A RECONSTRUCTION BOYHOOD
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.
"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 soldiers at the front."(1)
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(2) 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.
"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 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 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. "
Fig. 2. Allison Francis Page (1824-1899), father of Walter H. Page
Fig. 3. Catherine Raboteau Page (1831-1897), mother of Walter H. Page
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."
THE five years from 1878 to 1883 Page spent in various places, engaged, for the larger part of the time, in several kinds of journalistic work. It was his period of struggle and of preparation. Like many American public men he served a brief apprenticeship---in his case, a very brief one---as a pedagogue. In the autumn of 1878 he went to Louisville, Kentucky, and taught English for a year at the Boys' High School. But he presently found an occupation in this progressive city which proved far more absorbing. A few months before his arrival certain energetic spirits had founded a weekly paper, the Age, a journal which, they hoped, would fill the place in the Southern States which the very successful New York Nation, under the editorship of Godkin, was then occupying in the North. Page at once began contributing leading articles on literary and political topics to this publication; the work proved so congenial that he purchased---on notes---a controlling interest in the new venture and became its directing spirit. The Age was in every way a worthy enterprise; in the dignity of its makeup and the high literary standards at which it aimed it imitated the London Spectator. Perhaps Page obtained a thousand dollars' worth of fun out of his investment; if so, that represented his entire profit. He now learned a lesson which was emphasized in his after career as editor and publisher, and that was that the Southern States provided a poor market for books or periodicals. The net result of the proceeding was that, at the age of twenty-three, he found himself out of a job and considerably in debt.
He has himself rapidly sketched his varied activities of the next five years:
"After trying in vain," he writes, "to get work to do on any newspaper in North Carolina, I advertised for a job in journalism---any sort of a job. By a queer accident ---a fortunate one for me---the owner of the St. Joseph, Missouri, Gazelle, answered the advertisement. Why he did it, I never found out. He was in the same sort of desperate need of a newspaper man as I was in desperate need of a job. I knew nothing about him: he knew nothing about me. I knew nothing about newspaper work. I had done nothing since I left the University but teach English in the Louisville, Kentucky, High School for boys one winter and lecture at the summer school at Chapel Hill one summer. I made up my mind to go into journalism. But journalism didn't seem in any hurry to make up its mind to admit me. Not only did all the papers in North Carolina decline my requests for work, but such of them in Baltimore and Louisville as I tried said 'No.' So I borrowed $50 and set out to St. Joe, Missouri, where I didn't know a human being. I became a reporter. At first I reported the price of cattle---went to the stockyards, etc. My salary came near to paying my board and lodging, but it didn't quite do it. But I had a good time in St. Joe for somewhat more than a year. There were interesting people there. I came to know something about Western life. Kansas was across the river. I often went there. I came to know Kansas City, St. Louis---a good deal of the West. After a while I was made editor of the paper. What a rousing political campaign or two we had! Then---I had done that kind of a job as long as I cared to. Every swashbuckling campaign is like every other one. Why do two? Besides, I knew my trade. I had done everything on a daily paper from stockyard reports to political editorials and heavy literary articles. In the meantime I had written several magazine articles and done other such jobs. I got leave of absence for a month or two. I wrote to several of the principal papers in Chicago, New York, and Boston and told them that I was going down South to make political and social studies and that I was going to send them my letters. I hoped they'd publish them.
"That's all I could say. I could make no engagement; they didn't know me. I didn't even ask for an engagement. I told them simply this: that I'd write letters and send them; and I prayed heaven that they'd print them and pay for them. Then off I went with my little money in my pocket---about enough to get to New Orleans. I travelled and I wrote. I went all over the South. I sent letters and letters and letters. All the papers published all that I sent them and I was rolling in wealth I had money in my pocket for the first time in my life. Then I went back to St. Joe and resigned; for the (old) New York World had asked me to go to the Atlanta Exposition as a correspondent. I went. I wrote and kept writing. How kind Henry Grady was to me! But at last the Exposition ended. I was out of a job. I applied to the Constitution. No, they wouldn't have me. I never got a job in my life that I asked for! But all my life better jobs have been given me than I dared ask for. Well---I was at the end of my rope in Atlanta and I was trying to make a living in any honest way I could when one day a telegram came from the New York World (it was the old World, which was one of the best of the dailies in its literary quality) asking me to come to New York. I had never seen a man on the paper---had never been in New York except for a day when I landed there on a return voyage from a European trip that I took during one vacation when I was in the University. Then I went to New York straight and quickly. I had an interesting experience on the old World, writing literary matter chiefly, an editorial now and then, and I was frequently sent as a correspondent on interesting errands. I travelled all over the country with the Tariff Commission. I spent one winter in Washington as a sort of editorial correspondent while the tariff bill was going through Congress. Then, one day, the World was sold to Mr. Pulitzer and all the staff resigned. The character of the paper changed."
