"THE FORGOTTEN MAN"
IN JULY, 1899, the publishing community learned that financial difficulties were seriously embarrassing the great house of Harper. For nearly a century this establishment had maintained a position almost of preeminence among American publishers. Three generations of Harpers had successively presided over its destinies; its magazines and books had become almost a household necessity in all parts of the United States, and its authors included many of the names most celebrated in American letters. The average American could no more associate the idea of bankruptcy with this great business than with the federal Treasury itself. Yet this incredible disaster had virtually taken place. At this time the public knew nothing of the impending ruin; the fact was, however, that, in July, 1899, the banking house of J. P. Morgan & Company practically controlled this property. This was the situation which again called Page to New York.
In the preceding year Mr. S. S. McClure, whose recent success as editor and publisher had been little less than a sensation, had joined forces with Mr. Frank N. Doubleday, and organized the new firm of Doubleday & McClure. This business was making rapid progress; and that it would soon become one of the leading American publishing houses was already apparent. It was perhaps not unnatural, therefore, that Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan, scanning the horizon for the men who might rescue the Harper concern from approaching disaster, should have had his attention drawn to Mr. McClure and Mr. Doubleday. "The failure of Harper & Brothers," Mr. Morgan said in a published statement, "would be a national calamity." One morning, therefore, a member of the Harper firm called upon Mr. McClure. Without the slightest hesitation he unfolded the Harper situation to his astonished contemporary. The solution proposed was more astonishing still. This was that Mr. Doubleday and Mr. McClure should amalgamate their young and vigorous business with the Harper enterprise and become the active managers of the new corporation. Both Mr. McClure and Mr. Doubleday were comparatively young men, and the magnitude of the proposed undertaking at first rather staggered them. It was as though a small independent steel maker should suddenly be invited to take over the United States Steel Corporation. Mr. McClure, characteristically impetuous and daring, wished to accept the invitation outright; Mr. Doubleday, however, suggested a period of probation. The outcome was that the two men offered to take charge of Harper & Brothers for a few months, and then decide whether they wished to make the association a permanent one. One thing was immediately apparent; Messrs. Doubleday and McClure, able as they were, would need the help of the best talent available in the work that lay ahead. The first man to whom they turned was Page, who presently left Boston and took up his business abode at Franklin Square. The rumble of the elevated road was somewhat distracting after the four quiet years in Park Street, but the new daily routine was not lacking in interest. The Harper experiment, however, did not end as Mr. Morgan had hoped. After a few months Messrs. Doubleday, Page and McClure withdrew, and left the work of rescue to be performed by Mr. George Harvey, who, curiously enough, succeeded Page, twenty-one years afterward, in an even more important post---that of ambassador to the Court of St. James's. The one important outcome of the Harper episode, so far as Page was concerned, was the forming of a close business and personal association with Mr. Frank N. Doubleday. As soon as the two men definitely decided not to assume the Harper responsibility, therefore, they joined forces and founded the firm of Doubleday, Page & Company. Page now had the opportunity which he had long wished for; the mere editing of magazines, even magazines of such an eminent character as the Forum and the Atlantic Monthly, could hardly satisfy his ambition; he yearned to possess something which he could call his own, at least in part.
The life of an editor has its unsatisfactory aspect, unless the editor himself has an influential ownership in his periodical. Page now found his opportunity to establish a monthly magazine which he could regard as his own in both senses. He was its untrammelled editor, and also, in part, its proprietor. All editors and writers will sympathize with the ideas expressed in a letter written about this time to Page's friend, Mr. William Roscoe Thayer, already distinguished as the historian of Italian unity and afterward to win fame as the biographer of Cavour and John Hay. When the first number of the World's Work appeared Mr. Thayer wrote, expressing a slight disappointment that its leading tendency was journalistic rather than literary and intellectual. "When you edited the Forum," wrote Mr. Thayer, "I perceived that no such talent for editing had been seen in America before, and when, a little later, you rejuvenated the Atlantic. making it for a couple of years the best periodical printed in English, I felt that you had a great mission before you as evoker and editor of the best literary work and weightiest thought on important topics of our foremost men." He had hoped to see a magnified Atlantic, and the new publication, splendid as it was, seemed to be of rather more popular character than the publications with which Page had previously been associated. Page met this challenge in his usual hearty fashion.
To William Roscoe Thayer
34 Union Square East,
December 5, 1900.
MY DEAR THAYER:
The World's Work has brought me nothing so good as your letter of yesterday. When Mrs. Page read it, she shouted "Now that's it!"' For "it" read "truth," and you will have her meaning and mine. My thanks you may be sure you have, in great and earnest abundance.
You surprise me in two ways---(1) that you think as well of the magazine as you do. If it have half the force and earnestness that you say it has, how happy I shall be, for then it will surely bring something to pass. The other way in which you surprise me is by the flattering things that you say about my conduct of the Atlantic. Alas! it was not what you in your kind way say---no, no.
Of course the World's Work is not yet by any means what I hope to make it. But it has this incalculable advantage (to me) over every other magazine in existence: it is mine (mine and my partners', i. e., partly mine), and I shall not work to build up a good piece of machinery and then be turned out to graze as an old horse is. This of course, is selfish and personal---not wholly selfish either, I think. I threw down the Atlantic for this reason: (Consider the history of its editors) Lowell(5) complained bitterly that he was never rewarded properly for the time and work he did; Fields was (in a way) one of its owners; it was sold out from under Howells, etc., etc. I might (probably should) have been at the mercy completely of owners some day who would have dismissed me for a younger man. Nearly all hired editors suffer this fate. My good friends in Boston were sincere in thinking that my day of doom would never come; but they didn't offer me any guarantee---part ownership, for instance; and the years go swiftly. I could afford, of my own volition, to leave the Atlantic. I couldn't afford to take permanently the risks that a hired editor must take. Nor should I ever again have turned my hand to such a task except on a magazine of my own. I should have sought other employment. There are many easier and better and more influential things to do---yet., ten years hence I might have been too old. Harry Houghton(6) has an old horse thirty years old. I used to see him grazing sometimes and hear his master's self-congratulatory explanation of his own kindness to that faithful beast. In the office of Houghton, Mifflin & Company there is an old man whom I used to see every day---pensioned, grazing. Then I would go home and see four bright children. Three of them are now away from home at school; and the four cost a pretty penny to educate. My income had been the same for ten years---or very nearly the same. If I was a "magic" editor, I confess I didn't see the magic; and there is no power under Heaven or in it that can prove to me that I ought to keep on making magazines as a hired man---without the common security of permanent service for lack of which nearly all my predecessors lost their chance.
But this is not all, nor half. A man ought to express himself, ought to live his own life, say his own little say, before silence comes. The "say" may be bad---a mere yawp, and silence might be more becoming. But the same argument would make a man dissatisfied with his own nose if it happened to be ugly. It's his nose, and he must content himself. So it's his yawp and he must let it go.
I'm not going to make the new magazine my own megaphone---you may be sure of that. It will nevertheless contain my general interpretation of things, in which I swear I do believe! The first thing, of course, is to establish it. Then it can be shaped more nearly into what I wish it to become. If it seem unmannerly, aggressive, I know no other way to make it heard. If it died, then the game would be up. Well, we seem to have established it at once. It promises not to cost us a penny of investment.
Now, the magazines need new topics. They have all threshed over old straw for many years. There is one new subject, to my thinking worth all the old ones: the new impulse in American life, the new feeling of nationality, our coming to realize ourselves. To my mind there is greater promise in democracy than men of any preceding period ever dared dream of---aggressive democracy---growth by action. Our writers (the few we have) are yet in the pre-democratic era. When men's imaginations lay hold on the things that already begin to appear above the horizon, we shall have something worth reading. At present I can do no more than bawl out, "See! here are new subjects." One of these days somebody will come along who can write about them. I have started out without a writer. Fiske is under contract, James would give nothing more to the Atlantic, you were ill (I thank Heaven you are no longer so) the second- and third-rate essayists have been bought by mere Wall Street publishers. Beyond these are the company of story tellers and beyond them only a dreary waste of dead-level unimaginative men and women. I can (soon) get all that I could ever have got in the Atlantic and new ones (I know they'll come) whom I could never have got there.
You'll see---within a year or two---by far a better magazine than I have ever made; and you and I will differ in nothing unless you feel despair about the breakdown of certain democratic theories, which I think were always mere theories. Let 'em go! The real thing, which is life and action, is better.
Heartily and always your grateful friend,
WALTER H. PAGE.
Thus the fact that Page's new magazine was intended for a popular audience was not the result of accident, but of design. It represented a periodical plan which had long been taking shape in Page's mind. The things that he had been doing for the Forum and the Atlantic he aspired to do for a larger audience than that to which publications of this character could appeal. Scholar though Page was, and lover of the finest things in literature that he had always been, yet this sympathy and interest had always lain with the masses. Perhaps it is impossible to make literature democratic, but Page believed that he would be genuinely serving the great cause that was nearest his heart if he could spread wide the facts of the modern world, especially the facts of America, and if he could clothe the expression in language which, while always dignified and even "literary," would still be sufficiently touched with the vital, the picturesque, and the "human," to make his new publication appeal to a wide audience of intelligent, everyday Americans. It was thus part of his general programme of improving the status of the average man, and it formed a logical part of his philosophy of human advancement. For the only acceptable measure of any civilization, Page believed, was the extent to which it improved the condition of the common citizen. A few cultured and university-trained men at the top; a few ancient families living in luxury; a few painters and poets and statesmen and generals; these things, in Page's view, did not constitute a satisfactory state of society; the real test was the extent to which the masses participated in education, in the necessities and comforts of existence, in the right of self-evolution and self-expression, in that "equality of opportunity," which, Page never wearied of repeating, "was the basis of social progress." The mere right to vote and to hold office was not democracy; parliamentary majorities and political caucuses were not democracy---at the best these things were only details and not the most important ones; democracy was the right of every man to enjoy, in accordance with his aptitudes of character and mentality, the material and spiritual opportunities that nature and science had placed at the disposition of mankind. This democratic creed had now become the dominating interest of Page's life. From this time on it consumed all his activities. His new magazine set itself first of all to interpret the American panorama from this point of view; to describe the progress that the several parts of the country were making in the several manifestations of democracy---education, agriculture, industry, social life, politics---and the importance that Page attached to them was practically in the order named. Above all it concerned itself with the men and women who were accomplishing most in the definite realization of this great end.
And now also Page began to carry his activities far beyond mere print. In his early residence in New York, from 1885 to 1895, he had always taken his part in public movements; he had been a vital spirit in the New York Reform Club, which was engaged mainly in advocating the Cleveland tariff; he had always shown a willingness to experiment with new ideas; at one time he had mingled with Socialists and he had been quite captivated by the personal and literary charm of Henry George. After 1900, however, Page became essentially a public man, though not in the political sense. His work as editor and writer was merely one expression of the enthusiasms that occupied his mind. From 1900 until 1913, when he left for England, life meant for him mainly an effort to spread the democratic ideal, as he conceived it; concretely it represented a constant campaign for improving the fundamental opportunities and the everyday social advantages of the masses.
