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Greensboro speech was only the first of many pronouncements of the same
kind - but he never publicly referred to the attacks upon him.
Occasionally in letters to his friends he would good-naturedly discuss
them. "I have had several letters," he wrote to Professor Edwin Mims, of
Trinity College, North Carolina, "about an 'excoriation' (Great Heavens!
What a word!) that somebody in North Carolina has been giving me. I
never read these things and I don't know what it's all about - nor do I
care. But perhaps you'll be interested in a letter that I wrote an old
friend (a lady) who is concerned about it. I enclose a copy of it. I
shall never notice any 'excoriator.' But if you wish to add to the
gaiety of nations, give this copy to some newspaper and let it loose in
the state - if you care to do so. We must have patience with these puny
and peevish brethren. They've been trained to a false view of life.
Heaven knows I bear them no ill-will."

The letter to which Page referred follows:

MY DEAR FRIEND:

I have your letter saying that some of the papers in North Carolina
are again "jumping on" me. I do not know which they are, and I am
glad that you did not tell me. I had heard of it before. A preacher
wrote me the other day that he approved of every word of an
"excoriation" that some religious editor had given me. A kindly
Christian act - wasn't it, to send a stranger word that you were
glad that he had been abused by a religious editor? I wrote him a
gentle letter, telling him that I hoped he'd have a long and happy
life preaching a gospel of friendliness and neighbourliness and
good-will, and that I cared nothing about "excoriations." Why
should he, then, forsake his calling and take delight in
disseminating personal abuse?

And why do you not write me about things that I really care for in
the good old country - the budding trees, the pleasant weather, news
of old friends, gossip of good people - cheerful things? I pray you,
don't be concerned about what any poor whining soul may write about
me. I don't care for myself: I care only for him; for the writer of
personal abuse always suffers from it - never the man abused.

I haven't read what my kindly clerical correspondent calls an
"excoriation" for ten years, and I never shall read one if I know
what it is beforehand. Why should I or anybody read such stuff? I
can't find time to do half the positive things that I should like
to do for the broadening of my own character and for the
encouragement of others. Why should I waste a single minute in such
a negative and cheerless way as reading anybody's personal abuse of
anybody else - least of all myself?

These silly outbursts never reach me and they never can; and they,
therefore, utterly fail, and always will fail, of their aim; yet,
my dear friend, there is nevertheless a serious side to such folly.
For it shows the need of education, education, education. The
religious editor and the preacher who took joy in his abuse of me
have such a starved view of life that they cannot themselves,
perhaps, ever be educated into kindliness and dignity of thought.
But their children may be - must be. Think of beautiful children
growing up in a home where "excoriating" people who differ with you
is regarded as a manly Christian exercise! It is pitiful beyond
words. There is no way to lift up life that is on so low a level
except by the free education of all the people. Let us work for
that and, when the growlers are done growling and forgotten, better
men will remember us with gratitude.

I felt greatly complimented and pleased to receive an invitation
the other day to attend the North Carolina Teachers' Assembly in
June. I have many things to do in June, but I am going - going with
great pleasure. I hope to see you there. I know of no other company
of people that I should be so glad to meet. They are doing noble
work - the most devoted and useful work in this whole wide world.
They are the true leaders of the people. I often wish that I were
one of them. They inspire me as nobody else does. They are the army
of our salvation.

Write me what they are doing. Write me about the wonderful
educational progress. And write me about the peach trees and the
budding imminence of spring; and about the children who now live
all day outdoors and grow brown and plump. And never mind that
queer sect, "The Excoriators." They and their stage thunder will be
forgotten to-morrow. Meantime let us live and work for things
nobler than any controversies, for things that are larger than the
poor mission of any sect; and let us have charity and a patient
pity for those that think they serve God by abusing their
fellow-men. I wish I saw some way to help them to a broader and a
higher life.

Faithfully yours,

WALTER H. PAGE.