What better training could a journalist ask for than this? Page was only twenty-eight when these five years came to an end; but his life had been a comprehensive education in human contact, in the course of which he had picked up many things that were not included in the routine of Johns Hopkins University. From Athens to St. Joe, from the comedies of Aristophanes to the stockyards and political conventions of Kansas City---the transition may possibly have been an abrupt one, but it is not likely that Page so regarded it. For books and the personal relation both appealed to him, in almost equal proportions, as essentials to the fully rounded man. Merely from the standpoint of geography, Page's achievement had been an important one; how many Americans, at the age of twenty-eight, have such an extensive mileage to their credit? Page had spent his childhood---and his childhood only---in North Carolina; he had passed his youth in Virginia and Maryland; before he was twenty-three he had lived several months in Germany, and, on his return voyage, he had sailed by the white cliffs of England, and, from the deck of his steamer, had caught glimpses of that Isle of Wight which then held his youthful favourite Tennyson. He had added to these experiences a winter in Kentucky and a sojourn of nearly two years in Missouri. His Southern trip, to which Page refers in the above, had taken him through Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana; he had visited the West again in 1882, spending a considerable time in all the large cities, Chicago, Omaha, Denver, Leadville, Salt Lake, and from the latter point he had travelled extensively through Mormondom. The several months spent in Atlanta had given the young correspondent a glimpse into the new South, for this energetic city embodied a Southern spirit that was several decades removed from the Civil War. After this came nearly two years in New York and Washington, where Page gained his first insight into Federal politics; in particular, as a correspondent attached to the Tariff Commission---an assignment that again started him on his travels to industrial centres---he came into contact, for the first time, with the mechanism of framing the great American tariff. And during this period Page was not only forming a first-hand acquaintance with the passing scene, but also with important actors in it. The mere fact that, on the St. Joseph Gazelle, he succeeded Eugene Field---"a good fellow named Page is going to take my desk," said the careless poet, "I hope he will succeed to my debts too"---always remained a pleasant memory. He entered zealously into the life of this active community; his love of talk and disputation, his interest in politics, his hearty laugh, his vigorous handclasp, his animation of body and of spirit, and his sunny outlook on men and events---these are the traits that his old friends in this town, some of whom still survive, associate with the juvenile editor. In his Southern trip Page called---self invited---upon Jefferson Davis and was cordially received. At Atlanta, as he records above, he made friends with that chivalric champion of a resurrected South, Henry Grady; here also he obtained fugitive glimpses of a struggling and briefless lawyer, who, like Page, was interested more in books and writing than in the humdrum of professional life, and who was then engaged in putting together a brochure on Congressional Government which immediately gave him a national standing. The name of this sympathetic acquaintance was Woodrow Wilson.
Fig. 4. Walter H. Page in 1876, when he was a Fellow of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.
Fig. 5. Basil L. Gildersleeve, Professor of Greek, Johns Hopkins University, 1876-1915
Another important event had taken place, for, at St. Louis, on November 15, 1880, Page had married Miss Willia Alice Wilson. Miss Wilson was the daughter of a Scotch physician, Dr. William Wilson, who had settled in Michigan, near Detroit, in 1832. When she was a small child she went with her sister's family---her father had died seven years before---to North Carolina, near Cary; and she and Page had been childhood friends and schoolmates. At the time of the wedding, Page was editor of the St. Joseph Gazelle; the fact that he had attained this position, five months after starting at the bottom, sufficiently discloses his aptitude for journalistic work.
Page had now outgrown any Southern particularism with which he may have started life. He no longer found his country exclusively in the area south of the Potomac; he had made his own the West, the North---New York, Chicago, Denver, as well as Atlanta and Raleigh. It is worth while insisting on this fact, for the cultivation of a wide-sweeping Americanism and a profound faith in democracy became the qualities that will loom most largely in his career from this time forward. It is necessary only to read the newspaper letters which he wrote on his Southern trip in 1881 to understand how early his mind seized this new point of view. Many things which now fell under his observant eye in the Southern States greatly irritated him and with his characteristic impulsiveness he pictured these traits in pungent phrase. The atmosphere of shiftlessness that too generally prevailed in some localities; the gangs of tobacco-chewing loafers assembled around railway stations; the listless Negroes that seemed to overhang the whole country like a black cloud; the plantation mansions in a sad state of disrepair; the old unoccupied slave huts overgrown with weeds; the unpainted and broken-down fences; the rich soil that was crudely and wastefully cultivated with a single crop---the youthful social philosopher found himself comparing these vestigia of a half-moribund civilization with the vibrant cities of the North, the beautiful white and green villages of New England, and the fertile prairie farms of the West. "Even the dogs," he said, "look old-fashioned." Oh, for a change in his beloved South---a change of almost any kind! "Even a heresy, if it be bright and fresh, would be a relief. You feel as if you wished to see some kind of an effort put forth, a discussion, a fight, a runaway, anything to make the blood go faster." Wherever Page saw signs of a new spirit---and he saw many---he recorded them with an eagerness which showed his loyalty to the section of his birth. The splitting up of great plantations into small farms he put down as one of the indications of a new day. A growing tendency to educate, not only the white child, but the Negro, inspired a similar tribute. But he rejoiced most over the decreasing bitterness of the masses over the memories of the Civil War, and discovered, with satisfaction, that any remaining ill-feeling was a heritage left not by the Union soldier, but by the carpetbagger.
And one scene is worth preserving, for it illustrates not only the zeal of Page himself for the common country, but the changing attitude of the Southern people. It was enacted, at Martin, Tennessee, on the evening of July 2, 1881. Page was spending a few hours in the village grocery, discussing things in general with the local yeomanry, when the telegraph operator came from the post office with rather more than his usual expedition and excitement. He was frantically waving a yellow slip which bore the news that President Garfield had been shot. Garfield had been an energetic and a successful general in the war and his subsequent course in Congress, where he had joined the radical Republicans, had not caused the South to look upon him as a friend. But these farmers responded to this shock, not like sectionalists, but like Americans. "Every man of them," Page records, "expressed almost a personal sorrow. Little was said of politics or of parties. Mr. Garfield was President of the United States---that was enough. A dozen voices spoke the great gratification that the assassin was not a Southern man. It was an affecting scene to see weather-beaten old countrymen so profoundly agitated---men who yesterday I should have supposed hardly knew and certainly did not seem to care who was President. The great centres of population, of politicians, and of thought may be profoundly agitated to-night, but no more patriotic sorrow and humiliation is felt anywhere by any men than by these old backwoods ex-Confederates."