Inevitably the condition of the people in his own homeland enlisted Page's sympathy, for he had learned of their necessities at first hand. The need of education had powerfully impressed him even as a boy. At twenty-three he began writing articles for the Raleigh Observer, and practically all of them were pleas for the education of the Southern child. His subsequent activities of this kind, as editor of the State Chronicle, have already been described. The American from other parts of the country is rather shocked when he first learns of the backwardness of education in the South a generation ago. In any real sense there was no publicly supported system for training the child. A few wretched hovels, scattered through a sparsely settled country, served as school houses; a few uninspiring and neglected women, earning perhaps $50 or $75 a year, did weary duty as teachers; a few groups of anemic and listless children, attending school for only forty days a year---such was the preparation for life which most Southern states gave the less fortunate of their citizens. The glaring fact that emphasized the outcome of this official carelessness was an illiteracy, among white men and women, of 26 per cent. Among the Negroes it was vastly larger.
The first exhortation to reform came from the Wautauga Club, which Page had organized in Raleigh in 1884. After Page had left his native state, other men began preaching the same crusade. Perhaps the greatest of those advocates whom the South loves to refer to as "educational statesmen" was Dr. Charles D. McIver, of Greensboro, N.C. McIver's personality and career had an heroic quality all their own. Back in the 'eighties Mclver and Edwin A. Alderman, now President of the University of Virginia, endured all kinds of hardships and buffetings in the cause of popular education; they stumped the state, much like political campaigners, preaching the strange new gospel in mountain cabin, in village church, at the cart's tail---all in an attempt to arouse their lethargic countrymen to the duty of laying a small tax to save their children from illiteracy. Some day the story of McIver and Alderman will find its historian; when it does, he will learn that, in those dark ages, one of their greatest sources of inspiration was Walter Page. McIver, a great burly boy, physically and intellectually, so full of energy that existence for him was little less than an unending tornado, so full of zeal that any other occupation than that of training the neglected seemed a trifling with life, so sleepless in his efforts that, at the age of forty-five, he one day dropped dead while travelling on a railroad train; Alderman, a man of finer culture, quieter in his methods, an orator of polish and restraint, but an advocate vigorous in the prosecution of the great end; and Page, living faraway in the North, but pumping his associates full of courage and enthusiasm---these were the three guardsmen of this new battle for the elevation of the white and black men of the South. McIver's great work was the State Normal College for Women, which, amid unparallelled difficulties, he founded for teaching the teachers of the new Southern generation. It was at this institution that Page, in 1897, delivered the address which gave the cause of Southern education that one thing which is worth armies to any struggling reform---a phrase; and it was a phrase that lived in the popular mind and heart and summed up, in a way that a thousand speeches could never have done, the great purpose for which the best people in the state were striving.
His editorial gift for title-making now served Page in good stead. "The Forgotten Man," which was the heading of his address, immediately passed into the common speech of the South and even at this day inevitably appears in all discussions of social progress. It was again Page's familiar message of democracy, of improving the condition of the everyday man, woman, and child; and the message, as is usually the case in all incitements to change, involved many unpleasant facts. Page had first of all to inform his fellow Southerners that it was only in the South that "The Forgotten Man" was really an outstanding feature. He did not exist in New England, in the Middle States, in the Mississippi Valley, or in the West, or existed in these regions to so slight an extent that he was not a grave menace to society. But in the South the situation was quite different. And for this fact the explanation was found in history. The South certainly could not fix the blame upon Nature. In natural wealth ---in forests, mines, quarries, rich soil, in the unlimited power supplied by water courses---the Southern States formed perhaps the richest region in the country. These things North Carolina and her sister communities had not developed; more startling still, they had not developed a source of wealth that was infinitely greater than all these combined; they had not developed their men and their women. The Southern States represented the purest "Anglo-Saxon" strain in the United States; to-day in North Carolina only one person in four hundred is of "foreign stock," and a voting list of almost any town contains practically nothing except the English and Scotch names that were borne by the original settlers. Yet here democracy, in any real sense, had scarcely obtained a footing. The region which had given Thomas Jefferson and George Washington to the world was still, in the year 1897, organized upon an essentially aristocratic basis. The conception of education which prevailed in the most hidebound aristocracies of Europe still ruled south of the Potomac. There was no acceptance of that fundamental American doctrine that education was the function of the state. It was generally regarded as the luxury of the rich and the socially high placed; it was certainly not for the poor; and it was a generally accepted view that those who enjoyed this privilege must pay for it out of their own pockets. Again Page returned to the "mummy" theme ---the fact that North Carolina, and the South generally, were too much ruled by "dead men's" hands. The state was controlled by a little aristocracy, which, in its social and economic character, made a failure and left a stubborn crop of wrong social notions behind it---especially about education." The chief backward influences were the stump and the pulpit. "From the days of King George to this day, the politicians of North Carolina have declaimed against taxes, thus laying the foundation of our poverty. It was a misfortune for us that the quarrel with King George happened to turn upon the question of taxation---so great was the dread of taxation that was instilled into us." What had the upper classes done for the education of the average man? The statistics of illiteracy, the deplorable economic and social conditions of the rural population---and most of the population of North Carolina was rural---furnished the answer.
Thus the North Carolina aristocracy had failed in education and the failure of the Church had been as complete and deplorable. The preachers had established preparatory schools for boys and girls, but these were under the control of sects; and so education was either a class or an ecclesiastical concern. "The forgotten man remained forgotten. The aristocratic scheme of education had passed him by. To a less extent, but still to the extent of hundreds of thousands, the ecclesiastical scheme had passed him by." But even the education which these institutions gave was inferior. Page told his North Carolina audience that the University of which they were so proud did not rank with Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and other universities of the North. The state had not produced great scholars nor established great libraries. In the estimation of publishers North Carolina was unimportant as a book market. "By any test that may be made, both these systems have failed even with the classes that they appealed to." The net result was that "One in every four was wholly forgotten"---that is, was unable to read and write. And the worst of it all was that the victim of this neglect was not disturbed over his situation. "The forgotten man was content to be forgotten. He became not only a dead weight, but a definite opponent of social progress. He faithfully heard the politician on the stump praise him for virtues that he did not have. The politicians told him that he lived in the best state in the Union; told him that the other politicians had some hare-brained plan to increase his taxes, told him as a consolation for his ignorance how many of his kinsmen had been killed in the war, told him to distrust any one who wished to change anything. What was good enough for his fathers was good enough for him. Thus the 'forgotten man' became a dupe, became thankful for being neglected. And the preacher told him that the ills and misfortunes of this life were blessings in disguise, that God meant his poverty as a means of grace, and that if he accepted the right creed all would be well with him. These influences encouraged inertia. There could not have been a better means to prevent the development of the people."
Even more tragic than these "forgotten men" were the "forgotten women." "Thin and wrinkled in youth from ill-prepared food, clad without warmth or grace, living in untidy houses, working from daylight till bedtime at the dull round of weary duties, the slaves of men of equal slovenliness, the mothers of joyless children---all uneducated if not illiterate." "This sight," Page told his hearers, "every one of you has seen, not in the countries whither we send missionaries, but in the borders of the State of North Carolina, in this year of grace."
"Our civilization," he declared, "has been a failure." Both the politicians and the preacher had failed to lift the masses. "It is a time for a wiser statesmanship and a more certain means of grace." He admitted that there had been recent progress in North Carolina, owing largely to the work of McIver and Alderman, but taxes for educational purposes were still low. What was the solution? "A public school system generously supported by public sentiment and generously maintained by both state and local taxation, is the only effective means to develop the forgotten man and even more surely the only means to develop the forgotten woman.
"If any beggar for a church school oppose a local tax for schools or a higher school tax, take him to the huts of the forgotten women and children, and in their hope less presence remind him that the church system of education has not touched tens of thousands of these lives and ask him whether he thinks it wrong that the common wealth should educate them. If he think it wrong ask him and ask the people plainly, whether he be a worthy preacher of the gospel that declares one man equal to another in the sight of God ? . . . The most sacred thing in the commonwealth and to the commonwealth is the child, whether it be your child or the child of the dull-faced mother of the hovel. The child of the dull faced mother may, as you know, be the most capable child in the state. . . . Several of the strongest personalities that were ever born in North Carolina were men whose very fathers were unknown. We have all known two such, who held high places in Church and State. President Eliot said a little while ago that the ablest man that he had known in his many years' connection with Harvard University was the son of a brickmason." In place of the ecclesiastical creed that had guided North Carolina for so many generations Page proposed his creed of democracy. He advised that North Carolina commit this to memory and teach it to its children. It was as follows:
"I believe in the free public training of both the hands and the mind of every child born of woman.
"I believe that by the right training of men we add to the wealth of the world. All wealth is the creation of man, and he creates it only in proportion to the trained uses of the community; and the more men we train the more wealth everyone may create.
"I believe in the perpetual regeneration of society, and in the immortality of democracy and in growth everlasting."
Thus Page nailed his theses upon the door of his native state, and mighty was the reverberation. In a few weeks Page's Greensboro address had made its way all over the Southern States, and his melancholy figure, "the forgotten man" had become part of the indelible imagery of the Southern people. The portrait etched itself deeply into the popular consciousness for the very good reason that its truth was pretty generally recognized. The higher type of newspaper, though it winced somewhat at Page's strictures, manfully recognized that the best way of meeting his charge was by setting to work and improving conditions. The fact is that the better conscience of North Carolina welcomed this eloquent description of unquestioned evils; but the gentlemen whom Page used to stigmatize as "professional Southerners"---the men who commercialized class and sectional prejudice to their own political and financial or ecclesiastical profit ---fell foul of this "renegade," this "Southern Yankee" this sacrilegious "intruder" who had dared to visit his old home and desecrate its traditions and its religion. This clerical wrath was kindled into fresh flame when Page, in an editorial in his magazine, declared that these same preachers, ignoring their real duties, were content "to herd their women and children around the stagnant pools of theology." For real religion Page had the deepest reverence, and he had great respect also for the robust evangelical preachers whose efforts had contributed so much to the opening up of the frontier. In his Greensboro address Page had given these men high praise. But for the assiduous idolaters of stratified dogma he entertained a contempt which he was seldom at pains to conceal. North Carolina had many clergymen of the more progressive type; these men chuckled at Page's vigorous characterization of the brethren, but those against whom it had been aimed raged with a fervour that was almost unchristian. This clerical excitement, however, did not greatly disturb the philosophic Page. The hubbub lasted for several years---for Page's Greensboro speech was only the first of many pronouncements of the same kind---but he never publicly referred to the attacks upon him. Occasionally in letters to his friends he would good-naturedly discuss them. "I have had several letters," he wrote to Professor Edwin Mims, of Trinity College, North Carolina, "about an 'excoriation' (Great Heavens! What a word!) that somebody in North Carolina has been giving me. I never read these things and I don't know what it's all about---nor do I care. But perhaps you'll be interested in a letter that I wrote an old friend (a lady) who is concerned about it. I enclose a copy of it. I shall never notice any 'excoriator.' But if you wish to add to the gaiety of nations, give this copy to some newspaper and let it loose in the state---if you care to do so. We must have patience with these puny and peevish brethren. They've been trained to a false view of life. Heaven knows I bear them no ill-will."
