Study of an Old Southern Borough
NOWHERE are the elements of two distinct civilizations seen more plainly side by side than in an old Southern borough.
Almost any old town of Northern Europe presents to the eye the union of two civilizations. The mediæval alt Stadt has its ancient stone buildings, among which, in no regular way, wind the narrow passages that served and serve yet as streets. They are just wide enough from house to house for a cart to pass, and there are no sidewalks. The architecture of the houses as well as the plan of the streets dates back to the earliest period of settled Germanic life. Then, immediately adjoining, is the neu Stadt, built as towns are now built the world over, with wider streets, with sidewalks, and with some reference to a plan. In going from one part of the town to the other, one steps backward or forward some half a dozen centuries. The difference that the eye sees in these two parts of an old European town corresponds precisely with that which the mind discerns between the old element and the new in an old Southern borough. The difference is not architectural, but social; there are two elements in life and in thought. But this is not discernible by a stranger. In fact, very frequently a residence of some time is necessary to discover it. It lies in the very heart of the people, and comes to view only after a study of their history and their social life. But there is no society wherein, after a certain intimacy of acquaintance, the typical individuals are more strongly marked.
The most notable personage and the most interesting as a study is the antebellum gentleman. He is now an old man, for he was in the prime of life before the war. He inherited his broad acres, and by his slaves he accumulated something of a fortune. This type of the old Southerner is familiar; for, with certain exaggerations, he is supposed to typify all Southerners except the meaner class of the post-bellum generation. His house is the same that he occupied in former times. His grounds are changed somewhat, but not a great deal; in parts they have fallen into decay. But always the drive that leads up to the front door has precisely its old appearance, and it is cared for with the neatness that the approach to the premises demands. It will be kept clean and graveled, at any cost. The house is now found much too large for the same number of inmates who filled it formerly, and the family of one of the old gentleman’s sons lives with him.
The old gentleman has no occupation now further than a sort of general and useless supervision over his farm, and over the business that his sons and his sons-in-law may have in the town; but, in his eyes, this supervision is of the utmost importance. He goes very frequently to the city, some fifty miles away, to sit a day or two in the back office of the bank of which he is one of the directors. The rest of his time he spends at home and in driving about his farm. Whenever he goes out, he has his carriage brought up to his door, and a negro boy drives him. His handsome span and his liveried outfit of the old time are now reduced to a sort of rockaway with a single horse. But, although his employment of his time is useless, except in his own estimation, he is awake to every public interest that meets with his approval. But such schemes as he does not at first sight approve can never be made plain or practicable to him. In the main, whatever is a perpetuation of an ante-bellum institution he will think highly of and help most heartily. But he conceives, and will give you to understand, that the greatest aid that can be rendered is his favor. He considers the influence of his opinion either pro or con on a given subject of the greatest importance, and he looks to its finally conquering all opposition. For example, he will repudiate the system of public schools, and no number or strength of arguments can change his mind. Whatever favor such a system may meet with now, the time will come, he will tell you, when, for the lack of the support of the best people of the land, it must die. He will wish also for the revival of the old state banks.
In a certain way, he is widely acquainted with men, has read a great deal and very thoroughly such literature as was current twenty-live or forty years ago, and he reads very nearly the same now. Of the new day of thought, of the all-revolutionizing comparative method, of the new sciences, of the new literature, he knows nothing, nor cares to know. He reads French, perhaps, but not German, surely; and that fact fixes the date of his thinking and reading. History, especially English and Roman history, is his chief study; but even in history he knows nothing of the thousands of new books that the press is giving out yearly. Hume and Gibbon are fresher than Macaulay, and of Freeman and Arnold and Froude he never heard. Scott is more familiar than Dickens, and almost the only American author that he knows is Washington Irving. At long intervals, even now, he reads Cicero and Horace, and he has long passages of Virgil committed to memory. He reads regularly one of the Now York papers, the organ of his political party in his State, and the organ of his church. The church paper, however, his wife and daughters read more diligently than he.