Page himself was so stirred by the news that he ascended a cracker barrel, and made a speech to the assembled countrymen, preaching to responsive ears the theme of North and South, now reunited in a common sorrow. Thus, by the time he was twenty-six, Page, at any rate in respect to his Americanism, was a full-grown man.
A few years afterward Page had an opportunity of discussing this, his favourite topic, with the American whom he most admired. Perhaps the finest thing in the career of Grover Cleveland was the influence which he exerted upon young men. After the sordid political transactions of the reconstruction period and after the orgy of partisanship which had followed the Civil War, this new figure, acceding to the Presidency in 1885, came as an inspiration to millions of zealous and intelligent young college-bred Americans. One of the first to feel the new spell was Walter Page; Mr. Cleveland was perhaps the most important influence in forming his public ideals. Of everything that Cleveland represented---civil service reform; the cleansing of politics, state and national; the reduction in the tariff; a foreign policy which, without degenerating into truculence, manfully upheld the rights of American citizens; a determination to curb the growing pension evil; the doctrine that the Government was something to be served and not something to be plundered---Page became an active and brilliant journalistic advocate. It was therefore a great day in his life when, on a trip to Washington in the autumn of 1885, he had an hour's private conversation with President Cleveland, and it was entirely characteristic of Page that he should make the conversation take the turn of a discussion of the so-called Southern question.
"In the White House at Washington," Page wrote about this visit, "is an honest, plain, strong man, a man of wonderfully broad information and of most uncommon industry. He has always been a Democrat. He is a distinguished lawyer and a scholar on all public questions. He is as frank and patriotic and sincere as any man that ever won the high place he holds. Within less than a year he has done so well and so wisely that he has disappointed his enemies and won their admiration. He is as unselfish as he is great. He is one of the most industrious men in the world. He rises early and works late and does not waste his time---all because his time is now not his own but the Republic's, whose most honoured servant he is. I count it among the most inspiring experiences in my life that I had the privilege, at the suggestion of one of his personal friends, of talking with him one morning about the complete reuniting of the two great sections of our Republic by his election. I told him, and I know I told him the truth, when I said that every young man in the Southern States who, without an opportunity to share either the glory or the defeat of the late Confederacy, had in spite of himself suffered the disadvantages of the poverty and oppression that followed war, took new hope for the full and speedy realization of a complete union, of unparalleled prosperity and of broad thinking and noble living from his elevation to the Presidency. I told him that the men of North Carolina were not only patriotic but ambitious as well; and that they were Democrats and proud citizens of the State and the Republic not because they wanted offices or favours, but because they loved freedom and wished the land that had been impoverished by war to regain more than it had lost. 'I have not called, Mr. President, to ask for an office for myself or for anybody else,' I remarked; 'but to have the pleasure of expressing my gratification, as a citizen of North Carolina, at the complete change in political methods and morals that I believe will date from your Administration.' He answered that he was glad to see all men who came in such a spirit and did not come to beg---especially young men of the South of to-day; and he talked and encouraged me to talk freely as if he had been as small a man as I am, or I as great a man as he is.
"From that day to this it has been my business to watch every public act that he does, to read every public word he speaks, and it has been a pleasure and a benefit to me (like the benefit that a man gets from reading a great history---for he is making a great history) to study the progress of his Administration; and at every step he seems to me to warrant the trust that the great Democratic party put in him."
The period to which Page refers in this letter represented the time when he was making a serious and harassing attempt to establish himself in his chosen profession in his native state. He went south for a short visit after resigning his place on the New York World, and several admirers in Raleigh persuaded him to found a new paper, which should devote itself to preaching the Cleveland ideals, and, above all, to exerting an influence on the development of a new Southern spirit. No task could have been more grateful to Page and there was no place in which he would have better liked to undertake it than in the old state which he loved so well. The result was the Stale Chronicle of Raleigh, practically a new paper, which for a year and a half proved to be the most unconventional and refreshing influence that North Carolina had known in many a year. Necessarily Page found himself in conflict with his environment. He had little interest in the things that then chiefly interested the state, and North Carolina apparently had little interest in the things that chiefly occupied the mind of the youthful journalist. Page was interested in Cleveland, in the reform of the civil service; the Democrats of North Carolina little appreciated their great national leader and were especially hostile to his belief that service to a party did not in itself establish a qualification for public office. Page was interested in uplifting the common people, in helping every farmer to own his own acres, and in teaching the most modern and scientific way of cultivating them; he was interested in giving every boy and girl at least an elementary education, and in giving a university training to such as had the aptitude and the ambition to obtain it; he believed in industrial training ---and in these things the North Carolina of those days had little concern. Page even went so far as to take an open stand for the pitiably neglected black man: he insisted that he should be taught to read and write, and instructed in agriculture and the manual trades. A man who advocated such revolutionary things in those days was accused---and Page was so accused---of attempting to promote the "social equality" of the two races. Page also declaimed in favour of developing the state industrially; he called attention to the absurdity of sending Southern cotton to New England spinning mills, and he pointed out the boundless but unworked natural resources of the state, in minerals, forests, waterpower, and lands.