III

That Page should have little interest in "excoriators" at the time this
letter was written - in April, 1902 - was not surprising, for his
educational campaign and that of his friends was now bearing fruit.
"Write me about the wonderful educational progress," he says to this
correspondent; and, indeed, the change that was coming over North
Carolina and the South generally seemed to be tinged with the
miraculous. The "Forgotten Man" and the "Forgotten Woman" were rapidly
coming into their own. Two years after the delivery of Page's Greensboro
address, a small group of educational enthusiasts met at Capon Springs,
West Virginia, to discuss the general situation in the South. The leader
of this little gathering was Robert C. Ogden, a great New York merchant
who for many years had been President of the Board of Hampton Institute.
Out of this meeting grew the Southern Educational Conference, which was
little more than an annual meeting for advertising broadcast the
educational needs of the South. Each year Mr. Ogden chartered a railroad
train; a hundred or so of the leading editors, lawyers, bankers, and the
like became his guests; the train moved through the Southern States,
pausing now and then to investigate some particular institution or
locality; and at some Southern city, such as Birmingham or Atlanta or
Winston-Salem, a stop of several days would be made, a public building
engaged, and long meetings held. In all these proceedings Page was an
active figure, as he became in the Southern Education Board, which
directly resulted from Mr. Ogden's public spirited excursions. Like the
Conference, the Southern Education Board was a purely missionary
organization, and its most active worker was Page himself. He was
constantly speaking and writing on his favourite subject; he printed
article after article, not only in his own magazine, but in the
_Atlantic_, in the _Outlook_, and in a multitude of newspapers, such as
the Boston _Transcript_, the New York _Times_, and the Kansas City
_Star_. And always through his writings, and, indeed, through his life,
there ran, like the motif of an opera, that same perpetual plea for "the
forgotten man" - the need of uplifting the backward masses through
training, both of the mind and of the hand.

The day came when this loyal group had other things to work with than
their voices and their pens; their efforts had attracted the attention
of Mr. John D. Rockefeller, who brought assistance of an extremely
substantial character. In 1902 Mr. Rockefeller organized the General
Education Board. Of the ten members six were taken from the Southern
Education Board; other members represented general educational interests
and especially the Baptist interests to which Mr. Rockefeller had been
contributing for years. In a large sense, therefore, especially in its
membership, the General Education Board was a development of the Ogden
organization; but it was much broader in its sweep, taking under its
view the entire nation and all forms of educational effort. It
immediately began to interest itself in the needs of the South. In 1902
Mr. Rockefeller gave this new corporation $1,000,000; in 1905 he gave it
$10,000,000; in 1907 he astonished the Nation by giving $32,000,000,
and, in 1909, another $10,000,000; the whole making a total of
$53,000,000, the largest sum ever given by a single man, up to that
time, for social or philanthropic purposes. The General Education Board
now became the chief outside interest of Page's life. He was made a
member of the Executive Committee, faithfully attended all its sessions,
and participated intimately in every important plan. All such bodies
have their decorative members and their working members; Page belonged
emphatically in the latter class. Not only was he fertile in
suggestions, but his ready mind could give almost any proposal its
proper emphasis and clearly set forth its essential details. Between
Page and Dr. Buttrick, Secretary and now President of the Board, a close
personal intimacy grew up. Dr. Buttrick moved to Teaneck Road,
Englewood, where Page had his home, and many a long evening did the two
men spend together, many a long walk did they take in the surrounding
country, always discussing education, especially Southern education. A
letter to the present writer from Dr. Abraham Flexner, the present
Secretary of the Board, perhaps sums up the matter. "Page was one of the
real educational statesmen of this country," says Dr. Flexner, "probably
the greatest that we have had since the Civil War."

