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the best periodical printed in English, I felt that you had a great
mission before you as evoker and editor of the best literary work and
weightiest thought on important topics of our foremost men." He had
hoped to see a magnified _Atlantic_, and the new publication, splendid
as it was, seemed to be of rather more popular character than the
publications with which Page had previously been associated. Page met
this challenge in his usual hearty fashion.

_To William Roscoe Thayer_
34 Union Square East, New York,
December 5, 1900.

My Dear Thayer:

The _World's Work_ has brought me nothing so good as your letter of
yesterday. When Mrs. Page read it, she shouted "Now that's it!" For
"it" read "truth," and you will have her meaning and mine. My
thanks you may be sure you have, in great and earnest abundance.

You surprise me in two ways - (1) that you think as well of the
magazine as you do. If it have half the force and earnestness that
you say it has, how happy I shall be, for then it will surely bring
something to pass. The other way in which you surprise me is by the
flattering things that you say about my conduct of the _Atlantic_.
Alas! it was not what you in your kind way say - no, no.

Of course the _World's Work_ is not yet by any means what I hope to
make it. But it has this incalculable advantage (to me) over every
other magazine in existence: it is mine (mine and my partners',
i.e., partly mine), and I shall not work to build up a good piece
of machinery and then be turned out to graze as an old horse is.
This of course, is selfish and personal - not wholly selfish either,
I think. I threw down the _Atlantic_ for this reason: (Consider the
history of its editors) Lowell[5] complained bitterly that he was
never rewarded properly for the time and work he did; Fields was
(in a way) one of its owners; it was sold out from under Howells,
etc., etc. I might (probably should) have been at the mercy
completely of owners some day who would have dismissed me for a
younger man. Nearly all hired editors suffer this fate. My good
friends in Boston were sincere in thinking that my day of doom
would never come; but they didn't offer me any guarantee - part
ownership, for instance; and the years go swiftly. I could afford,
of my own volition, to leave the _Atlantic_. I couldn't afford to
take permanently the risks that a hired editor must take. Nor
should I ever again have turned my hand to such a task except on a
magazine of my own. I should have sought other employment. There
are many easier and better and more influential things to do - yet;
ten years hence I might have been too old. Harry Houghton[6] has an
old horse thirty years old. I used to see him grazing sometimes and
hear his master's self-congratulatory explanation of his own
kindness to that faithful beast. In the office of Houghton, Mifflin
& Company there is an old man whom I used to see every
day - pensioned, grazing. Then I would go home and see four bright
children. Three of them are now away from home at school; and the
four cost a pretty penny to educate. My income had been the same
for ten years-or very nearly the same. If I was a "magic" editor, I
confess I didn't see the magic; and there is no power under Heaven
or in it that can prove to me that I ought to keep on making
magazines as a hired man - without the common security of permanent
service for lack of which nearly all my predecessors lost their
chance.

But this is not all, nor half. A man ought to express himself,
ought to live his own life, say his own little say, before silence
comes. The "say" may be bad - a mere yawp, and silence might be more
becoming. But the same argument would make a man dissatisfied with
his own nose if it happened to be ugly. It's _his_ nose, and he
must content himself. So it's _his_ yawp and he must let it go.

I'm not going to make the new magazine my own megaphone - you may be
sure of that. It will nevertheless contain my general
interpretation of things, in which I swear I do believe! The first
thing, of course, is to establish it. Then it can be shaped more
nearly into what I wish it to become. If it seem unmannerly,
aggressive, I know no other way to make it heard. If it died, then
the game would be up. Well, we seem to have established it at once.
It promises not to cost us a penny of investment.

Now, the magazines need new topics. They have all threshed over old
straw for many years. There is _one_ new subject, to my thinking
worth all the old ones: the new impulse in American life, the new
feeling of nationality, our coming to realize ourselves. To my mind
there is greater promise in democracy than men of any preceding
period ever dared dream of - aggressive democracy - growth by action.
Our writers (the few we have) are yet in the pre-democratic era.
When men's imaginations lay hold on the things that already begin
to appear above the horizon, we shall have something worth reading.
At present I can do no more than bawl out, "See! here are new
subjects." One of these days somebody will come along who can write
about them. I have started out without a writer. Fiske is under
contract, James would give nothing more to the _Atlantic_, you were
ill (I thank Heaven you are no longer so) the second-and third-rate
essayists have been bought by mere Wall Street publishers. Beyond
these are the company of story tellers and beyond them only a
dreary waste of dead-level unimaginative men and women. I can
(soon) get all that I could ever have got in the _Atlantic_ and new
ones (I know they'll come) whom I could never have got there.

You'll see - within a year or two - by far a better magazine than I
have ever made; and you and I will differ in nothing unless you
feel despair about the breakdown of certain democratic theories,
which I think were always mere theories. Let 'em go! The real
thing, which is life and action, is better.