North Carolina, he informed his astonished compatriots, had once been a great manufacturing colony; why could the state not become one again? But the matter in which the buoyant editor and his constituents found themselves most at variance was the spirit that controlled North Carolina life. It was a spirit that found comfort for its present poverty and lack of progress in a backward look at the greatness of the state in the past and the achievements of its sons in the Civil War. Though Page believed that the Confederacy had been a ghastly error, and though he abhorred the institution of slavery and attributed to it all the woes, economic and social, from which his section suffered, he rendered that homage to the soldiers of the South which is the due of brave, self-sacrificing and conscientious men; yet he taught that progress lay in regarding the four dreadful years of the Civil War as the closed chapter of an unhappy and mistaken history and in hastening the day when the South should resume its place as a living part of the great American democracy. All manifestations of a contrary spirit he ridiculed in language which was extremely readable but which at times outraged the good conservative people whom he was attempting to convert. He did not even spare the one figure which was almost a part of the Southerner's religion, the Confederate general, especially that particular type who used his war record as a stepping stone to public office, and whose oratory, colourful and turgid in its celebrations of the past, Page regarded as somewhat unrelated, in style and matter, to the realities of the present. The image-breaking editor even asserted that the Daughters of the Confederacy were not entirely a helpful influence in Southern regeneration; for they, too, were harping always upon the old times and keeping alive sectional antagonisms and hatreds. This he regarded as an unworthy occupation for high-minded Southern women, and he said so, sometimes in language that made him very unpopular in certain circles.
Altogether it was a piquant period in Page's life. He found that he had suddenly become a "traitor " to his country and that his experiences in the North had completely "Yankeeized" him. Even in more mature days, Page's pen had its javelin-like quality; and in 1884, possessed as he was of all the fury of youth, he never hesitated to return every blow that was rained upon his head. As a matter of fact he had a highly enjoyable time. The State Chronicle during his editorship is one of the most cherished recollections of older North Carolinians to-day. Even those who hurled the liveliest epithets in his direction have long since accepted the ideas for which Page was then contending; "the only trouble with him," they now ruefully admit, "was that he was forty years ahead of his time." They recall with satisfaction the satiric accounts which Page used to publish of Democratic Conventions---solemn, long-winded, frock-coated, white-necktied affairs that displayed little concern for the reform of the tariff or of the civil service, but an energetic interest in pensioning Confederate veterans and erecting monuments to the Southern heroes of the Civil War. One editorial is joyfully recalled, in which Page referred to a public officer who was distinguished for his dignity and his family tree, but not noted for any animated administration of his duties, as "Thothmes II." When this bewildered functionary searched the Encyclopaedia and learned that " Thothmes II " was an Egyptian king of the XVII1th dynasty, whose dessicated mummy had recently been disinterred from the hot sands of the desert, he naturally stopped his subscription to the paper. The metaphor apparently tickled Page, for he used it in a series of articles which have become immortal in the political annals of North Carolina. These have always been known as the "Mummy letters." They furnished a vivid but rather aggravating explanation for the existing backwardness and chauvinism of the commonwealth. All the trouble, it seems, was caused by the "mummies." "It is an awfully discouraging business," Page wrote, "to undertake to prove to a mummy that it is a mummy. You go up to it and say, 'Old fellow, the Egyptian dynasties crumbled several thousand years ago: you are a fish out of water. You have by accident or the Providence of God got a long way out of your time. This is America.' The old thing grins that grin. which death set on its solemn features when the world was young; and your task is so pitiful that even the humour of it is gone. Give it up."
Everything great in North Carolina, Page declared, belonged to a vanished generation. "Our great lawyers, great judges, great editors, are all of the past. . . . In the general intelligence of the people, in intellectual force and in cultivation, we are doing nothing. We are not doing or getting more liberal ideas, a broader view of this world. . . . The presumptuous powers of ignorance, heredity, decayed respectability and stagnation that control public action and public expression are absolutely leading us back intellectually."
But Page did more than berate the mummified aristocracy which, he declared, was driving the best talent and initiative from the state; he was not the only man in Raleigh who expressed these unpopular views; at that time, indeed, he was the centre and inspiration of a group of young progressive spirits who held frequent meetings to devise ways of starting the state on the road to a new existence. Page then, as always, exercised a great fascination over young men. The apparently merciless character of his ridicule might at first convey the idea of intolerance; the fact remains, however, that he was the most tolerant of men; he was almost deferential to the opinions of others, even the shallow and the inexperienced; and nothing delighted him more than an animated discussion. His liveliness of spirits, his mental and physical vitality, the constant sparkle of his talk, the sharp edge of his humour, naturally drew the younger men to his side. The result was the organization of the Wautauga Club, a gathering which held monthly meetings for the discussion of ways and means of improving social and educational conditions in North Carolina. The very name gives the key to its mental outlook. The Wautauga colony was one of the last founded in North Carolina---in the extreme west, on a plateau of the Great Smoky Mountains; it was always famous for the energy and independence of its people. The word "Wautauga" therefore suggested the breaker of tradition; and it provided a stimulating name for Page's group of young spiritual and economic pathfinders. The Wautauga Club had a brief existence of a little more than two years, the period practically covering Page's residence in the state; but its influence is an important fact at the present time. It gave the state ideas that afterward caused something like a revolution in its economic and educational status. The noblest monument to its labours is the State College in Raleigh, an institution which now has more than a thousand students, for the most part studying the mechanic arts and scientific agriculture. To this one college most North Carolinians to-day attribute the fact that their state in appreciable measure is realizing its great economic and industrial opportunities. From it in the last thirty years thousands of young men have gone: in all sections of the commonwealth they have caused the almost barren acres to yield fertile and diversified crops; they have planted everywhere new industries; they have unfolded unsuspected resources and everywhere created wealth and spread enlightenment. This institution is a direct outcome of Page's brief sojourn in his native state nearly forty years ago. The idea originated in his brain; the files of the State Chronicle tell the story of his struggle in its behalf; the activities of the Wautauga Club were largely concentrated upon securing its establishment.