The letter to which Page referred follows:
MY DEAR FRIEND:
I have your letter saying that some of the papers in North Carolina are again "jumping on" me. I do not know which they are, and I am glad that you did not tell me. I had heard of it before. A preacher wrote me the other day that he approved of every word of an "excoriation" that some religious editor had given me. A kindly Christian act---wasn't it, to send a stranger word that you were glad that he had been abused by a religious editor? I wrote him a gentle letter, telling him that I hoped he'd have a long and happy life preaching a gospel of friendliness and neighbourliness and good-will, and that I cared nothing about "excoriations." Why should he, then, forsake his calling and take delight in disseminating personal abuse?
And why do you not write me about things that I really care for in the good old country---the budding trees, the pleasant weather, news of old friends, gossip of good people---cheerful things? I pray you, don't be concerned about what any poor whining soul may write about me. I don't care for myself: I care only for him; for the writer of personal abuse always suffers from it---never the man abused.
I haven't read what my kindly clerical correspondent calls an "excoriation " for ten years, and I never shall read one if I know what it is beforehand. Why should I or anybody read such stuff? I can't find time to do half the positive things that I should like to do for the broadening of my own character and for the encouragement of others. Why should I waste a single minute in such a negative and cheerless way as reading anybody's personal abuse of anybody else---least of all myself?
These silly outbursts never reach me and they never can; and they, therefore, utterly fail, and always will fail, of their aim; yet, my dear friend, there is nevertheless a serious side to such folly. For it shows the need of education, education, education. The religious editor and the preacher who took joy in his abuse of me have such a starved view of life that they cannot themselves, perhaps, ever be educated into kindliness and dignity of thought. But their children may be---must be. Think of beautiful children growing up in a home where "excoriating" people who differ with you is regarded as a manly Christian exercise! It is pitiful beyond words. There is no way to lift up life that is on so low a level except by the free education of all the people. Let us work for that and, when the growlers are done growling and forgotten, better men will remember us with gratitude.
I felt greatly complimented and pleased to receive an invitation the other day to attend the North Carolina Teachers' Assembly in June. I have many things to do in June, but I am going---going with great pleasure. I hope to see you there. I know of no other company of people that I should be so glad to meet. They are doing noble work---the most devoted and useful work in this whole wide world. They are the true leaders of the people. I often wish that I were one of them. They inspire me as nobody else does. They are the army of our salvation.
Write me what they are doing. Write me about the wonderful educational progress. And write me about the peach trees and the budding imminence of spring; and about the children who now live all day outdoors and grow brown and plump. And never mind that queer sect, "The Excoriators." They and their stage thunder will be forgotten to-morrow. Meantime let us live and work for things nobler than any controversies, for things that are larger than the poor mission of any sect; and let us have charity and a patient pity for those that think they serve God by abusing their fellow-men. I wish I saw some way to help them to a broader and a higher life.
WALTER H. PAGE.
That Page should have little interest in "excoriators" at the time this letter was written---in April, 1902---was not surprising, for his educational campaign and that of his friends was now bearing fruit. "Write me about the wonderful educational progress," he says to this correspondent; and, indeed, the change that was coming over North Carolina and the South generally seemed to be tinged with the miraculous. The "Forgotten Man" and the "Forgotten Woman" were rapidly coming into their own. Two years after the delivery of Page's Greensboro address, a small group of educational enthusiasts met at Capon Springs, West Virginia, to discuss the general situation in the South. The leader of this little gathering was Robert C. Ogden, a great New York merchant who for many years had been President of the Board of Hampton Institute. Out of this meeting grew the Southern Educational Conference, which was little more than an annual meeting for advertising broadcast the educational needs of the South. Each year Mr. Ogden chartered a railroad train; a hundred or so of the leading editors, lawyers, bankers, and the like became his guests; the train moved through the Southern States, pausing now and then to investigate some particular institution or locality; and at some Southern city, such as Birmingham or Atlanta or Winston-Salem, a stop of several days would be made, a public building engaged, and long meetings held. In all these proceedings Page was an active figure, as he became in the Southern Education Board, which directly resulted, from Mr. Ogden's public spirited excursions. Like the Conference, the Southern Education Board was a purely missionary organization, and its most active worker was Page himself. He was constantly speaking and writing on his favourite subject; he printed article after article, not only in his own magazine, but in the Atlantic, in, the Outlook, and in a multitude of newspapers, such as the Boston Transcript, the New York Times, and the Kansas City Star. And always through his writings, and, indeed, through his life, there ran, like the motif of an opera, that same perpetual plea for "the forgotten man"---the 'need of uplifting the backward masses through training, both of the mind and of the hand. The day came when this loyal group had other things to work with than their voices and their pens; their efforts had attracted the attention of Mr. John D. Rockefeller, who brought assistance of an extremely substantial character. In 1902 Mr. Rockefeller organized the General Education Board. Of the ten members six were taken from the Southern Education Board; other members represented general educational movements and especially the Baptist interests to which Mr. Rockefeller had been contributing for years. In a large sense, therefore, especially in its membership, the General Education Board was a development of the Ogden organization; but it was much broader in its sweep, taking under its view the entire nation and all forms of educational effort. It immediately began to concern itself with the needs of the South. In 1902 Mr. Rockefeller gave this new corporation $1,000,000; in 1905 he gave it $10,000,000, in 1907 he astonished the Nation by giving $32,000.000, and, in 1909, another $10,000,000; the whole making a total of $53,000,000, the largest sum ever given by a single man, up to that time, for social or philanthropic purposes. The General Education Board now became the chief outside interest of Page's life. He was made a member of the Executive Committee, faithfully attended all its sessions, and participated intimately in every important plan. All such bodies have their decorative members and their working members; Page belonged emphatically in the latter class. Not only was he fertile in suggestions, but his ready mind could give almost any proposal its proper emphasis and clearly set forth its essential details. Between Page and Dr. Buttrick, Secretary and now President of the Board, a close personal intimacy grew up. Dr. Buttrick moved to Teaneck Road, Englewood, where Page had his home, and many a long evening did the two men spend together, many a long walk did they take in the surrounding country, always discussing education, especially Southern education. A letter to the present writer from Dr. Abraham Flexner, the present Secretary of the Board, perhaps sums up the matter. "Page was one of the real educational statesmen of this country," says Dr. Flexner, "probably the greatest that we have had since the Civil War."
And this Rockefeller support came at a time when that movement known as the "educational awakening" had started in the South. In 1900 North Carolina elected its greatest governor since the Civil War---Charles B. Aycock. A much repeated anecdote attributes Lincoln's detestation of slavery to a slave auction that he witnessed as a small boy; Aycock's first zeal as an educational reformer had an origin that was even more pathetic, for he always carried in his mind his recollection of his own mother signing an important legal document with a cross. As a young man fresh from the university Aycock also came under the influence of Page. An old letter, preserved among Page's papers, dated February 26, 1886, discloses that he was a sympathizing reader of the "mummy" controversy; when the brickbats began flying in Page's direction Aycock wrote, telling Page that "fully three fourths of the people are with you and wish you Godspeed in your effort to awaken better work, greater activity, and freer opinion in the state." And now under Aycock's governorship North Carolina began to tackle the educational problem with a purpose. School houses started up all over the state at the rate of one a day---many of them beautiful, commodious, modern structures, in every way the equals of any in the North or West; high schools, normal schools, trade schools made their appearance wherever the need was greatest; and in other parts of the South the response was similarly energetic. The reform is not yet complete, but the description that Page gave of Southern education in 1897, accurate in all its details as it was then, has now become ancient history.
And in occupations of this kind Page passed his years of maturity. His was not a spectacular life; his family for the most part still remained his most immediate interest; the daily round of an editor has its imaginative quality, but in the main it was for Page a quiet, even a cloistered existence; the work that an editor does, the achievements that he can put to his credit, are usually anonymous; and the American public little understood the extent to which Page was influencing many of the most vital forces of his time. The business association that he had formed with Mr. Doubleday turned out most happily. Their publishing house, in a short time, attained a position of great influence and prosperity. The two men, on both the personal and the business side, were congenial and complementary; and the love that both felt for country life led to the establishment of a publishing and printing plant of unusual beauty. In Garden City, Long Island, a great brick structure was built, somewhat suggestive in its architecture of Hampton Court, surrounded by pools and fountains, Italian gardens, green walks and pergolas, gardens blooming in appropriate seasons with roses, peonies, rhododendrons, chrysanthemums, and the like, and parks of evergreen, fir, cedar, and more exotic trees and shrubs. Certainly fate could have designed no more fitting setting for Page's favourite activities than this. In assembling authors, in instigating the writing of books, in watching the achievements and the tendencies of American life, in the routine of editing his magazine---all this in association with partners whose daily companionship was a delight and a stimulation---Page spent his last years in America.
Page's independence as an editor, sufficiently indicated in the days of his vivacious youth, became even more emphatic in his maturer years. In his eyes, merely inking over so many pages of good white paper was not journalism; conviction, zeal, honesty---these were the important points. Almost on the very day that his appointment as Ambassador to Great Britain was announced his magazine published an editorial from his pen, which contained not especially complimentary references to his new chief, Mr. Bryan, the Secretary of State; naturally the newspapers found much amusement in these few sentences; but the thing was typical of Page's whole career as an editor. He held to the creed that an editor should divorce himself entirely from prejudices, animosities, and predilections., this seems an obvious, even a trite thing to say, yet there are so few men who can leave personal considerations aside in writing of men and events that it is worth while pointing out that Page was such a man. When his firm was planning to establish its magazine, his partner, Mr. Doubleday, was approached by a New York politician of large influence but shady reputation who wished to be assured that it would reflect correct political principles. "You should see Mr. Page about that," was the response. "No, this is a business matter," the insinuating gentleman went on, and then he proceeded to show that about twenty-five thousand subscribers could be obtained if the publication preached orthodox standpat doctrine. "I don't think you had better see Mr. Page," said Mr. Doubleday, dismissing his caller.
Many incidents which illustrate this independence could be given; one will suffice. In 1907 and 1908, Page's magazine published the "Random Reminiscences of John D. Rockefeller." While the articles were appearing, the Hearst newspapers obtained a large number of letters that, some years before, had passed between Mr. John D. Archbold, President of the Standard Oil Company and one of Mr. Rockefeller's business associates from the earliest days, and Senator Joseph B. Foraker, of Ohio. These letters uncovered one of the gravest scandals that had ever involved an American public man; they instantaneously destroyed Senator Foraker's political career and hastened his death. They showed that this brilliant man had been obtaining large sums of money from the Standard Oil Company while he was filling the post of United States Senator and that at the same time he was receiving suggestions from Mr. Archbold about pending legislation. Mr. Rockefeller was not personally involved, for he had retired from active business many years before these things had been done; but the Standard Oil Company, with which his name was intimately associated, was involved and in a way that seemed to substantiate the worst charges that had been made against it. At this time Page, as a member of the General Education Board, was doing his part in helping to disperse the Rockefeller millions for public purposes; his magazine was publishing Mr. Rockefeller's reminiscences; there are editors who would have felt a certain embarrassment in commenting on the Archbold transaction. Page, however, did not hesitate. Mr. Archbold, hearing that he intended to treat the subject fully, asked him to come and see him. Page replied that he would be glad to have Mr. Archbold call upon him. The two men were brought together by friendly intermediaries in a neutral place; but the great oil magnate's explanation of his iniquities did not satisfy Page. The November, 1908, issue of the magazine contained, in one section, an interesting chapter by Mr. Rockefeller, describing the early days of the Standard Oil Company, and, in another, ten columns by Page, discussing the Archbold disclosures in language that was discriminating and well tempered, but not at all complimentary to Mr. Archbold or to the Standard Oil Company.