Heartily and always your grateful friend,
Walter H. Page

Thus the fact that Page's new magazine was intended for a popular
audience was not the result of accident, but of design. It represented a
periodical plan which had long been taking shape in Page's mind. The
things that he had been doing for the _Forum_ and the _Atlantic_ he
aspired to do for a larger audience than that to which publications of
this character could appeal. Scholar though Page was, and lover of the
finest things in literature that he had always been, yet this sympathy
and interest had always lain with the masses. Perhaps it is impossible
to make literature democratic, but Page believed that he would be
genuinely serving the great cause that was nearest his heart if he could
spread wide the facts of the modern world, especially the facts of
America, and if he could clothe the expression in language which, while
always dignified and even "literary," would still be sufficiently
touched with the vital, the picturesque, and the "human," to make his
new publication appeal to a wide audience of intelligent, everyday
Americans. It was thus part of his general programme of improving the
status of the average man, and it formed a logical part of his
philosophy of human advancement. For the only acceptable measure of any
civilization, Page believed, was the extent to which it improved the
condition of the common citizen. A few cultured and university-trained
men at the top; a few ancient families living in luxury; a few painters
and poets and statesmen and generals; these things, in Page's view, did
not constitute a satisfactory state of society; the real test was the
extent to which the masses participated in education, in the necessities
and comforts of existence, in the right of self-evolution and
self-expression, in that "equality of opportunity," which, Page never
wearied of repeating, "was the basis of social progress." The mere right
to vote and to hold office was not democracy; parliamentary majorities
and political caucuses were not democracy - at the best these things were
only details and not the most important ones; democracy was the right of
every man to enjoy, in accordance with his aptitudes of character and
mentality, the material and spiritual opportunities that nature and
science had placed at the disposition of mankind. This democratic creed
had now become the dominating interest of Page's life. From this time on
it consumed all his activities. His new magazine set itself first of all
to interpret the American panorama from this point of view; to describe
the progress that the several parts of the country were making in the
several manifestations of democracy - education, agriculture, industry,
social life, politics - and the importance that Page attached to them was
practically in the order named. Above all it concerned itself with the
men and women who were accomplishing most in the definite realization of
this great end.

And now also Page began to carry his activities far beyond mere print.
In his early residence in New York, from 1885 to 1895, he had always
taken his part in public movements; he had been a vital spirit in the
New York Reform Club, which was engaged mainly in advocating the
Cleveland tariff; he had always shown a willingness to experiment with
new ideas; at one time he had mingled with Socialists and he had been
quite captivated by the personal and literary charm of Henry George.
After 1900, however, Page became essentially a public man, though not in
the political sense. His work as editor and writer was merely one
expression of the enthusiasms that occupied his mind. From 1900 until
1913, when he left for England, life meant for him mainly an effort to
spread the democratic ideal, as he conceived it; concretely it
represented a constant campaign for improving the fundamental
opportunities and the everyday social advantages of the masses.


II

Inevitably the condition of the people in his own homeland enlisted
Page's sympathy, for he had learned of their necessities at first hand.
The need of education had powerfully impressed him even as a boy. At
twenty-three he began writing articles for the Raleigh _Observer_, and
practically all of them were pleas for the education of the Southern
child. His subsequent activities of this kind, as editor of the _State
Chronicle_, have already been described. The American from other parts
of the country is rather shocked when he first learns of the
backwardness of education in the South a generation ago. In any real
sense there was no publicly supported system for training the child. A
few wretched hovels, scattered through a sparsely settled country,
served as school houses; a few uninspiring and neglected women, earning
perhaps $50 or $75 a year, did weary duty as teachers; a few groups of
anemic and listless children, attending school for only forty days a
year - such was the preparation for life which most Southern states gave
the less fortunate of their citizens. The glaring fact that emphasized
the outcome of this official carelessness was an illiteracy, among white
men and women, of 26 per cent. Among the Negroes it was vastly larger.