Yet not in reading is his chief delight now, but rather in talking. He will not often go out of his way to find a listener, but when a visitor comes whose opinions are congenial to him and whom he considers his social equal, he will talk incessantly. In fact, there are not now anywhere else in the world such talkers as these old gentlemen. Almost every borough has a story of some of its old men, how they talked on one occasion ten hours without interruption ; and even a twentyhour conversation has been heard of. There are no other men who talk so much, no other men who love to talk so well, and in many instances few men who are able to talk so well. To sit on the piazza of a country place after tea, the invariable place of gathering in summer, when the night-breeze even in the warmest weather is fresh, and when it comes over several acres of lawn and through a grove of large oaks, reminding one much of a mild sea-breeze, — to sit and listen to endless reminiscences is to the listener as well as to the talker one of the most delightful things in the world. The old gentleman’s opinions are his own, — in fact, the very same opinions that he formed years ago. And, although by this time the world at large may have concluded differently about very many subjects, he is not a whit less confident of the truth of his own convictions. He has been saying the same things over for years, until everybody of his acquaintance is perfectly familiar with all his ideas. But what matter? His tone betrays the feeling that he has already lived his life; and he cannot conceive why his opinions and conclusions should not be as interesting to everybody else as to himself. These old heroes are thus their own bards ; and, as they become fewer and fewer in the land, each one looks upon himself as a more and more important survivor of a race that can never be reproduced. Our old gentleman’s talk runs wild over men who were his contemporaries, men who distinguished themselves no matter where, — in the legislature (nine tenths of them were politicians, great or small), on the field, in the professions, or even in society. The achievements of these, whether brave deeds, or great speeches, or notable bon mots on a grand social occasion, are told over and over again, with the same warm praise the thousandth time. Neither has he any hesitation in bringing into the narrative his own deeds and his own sayings. The great speeches made at some political crisis (he himself made a great effort), the memorable administrative policy of some forgotten governor or president (he himself was intimately associated with him), — how exceedingly fertile such a subject is ! He has been heard to tell of a great speech of Mr. Clay a hundred times; and invariably thereafter follows a long account of an important financial transaction of his own doing, when he was treasurer of his State. Mr. Clay had nothing more to do with the financial management of the state bonds than the fact that Mr. Clay’s speech was made in the same year in which our honorable treasurer went to New York and made the aforesaid great transaction. Time, however, is a link in narration stronger than logic. It may seem strange, by the way, that our honorable treasurer hardly knows the present value, or lack of value, of his State’s bonds. If their value were quoted to him. “ Badly managed, sir, badly managed,” he would reply ; and after a preliminary clearing of his throat you might hear the account of Mr. Clay’s speech and its invariable accompaniment.
The conversation is more apt to turn to contemporaneous things, if you ride with him through the town. “ These shanties,” he will say, pointing to the principal stores on the main thoroughfare, have been built here since the war, by men who were too lazy to earn their living in the country. They are the ruin of our country, sir, — the ruin of our country. They impose upon the ignorance of negroes and countrymen to make their small merchandise yield a large profit. I have never entered one of their shops. The ruin of our country, sir.” If you were to inquire where our old gentleman’s steward deals, — for even yet an old servant has almost the entire charge of supplying the storeroom under the kitchen, — you would find that he patronizes a grocery that has quite as shabby an appearance as any in the town. The grocer is likewise the keeper of a “ shanty,” but as his trade antedates the war he is accounted not an idle peddler, but a royal merchant. “ That, sir,” pointing to a small wooden building of a single story, “ was for forty years the law-office of Governor Stanhope, — one of the greatest men of our State, sir, and of his time.” Thereupon will follow long reminiscences of political quarrels and of political victories. He will stop at the office and urge you in, and force you to sit an hour or two. You will find out that it is now occupied by the great Governor Stanhope’s son, our old gentleman’s son-in-law. It is at this office that he spends most of his time in town. If a man whom he would scarcely know elsewhere meets him here, the old gentleman is sure to draw him into conversation. He will question him kindly about his affairs, and advise him in a patronizing way. Another peculiarity of his shows itself mostly in conversation with the townsmen at his son-inlaw’s office. He is not a profane man ; he believes in his church as strongly as he believes in his political creed. But when he becomes excited in telling of old times and of old men, he will often emphasize a statement by “ D―n it, sir ! ” or, " By G—d, sir! ” And he is totally unconscious of this.