The State College was a great victory for Page, but final success did not come until three years after he had left the state. For a year and a half of hard newspaper work convinced Page that North Carolina really had no permanent place for him. The Chronicle was editorially a success: Page's articles were widely quoted, not only in his own state but in New England and other parts of the Union. He succeeded in stirring up North Carolina and the South generally, but popular support for the Chronicle was not forthcoming in sufficient amount to make the paper a commercial possibility. Reluctantly and sadly Page had to forego his hope of playing an active part in rescuing his state from the disasters of the Civil War. Late in the summer of 1885, he again left for the North, which now became his permanent home.
And with this second sojourn in New York Page's opportunity came. The first two years he spent in newspaper work, for the most part with the Evening Post, but, one day in November, 1887, a man whom he had never seen came into his office and unfolded a new opportunity. Two years before a rather miscellaneous group had launched an ambitious literary undertaking. This was a monthly periodical, which, it was hoped, would do for the United States what such publications as the Fortnightly and the Contemporary were doing for England. The magazine was to have the highest literary quality and to be sufficiently dignified to attract the finest minds in America as contributors; its purpose was to exercise a profound influence in politics, literature, science, and art. The projectors had selected for this publication a title that was almost perfection---the Forum---but this, after nearly two years' experimentation, represented about the limit of their achievement. The Forum had hardly made an impression on public thought and had attracted very few readers, although it had lost large sums of money for its progenitors. These public-spirited gentlemen now turned to Page as the man who might rescue them from their dilemma and achieve their purpose. He accepted the engagement, first as manager and presently as editor, and remained the guiding spirit of the Forum for eight years, until the summer of 1895.
That the success of a publication is the success of its editors, and not of its business managers and its "backers," is a truth that ought to be generally apparent; never has this fact been so eloquently illustrated as in the case of the Forum under Page. Before his accession it had had not the slightest importance; for the period of his editorship it is doubtful if any review published in English exercised so great an influence, and certainly none ever obtained so large a circulation. From almost nothing the Forum, in two or three years, attracted 30,000 subscribers---something without precedent for a publication of this character. It had accomplished this great result simply because of the vitality and interest of its contents. The period covered was an important one, in the United States and Europe; it was the time of Cleveland's second administration in this country, and of Gladstone's fourth administration in England; it was a time of great controversy and of a growing interest in science, education, social reform and a better political order. All these great matters were reflected in the pages of the Forum, whose list of contributors contained the most distinguished names in all countries. Its purpose, as Page explained it, was "to provoke discussion about subjects of contemporary interest, in which the magazine is not a partisan, but merely the instrument." In the highest sense, that is, its purpose was journalistic; practically everything that it printed was related to the thought and the action of the time. So insistent was Page on this programme that his pages were not "closed" until a week before the day of issue. Though the Forum dealt constantly in controversial subjects it never did so in a narrow-minded spirit; it was always ready to hear both sides of a question and the magazine "debate," in which opposing writers handled vigorously the same theme, was a constant feature.
Page, indeed, represented a new type of editor. Up to that time this functionary had been a rather solemn, inaccessible high priest; he sat secluded in his sanctuary, and weeded out from the mass of manuscripts dumped upon his desk the particular selections which seemed to be most suited to his purpose. To solicit contributions would have seemed an entirely undignified proceeding; in all cases contributors must come to him. According to Page, however, "an editor must know men and be out among men." His system of "making up" the magazine at first somewhat astounded his associates. A month or two in advance of publication day he would draw up his table of contents. This, in its preliminary stage, amounted to nothing except a list of the main subjects which he aspired to handle in that number. It was a hope, not a performance. The subjects were commonly suggested by the happenings of the time---an especially outrageous lynching, the trial of a clergyman for heresy, a new attack upon the Monroe Doctrine, the discovery of a new substance such as radium, the publication of an epoch-making book. Page would then fix upon the inevitable men who could write most readably and most authoritatively upon these topics, and "go after" them. Sometimes he would write one of his matchless editorial letters; at other times he would make a personal visit; if necessary, he would use any available friends in a wire-pulling campaign. At all odds he must "get" his man; once he had fixed upon a certain contributor nothing could divert him from the chase. Nor did the negotiations cease after he had "landed" his quarry. He had his way of discussing the subject with his proposed writer, and he discussed it from every possible point of view. He would take him to lunch or to dinner; in his quiet way he would draw him out, find whether he really knew much about the subject, learn the attitude that he was likely to take, and delicately slip in suggestions of his own. Not infrequently this preliminary interview would disclose that the much sought writer, despite appearances, was not the one who was destined for that particular job; in this case Page would find some way of shunting him in favour of a more promising candidate. But Page was no mere chaser of names; there was nothing of the literary tuft-hunter about his editorial methods. He liked to see such men as Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, William Graham. Sumner, Charles W. Eliot, Frederic Harrison, Paul Bourget, and the like upon his title page---and here these and many other similarly distinguished authors appeared---but the greatest name could not attain a place there if the letter press that followed were unworthy. Indeed Page's habit of throwing out the contributions of the great, after paying a stiff price for them, caused much perturbation in his counting room. One day he called in one of his associates.
"Do you see that waste basket?" he asked, pointing to a large receptacle filled to overflowing with manuscripts. "All our Cleveland articles are there!"
He had gone to great trouble and expense to obtain a series of six articles from the most prominent publicists and political leaders of the country on the first year of Mr. Cleveland's second administration. It was to be the "feature" of the number then in preparation.