The first exhortation to reform came from the Wautauga Club, which Page
had organized in Raleigh in 1884. After Page had left his native state,
other men began preaching the same crusade. Perhaps the greatest of
those advocates whom the South loves to refer to as "educational
statesmen" was Dr. Charles D. McIver, of Greensboro, N.C. McIver's
personality and career had an heroic quality all their own. Back in the
'eighties McIver and Edwin A. Alderman, now President of the University
of Virginia, endured all kinds of hardships and buffetings in the cause
of popular education; they stumped the state, much like political
campaigners, preaching the strange new gospel in mountain cabin, in
village church, at the cart's tail - all in an attempt to arouse their
lethargic countrymen to the duty of laying a small tax to save their
children from illiteracy. Some day the story of McIver and Alderman will
find its historian; when it does, he will learn that, in those dark
ages, one of their greatest sources of inspiration was Walter Page.
McIver, a great burly boy, physically and intellectually, so full of
energy that existence for him was little less than an unending tornado,
so full of zeal that any other occupation than that of training the
neglected seemed a trifling with life, so sleepless in his efforts that,
at the age of forty-five, he one day dropped dead while travelling on a
railroad train; Alderman, a man of finer culture, quieter in his
methods, an orator of polish and restraint, but an advocate vigorous in
the prosecution of the great end; and Page, living faraway in the North,
but pumping his associates full of courage and enthusiasm - these were
the three guardsmen of this new battle for the elevation of the white
and black men of the South. McIver's great work was the State Normal
College for Women, which, amid unparalleled difficulties, he founded
for teaching the teachers of the new Southern generation. It was at this
institution that Page, in 1897, delivered the address which gave the
cause of Southern education that one thing which is worth armies to any
struggling reform - a phrase; and it was a phrase that lived in the
popular mind and heart and summed up, in a way that a thousand speeches
could never have done, the great purpose for which the best people in
the state were striving.

His editorial gift for title-making now served Page in good stead. "The
Forgotten Man," which was the heading of his address, immediately passed
into the common speech of the South and even at this day inevitably
appears in all discussions of social progress. It was again Page's
familiar message of democracy, of improving the condition of the
everyday man, woman, and child; and the message, as is usually the case
in all incitements to change, involved many unpleasant facts. Page had
first of all to inform his fellow Southerners that it was only in the
South that "The Forgotten Man" was really an outstanding feature. He did
not exist in New England, in the Middle States, in the Mississippi
Valley, or in the West, or existed in these regions to so slight an
extent that he was not a grave menace to society. But in the South the
situation was quite different. And for this fact the explanation was
found in history. The South certainly could not fix the blame upon
Nature. In natural wealth - in forests, mines, quarries, rich soil, in
the unlimited power supplied by water courses - the Southern States
formed perhaps the richest region in the country. These things North
Carolina and her sister communities had not developed; more startling
still, they had not developed a source of wealth that was infinitely
greater than all these combined; they had not developed their men and
their women. The Southern States represented the purest "Anglo-Saxon"
strain in the United States; to-day in North Carolina only one person in
four hundred is of "foreign stock," and a voting list of almost any town
contains practically nothing except the English and Scotch names that
were borne by the original settlers. Yet here democracy, in any real
sense, had scarcely obtained a footing. The region which had given
Thomas Jefferson and George Washington to the world was still, in the
year 1897, organized upon an essentially aristocratic basis. The
conception of education which prevailed in the most hide-bound
aristocracies of Europe still ruled south of the Potomac. There was no
acceptance of that fundamental American doctrine that education was the
function of the state. It was generally regarded as the luxury of the
rich and the socially high placed; it was certainly not for the poor;
and it was a generally accepted view that those who enjoyed this
privilege must pay for it out of their own pockets. Again Page returned
to the "mummy" theme - the fact that North Carolina, and the South
generally, were too much ruled by "dead men's" hands. The state was
ruled by a "little aristocracy, which, in its social and economic
character, made a failure and left a stubborn crop of wrong social
notions behind it - especially about education." The chief backward
influences were the stump and the pulpit. "From the days of King George
to this day, the politicians of North Carolina have declaimed against
taxes, thus laying the foundation of our poverty. It was a misfortune
for us that the quarrel with King George happened to turn upon the
question of taxation - so great was the dread of taxation that was
instilled into us." What had the upper classes done for the education of
the average man? The statistics of illiteracy, the deplorable economic
and social conditions of the rural population - and most of the
population of North Carolina was rural - furnished the answer.

Thus the North Carolina aristocracy had failed in education and the
failure of the Church had been as complete and deplorable. The preachers
had established preparatory schools for boys and girls, but these were
under the control of sects; and so education was either a class or an
ecclesiastical concern. "The forgotten man remained forgotten. The
aristocratic scheme of education had passed him by. To a less extent,
but still to the extent of hundreds of thousands, the ecclesiastical
scheme had passed him by." But even the education which these
institutions gave was inferior. Page told his North Carolina audience
that the University of which they were so proud did not rank with
Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and other universities of the North. The state
had not produced great scholars nor established great libraries. In the
estimation of publishers North Carolina was unimportant as a book
market. "By any test that may be made, both these systems have failed
even with the classes that they appealed to." The net result was that
"One in every four was wholly forgotten" - that is, was unable to read
and write. And the worst of it all was that the victim of this neglect
was not disturbed over his situation. "The forgotten man was content to
be forgotten. He became not only a dead weight, but a definite opponent
of social progress. He faithfully heard the politician on the stump
praise him for virtues that he did not have. The politicians told him
that he lived in the best state in the Union; told him that the other
politicians had some hare-brained plan to increase his taxes, told him
as a consolation for his ignorance how many of his kinsmen had been
killed in the war, told him to distrust any one who wished to change
anything. What was good enough for his fathers was good enough for him.
Thus the 'forgotten man' became a dupe, became thankful for being
neglected. And the preacher told him that the ills and misfortunes of
this life were blessings in disguise, that God meant his poverty as a
means of grace, and that if he accepted the right creed all would be
well with him. These influences encouraged inertia. There could not have
been a better means to prevent the development of the people."