If now you go through the borough in company with one of the novi homines, you will see the town from a totally different point of view. Your companion is a successful merchant, — the largest, in fact, in the town. He is a man of pleasant address, and of much quicker movements than the old gentleman. His father was an “ overseer ” for the lordly owner of a large plantation in a neighboring county. The son, therefore, did not fall heir to a large estate, nor was he bred to a profession. Several years after the war he came to the town and began to “ merchandise.” Now he goes annually to Baltimore or to New York, to lay in his little stock of goods and to see the world. Thus he has acquired a sort of business air, but you can easily discover that it is not native. He puts it on when he encounters a stranger, much as his country cousins would put on their best garments to receive a visitor. But he has a fresher tone of voice, a more energetic step, a readier wit for a bargain, than any other man in the borough. He will point to his small stock of goods, and tell you that although in his little way he has made a good business, still the commercial possibilities of the town are by no means exhausted. “Our trade is almost entirely with country people, who come here in wagons, and who buy the necessities of life only in such small quantities as will last them a week at a time. And often for that their crops are mortgaged in advance. If we had men of capital to build here, we could grow to be of some commercial importance. Here is water-power enough to spin and weave all the cotton grown in the State, and our facilities for shipping would enable us to become also a great tobaccomanufacturing people. The only trouble is that men of means cannot be induced to come among us. The commercial depression of the State offers no inducements to Northern capitalists, and the men among us that have money will not open their eyes to the chances of such investments ; for they prefer to keep their property in nearly the same shape as they had it before the war. We need a more spirited public,—more push. Indeed, the very worst lingering effect of the war upon our society is this narrow way of looking upon the State’s advancement and this immovable prejudice in favor of old institutions. Men who were formerly wealthy feel so keenly the loss of a great part of their wealth that they fear to use what they now have in an adventurous way. They would rather keep it safe than run the very best chance of increasing it. The enterprises in the South that have the greatest hope of enriching and developing the country have been inaugurated and are conducted by men who have earned their money within the last ten years, and have been educated entirely under the new condition of things.”
The street of “ shanties ” receives also his comment, if you walk about the town with him ; but it is somewhat different from the comment of the old gentleman. “ They are too numerous, and consequently too small. If a dozen of them were merged into one, it would be of some importance. As it is, every merchant spends the most of his time in idleness in front of his door, with no sort of eagerness or aptness to enlarge his trade, but satisfied if he manages to keep his own family supplied with the mere necessities of life. This retail business is all that is here. There is no manufacturing. The vast water-power turns nothing but a grist-mill that grinds merely for the people in the country.”
If you go out of the town, and come in view of the home of our honorable ex-treasurer, “ That is the place of old Mr. Wilson,” your companion will say, “ a gentleman of the old school. He lives there as nearly as possible in the same style as when he had a score of slaves about his house. He spends his time now in entertaining such of his old friends and their descendants as come to visit him. Towards them his hospitality is unbounded. Nearly every pleasant afternoon you can see him sitting under the trees, with his pipe and his newspaper, most generally asleep in his chair. . He has little to do now with the town, its business, or its people. Almost the only places that he frequents are the law-office of his son-in-law and the newspaper office of his son. In the summer he goes with his daughters to the springs of Virginia. A good old citizen, but of little use now.”
The whole town has a languid and self-satisfied appearance. There is little animation in manor beast. The very dogs look lazy. It would require twice the energy to put forth the same effort that it would cost in New England. The streets are neglected, and in places almost impassable ; the paint is worn from most of the houses; the people are slow in their movements. In the afternoon, an hour before the mail arrives, a crowd begins to gather about the postoffice. They sit on chairs that have been half whittled away, on boxes, and on the steps of the porch. If any one approaches and desires to enter, some fellow that is lazily seated in the door will look up mildly and ask, “Want to come in ? ” Then, after a minute of preparation, and a good - natured word about “disturbing a fellow” (at which the more energetic laugh just a little), he will slip aside far enough to allow entrance. The conversation in this company begins usually about the dry weather, or about the wet weather, and then some weather prophet will enumerate his signs of rain or of “its clearing up.” It was at such a meeting that an old countryman declared that “ a wet drought was mighty nigh as bad as a dry drought.” After a while the conversation turns on the political situation (for everybody is a politician). Then the chances of the favorite candidate for the legislature are talked over, and his opponent is unmercifully “ run down.” If a stranger has come to the inn (for inn is a better word in this connection than hotel), they wonder, every man in turn, what his business can be, and talk an hour about him ; for it is not every day that they have such a person to talk of. Visitors, except “ drummers ” from the Northern cities, are very few.