"There isn't one of them," he declared, "who has got the point. I have thrown them all away and I am going to try to write something myself."
And he spent a couple of days turning out an article which aroused great public interest. When Page commissioned an article, he meant simply that he would pay full price for it; whether he would publish it depended entirely upon the quality of the material itself. But Page was just as severe upon his own writings as upon those of other men. He wrote occasionally---always under a nom-de-plume; but he had great difficulty in satisfying his own editorial standards. After finishing an article he would commonly send for one of his friends and read the result.
"That is superb!" this admiring associate would sometimes say.
In response Page would take the manuscript and, holding it aloft in two hands, tear it into several bits, and throw the scraps into the waste basket.
"Oh, I can do better than that," he would laugh and in another minute he was busy rewriting the article, from beginning to end.
Page retired from the editorship of the Forum in 1895. The severance of relations was half a comedy, half a tragedy. The proprietors had only the remotest relation to literature; they had lost much money in the enterprise before Page became editor and only the fortunate accident of securing his services had changed their losing venture into a financial success. In a moment of despair, before the happier period had arrived, they offered to sell the property to Page and his friends. Page quickly assembled a new group to purchase control, when, much to the amazement of the old owners, the Forum began to make money. Instead of having a burden on their hands, the proprietors suddenly discovered that they had a gold mine. They therefore refused to deliver their holdings and an inevitable struggle ensued for control. Page could edit a magazine and turn a shipwrecked enterprise into a profitable one; but, in a tussle of this kind, he was no match for the shrewd business men who owned the property. When the time came for counting noses Page and his friends found themselves in a minority. Of course his resignation as editor necessarily followed this little unpleasantness. And just as inevitably the Forum again began to lose money, and soon sank into an obscurity from which it has never emerged.
The Forum had established Page's reputation as an editor, and the competition for his services was lively. The distinguished Boston publishing house of Houghton, Mifflin & Company immediately invited him to become a part of their organization. When Horace E. Scudder, in 1898, resigned the editorship of the Atlantic Monthly, Page succeeded him. Thus Page became the successor of James Russell Lowell, James T. Fields, William D. Howells, and Thomas Bailey Aldrich as the head of this famous periodical. This meant that he had reached the top of his profession. He was now forty-three years old.
No American publication had ever had so brilliant a history. Founded in 1857, in the most flourishing period of the New England writers, its pages had first published many of the best essays of Emerson, the second series of the Biglow papers as well as many other of Lowell's writings, poems of Longfellow and Whittier, such great successes as Holmes's "Autocrat of the Breakfast Table," Mrs. Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and the early novels of Henry James. If America had a literature, the Atlantic was certainly its most successful periodical exponent. Yet, in a sense, the Atlantic, by the time Page succeeded to the editorship, had become the victim of its dazzling past. Its recent editors had lived too exclusively in their back numbers. They had conducted the magazine too much for the restricted audience of Boston and New England. There was a time, indeed, when the business office arranged the subscribers in two classes---" Boston" and "foreign"; "Boston" representing their local adherents, and "foreign" the loyal readers who lived in the more benighted parts of the United States. One of its editors had been heard to boast that he never solicited a contribution; it was not his business to be a literary drummer! Let the truth be fairly spoken: when Page made his first appearance in the Atlantic office, the magazine was unquestionably on the decline. Its literary quality was still high; the momentum that its great contributors had given it was still keeping the publication alive; entrance into its columns still represented the ultimate ambition of the aspiring American writer; but it needed a new spirit to insure its future. What it required was the kind of editing that had suddenly made the Forum one of the greatest of English-written reviews. This is the reason why the canny Yankee proprietors had reached over to New York and grasped Page as quickly as the capitalists of the Forum let him slip between their fingers.
Page's sense of humour discovered a certain ironic aspect in his position as the dictator of this famous New England magazine. The fact that his manner was impatiently energetic and somewhat startling to the placid atmosphere of Park Street was not the thing that really signified its break with its past. But here was a Southerner firmly entrenched in a headquarters that had long been sacred to the New England abolitionists. One of the first sights that greeted Page, as he came into the office, was the angular and spectacled countenance of William Lloyd Garrison, gazing down from a steel engraving on the wall. One of Garrison's sons was a colleague, and the anterooms were frequently cluttered with dusky gentlemen patiently waiting for interviews with this benefactor of their race. Page once was careless enough to inform Mr. Garrison that "one of your niggers" was waiting outside for an audience. "I very much regret, Mr. Page," came the answer, "that you should insist on spelling 'Negro' with two 'g's'." Despite the mock solemnity of this rebuke, perennial good-nature and raillery prevailed between the son of Garrison and his disrespectful but ever sympathetic Southern friend. Indeed, one of Page's earliest performances was to introduce a spirit of laughter and genial cooperation into a rather solemn and self-satisfied environment. Mr. Mifflin, the head of the house, even formally thanked Page "for the hearty human way in which you take hold of life." Mr. Ellery Sedgwick, the present editor of the Atlantic, has described the somewhat disconcerting descent of Page upon the editorial sanctuary of James Russell Lowell:
"Were a visitant from another sphere to ask me for the incarnation of those qualities we love to call American, I should turn to a familiar gallery of my memory and point to the living portrait that hangs there of Walter Page. A sort of foursquareness, bluntness, it seemed to some; an uneasy, often explosive energy; a disposition to underrate fine drawn nicenesses of all sorts; ingrained Yankee common sense, checking his vaulting enthusiasm; enormous self-confidence, impatience of failure---all of these were in him; and he was besides affectionate to a fault, devoted to his country, his family, his craft---a strong, bluff, tender man.