And this Rockefeller support came at a time when that movement known as
the "educational awakening" had started in the South. In 1900 North
Carolina elected its greatest governor since the Civil War - Charles B.
Aycock. A much repeated anecdote attributes Lincoln's detestation of
slavery to a slave auction that he witnessed as a small boy; Aycock's
first zeal as an educational reformer had an origin that was even more
pathetic, for he always carried in his mind his recollection of his own
mother signing an important legal document with a cross. As a young man
fresh from the university Aycock also came under the influence of Page.
An old letter, preserved among Page's papers, dated February 26, 1886,
discloses that he was a sympathizing reader of the "mummy" controversy;
when the brickbats began flying in Page's direction Aycock wrote,
telling Page that "fully three fourths of the people are with you and
wish you Godspeed in your effort to awaken better work, greater
activity, and freer opinion in the state." And now under Aycock's
governorship North Carolina began to tackle the educational problem with
a purpose. School houses started up all over the state at the rate of
one a day - many of them beautiful, commodious, modern structures, in
every way the equals of any in the North or West; high schools, normal
schools, trade schools made their appearance wherever the need was
greatest; and in other parts of the South the response was similarly
energetic. The reform is not yet complete, but the description that Page
gave of Southern education in 1897, accurate in all its details as it
was then, has now become ancient history.


IV

And in occupations of this kind Page passed his years of maturity. His
was not a spectacular life; his family for the most part still remained
his most immediate interest; the daily round of an editor has its
imaginative quality, but in the main it was for Page a quiet, even a
cloistered existence; the work that an editor does, the achievements
that he can put to his credit, are usually anonymous; and the American
public little understood the extent to which Page was influencing many
of the most vital forces of his time. The business association that he
had formed with Mr. Doubleday turned out most happily. Their publishing
house, in a short time, attained a position of great influence and
prosperity. The two men, on both the personal and the business side,
were congenial and complementary; and the love that both felt for
country life led to the establishment of a publishing and printing plant
of unusual beauty. In Garden City, Long Island, a great brick structure
was built, somewhat suggestive in its architecture of Hampton Court,
surrounded by pools and fountains, Italian gardens, green walks and
pergolas, gardens blooming in appropriate seasons with roses, peonies,
rhododendrons, chrysanthemums, and the like, and parks of evergreen,
fir, cedar, and more exotic trees and shrubs. Certainly fate could have
designed no more fitting setting for Page's favourite activities than
this. In assembling authors, in instigating the writing of books, in
watching the achievements and the tendencies of American life, in the
routine of editing his magazine - all this in association with partners
whose daily companionship was a delight and a stimulation - Page spent
his last years in America.

Page's independence as an editor, sufficiently indicated in the days of
his vivacious youth, became even more emphatic in his maturer years. In
his eyes, merely inking over so many pages of good white paper was not
journalism; conviction, zeal, honesty - these were the important points.
Almost on the very day that his appointment as Ambassador to Great
Britain was announced his magazine published an editorial from his pen,
which contained not especially complimentary references to his new
chief, Mr. Bryan, the Secretary of State; naturally the newspapers found
much amusement in these few sentences; but the thing was typical of
Page's whole career as an editor. He held to the creed that an editor
should divorce himself entirely from prejudices, animosities, and
predilections; this seems an obvious, even a trite thing to say, yet
there are so few men who can leave personal considerations aside in
writing of men and events that it is worth while pointing out that Page
was such a man. When his firm was planning to establish its magazine,
his partner, Mr. Doubleday, was approached by a New York politician of
large influence but shady reputation who wished to be assured that it
would reflect correct political principles. "You should see Mr. Page
about that," was the response. "No, this is a business matter," the
insinuating gentleman went on, and then he proceeded to show that about
twenty-five thousand subscribers could be obtained if the publication
preached orthodox standpat doctrine. "I don't think you had better see
Mr. Page," said Mr. Doubleday, dismissing his caller.