Every one of these men has what he calls his “business.” Frequently two of them are associated in a little grocery, the work of which is not half enough to keep one man employed. While one of the firm is out, “ gone after the mail,” — that is, engaged for two or three hours in a discussion at the post-office, — the other is seated in the cool part of his store-room, smoking. His quiet is disturbed only now and then by a customer, who is in no hurry to be waited on. So they, too, engage in a discussion, that may last ten minutes or an hour. These men also are fond of talking ; but the range of their subjects is very narrow. They could be informed of what is going on in the world, but they do not care for such information. They talk almost entirely about their private and local affairs. Every one of them knows all about every other one, both in business and at home. Around two subjects, chiefly, their conversation centres, — the church and politics. They are orthodox in their creed, and good citizens (save in the matter of sins of omission) in their practice. They are moral in their lives, and the most of them are active supporters of one of the Protestant churches. If there happens to be a man among them who denies in the least the literal interpretation of the Scriptures after the manner of their churches, he is considered a dangerous man in their society, however upright his conduct may be. When the season of political discussion is on the wane, two of the best informed among them will begin a fierce discussion of some very abstruse theological question ; for example, the efficacy of the different modes of baptism. It will be taken up at the post-office, and the whole town will take one side or the other. Rarely does such a controversy end in less than a week. But no original arguments, or even phrases, are brought forth : ideas and words alike bear the stamp of the politician or of the preacher.
No one could guess the nature of the home-life of these men ; nor form a correct opinion from them of their wives and daughters. In the homes of these inert and stagnant men you would expect to find inert and stagnant women. But it is not so with such as are of the best descent and have comfortable homes. The manners of the women are such as any society might be proud of; and in many instances their intelligence and information are matter of surprise, when we consider their surroundings. From their very infancy, a very wide distinction is made between the boys and the girls. The boys may be sent to college, if there happens just at the time to be spare money sufficient to defray their expenses ; but seldom is any great effort made to give a boy such advantages, and when the effort is made it almost invariably proceeds from the mother. After their education is “ finished,” as the phrase for graduation is, it is finished indeed. The boy enters one of the professions, or business, and he follows in the very footsteps of his father in life, — in life and in thought. Sometimes a lad from an old borough, in the first dawning of his thought, discovers for himself the mental stagnation of his surroundings, sees the stupid way that is open for him at home, and rebels against it. The only successful rebellion, however, is an immediate departure. For, if he begins to deliberate, he is apt to be caught by the spell of inertness, and live out his life and die before he decides whether to go away or not. Thus it has happened that the over-conservative spirit of these old towns has driven many of the best men away. The statistics will show that a very large part of the men of this generation who are rising to distinction in the West were born in these old boroughs. Very few Southerners go away from newer towns or larger cities. If a young man leaves his old borough, his friends blame him very harshly for his lack of patriotism; but, if he rises to any sort of prominence in any of the Western States, his old borough newspaper will praise him mightily, and, reminding him of his birthplace, will declare that his being born there is the cause of all his greatness.
But, however the boys may be left to circumstances to develop or to become inert, every effort is made to give to the girls all the current accomplishments of the society in which they move. The intellectual training that they receive is indeed insignificant and in the main worthless. They are never trained to think in good earnest, and. they learn nothing thoroughly in literature, in art, or in science. The whole structure of society is opposed to their being made able to support themselves.
They are taught exclusively to look to doing the offices of wifehood. So it happens that more lazy and worthless men have happy homes in these old towns than anywhere else. In many communities there has for these hundred years occurred no case of domestic infelicity that the public has become aware of. A divorce is a thing unknown in the annals of the borough. But the training of the girls is so exclusively of a domestic kind that an unmarried woman or a widow who chances to be thrown upon her own resources is a most pitiably helpless creature. If she belongs to the more respectable class, there is but one occupation that she can have, and that is teaching. Very few have had sufficient training to be very efficient teachers ; and thus the general educational advancement is hindered. The most become governesses, and, living in private families, teach the children of a single household. Thus, too. the prejudice against a universal and uniform system of schools is kept alive.