"Those were the decorous days of the old tradition, and Page's entrance into the 'atmosphere' of Park Street has taken on the dignity of legend. There were all kinds of signs and portents, as the older denizens will tell you. Strange breezes floated through the office, electric emanations, and a pervasive scent of tobacco, which---so the local historian says---had been unknown in the vicinity since the days of Walter Raleigh, except for the literary aroma of Aldrich's quarantined sanctum upstairs. Page's coming marked the end of small ways. His first requirement was, in lieu of a desk, a table that might have served a family of twelve for Thanksgiving dinner. No one could imagine what that vast, polished tableland could serve for until they watched the editor at work. Then they saw. Order vanished and chaos reigned. Huge piles of papers, letters, articles, reports, books, pamphlets, magazines, congregated themselves as if by magic. To work in such confusion seemed hopeless, but Page eluded the congestion by the simple expedient of moving on. He would light a fresh cigar, give the editorial chair a hitch, and begin his work in front of a fresh expanse of table, with no clutter of the past to disturb the new day's litter.
"The motive power of his work was enthusiasm. Never was more generous welcome given to a newcomer than Page held out to the successful manuscript of an unknown. I remember, though I heard the news second hand at the time, what a day it was in the office when the first manuscript from the future author of 'To Have and To Hold,' came in from an untried Southern girl. He walked up and down, reading paragraphs aloud and slapping the crisp manuscript to enforce his commendation. To take a humbler instance, I recall the words of over generous praise with which he greeted the first paper I ever sent to an editor quite as clearly as I remember the monstrous effort which had brought it into being. Sometimes he would do a favoured manuscript the honour of taking it out to lunch in his coat-pocket, and an associate vividly recalls eggs, coffee, and pie in a near-by restaurant, while, in a voice that could be heard by the remotest lunchers. Page read passages which many of them were too startled to appreciate. He was not given to overrating, but it was not in his nature to understate. 'I tell you,' said he, grumbling over some unfortunate proof-sheets from Manhattan, 'there isn't one man in New York who can write English---not from the Battery to Harlem Heights.' And if the faults were moral rather than literary, his disapproval grew in emphasis. There is more than tradition in the tale of the Negro who, presuming on Page's deep interest in his race, brought to his desk a manuscript copied word for word from a published source. Page recognized the deception, and seizing the rascal's collar with a firm editorial grip, rejected the poem, and ejected the poet, with an energy very invigorating to the ancient serenities of the office.
"Page was always effervescent with ideas. Like an editor who would have made a good fisherman, he used to say that you had to cast a dozen times before you could get a strike. He was forever in those days sending out ideas and suggestions and invitations to write. The result was electric, and the magazine became with a suddenness (of which only an editor can appreciate the wonder) a storehouse of animating thoughts. He avoided the mistake common to our craft of editing a magazine for the immediate satisfaction of his colleagues. 'Don't write for the office,' he would say. 'Write for outside,' and so his magazine became a living thing. His phrase suggests one special gift that Page had, for which his profession should do him especial honour. He was able, quite beyond the powers of any man of my acquaintance, to put compendiously into words the secrets of successful editing. It was capital training just to hear him talk. 'Never save a feature,' he used to say. 'Always work for the next number. Forget the others. Spend everything just on that.' And to those who know, there is divination in the principle. Again he understood instinctively that to write well a man must not only have something to say, but must long to say it. A highly intelligent representative of the coloured race came to him with a philosophic essay, Page would have none of it. 'I know what you are thinking of,' said Page. 'You are thinking of the barriers we set up against you, and the handicap of your lot. If you will write what it feels like to be a Negro, I will print that.' The result was a paper which has seemed to me the most moving expression of the hopeless hope of the race I know of.
"Page was generous in his cooperation. He never drew a rigid line about his share in any enterprise, but gave and took help with each and all. A lover of good English, with an honest passion for things tersely said, Page esteemed good journalism far above any second-rate manifestation of more pretentious forms; but many of us will regret that he was not privileged to find some outlet for his energies in which aspiration for real literature might have played an ampler part. For the literature of the past Page had great respect, but his interest was ever in the present and the future. He was forever fulminating against bad writing, and hated the ignorant and slipshod work of the hack almost as much as he despised the sham of the man who affected letters, the dabbler and the poetaster. His taste was for the roast beef of literature, not for the side dishes and the trimmings, and his appreciation of the substantial work of others was no surer than his instinct for his own performance. He was an admirable writer of exposition, argument, and narrative-solid and thoughtful, but never dull. . . . I came into close relations with him and from him I learned more of my profession than from any one I have ever known. Scores of other men would say the same."
But the fact that a new hand had seized the Atlantic was apparent in other places than in the Atlantic office itself. One of Page's contributors of the Forum days, Mr. Courtney DeKalb, happened to be in St. Louis when the first number of the magazine under its new editor made its appearance. Mr. DeKalb had been out of the country for some time and knew nothing of the change. Happening accidentally to pick up the Atlantic, the table of contents caught his eye. It bore the traces of an unmistakable hand. Only one man, he said to himself, could assemble such a group as that, and above all, only Page could give such an enticing turn of the titles. He therefore sat down and wrote his old friend congratulating him on his accession to the Atlantic Monthly. The change that now took. place was indeed a conspicuous, almost a startling one. The Atlantic retained all its old literary flavour, for to its traditions Page was as much devoted as the highest caste Bostonian; it still gave up much of its space to a high type of fiction, poetry, and reviews of contemporary literature, but every number contained also an assortment of articles which celebrated the prevailing activities of men and women in all worthwhile fields of effort. There were discussions of present-day politics, and these even became personal dissections of presidential candidates; there were articles on the racial characters of the American population: Theodore Roosevelt was permitted to discuss the New York police; Woodrow Wilson to pass in review the several elements that made the Nation; Booker T. Washington to picture the awakening of the Negro; John Muir to enlighten Americans upon a national beauty and wealth of which they had been woefully ignorant, their forests; William Allen White to describe certain aspects of his favourite Kansas; E. L. Godkin to review the dangers and, the hopes of American democracy; Jacob Riis to tell about the Battle with the Slum; and W. G. Frost to reveal for the first time the archaic civilization of the Kentucky mountaineers. The latter article illustrated Page's genius at rewriting titles. Mr. Frost's theme was that these Kentucky mountaineers were really Elizabethan survivals; that their dialect, their ballads, their habits were really a case of arrested development; that by studying them present-day Americans could get a picture of their distant forbears. Page gave vitality to the presentation by changing a commonplace title to this one: "Our Contemporary Ancestors."