Occasionally Page was summoned for services of a public character. Thus President Roosevelt, whose friendship he had enjoyed for many years, asked him to serve upon his Country Life Commission---a group of men called by the President to study ways of improving the surroundings and extending the opportunities of American farmers. Page's interest in Negro education led to his appointment to the Jeanes Board. He early became an admirer of Booker Washington, and especially approved his plan for uplifting the Negro by industrial training. One of the great services that Page rendered literature was his persuasion of Washington to write that really great autobiography, "Up from Slavery," and another biography in a different field, for which he was responsible, was Miss Helen Keller's "Story of My Life." And only once, amid these fine but not showy activities, did Page's life assume anything in the nature of the sensational. This was in 1909, when he published his one effort at novel writing, "The Southerner." To write novels had been an early ambition with Page; indeed his papers disclose that he had meditated several plans of this kind; but he never seriously settled himself to the task until the year 1906. In July of that year the Atlantic Monthly began publishing a serial entitled "The Autobiography of a Southerner Since the Civil War," by Nicholas Worth. The literary matter that appeared under this title most readers accepted as veracious though anonymous autobiography. It related the life adventures of a young man, born in the South, of parents who had had little sympathy with the Confederate cause, attempting to carve out his career in the section of his birth and meeting opposition and defeat from the prejudices with which he constantly found himself in conflict. The story found its main theme and background in the fact that the Southern States were so exclusively living in the memories of the Civil War that it was impossible for modern ideas to obtain a foothold. "I have sometimes thought," said the author, and this passage may be taken as embodying the leading point of the narrative, "that many of the men who survived that unnatural war unwittingly did us a greater hurt than the war itself. It gave everyone of them the intensest experience of his life and ever afterward he referred every other experience to this. Thus it stopped the thought of most of them as an earthquake stops a clock. The fierce blow of battle paralyzed the mind. Their speech was a vocabulary of war, their loyalties were loyalties, not to living ideas or duties, but to old commanders and to distorted traditions. They were dead men, most of them, moving among the living as ghosts; and yet, as ghosts in a play, they held the stage." In another passage the writer names the "ghosts" which are chiefly responsible for preventing Southern progress. They are three: "The Ghost of the Confederate dead, the Ghost of religious orthodoxy, the Ghost of Negro domination." Everywhere the hero finds his progress blocked by these obstructive wraiths of the past. He seeks a livelihood in educational work---becomes a local superintendent of Public Instruction, and loses his place because his religious views are unorthodox, because he refuses to accept the popular estimate of Confederate statesmen, and because he hopes to educate the black child as well as the white one. He enters politics and runs for public office on the platform of the new day, is elected, and then finds himself counted out by political ringsters. Still he does not lose faith, and finally settles down in the management of a cotton mill, convinced that the real path of salvation lies in economic effort. This mere skeleton of a story furnishes an excuse for rehearsing again the ideas that Page had already made familiar in his writings and in his public addresses. This time the lesson is enlivened by the portrayal of certain typical characters of the post-bellum South. They are all there---the several types of Negro, ranging all the way from the faithful and philosophic plantation retainer to the lazy "'Publican" office-seeker; the political colonel, to whom the Confederate veterans and the "fair daughters of the South (God bless 'em)" are the mainstays of " civerlerzation " and indispensable instrumentalities in the game of partisan politics; the evangelical clergymen who cared more for old-fashioned creeds than for the education of the masses; the disreputable editor who specialized in Negro crime and constantly preached the doctrine of the "white man's country"; the Southern woman who, innocently and sincerely and even charmingly, upheld the ancient tradition and the ancient feud. On the other hand, Page's book portrays the buoyant enthusiast of the new day, the reformer who was seeking to establish a public school system and to strengthen the position of woman; and, above all, the quiet, hardworking industrialist who cared nothing for stump speaking but much for cotton mills, improved methods of farming, the introduction of diversified crops, the tidying up of cities and the country.
These chapters, extensively rewritten, were published as a book in 1909. Probably Page was under no illusion that he had created a real romance when he described his completed work as a "novel." The Atlantic autobiography had attracted wide attention, and the identification of the author had been immediate and accurate. Page's friends began calling his house on the telephone and asking for "Nicholas" and certain genial spirits addressed him in letters as "Marse Little Nick"---the name under which the hero was known to the old Negro family servant, Uncle Ephraim---perhaps the best drawn character in the book. Page's real purpose in calling the book a "novel" therefore, was to inform the public that the story, so far as its incidents and most of its characters were concerned, was pure fiction. Certain episodes, such as those describing the hero's early days, were, in the main, veracious transcripts from Page's own life, but the rest of the book bears practically no relation to his career.
The fact that he spent his mature years in the North, editing magazines and publishing, whereas Nicholas Worth spends his in the South, engaged in educational work and in politics and industry, settles this point. The characters, too, are rather types than specific individuals, though one or two of them, particularly Professor Billy Bain, who is clearly Charles D. Mclver, may be accepted as fairly accurate portraits. But as a work of fiction "The Southerner" can hardly be considered a success; the love story is too slight, the women not well done, most of the characters rather personified qualities than flesh and blood people. Its strength consists in the picture that it gives of the so-called "Southern problem," and especially of the devastating influence of slavery. From this standpoint the book is an autobiography, for the ideas and convictions it presents had formed the mental life of Page from his earliest days.
And these were the things that hurt. Yet the stories of the anger caused by "The Southerner" have been much exaggerated. It is said that a certain distinguished Southern senator declared that, had he known that Page was the author of "The Southerner," he would have blocked his nomination as Ambassador to Great Britain; certain Southern newspapers also severely denounced the volume; even some of Page's friends thought that it was a little unkind in spots; yet as a whole the Southern people accepted it as a fair, and certainly as an honest treatment of a very difficult subject. Possibly Page was a little hard upon the Confederate veteran, and did not sufficiently portray the really pathetic aspects of his character; any shortcomings of this sort are due, not to any failing in sympathy, but to the fact that Page's zeal was absorbingly concentrated upon certain glaring abuses. And as to the accuracy of his vision in these respects there could be no question. The volume was a welcome antidote to the sentimental Southern novels that had contented themselves with glorifying a vanished society which, when the veil is stripped, was not heroic in all its phases, for it was based upon an institution so squalid as human slavery, and to those even more pernicious books which, by luridly portraying the unquestioned vices of reconstruction and the frightful consequences which resulted from giving the Negro the ballot, simply aroused useless passions and made the way out of the existing wilderness still more difficult. So the best public opinion, North and South, regarded "The Southerner," and decided that Page had performed a service to the section of his birth in writing it. Indeed the fair-minded and intelligent spirit with which the best elements in the South received "The Southerner" in itself demonstrated that this great region had entered upon a new day.
Nor was Page's work for the South yet ended. In the important five years from 1905 to 1910 he performed two services of an extremely practical kind. In 1906 the problem of Southern education assumed a new phase. Dr. Wallace Buttrick, the Secretary of the General Education Board, had now decided that the fundamental difficulty was economic. By that time the Southern people had revised their original conception that education was a private and not a public concern; there was now a general acceptance of the doctrine that the mental and physical training of every child, white and black, was the responsibility of the state; Aycock's campaign had worked such a popular revolution on this subject that no politician who aspired to public office would dare to take a contrary view. Yet the economic difficulty still remained. The South was poor; whatever might be the general desire, the taxable resources were not sufficient to support such a comprehensive system of popular instruction as existed in the North and West. Any permanent improvement must therefore be based upon the strengthening of the South's economic position. Essentially the task was to build up Southern agriculture, which for generations had been wasteful, unintelligent and consequently unproductive. Such a far-reaching programme might well appall the most energetic reformer, but Dr. Buttrick set to work. He saw little light until his attention was drawn to a quaint and philosophic gentleman---a kind of bucolic Ben Franklin ---who was then obscurely working in the cotton lands of Louisiana, making warfare on the boll weevil in a way of his own. At that time Dr. Seaman A. Knapp had made no national reputation; yet he had evolved a plan for redeeming country life and making American farms more fruitful that has since worked marvellous results. There was nothing especially sensational about its details. Dr. Knapp had made the discovery in relation to farms that the utilitarians had long since made with reference to other human activities: that the only way to improve agriculture was not to talk about it, but to go and do it. During the preceding fifty years agricultural colleges had sprung up all over the United States---Dr. Knapp had been president of one himself; practically every Southern state had one or more; agricultural lecturers covered thousands of miles annually telling their yawning audiences how to farm; these efforts had scattered broadcast much valuable information about the subject, but the difficulty lay in inducing the farmers to apply it. Dr. Knapp had a new method. He selected a particular farmer and persuaded him to work his fields for a period according to methods which he prescribed. He told his pupil how to plough, what seed to plant, how to space his rows, what fertilizers to use, and the like. If a selected acreage yielded a profitable crop which the farmer could sell at an increased price Dr. Knapp had sufficient faith in human nature to believe that that particular farmer would continue to operate his farm on the new method and that his neighbours, having this practical example of growing prosperity, would imitate him.
Such was the famous "Demonstration Work" of Dr. Seaman A. Knapp; this activity is now a regular branch of the Department of Agriculture, employing thousands of agents and spending not far from $18,000,000 a year. Its application to the South has made practically a new and rich country, and it has long since been extended to other regions. When Dr. Buttrick first met Knapp, however, there were few indications of this splendid future. He brought Dr. Knapp North and exhibited him to Page. This was precisely the kind of man who appealed to Page's sympathies. His mind was always keenly on the scent for the new man---the original thinker who had some practical plan for uplifting humankind and making life more worth while. And Dr. Knapp's mission was one that had filled most of his thoughts for many years; its real purpose was the enrichment of country life. Page therefore took to Dr. Knapp with a mighty zest. He supported him on all occasions; he pled his cause with great eloquence before the General Education Board, whose purse strings were liberally unloosed in behalf of the Knapp work; in his writings, in speeches, in letters, in all forms of public advocacy, he insisted that Dr. Knapp had found the solution of the agricultural problem. The fact is that Page regarded Knapp as one of the greatest men of the time. His feeling came out with characteristic intensity on the occasion of the homely reformer's funeral. "The exercises," Page once told a friend, "were held in a rather dismal little church on the outskirts of Washington. The day was bleak and chill, the attendants were few---chiefly officials of the Department of Agriculture. The clergyman read the service in the most perfunctory way. Then James Wilson, the Secretary of Agriculture, spoke formally of Dr. Knapp as a faithful servant of the Department who always did well what he was told to do, commending his life in an altogether commonplace fashion. By that time my heart was pretty hot. No one seemed to divine that in the coffin before them was the body of a really great man, one who had hit upon a fruitful idea in American agriculture---an idea that. was destined to cover the nation and enrich rural life immeasurably." Page was so moved by this lack of appreciation, so full of sorrow at the loss of one of his dearest friends, that, when he rose to speak, his appraisment took on a certain indignation. Their dead associate, Page declared, would outrank the generals and the politicians who received the world's plaudits, for he had devoted his life to a really great purpose; his inspiration had been the love of the common people, his faith, his sympathy had all been expended in an effort to brighten the life of the too frequently neglected masses. Page's address on this occasion was entirely extemporaneous; no record of it was ever made, but those who heard it still carry the memory of an eloquent and fiery outburst that placed Knapp's work in its proper relation to American history and gave an unforgettable picture of a patient, idealistic, achieving man whose name will loom large in the future.
