home at Cary; her great interest in books made the two young people good friends and companions. It was she who first introduced Page to certain Southern writers, especially Timrod and Sidney Lanier, and, when Page left for Johns Hopkins, the two entered into a compact for a systematic reading and study of the English poets. According to this plan, certain parts of Tennyson or Chaucer would be set aside for a particular week's reading; then both would write the impressions gained and the criticisms which they assumed to make, and send the product to the other. The plan was carried out more faithfully than is usually the case in such arrangements; a large number of Page's letters survive and give a complete history of his mental progress. There are lengthy disquisitions on Wordsworth, Browning, Byron, Shelley, Matthew Arnold, and the like. These letters also show that Page, as a relaxation from Greek roots and syntax, was indulging in poetic flights of his own; his efforts, which he encloses in his letters, are mainly imitations of the particular poet in whom he was at the moment interested. This correspondence also takes Page to Germany, in which country he spent the larger part of the summer of 1877. This choice of the Fatherland as a place of pilgrimage was probably merely a reflection of the enthusiasm for German educational methods which then prevailed in the United States, especially at Johns Hopkins. Page's letters are the usual traveller's descriptions of unfamiliar customs, museums, libraries, and the like; so far as enlarging his outlook was concerned the experience does not seem to have been especially profitable.
He returned to Baltimore in the autumn of 1877, but only for a few months. He had pretty definitely abandoned his plan of devoting his life to Greek scholarship. As a mental stimulus, as a recreation from the cares of life, his Greek authors would always be a first love, as they proved to be; but he had abandoned his early ambition of making them his everyday occupation and means of livelihood. Of course there was only one career for a man of his leanings, and, more and more, his mind was turning to journalism. For only one brief period did he again listen to the temptations of a scholar's existence. The university of his native state invited him to lecture in the summer school of 1878; he took Shakespeare for his subject, and made so great a success that there was some discussion of his settling down permanently at Chapel Hill in the chair of Greek. Had the offer definitely been made Page would probably have accepted, but difficulties arose. Page was no longer orthodox in his religious views; he had long outgrown dogma and could only smile at the recollection that he had once thought of becoming a clergyman. But a rationalist at the University of North Carolina in 1878 could hardly be endured. The offer, therefore, fortunately was not made. Afterward Page was much criticized for having left his native state at a time when it especially needed young men of his type. It may therefore be recorded that, if there were any blame at all, it rested upon North Carolina. He refers to his disappointment in a letter in February, 1879---a letter that proved to be a prophecy. "I shall some day buy a home," he says, "where I was not allowed to work for one, and be laid away in the soil that I love. I wanted to work for the old state; it had no need for it, it seems."
- From "The Southerner," Chapter 1. The first chapter in this novel is practically autobiographical, though fictitious names have been used.
- "The Rebuilding of Old Commonwealths" (1902)
- "The Southerner," Chapter I.