Burton Jesse Hendrick.

The Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, Volume I online

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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 earth had been
the home of unbroken peace[3]."


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 enthusiasm 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 Mcbane. 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

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 ease 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 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 life 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 became 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."

[Illustration: Allison Francis Page (1824-1899), father of Walter H.

[Illustration: Catherine Raboteau Page (1831-1897), mother of Walter H.

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 H.
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 be 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

Online LibraryBurton Jesse HendrickThe Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, Volume I → online text (page 2 of 32)