During this same period Page, always on the outlook for the exceptional man, made another discovery which has had world-wide consequences. As a member of President Roosevelt's Country Life Commission Page became one of the committee assigned to investigate conditions in the Southern States. The sanitarian of this commission was Dr. Charles W. Stiles, a man who held high rank as a zoologist, and who, as such, had for many years done important work with the Department of Agriculture. Page had hardly formed Dr. Stiles's acquaintance before he discovered that, at that time, he was a man of one idea. And this one idea had for years brought upon his head much good-natured ridicule. For Dr. Stiles had his own explanation for much of the mental and physical sluggishness that prevailed in the rural sections of the Southern States. Yet he could not mention this without exciting uproarious laughter---even in the presence of scientific men. Several years previously Dr. Stiles had discovered that a hitherto unclassified species of a parasite popularly known as the hookworm prevailed to an astonishing extent in all the Southern States. The pathological effects of this creature had long been known; it localized in the intestines, there secreted a poison that destroyed the red blood corpuscles, and reduced its victims to a deplorable state of anaemia, making them constantly ill, listless, mentally dull---in every sense of the word useless units of society. The encouraging part of this discovery was that the patients could quickly be cured and the bookworm eradicated by a few simple improvements in sanitation. Dr. Stiles had long been advocating such a campaign as an indispensable preliminary to improving Southern life. But the humorous aspect of the bookworm always interfered with his cause; the microbe of laziness had at last been found!
It was not until Dr. Stiles, in the course of this Southern trip, cornered Page in a Pullman car, that he finally found an attentive listener. Page, of course, had his preliminary laugh, but then the bookworm began to work on his imagination. He quickly discovered that Dr. Stiles was no fool; and before the expedition was finished, he had become a convert and, like most converts, an extremely zealous one. The hookworm now filled his thoughts as completely as it did those of his friend; he studied it, he talked about it; and characteristically he set to work to see what could be done. How much Southern history did the thing explain? Was it not forces like this, and not statesmen and generals, that really controlled the destinies of mankind? Page's North Carolina country people had for generations been denounced as "crackers," and as "hill-billies," but here was the discovery that the great mass of them were ill---as ill as the tuberculosis patients in the Adirondacks. Free these masses from the enervating parasite that consumed all their energies---for Dr. Stiles had discovered that the disease afflicted the great majority of the rural classes---and a new generation would result. Naturally the cause strongly touched Page's sympathies. He laid the case before the ever sympathetic Dr. Buttrick, but here again progress was slow. By hard hammering, however, he half converted Dr. Buttrick, who, in turn, took the case of the hookworm to his old associate, Dr. Frederick T. Gates. What Page was determined to obtain was a million dollars or so from Mr. John D. Rockefeller, for the purpose, of engaging in deadly warfare upon this pest. This was the proper way to produce results: first persuade Dr. Buttrick, then induce him to persuade Dr. Gates, who, if convinced, had ready access to the great treasure house. But Dr. Gates also began to smile; even the combined eloquence of Page and Dr. Buttrick could not move him. So the reform marked time until one day Dr. Buttrick, Dr. Gates, and Dr. Simon Flexner, the Director of the Rockefeller Institute, happened to be fellow travellers---again on a Pullman car.
"Dr. Flexner," said Dr. Buttrick---this for the benefit of his incredulous friend---"what is the scientific standing of Dr. Charles W. Stiles?"
"Very, very high," came the immediate response, and at this Dr. Gates pricked up his ears. Yet the subsequent conversation disclosed that Dr. Flexner was unfamiliar with the Stiles bookworm work. He, too, smiled at the idea, but, like Page his smile was not one of ridicule.
"If Dr. Stiles believes this," was his dictum, "it is something to be taken most seriously."
As Dr. Flexner is probably the leading medical scientist in the United States, his judgment at once lifted the hookworm issue to a new plane. Dr. Gates ceased laughing and events now moved rapidly. Mr. Rockefeller gave a million dollars to a sanitary commission for the eradication of the hookworm in the Southern States, and of this Page became a charter member. In this way an enterprise that is the greatest sanitary and health reform of modern times had its beginnings. So great was the success of the Hookworm Commission in the South, so many thousands were almost daily restored to health and usefulness, that Mr. Rockefeller extended its work all over the world---to India, Egypt, China, Australia, to all sections that fall within the now accurately located "hookworm belt." Out of it grew the great International Health Commission, also endowed with unlimited millions of Rockefeller money, which is engaged in stamping out disease and promoting medical education in all quarters of the globe. Dr. Stiles and Page's associates on the General Education Board attribute the origin of this work to the simple fact that Page, great humourist that he was, could temper his humour with intelligence, and could therefore perceive the point at which a joke ceased to be a joke and actually concealed a truth of the most far-reaching importance to mankind.
Fig. 5. Walter H. Page (1899), from a photograph taken when he was editor of the Atlantic Monthly
Fig. 6. Dr. Wallace Buttrick, President of the General Education Board
Page enjoyed the full results of this labour one night in the autumn of 1913, when Dr. Wickliffe Rose, the head of the International Health Board, came to London to discuss the possibility of beginning hookworm work in the British Empire, especially in Egypt and India. Page, as Ambassador, arranged a dinner at the Marlborough Club, attended by the leading medical scientists of the kingdom and several members of the Cabinet. Dr. Rose's description of his work made a deep impression. He was informed that the British Government was only too ready to cooperate with the Health Board. When the discussion was ended the Right Honourable Lewis Harcourt, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, concluded an eloquent address with these words:
"The time will come when we shall look back on this evening as the beginning of a new era in British colonial administration."
THE WILSONIAN ERA BEGINS
IT WAS Page's interest in the material and spiritual elevation of the masses that first directed his attention to the Presidential aspirations of Woodrow Wilson. So much history has been made since 1912 that the public questions which then stirred the popular mind have, largely passed out of recollection. Yet the great rallying cry of that era was democracy, spelled with a small "d." In the fifty years since the Civil War only one Democratic President had occupied the White House. The Republicans' long lease of power had produced certain symptoms which their political foes now proceeded to describe as great public abuses. The truth of the matter, of course, is that neither political virtue nor political depravity was the exclusive possession of either of the great national organizations. The Republican party, especially under the enlightened autocracy of Roosevelt, had started such reforms as conservation, the improvement of country life, the regulation of the railroads, and the warfare on the trusts, and had shown successful interest in such evidences of the new day as child labour laws, employer's liability laws, corrupt practice acts, direct primaries and the popular election of United States Senators---not all perhaps wise as methods, but all certainly inspired with a new conception of democratic government. Roosevelt also had led in the onslaught on that corporation influence which, after all, constituted the great problem of American politics. But Mr. Taft's administration had impressed many men, and especially Page, as a discouraging slump back into the ancient system. Page was never blind to the inadequacies of his own party; the three campaigns of Bryan and his extensive influence with the Democratic masses at times caused him deep despair; that even the corporations had extended their tentacles into the ranks of Jefferson was all too obvious a fact; yet the Democratic party at that time Page regarded as the most available instrument for embodying in legislation and practice the new things in which he most believed. Above all, the Democratic party in 1912 possessed one asset to which the Republicans could lay no claim---a new man, a new leader, the first statesman who had crossed its threshold since Grover Cleveland.
Like many scholarly Americans, Page had been charmed by the intellectual brilliancy of Woodrow Wilson. The utter commonplaceness of much of what passes for political thinking in this country had for years discouraged him. American political life may have possessed energy, character, even greatness; but it was certainly lacking in distinction. It was this new quality that Wilson brought, and it was this that attracted thousands of cultivated Americans to his standard, irrespective of party. The man was an original thinker; he exercised the priceless possession of literary style. He entertained; he did not weary; even his temperamental deficiencies, which were apparent to many observers in 1912, had at least the advantage that attaches to the interesting and the unusual.
What Page and thousands of other public-spirited men saw in Wilson was a leader of fine intellectual gifts who was prepared to devote his splendid energies to making life more attractive and profitable to the "Forgotten Man." Here was the opportunity then, to embody in one imaginative statesman all the interest which for a generation had been accumulating in favour of the democratic revival. At any rate, after thirty years of Republican half-success and half-failure, here was the chance for a new deal. Amid a mob of shopworn public men, here was one who had at least the charm of novelty.
Page had known Mr. Wilson for thirty years, and all this time the Princeton scholar had seemed to him to be one of the most helpful influences at work in the United States. As already noted Page had met the future President when he was serving a journalistic apprenticeship in Atlanta, Georgia. Wilson was then spending his days in a dingy law office and was putting to good use the time consumed in waiting for the clients who never came by writing that famous book on "Congressional Government" which first lifted his name out of obscurity. This work, the product of a man of twenty-nine, was perhaps the first searching examination to which the American Congressional system had ever been subjected. It brought Wilson a professorship at the newly established Bryn Mawr College and drew to him other growing minds like Page's. "Watch that man!"' was Page's admonition to his friends. Wilson then went into academic work and Page plunged into the exactions of daily and periodical journalism, but Page's papers show that the two men had kept in touch with each other during the succeeding thirty years. These papers include a collection of letters from Woodrow Wilson, the earliest of which is dated October 30, 1885, when the future President was beginning his career at Bryn Mawr. He was eager to come to New York, Wilson said, and discuss with Page "half a hundred topics" suggested by "Congressional Government." The atmosphere at Bryn Mawr was evidently not stimulating. "Such a talk would give me a chance to let off some of the enthusiasm I am just now painfully stirring up in enforced silence." The Forum and the Atlantic Monthly, when Page was editor, showed many traces of his interest in Wilson, who was one of his most frequent contributors. When Wilson became President of Princeton, he occasionally called upon his old Atlantic friend for advice. He writes to Page on various matters---to ask for suggestions about filling a professorship or a lectureship; and there are also references to the difficulties Wilson is having with the Princeton trustees.