Almost from infancy, the girls are paid by their fathers and brothers that deferential respect that can but make them modest and good mannered women. The charge of ignorance that is made against them in all matters of learning is just ; but it must not be interpreted as meaning many qualities that are usually associated with ignorance. For, as useless as they are abroad, at home, having only their social and domestic duties in charge, they are in their way matchless. Their homes are their entire world. The large earth may stretch away far beyond their ken ; learning and art may bring gladdening recreation and healthful food for others ; but their pleasure is of another sort. Their houses are to be kept clean and their households orderly. And ready-witted and quick to catch ideas, they become in everything, except in business and in politics, the leaders of their husbands. The magazines and a few new books find their way to their firesides. They keep a glow, a sort of intellectual life, — a life that never waxes strong, nor that ever leaves humility far enough to become enthusiastic, but a life that never wholly dies. In this society there is no retrograde motion, and forever the women dream that they are on the eve of a progression. They hear of men achieving wonderful things in learning away somewhere in the great world, which seems so far off from their quiet life ; and they dream at once of a brother’s or of a son’s going to form a part in the wonderful achievement. Thus many a brother and son are induced unconsciously to leave their native borough and its legendary life. The women are the power and the hope of this society.
There are no people that think more highly of themselves than the citizens of an ancient Southern town. Their self-praise is unbounded and unceasing. But their vainglory is not so much a personal as a communistic vainglory. Personally, perhaps, they think not more highly of themselves than other people : in the main, every individual will set a very modest estimate upon his own attainments and his own worth. But to them their old borough is the most highly favored place under heaven. They are proud of it even to bigotry. It is the most healthful place in an area of a hundred miles around. The water is better than any other water. You would think that the healthfulness and the water were things of their own manufacture. The history of the borough is a matter of pride. The long annals of men and of deeds are known to every child ; for has it all not been told over a thousand times ? The ancestry of the oldest families can be traced back by the most inert lounger to the Revolution, and often to colonial times. Thus they have no desire for any change. They wish no better life, no higher attainments. But their conservatism is so strong that it is as hard for them to go backward as to go forward. They are absolutely stationary. It is this, rather than their idleness and dullness, to which their stagnation is most frequently attributed ; that causes them to be so far behind the rest of the world, and often even far behind communities adjacent to them. They have for generations been in an immovable equipoise, while the rest of the world has been rapidly changing.
With a quiet home, where wants indeed are not very numerous nor very large, but where every want is satisfied, — in a society wherein the men are honest if inert, and the women virtuous if helpless, with few rich men, but fewer paupers, — what need of a more complicated society, which along with benefits brings also evils ? Why travel, when one occupies the garden spot of the world ? Why worry over the world’s great questions, so long as thinking only brings doubt ? Even the neighboring towns, that have grown up in the present generation to be of some importance, they regard with contempt. The energetic citizens of such places are but money-changers in the temple of a fair land, where traffic has always had something of the meanness of peddling. It is better to remain in idleness, so long as you are allowed by the community to talk and to remain in idleness without its condemnation (and its condemnation is not very active towards a well-born man), than to wear away the life which God has given in a vulgar endeavor to accumulate wealth, or to advance some large interest; better to abide in quiet contentment, at least while you hold a sound political creed and an orthodox religious faith.
Yet, holding such doctrine as this for their own conduct, many of these men are well informed on matters of large enterprise and of national importance. Hear them talk of a gigantic enterprise in commerce, of a great system of internal improvement, of a grand plan for developing their country, and you would think that they must give their whole energy to carrying out some of their gigantic ideas. But they are the hardest men in the world to move to put forth an effort, even for their own improvement. " If they would do so and so,” is a favorite phrase with them. ‘‘If they would build nulls and advertise, we should become a great manufacturing centre in a few years.” “ They " — whoever their mysterious “ they ” may mean—must build the mills; we, should become a rich people, — we, the community, post-office and all.
Thus it is not dullness, but immobility, that is their death. The people themselves have as limitless possibilities of development as their territory. They are very quick to perceive such ideas as come within the range of their habit of thought. On such subjects as they choose to think, they think well. For whatever their society makes a demand they supply, and supply well. They have able lawyers ; and their old courthouses (every old borough is a countyseat) many a time hear bursts of eloquence that might dimly remind one of Patrick Henry. Their political campaigns sometimes afford occasions for oratorical display. And if nowadays such a display would bring nothing but a smile from a colder audience, it not unfrequently among them gains votes, and sometimes tears as well, and always an old-fashioned “ Hip, hip, hurrah ! ” Thus society tyrannically leads individuals, but no individual can lead the society. As they are yet the most susceptible people in the world to eloquence, so too they have a fine discerning of the eloquent and touching in literature, — at least for people of such narrow reading. You will find old gentlemen who know Shakespeare and Milton ; but not one in a thousand knows anything of Longfellow and Tennyson. Not unfrequently, much to your surprise, you may learn that one of the guardians of the post-office has read Byron and Burns entire annually for the last ten years; and he is perfectly familiar with every character in Scott. When he writes or makes a speech, he leaves his inert conversational tone entirely, and employs a diction and manner that have an antique Addisonian dignity and profusion.