Even more tragic than these "forgotten men" were the "forgotten women."
"Thin and wrinkled in youth from ill-prepared food, clad without warmth
or grace, living in untidy houses, working from daylight till bedtime at
the dull round of weary duties, the slaves of men of equal slovenliness,
the mothers of joyless children - all uneducated if not illiterate."
"This sight," Page told his hearers, "every one of you has seen, not in
the countries whither we send missionaries, but in the borders of the
State of North Carolina, in this year of grace."

"Our civilization," he declared, "has been a failure." Both the
politicians and the preacher had failed to lift the masses. "It is a
time for a wiser statesmanship and a more certain means of grace." He
admitted that there had been recent progress in North Carolina, owing
largely to the work of McIver and Alderman, but taxes for educational
purposes were still low. What was the solution? "A public school system
generously supported by public sentiment and generously maintained by
both state and local taxation, is the only effective means to develop
the forgotten man and even more surely the only means to develop the
forgotten woman. . . ." "If any beggar for a church school oppose a local
tax for schools or a higher school tax, take him to the huts of the
forgotten women and children, and in their hopeless presence remind him
that the church system of education has not touched tens of thousands of
these lives and ask him whether he thinks it wrong that the commonwealth
should educate them. If he think it wrong ask him and ask the people
plainly, whether he be a worthy preacher of the gospel that declares one
man equal to another in the sight of God? . . . The most sacred thing in
the commonwealth and to the commonwealth is the child, whether it be
your child or the child of the dull-faced mother of the hovel. The child
of the dull-faced mother may, as you know, be the most capable child in
the state. . . . Several of the strongest personalities that were ever born
in North Carolina were men whose very fathers were unknown. We have all
known two such, who held high places in Church and State. President
Eliot said a little while ago that the ablest man that he had known in
his many years' connection with Harvard University was the son of a
brick mason."

In place of the ecclesiastical creed that had guided North Carolina for
so many generations Page proposed his creed of democracy. He advised
that North Carolina commit this to memory and teach it to its children.
It was as follows:

"I believe in the free public training of both the hands and the
mind of every child born of woman.

"I believe that by the right training of men we add to the wealth
of the world. All wealth is the creation of man, and he creates it
only in proportion to the trained uses of the community; and the
more men we train the more wealth everyone may create.

"I believe in the perpetual regeneration of society, and in the
immortality of democracy and in growth everlasting."

Thus Page nailed his theses upon the door of his native state, and
mighty was the reverberation. In a few weeks Page's Greensboro address
had made its way all over the Southern States, and his melancholy
figure, "the forgotten man" had become part of the indelible imagery of
the Southern people. The portrait etched itself deeply into the popular
consciousness for the very good reason that its truth was pretty
generally recognized. The higher type of newspaper, though it winced
somewhat at Page's strictures, manfully recognized that the best way of
meeting his charge was by setting to work and improving conditions. The
fact is that the better conscience of North Carolina welcomed this
eloquent description of unquestioned evils; but the gentlemen whom Page
used to stigmatize as "professional Southerners" - the men who
commercialized class and sectional prejudice to their own political and
financial or ecclesiastical profit - fell foul of this "renegade," this
"Southern Yankee" this sacrilegious "intruder" who had dared to visit
his old home and desecrate its traditions and its religion. This
clerical wrath was kindled into fresh flame when Page, in an editorial
in his magazine, declared that these same preachers, ignoring their real
duties, were content "to herd their women and children around the
stagnant pools of theology." For real religion Page had the deepest
reverence, and he had great respect also for the robust evangelical
preachers whose efforts had contributed so much to the opening up of the
frontier. In his Greensboro address Page had given these men high
praise. But for the assiduous idolaters of stratified dogma he
entertained a contempt which he was seldom at pains to conceal. North
Carolina had many clergymen of the more progressive type; these men
chuckled at Page's vigorous characterization of the brethren, but those
against whom it had been aimed raged with a fervour that was almost
unchristian. This clerical excitement, however, did not greatly disturb
the philosophic Page. The hubbub lasted for several years - for Page's



Online LibraryBurton Jesse HendrickThe Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, Volume I → online text (page 6 of 32)