Many incidents which illustrate this independence could be given; one
will suffice. In 1907 and 1908, Page's magazine published the "Random
Reminiscences of John D. Rockefeller." While the articles were
appearing, the Hearst newspapers obtained a large number of letters
that, some years before, had passed between Mr. John D. Archbold,
President of the Standard Oil Company and one of Mr. Rockefeller's
business associates from the earliest days, and Senator Joseph B.
Foraker, of Ohio. These letters uncovered one of the gravest scandals
that had ever involved an American public man; they instantaneously
destroyed Senator Foraker's political career and hastened his death.
They showed that this brilliant man had been obtaining large sums of
money from the Standard Oil Company while he was filling the post of
United States Senator and that at the same time he was receiving
suggestions from Mr. Archbold about pending legislation. Mr. Rockefeller
was not personally involved, for he had retired from active business
many years before these things had been done; but the Standard Oil
Company, with which his name was intimately associated, was involved and
in a way that seemed to substantiate the worst charges that had been
made against it. At this time Page, as a member of the General Education
Board, was doing his part in helping to disperse the Rockefeller
millions for public purposes; his magazine was publishing Mr.
Rockefeller's reminiscences; there are editors who would have felt a
certain embarrassment in commenting on the Archbold transaction. Page,
however, did not hesitate. Mr. Archbold, hearing that he intended to
treat the subject fully, asked him to come and see him. Page replied
that he would be glad to have Mr. Archbold call upon him. The two men
were brought together by friendly intermediaries in a neutral place; but
the great oil magnate's explanation of his iniquities did not satisfy
Page. The November, 1908, issue of the magazine contained, in one
section, an interesting chapter by Mr. Rockefeller, describing the early
days of the Standard Oil Company, and, in another, ten columns by Page,
discussing the Archbold disclosures in language that was discriminating
and well tempered, but not at all complimentary to Mr. Archbold or to
the Standard Oil Company.

Occasionally Page was summoned for services of a public character. Thus
President Roosevelt, whose friendship he had enjoyed for many years,
asked him to serve upon his Country Life Commission - a group of men
called by the President to study ways of improving the surroundings and
extending the opportunities of American farmers. Page's interest in
Negro education led to his appointment to the Jeanes Board. He early
became an admirer of Booker Washington, and especially approved his plan
for uplifting the Negro by industrial training. One of the great
services that Page rendered literature was his persuasion of Washington
to write that really great autobiography, "Up from Slavery," and another
biography in a different field, for which he was responsible, was Miss
Helen Keller's "Story of My Life." And only once, amid these fine but
not showy activities, did Page's life assume anything in the nature of
the sensational. This was in 1909, when he published his one effort at
novel writing, "The Southerner." To write novels had been an early
ambition with Page; indeed his papers disclose that he had meditated
several plans of this kind; but he never seriously settled himself to
the task until the year 1906. In July of that year the _Atlantic
Monthly_ began publishing a serial entitled "The Autobiography of a
Southerner Since the Civil War," by Nicholas Worth. The literary matter
that appeared under this title most readers accepted as veracious though
anonymous autobiography. It related the life adventures of a young man,
born in the South, of parents who had had little sympathy with the
Confederate cause, attempting to carve out his career in the section of
his birth and meeting opposition and defeat from the prejudices with
which he constantly found himself in conflict. The story found its main
theme and background in the fact that the Southern States were so
exclusively living in the memories of the Civil War that it was
impossible for modern ideas to obtain a foothold. "I have sometimes
thought," said the author, and this passage may be taken as embodying
the leading point of the narrative, "that many of the men who survived
that unnatural war unwittingly did us a greater hurt than the war
itself. It gave everyone of them the intensest experience of his life
and ever afterward he referred every other experience to this. Thus it
stopped the thought of most of them as an earthquake stops a clock. The
fierce blow of battle paralyzed the mind. Their speech was a vocabulary
of war, their loyalties were loyalties, not to living ideas or duties,
but to old commanders and to distorted traditions. They were dead men,
most of them, moving among the living as ghosts; and yet, as ghosts in a
play, they held the stage." In another passage the writer names the
"ghosts" which are chiefly responsible for preventing Southern progress.
They are three: "The Ghost of the Confederate dead, the Ghost of
religious orthodoxy, the Ghost of Negro domination." Everywhere the hero
finds his progress blocked by these obstructive wraiths of the past. He
seeks a livelihood in educational work - becomes a local superintendent
of Public Instruction, and loses his place because his religious views
are unorthodox, because he refuses to accept the popular estimate of
Confederate statesmen, and because he hopes to educate the black child
as well as the white one. He enters politics and runs for public office
on the platform of the new day, is elected, and then finds himself
counted out by political ringsters. Still he does not lose faith, and
finally settles down in the management of a cotton mill, convinced that
the real path of salvation lies in economic effort. This mere skeleton
of a story furnishes an excuse for rehearsing again the ideas that Page
had already made familiar in his writings and in his public addresses.
This time the lesson is enlivened by the portrayal of certain typical
characters of the post-bellum South. They are all there - the several
types of Negro, ranging all the way from the faithful and philosophic
plantation retainer to the lazy "Publican" office-seeker; the political
colonel, to whom the Confederate veterans and the "fair daughters of the
South (God bless 'em)" are the mainstays of "civerlerzation" and
indispensable instrumentalities in the game of partisan politics; the
evangelical clergymen who cared more for old-fashioned creeds than for
the education of the masses; the disreputable editor who specialized in
Negro crime and constantly preached the doctrine of the "white man's
country"; the Southern woman who, innocently and sincerely and even
charmingly, upheld the ancient tradition and the ancient feud. On the
other hand, Page's book portrays the buoyant enthusiast of the new day,
the reformer who was seeking to establish a public school system and to
strengthen the position of woman; and, above all, the quiet,
hard-working industrialist who cared nothing for stump speaking but much
for cotton mills, improved methods of farming, the introduction of
diversified crops, the tidying up of cities and the country.