Page's letters also portray the new hopes with which Wilson inspired him. One of his best loved correspondents was Henry Wallace, editor of Wallace's Farmer, a homely and genial Rooseveltian. Page was one of those who immensely admired Roosevelt's career; but he regarded him as a man who had finished his work, at least in domestic affairs, and whose great claim upon posterity would be as the stimulator of the American conscience. "I see you are coming around to Wilson," Page writes, "and in pretty rapid fashion. I assure you that that is the solution of the problem. I have known him since we were boys, and I have been studying him lately with a great deal of care. I haven't any doubt but that is the way out. The old labels 'Democrat' and 'Republican' have ceased to have any, meaning, not only in my mind and in yours, but I think in the minds of nearly all the people. Don't you feel that way?"
The campaign of 1912 was approaching its end when this letter was written; and no proceeding in American politics had so aroused Page's energies. He had himself played a part in Wilson's nomination. He was one of the first to urge the Princeton President to seize the great opportunity that was rising before him These suggestions were coming from many sources in the summer of 1910; Mr. Wilson was about to retire from the Presidency of Princeton; the movement had started to make him Governor of New Jersey, and it was well understood that this was merely intended as the first step to the White House. But Mr. Wilson was himself undecided; to escape the excitement of the moment he had retired to a country house at Lyme, Connecticut. In this place, in response to a letter, Page now sought him out. His visit was a plea that Mr. Wilson should accept his proffered fate; the Governorship of New Jersey, then the Presidency, and the opportunity to promote the causes in which both men believed.
"But, do you think I can do it, Page?" asked the hesitating Wilson.
"I am sure you can": and then Page again, with his customary gusto, launched into his persuasive argument. His host at one moment would assent; at another present the difficulties; it was apparent that he was having trouble in reaching a decision. To what extent Page's conversation converted him the record does not disclose; it is apparent, however, that when, in the next two years, difficulties came, his mind seemed naturally to turn in Page's direction. Especially noticeable is it that he appeals to Page for help against his fool friends. An indiscreet person in New Jersey is booming Mr. Wilson for the Presidency; the activity of such a man inevitably brings ridicule upon the object of his attention; cannot Page find some kindly way of calling him off? Mr. Wilson asks Page's advice about a campaign manager, and incidentally expresses his own aversion to a man of "large calibre" for this engagement. There were occasional conferences with Mr. Wilson on his Presidential prospects, one of which took place at Page's New York apartment. Page was also the man who brought Mr. Wilson and Colonel House together; this had the immediate result of placing the important state of Texas on the Wilson side, and, as its ultimate consequence, brought about one of the most important associations in the history of American politics. Page had known Colonel House for many years and was the advocate who convinced the sagacious Texan that Woodrow Wilson was the man. Wilson also acquired the habit of referring to Page men who offered themselves to him as volunteer workers in his cause. "Go and see Walter Page" was his usual answer to this kind of an approach. But Page was not a collector of delegates to nominating conventions; not his the art of manipulating these assemblages in the interest of a favoured man; yet his services to the Wilson cause, while less demonstrative, were almost as practical. His talent lay in exposition; and he now took upon himself the task of spreading Wilson's fame. In his own magazine and in books published by his firm, in letters to friends, in personal conferences, he set forth Wilson's achievements. Page also persuaded Wilson to make his famous speechmaking trip through the Western States in 1911 and this was perhaps his largest definite contribution to the Wilson campaign. It was in the course of this historic pilgrimage that the American masses obtained their first view of a previously too-much hidden figure.
On election day Page wrote the President-elect a letter of congratulation which contains one item of the greatest interest. When the time came for the new President to deliver his first message to Congress, he surprised the country by abandoning the usual practice of sending a long written communication to be droned out by a reading clerk to a yawning company of legislators. He appeared in person and read the document himself. As President Harding has followed his example it seems likely that this innovation, which certainly represents a great improvement over the old routine, has become the established custom. The origin of the idea therefore has historic value.
To Woodrow Wilson
Garden City, N. Y.
Election Day, 1912. [Nov. 5]
MY DEAR MR. PRESIDENT-ELECT:
Before going into town to hear the returns, I write you my congratulations. Even if you were defeated, I should still congratulate you on putting a Presidential campaign on a higher level than it has ever before reached since Washington's time. Your grip became firmer and your sweep wider every week. It was inspiring to watch the unfolding of the deep meaning of it and to see the people's grasp of the main idea. It was fairly, highly, freely, won, and now we enter the Era of Great Opportunity. It is hard to measure the extent or the thrill of the new interest in public affairs and the new hope that you have aroused in thousands of men who were becoming hopeless under the long-drawn-out reign of privilege.
To the big burden of suggestions that you are receiving, may I add these small ones?
1. Call Congress in extra session mainly to revise the tariff and incidentally to prepare the way for rural credit societies.
Mr. Taft set the stage admirably in 1909 when he promptly called an extra session; but then he let the villain run the play. To get the main job in hand at once will be both dramatic and effective and it will save time. Moreover, it will give you this great tactical advantage---you can the better keep in line those who have debts or doubts before you have answered their importunities for offices and for favours.
The time is come when the land must be developed by the new agriculture and farming made a business. This calls for money. Every acre will repay a reasonable loan on long time at a fair interest rate, and group-borrowing develops the men quite as much as the men will develop the soil. It saved the German Empire and is remaking Italy. And this is the proper use of much of the money that now flows into the reach of the credit barons. This building up of farm life will restore the equilibrium of our civilization and, besides, will prove to be one half the solution of our currency and credit problem. . . .
2. Set your trusted friends immediately to work, every man in the field he knows best, to prepare briefs for you on such great subjects and departments as the Currency, the Post Office, Conservation, Rural Credit, the Agricultural Department, which has the most direct power for good to the most people---to make our farmers as independent as Denmark's and to give our best country folk the dignity of the old-time English gentleman ---this expert, independent information to compare with your own knowledge and with official reports.
3. The President reads (or speaks) his Inaugural to the people. Why not go back to the old custom of himself delivering his Messages to Congress? Would that not restore a feeling of comradeship in responsibility and make the Legislative branch feel nearer to the Executive? Every President of our time has sooner or later got away with Congress.
I cannot keep from saying what a new thrill of hope and tingle of expectancy I feel-as of a great event about to happen for our country and for the restoration of popular government; for you will keep your rudder true.
Most heartily yours,
WALTER H. PAGE.
To Governor Wilson,
Princeton, N. J.
Page was one of the first of Mr. Wilson's friends to discuss with the President-elect the new legislative programme. The memorandum which he made of this interview shows how little any one, in 1912, appreciated the tremendous problems that Mr. Wilson would have to face. Only domestic matters then seemed to have the slightest importance. Especially significant is the fact that even at this early date, Page was chiefly impressed by Mr. Wilson's "loneliness."
dated November 15, 1912
To use the Government, especially the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Education, to help actively in the restoration of country life--that's the great chance for Woodrow Wilson, ten days ago elected President. Precisely how well he understands this chance, how well, for example, he understands the grave difference between the Knapp Demonstration method of teaching farmers and the usual Agricultural College method of lecturing to them, and what he knows about the rising movement for country schools of the right sort, and agricultural credit societies---how all this great constructive problem of Country Life lies in his mind, who knows? I do not. If I do not know, who does know? The political managers who have surrounded him these six months have now done their task. They know nothing of this Big Chance and Great Outlook. And for the moment they have left him alone. In two days he will go to Bermuda for a month to rest and to meditate. He ought to meditate on this Constructive programme. It seemed my duty to go and tell him about it. I asked for an interview and he telegraphed to go to-day. at five o'clock.
Arthur and I drove in the car and reached Princeton just before five---a beautiful drive of something less than four hours from New York. Presently we arrived at the Wilson house.
"The Governor is engaged," I was informed by the man who opened the door. "He can see nobody. He is going away to-morrow."
"I have an appointment with him," said I, and I gave him my card.
"I know he can't see anybody."
"Will you send my card in?"
We waited at the door till the maid took it in and returned to say the Governor would presently come down.
The reception room had a desk in the corner, and on a row of chairs across the whole side of the room were piles of unopened letters. It is a plain, modestly but decently furnished room, such as you would expect to find in the modest house of a professor at Princeton. During his presidency of the college, he had lived in the President's house in the college yard. This was his own house of his professorial days.
"Hello, Page, come out here: I am glad to see you." There he stood in a door at the back of the room, which led to his library and work room. "Come back here."
"In the best of all possible worlds, the right thing does sometimes happen," said I.
"And a great opportunity."
He smiled and was cordial and said some pleasant words. But he was weary. "I have cobwebs in my head." He was not depressed but oppressed---rather shy, I thought, and I should say rather lonely. The campaign noise and the little campaigners were hushed and gone. There were no men of companionable size about him, and the Great Task lay before him. The Democratic party has not brought forward large men in public life during its long term of exclusion from the Government; and the newly elected President has had few opportunities and a very short time to make acquaintances of a continental kind. This little college town, this little hitherto corrupt state, are both small.
I went at my business without delay. The big country-life idea, the working of great economic forces to put its vitalization within sight, the coming equilibrium by the restoration of country life---all coincident with his coming into the Presidency. His Administration must fall in with it, guide it, further it. The chief instruments are the Agricultural Department, the Bureau of Education, and the power of the President himself to bring about Rural Credit Societies and similar organized helps. He quickly saw the difference between Demonstration Work by the Agricultural Department and the plan to vote large sums to agricultural colleges and to the states to build up schools.
"Who is the best man for Secretary of Agriculture?"
"I ought to have known, but I didn't. For who is?
"May I look about and answer your question later?"
"Yes, I will thank you."
"I wish to find the very best men for my Cabinet, regardless of consequences. I do not forget the party as an instrument of government, and I do not wish to do violence to it. But I must have the best men in the Nation"---with a very solemn tone as he sat bolt upright, with a stern look on his face, and a lonely look.
I told him my idea of the country school that must be and talked of the Bureau of Education. He saw quickly and assented to all my propositions.
And then we talked somewhat more conservatively of Conservation, about which he knows less.
I asked if he would care to have me make briefs about the Agricultural Department, the Bureau of Education, the Rural Credit Societies, and Conservation. "I shall be very grateful, if it be not too great a sacrifice."
I had gained that permission, which (if he respect my opinion) ought to guide him somewhat toward a real understanding of how the Government may help toward our Great Constructive Problem.
I gained also the impression that he has no sympathy with the idea of giving government grants to schools and agricultural colleges---a very distinct impression.
I had been with him an hour and had talked (I fear) too much. But he seemed hearty in his thanks. He came to the front door with me, insisted on helping me on with my coat, envied me the motor-car drive in the night back to New York, spoke to eight or ten reporters, who had crowded into the hall for their interview---a most undignified method, it seemed to me, for a President-elect to reach the public; I stepped out on the muddy street, and, as I walked to the Inn, I had the feeling of the man's oppressive loneliness as he faced his great task. There is no pomp of circumstance, nor hardly dignity in this setting, except the dignity of his seriousness and his loneliness.