There were those who were offended by Page's willingness to seek inspiration on the highways and byways and even in newspapers, for not infrequently he would find hidden away in a corner an idea that would result in valuable magazine matter. On one occasion at least this practice had important literary consequences. One day he happened to read that a Mrs. Robert Hanning had died in Toronto, the account casually mentioning the fact that Mrs. Hanning was the youngest sister of Thomas Carlyle. Page handed this clipping to a young assistant, and told him to take the first train to Canada. The editor could easily divine that a sister of Carlyle, expatriated for forty-six years on this side of the Atlantic, must have received a large number of letters from her brother, and it was safe to assume that they had been carefully preserved. Such proved to be the fact; and a new volume of Carlyle letters, of somewhat more genial character than the other collections, was the outcome of this visit.(4) And another fruit of this journalistic habit was---The Memoirs of a Revolutionist," by Prince Peter Kropotkin. In 1897 the great Russian nihilist was lecturing in Boston. Page met him, learned from his own lips his story, and persuaded him to put it in permanent form. This willingness of Page to admit such a revolutionary person into the pages of the Atlantic caused some excitement in conventional circles. In fact, it did take some courage, but Page never hesitated; the man was of heroic mould, he had a great story to tell, he wielded an engaging pen, and his purposes were high-minded. A great book of memoirs was the result.
Mr. Sedgwick refers above to Page's editorial fervour when Miss Mary Johnston's "Prisoners of Hope" first fell out of the blue sky into his Boston office. Page's joy was not less keen because the young author was a Virginia girl, and because she had discovered that the early period of Virginia history was a field for romance. When, a few months afterward, Page was casting about for an Atlantic serial, Miss Johnston and this Virginia field seemed to be an especially favourable prospect. "Prisoners of Hope" had been published as a book and had made a good success, but Miss Johnston's future still lay ahead of her. With Page to think meant to act, and so, instead of writing a formal letter, he at once jumped on a train for Birmingham, Alabama, where Miss Johnston was then living. "I remember quite distinctly that first meeting," writes Miss Johnston. "The day was rainy. Standing at my window I watched Mr. Page---a characteristic figure, air and walk---approach the house. When a few minutes later I met him he was simplicity and kindliness itself. This was my first personal contact with publishers (my publishers) or with editors of anything so great as the Atlantic. My heart beat! But he was friendly and Southern. I told him what I had done upon a new story. He was going on that night. Might he take the manuscript with him and read it upon the train? It might---he couldn't say positively, of course---but it might have serial possibilities. I was only too glad for him to have the manuscript. I forget just how many chapters I had completed. But it was not quite in order. Could I get it so in a few hours? In that case he would send a messenger for it from the hotel. Yes, I could. Very good! A little further talk and he left with a strong handshake. Three or four hours later he had the manuscript and took it with him from Birmingham that night."
Page's enterprising visit had put into his hands the half-finished manuscript of a story, "To Have and to Hold," which, when printed in the Atlantic, more than doubled its circulation, and which, when made into a book, proved one of the biggest successes since "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
Page's most independent stroke in his Atlantic days came with the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. Boston was then the headquarters of a national mood which has almost passed out of popular remembrance. Its spokesmen called themselves anti-imperialists. The theory back of their protest was that the American declaration of war on Spain was not only the wanton attack of a great bully upon a feeble little country: it was something that was bound to have deplorable consequences. The United States was breaking with its past and engaging in European quarrels; as a consequence of the war it would acquire territories and embark on a career of "imperialism." Page was impatient at this kind of twaddle. He declared that the Spanish War was a "necessary act of surgery for the health of civilization." He did not believe that a nation, simply because it was small, should be permitted to maintain indefinitely a human slaughter house at the door of the United States. The Atlantic for June, 1898, gave the so-called anti-imperialists a thrill of horror. On the cover appeared the defiantly flying American flag; the first article was a vigorous and approving presentation of the American case against Spain; though this was unsigned, its incisive style at once betrayed the author. The Atlantic had printed the American flag on its cover during the Civil War; but certain New Englanders thought that this latest struggle, in its motives and its proportions, was hardly entitled to the distinction. Page declared, however, that the Spanish War marked a new period in history; and he endorsed the McKinley Administration, not only in the war itself, but in its consequences, particularly the annexation of the Philippine Islands.
Page greatly enjoyed life in Boston and Cambridge. The Atlantic was rapidly growing in circulation and in influence, and the new friends that its editor was making were especially to his taste. He now had a family of four children, three boys and one girl---and their bringing up and education, as he said at this time, constituted his real occupation. So far as he could see, in the summer of 1899, he was permanently established in life. But larger events in the publishing world now again pulled him hack to New York.
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