These chapters, extensively rewritten, were published as a book in 1909.
Probably Page was under no illusion that he had created a real romance
when he described his completed work as a "novel." The _Atlantic_
autobiography had attracted wide attention, and the identification of
the author had been immediate and accurate. Page's friends began calling
his house on the telephone and asking for "Nicholas" and certain genial
spirits addressed him in letters as "Marse Little Nick" - the name under
which the hero was known to the old Negro family servant, Uncle
Ephraim - perhaps the best drawn character in the book. Page's real
purpose in calling the book a "novel" therefore, was to inform the
public that the story, so far as its incidents and most of its
characters were concerned, was pure fiction. Certain episodes, such as
those describing the hero's early days, were, in the main, veracious
transcripts from Page's own life, but the rest of the book bears
practically no relation to his career. The fact that he spent his
mature years in the North, editing magazines and publishing, whereas
Nicholas Worth spends his in the South, engaged in educational work and
in politics and industry, settles this point. The characters, too, are
rather types than specific individuals, though one or two of them,
particularly Professor Billy Bain, who is clearly Charles D. McIver, may
be accepted as fairly accurate portraits. But as a work of fiction "The
Southerner" can hardly be considered a success; the love story is too
slight, the women not well done, most of the characters rather
personified qualities than flesh and blood people. Its strength consists
in the picture that it gives of the so-called "Southern problem," and
especially of the devastating influence of slavery. From this standpoint
the book is an autobiography, for the ideas and convictions it presents
had formed the mental life of Page from his earliest days.

And these were the things that hurt. Yet the stories of the anger caused
by "The Southerner" have been much exaggerated. It is said that a
certain distinguished Southern senator declared that, had he known that
Page was the author of "The Southerner," he would have blocked his
nomination as Ambassador to Great Britain; certain Southern newspapers
also severely denounced the volume; even some of Page's friends thought
that it was a little unkind in spots; yet as a whole the Southern people
accepted it as a fair, and certainly as an honest, treatment of a very
difficult subject. Possibly Page was a little hard upon the Confederate
veteran, and did not sufficiently portray the really pathetic aspects of



Online LibraryBurton Jesse HendrickThe Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, Volume I → online text (page 7 of 32)