There was a general expectation that Page would become a member of President Wilson's Cabinet, and the place for which he seemed particularly qualified was the Secretaryship of Agriculture. The smoke of battle had hardly passed away, therefore, when Page's admirers began bringing pressure to bear upon the President-elect. There was probably no man in the United States who had such completely developed views about this Department as Page; and it is not improbable that, had circumstances combined to offer him this position, he would have accepted it. But fate in matters of this sort is sometimes kinder than a man's friends. Page had a great horror of anything which suggested office-seeking, and the campaign which now was started in his interest greatly embarrassed him. He wrote Mr. Wilson, disclaiming all responsibility and begging him to ignore these misguided efforts. As the best way of checking the movement, Page now definitely answered Mr. Wilson's question: Who was the best man for the Agricultural Department? It is interesting to note that the candidate whom Page nominated in this letter---a man who had been his friend for many years and an associate on the Southern Education Board---was the man whom Mr. Wilson chose.
To Woodrow Wilson
Garden City, N. Y.
November 27, 1912.
MY DEAR WILSON:
I send you (wrongly, perhaps, when you are trying to rest) the shortest statement that I could make about the demonstration field-work of the Department of Agriculture. This is the best tool yet invented to shape country life. Other (and shorter) briefs will he ready in a little while.
You asked me who I thought was the best man for Secretary of Agriculture. Houston,(7) I should say, of the men that I know. You will find my estimate of him in the little packet of memoranda. Van Hise(8) may be as good or even better if he be young in mind and adaptable enough. But he seems to me a man who may already have done his big job.
I answer the other questions you asked at Princeton and I have taken the liberty to send some memoranda about a few other men---on the theory that every friend of yours ought now to tell you with the utmost frankness about the men he knows, of whom you may be thinking.
The building up of the countryman is the big constructive job of our time. When the countryman comes to his own, the town man will no longer be able to tax, and to concentrate power, and to bully the world.
Very heartily yours,
WALTER H. PAGE.
To Henry Wallace
Garden City, N. Y.
11 March, 1913.
MY DEAR UNCLE HENRY:
What a letter yours is! By George I we must get on the job, you and I, of steering the world---get on it a little more actively. Else it may run amuck. We have frightful responsibilities in this matter. The subject weighs the more deeply and heavily on me because I am just back from a month's vacation in North Carolina, where I am going to build me a winter and old-age bungalow. No; you would be disappointed if you went out of your way to see my boys. Moreover, they are now merely clearing land. They sold out the farm they put in shape, after two years' work, for just ten times what it had cost, and they are now starting another one de novo. About a year hence, they'll have something to show. And next winter, when my house is built down there, I want you to come and see me and see that country. I'll show you one of the most remarkable farmers' clubs you ever saw and many other interesting things as well---many, very many. I'm getting into this farm business in dead earnest. That's the dickens of it: how can I do my share in our partnership to run the universe if I give my time to cotton-growing problems? It's a tangled world.
Well, bless your soul! You and the younger Wallaces (my regards to every one of them) and Poe(9)---you are all very kind to think of me for that difficult place---too difficult by far, for me. Besides, it would have cost me my life. If I were to go into public life, I should have had to sell my whole interest here. This would have meant that I could never make another dollar. More than that, I'd have thrown away a trade that I've learned and gone at another one that I know little about---a bad change, surely. So, you see, there never was anything serious in this either in my mind or in the President's. Arthur hit it off right one day when somebody asked him:
"Is your father going to take the Secretaryship of Agriculture?"
He replied: "Not seriously."
Besides, the President didn't ask me! He knew too much for that.
But he did ask me who would be a good man and I said "Houston." You are not quite fair to him in your editorial. He does know-knows much and well and is the strongest man in the Cabinet---in promise. The farmers don't yet know him: that's the only trouble. Give him a chance.
Fig. 8. Charles D. McIver of Greensboro, North Carolina, a leader in the cause of Southern Education
Fig. 9. Woodrow Wilson
I've "put it up" to the new President and to the new Secretary to get on the job immediately of organizing country life. I've drawn up a scheme (a darned good one, too) which they have. I have good hope that they'll get to it soon and to the thing that we have all been working toward. I'm very hopeful about this. I told them both last week to get their minds on this before the wolves devour them. Don't you think it better to work with the Government and to try to steer it right than to go off organizing other agencies?
God pity our new masters! The President is all right. He's sound, earnest, courageous. But his party! I still have some muscular strength. In certain remote regions they still break stones in the road by hand. Now I'll break stones before I'd have a job at Washington now. I spent four days with them last week---the new crowd. They'll try their best. I think they'll succeed. But, if they do succeed and survive, they'll come out of the scrimmage bleeding and torn. We've got to stand off and run 'em, Uncle Henry. That's the only hope I see for the country. Don't damn Houston, then, beforehand. He's a real man. Let's get on the job and tell 'em how.
Now, when you come East, come before you need to get any of your meetings and strike a bee-line for Garden City; and don't be in a hurry when you get here. If a Presbyterian meeting be necessary for your happiness, I'll drum up one on the Island for you. And, of course, you must come to my house and pack up right and get your legs steady sometime before you sail---you and Mrs. Wallace: will she not go with you?
In the meantime, don't be disgruntled. We can steer the old world right, if you'll just keep your shoulder to the wheel. We'll work it all out here in the summer and verify it all (including your job of setting the effete kingdoms of Europe all right)---we'll verify it all next winter down in North Carolina. I think things have got such a start that they'll keep going in some fashion, till we check up the several items, political, ethical, agricultural, journalistic, and international. God bless us all!
Most heartily always yours,
WALTER H. PAGE.
Though Mr. Wilson did not offer Page the Agricultural Department, he much desired to have him in his Cabinet, and had already decided upon him for a post which the new President probably regarded as more important---the Interior. The narrow margin with which Page escaped this responsibility illustrates again the slender threads upon which history is constructed. The episode is also not without its humorous side. For there was only one reason why Page did not enter the Cabinet as Secretary of the Interior; and that is revealed in the above letter to "Uncle Henry"; he was so busy planning his new house in the sandhills of North Carolina that, while cabinets were being formed and great decisions taken, he was absent from New York. A short time before the inauguration, Mr. Wilson asked Colonel House to arrange a meeting with Page in the latter's apartment. Mr. Wilson wished to see him on a Saturday; the purpose was to offer him the Secretaryship of the Interior. Colonel House called up Page's office at Garden City and was informed that he was in North Carolina. Colonel House then telegraphed, asking Page to start north immediately, and suggesting the succeeding Monday as a good time for the interview. A reply was at once received from Page that he was on his way.
Meanwhile certain of Mr. Wilson's advisers had heard of the plan and were raising objections. Page was a Southerner; the Interior Department has supervision over the pension bureau, with its hundreds of thousands of Civil War veterans as pensioners; moreover, Page was an outspoken enemy of the whole pension system and had led several "campaigns" against it. The appointment would never do! Mr. Wilson himself was persuaded that it would be a mistake.
"But what are we going to do about Page?" asked Colonel House. "I have summoned him from North Carolina on important business. What excuse shall I give for bringing him way up here?"
But the President-elect was equal to the emergency.
"Here's the cabinet list," he drily replied. "Show it to Page. Tell him these are the people I have about decided to appoint and ask him what he thinks of them. Then he will assume that we summoned him to get his advice."
When Page made his appearance, therefore, Colonel House gave him the list of names and solemnly asked him what he thought of them. The first name that attracted Page's attention was that of Josephus Daniels, as Secretary of the Navy. Page at once expressed his energetic dissent.
"Why, don't you think he is Cabinet timber?" asked Colonel House.
"Timber!" Page fairly shouted. "He isn't a splinter! Have you got a time table? When does the next train leave for Princeton? "
In a couple of hours Page was sitting with Mr. Wilson, earnestly protesting against Mr. Daniels's appointment. But Mr. Wilson said that he had already offered Mr. Daniels the place.
About the time of Wilson's election a great calamity befell one of Page's dearest friends. Dr. Edwin A. Alderman, the President of the University of Virginia, one of the pioneer educational forces in the Southern States, and for years an associate of Page on the General Education Board, was stricken with tuberculosis. He was taken to Saranac, and here a patient course of treatment happily restored him to health. One of the dreariest aspects of such an experience is its tediousness and loneliness. Yet the maintenance of one's good spirits and optimism is an essential part of the treatment. And it was in this work that Page now proved an indispensable aid to the medical men. As soon as Dr. Alderman found himself stretched out, a weak and isolated figure, cut off from those activities and interests which had been his inspiration for forty years, with no companions except his own thoughts and a few sufferers like himself, letters began to arrive with weekly regularity from the man whom he always refers to as "dear old Page." The gayety and optimism of these letters, the lively comments which they passed upon men and things, and their wholesome and genial philosophy, were largely instrumental, Dr. Alderman has always believed, in his recovery. Their effect was so instant and beneficial that the physicians asked to have them read to the other patients, who also derived abounding comfort and joy from them. The whole episode was one of the most beautiful in Page's life, and brings out again that gift for friendship which was perhaps his finest quality. For this reason it is a calamity that most of these letters have not been preserved. The few that have survived are interesting not only in themselves; they reveal Page's innermost thoughts on the subject of Woodrow Wilson. That he admired the new President is evident, yet these letters make it clear that, even in 1912 and 1913, there was something about Mr. Wilson that caused him to hesitate, to entertain doubts, to wonder how, after all, the experiment was to end.
To Edwin A. Alderman
Garden City, L. I.
December 31, 1912.
MY DEAR ED ALDERMAN:
I have a new amusement, a new excitement, a new study, as you have and as we all have who really believe in democracy---a new study, a new hope, and sometimes a new fear; and its name is Wilson. I have for many years regarded myself as an interested, but always a somewhat detached, outsider, believing that the democratic idea was real and safe and lifting, if we could ever get it put into action, contenting myself ever with such patches of it as time and accident and occasion now and then sewed on our gilded or tattered garments. But now it is come---the real thing; at any rate a man somewhat like us, whose thought and aim and dream are our thought and aim and dream. That's enormously exciting! I didn't suppose I'd ever become so interested in a general proposition or in a governmental hope.
Will he do it? Can he do it? Can anybody do it? How can we help him do it? Now that the task is on him, does he really understand? Do I understand him and he me? There's a certain unreality about it.
The man himself---I find that nobody quite knows him now. Alas! I wonder if he quite knows himself. Temperamentally very shy, having lived too much alone and far too much with women (how I wish two of his daughters were sons!) this Big Thing having descended on him before he knew or was quite prepared for it, thrust into a whirl of self-seeking men even while he is trying to think out the theory of the duties that press, knowing the necessity of silence, surrounded by small people---well, I made up my mind that his real friends owed it to him and to what we all hope for, to break over his reserve and to volunteer help. He asks for conferences with official folk ---only, I think. So I began to write memoranda about those subjects of government about which I know something and have opinions and about men who are or who may be related to them. It has been great sport to set down in words without any reserve precisely what you think. It is imprudent, of course, as most things worth doing are. But what have I to lose, I who have my life now planned and laid out and have got far beyond the reach of gratitude or hatred or praise or blame or fear of any man? I sent him some such memoranda. Here came forthwith a note of almost abject thanks. I sent more. Again, such a note---written in his own hand. Yet not a word of what he thinks. The Sphinx was garrulous in comparison. Then here comes a mob of my good friends crying for office for me. So I sent a ten-line note, by the hand of my secretary, saying that this should not disturb my perfect frankness nor (I knew it would not) his confidence. Again, a note in his own hand, of perfect understanding and with the very glow of gratitude. And he talks---generalities to the public. Perhaps that's all he can talk now. Wise? Yes. But does he know the men about him? Does he really know men? Nobody knows. Thus 'twixt fear and hope I see--suspense. I'll swear I can't doubt, I can't believe. Whether it is going to work out or not-whether he or anybody can work it out of the haze of theory---nobody, knows; and nobody's speculation is better than mine and mine is worthless.
This is the game, this is the excitement, this is the doubthope and the hopedoubt. I send this word about it to you (I could and would to nobody else: you're snowbound, you see, and don't write much and don't see many people: restrain your natural loquacity!) But for the love of heaven tell me if you see any way very clearly. It's a kind of misty dream to me.
I ask myself why should I concern myself about it? Of course the answer's easy and I think creditable: I do profoundly hold this democratic faith and believe that it can be worked into action among men; and it may be I shall yet see it done. That's the secret of my interest. But when this awful office descends on a man, it oppresses him, changes him, you are not quite so sure of him, you doubt whether he knows himself or you in the old way.
And I find among men the very crudest ideas of government or of democracy. They have not thought the thing out. They hold no ordered creed of human organization or advancement. They leave all to chance and think, when they think at all, that chance determines it. And yet the Great Hope persists, and I think I have grown an inch by it.
I wonder how it seems, looked at from the cold mountains of Lake Saranac?
It's the end of the year. Mrs. Page and I (alone I) have been talking of democracy, of these very things I've written. The bell-ringing and the dancing and the feasting are not, on this particular year, to our liking.
We see all our children gone---half of them to nests of their own building, the rest on errands of their own pleasure, and we are left, young yet, but the main job of life behind us! We're going down to a cottage in southern North Carolina (with our own cook and motor car, praise God!) for February, still further to think this thing out and incidentally to build us a library, in which we'll live when we can. That, for convention's sake, we call a Vacation.
Your brave note came to-day. Of course, you'll "get " 'em----those small enemies. The gain of twelve pounds tells the story. The danger is, your season of philosophy and reverie will be too soon ended. Don't fret; the work and the friends will be here when you come down. There's many a long day ahead; and there may not be so many seasons of rest and meditation. You are the only man I know who has time enough to think out a clear answer to this: "What ought to be done with Bryan? " What can be done with Bryan? When you find the answer, telegraph it to me.
I've a book or two more to send you. If they interest you, praise the gods. If they bore you, fling 'em in the snow and think no worse of me. You can't tell what a given book may be worth to a given man in an unknown mood. They've become such a commodity to me that I thank my stars for a month away from them when I may come at 'em at a different angle and really need a few old ones----Wordsworth, for instance. When you get old enough, you'll wake up some day with the feeling that the world is much more beautiful than it was when you were young, that a landscape has a closer meaning, that the sky is more companionable, that outdoor colour and motion are more splendidly audacious and beautifully rhythmical than you had ever thought. That's true. The gently snow-clad little pines out my window are more to me than the whole Taft Administration. They'll soon be better than the year's dividends. And the few great craftsmen in words who can confirm this feeling---they are the masters you become grateful for. Then the sordidness of the world lies far beneath you and your great democracy is truly come---the democracy of Nature. To be akin to a tree, in this sense, is as good as to be akin to a man. I have a grove of little long-leaf pines down in the old country and I know they'll have some consciousness of me after all men have forgotten me: I've saved 'em, and they'll sing a century of gratitude if I can keep 'em saved. Joe Holmes gave me a dissertation on them the other day. He was down there "on a little Sunday jaunt" of forty miles---the best legs and the best brain that ever worked together in one anatomy.
A conquering New Year-that's what you'll find, begun before this reaches you, carrying all good wishes from
W. H. P.
To Edwin A. Alderman
Garden City, New York,
January 26, 1913.
MY DEAR ED ALDERMAN:
This has been "Board"(10) week, as you know. The men came from all quarters of the land, and we had a good time. New work is opening; old work is going well; the fellowship ran in good tide---except that everybody asked everybody else: "What do you know about Alderman?" Everybody who had late news of you gave a good report. The Southern Board formally passed a resolution to send affectionate greetings to you and high hope and expectation, and I was commissioned to frame the message. This is it. I shall write no formal resolution, for that wasn't the spirit of it. The fellows all asked me, singly and collectively, to send their love. And we don't put that sort of a message under whereases and wherefores. There they were, every one of them, except Peabody and Bowie. Mr. Ogden in particular was anxious for his emphatic remembrance and good wishes to go. The dear old man is fast passing into the last stage of his illness and he knows it and he soon expects the end, in a mood as brave and as game as he ever was. I am sorry to tell you he suffers a good deal of pain.
What a fine thing to look back over---this Southern Board's work! Here was a fine, zealous merchant twenty years ago, then fifty-seven years old, who saw this big job as a modest layman. If he had known more about "Education" or more about "the South, bygawd, sir!" he'd never have had the courage to tackle the job. But with the bravery of ignorance, he turned out to be the wisest man on that task in our generation. He has united every real, good force, and he showed what can be done in a democracy even by one zealous man. I've sometimes thought that this is possibly the wisest single piece of work that I have ever seen done---wisest, not smartest. I don't know what can be done when he's gone. His phase of it is really done. But, if another real leader arise, there will doubtless be another phase.
The General Board doesn't find much more college-endowing to do. We made only one or two gifts. But we are trying to get the country school task rightly focussed. We haven't done it yet; but we will. Buttrick and Rose will work it out. I wish to God I could throw down my practical job and go at it with 'em. Darned if I couldn't get it going! though I say it, as shouldn't. And we are going pretty soon to begin with the medical colleges; that, I think, is good---very.
But the most efficient workmanlike piece of organization that my mortal eyes have ever seen is Rose's hookworm work. We're going soon to organize country life in a sanitary way, the county health officer being the biggest man on the horizon. Stiles has moved his marine hospital and his stall to Wilmington, North Carolina, and he and the local health men are quietly going to make New Hanover the model county for sanitary condition and efficiency. You'll know what a vast revolution that denotes!---And Congress seems likely to charter the big Rockefeller Foundation, which will at once make five millions available for chasing the hookworm off the face of the earth. Rose will spread himself over Honduras, etc., etc., and China, and India! This does literally beat the devil; for, if the hookworm isn't the devil, what is?
I'm going to farming. I've two brothers and two sons, all young and strong, who believe in the game. We have land without end, thousands of acres; engines to pull stumps, to plough, to plant, to reap. The nigger go hang! A white boy with an engine can outdo a dozen of 'em. Cotton and corn for staple crops; peaches, figs, scuppernongs, vegetables, melons for incidental crops; God's good air in North Carolina; good roads, too---why, man, Moore County has authorized the laying out of a strip of land along all highways to be planted in shrubbery and fruit trees and kept as a park, so that you will motor for 100 miles through odorous bloom in spring !---I mean I am going down there to-morrow for a month, one day for golf at Pinehurst, the next day for clearing land with an oil locomotive, ripping up stumps! Every day for life out-of-doors and every night, too. I'm going dasheens. You know what a dasheen is? It's a Trinidad potato, which keeps and tastes like a sweet potato stuffed with chestnuts. There are lots of things to learn in this world.
God bless us all, old man. It's a pretty good world, whether seen from the petty excitements of reforming the world and dreaming of a diseaseless earth in New York, or from the stump-pulling recreation of a North Carolina wilderness.
Health be with you!
W. H. P.
To Edwin A. Alderman
Garden City, L. I.
March 10, 1913.
MY DEAR ED ALDERMAN:
I'm home from a month of perfect climate in the sandhills of North Carolina, where I am preparing a farm and building a home at least for winter use; and I had the most instructive and interesting month of my life there. I believe I see, even in my life-time, the coming of a kind of man and a kind of life that shall come pretty near to being the model American citizen and the model American way to live. Half of it is climate; a fourth of it occupation; the other fourth, companionship. And the climate (with what it does) is three fourths companionship.
Then I came to Washington and saw Wilson made President---a very impressive experience indeed. The future ---God knows; but I believe in Wilson very thoroughly. Men fool him yet. Men fool us all. He has already made some mistakes. But he's sound. And, if we have moral courage enough to beat back the grafters, little and big---I mean if we, the people, will vote two years and four years hence, to keep them back, I think that we shall now really work toward a democratic government. I have a stronger confidence in government now as an I instrument of human progress than I have ever had before. And I find it an exhilarating and exciting experience.
I have seen many of your good friends in North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington. How we all do love you, old man! Don't forget that, in your successful fight. And, with my affectionate greetings to Mrs. Alderman, ask her to send me the news of your progress.
Always affectionately yours,
WALTER H. PAGE.
To Edwin A. Alderman
On the Baltic, New York to Liverpool,
May 19, 1913.
MY DEAR ED ALDERMAN:
It was the best kind of news I heard of you during my last weeks at home---every day of which I wished to go to Briarcliff to see you. At a distance, it seems absurd to say that it was impossible to go. But it was. I set down five different days in my calendar for this use; and somehow every one of them was taken. Two were taken by unexpected calls to Washington. Another was taken by my partners who arranged a little good-bye dinner. Another was taken by the British Ambassador---and so on. Absurd---of course it was absurd, and I feel now as if it approached the criminal. But every stolen day I said, "Well, I'll find another." But another never came.
But good news of you came by many hands and mouths. My congratulations, my cheers, my love, old man. Now when you do take up work again, don't take up all the work. Show the fine virtue called self-restraint. We work too much and too hard and do too many things even when we are well. There are three titled Englishmen who sit at the table with me on this ship---one a former Lord Mayor of London, another a peer, and the third an M. P. Damn their self-sufficiencies! They do excite my envy. They don't shoulder the work of the world: they shoulder the world and leave---the work to be done by somebody else. Three days' stories and political discussion with them have made me wonder why the devil I've been so industrious all my life. They know more than I know; they are richer than I am; they have been about the world more than I have; they are far more influential than I am; and yet one of them asked me to-day if George Washington was a born American! I said to him, "Where the devil do you suppose he came from---Hades? " And he laughed at himself as heartily as the rest of us laughed at him, and didn't care a hang!
If that's British, I've a mind to become British; and, the, point is, you must, too. Work is a curse. There was some truth in that old doctrine. At any rate a little of it must henceforth go a long way with you.
A sermon? Yes. But, since it's a good one, I know you'll forgive me; for it is preached in love, my dear boy, and accompanied with the hearty and insistent hope that you'll write to me.
This last letter apparently anticipates the story. A few weeks before it was written President Wilson had succeeded in carrying out his determination to make Page an important part of his Administration. One morning Page's telephone rang and Colonel House's well-known and well-modulated voice came over the wire.
"Good morning, Your Excellency," was his greeting.
"What the devil are you talking about?" asked Page. Then Colonel House explained himself. The night before, he said, he had dined at the White House. In a pause of the conversation the President had quietly remarked:
"I've about made up my mind to send Walter Page to England. What do you think of that?"
Colonel House thought very well of it indeed and the result of his conversation was this telephone call, in which he was authorized to offer Page the Ambassadorship to Great Britain.
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