In the very walk and bearing of the older inhabitants you can discover remnants of obsolete manners. The bow and tone of voice of an old gentleman will remind one of knee-breeches and powdered wigs. An old citizen will speak politely to every man whom he meets on the street, whether he be an acquaintance or not; very frequently, in bowing, be will take off his hat to a gentleman whom he does not know. Much, too, remains of the old hospitality. If you are a guest, no kind of entertainment is considered so complimentary or so pleasant as a continual conversation. A gentleman will often allow his business to be suspended, if it depend on his personal supervision, during your whole visit ; and he will keep by your side for days, talking incessantly. For what business can be half so important as a twelve hours’ conversation with a friend ? Many of the twelve hours are spent in talking of genealogies. If you are of a family of whom your host has heard little for several years, you will have to begin with your great-grand father, and give a continuous narrative of every individual’s career, laying especial emphasis upon all weddings and deaths. “ And whom did Lucy marry?” comes from beneath the spectacles and the white cap of the old lady. “ Yes, yes, I had forgotten. She was a beautiful woman when I saw her. How many children have they ? ” In fact, as politics and theology are the subjects of four fifths of the conversation of the men, so marriages and deaths are the subjects of more nearly five fifths of the conversation of the old ladies.
Even the bearing of the older negroes in these towns is peculiar and illustrative of a dignified conservatism. In the newer towns and the larger cities, the negroes have by this time forgotten their old masters and their old homes, or do not care for them. But in an old borough there are always some who have passed their whole lives there. There they were slaves, and there they have lived since their emancipation. Their old masters they always address as “ old marser,” and his sons as “ Mars’ James,” or “ Mars’ Thomas,” or whatever their Christian name may be. At their old home they feel that they enjoy no slight privilege, and even that they have a sort of right to see that everything about the household goes on well. These old negroes have a sort of contempt for those who have no such old attachment. It is a common phrase among them, in speaking of a negro who did not belong to an aristocratic family : “ Dat nigger ain’t got no manners, nebber had no raisin,’ — poor folks’ nigger.” Sometimes these old negro men preserve the lordly manners of their masters. Their negro dialect does not seem to detract from their gentility, and they are noticeable as men of particularly fine manners.
A Virginia lady in Louisville had employed a genteel old negro man to nurse her son, who was suffering with a broken limb. She noticed at once the dignified bearing of the negro ; and one day she asked him, “ Uncle Ned, where were you reared ? ”
“ In old Virginny, madam,” with a polite bow.
“ I am a Virginian myself,” she continued.
“ From what part of de State, madam ? ”
“ From Fairfax, Uncle Ned. My maiden name was Morson.”
“ I knowed dat we was related, madam. I b’longed to old Mars’ Hugh Morson. I know’d dat we was related.”
As easy as life in the newer Southern towns and in the business centres is to see and comprehend, a stranger often finds this old borough life apparently very contradictory. Its open - handed hospitality is proverbial; but to a stranger the society seems absolutely exclusive. The contradiction is made clear by the manner of approach. If a stranger have merely a casual or a business acquaintance with these old citizens, no matter how pleasing may be his address, he will not therefore be taken into their confidence, or enjoy their hospitality. A residence of some time is necessary for an entire stranger to make any sort of an acquaintance. But if he come with a letter of introduction from some of their old friends, or if he happen to be connected, however distantly, with an old family known to them, he will at once be taken into their homes, and he will receive every hospitality. It makes little difference then whether his manner happen to be pleasing or very abrupt; and by this approach he can become in fourteen hours almost as well acquainted as in as many months. For in that time all the long genealogies are discussed, and his position with all its bearings is fully determined; and every succeeding visit for several years would be but a repetition in the main of this one. But every time his health would be asked about very frequently, during his visit, and very closely, as well as the health of all his family and his friends. If he were a young man, the old gentleman would be sure, too, to ask his age, and almost sure to ask his weight.
In these old towns, which now every year are losing their characteristics, there are many customs that are worth serious study. They contain the very last remnants of the old Southern civilization in its pure form. And that civilization, whatever may have been its faults, even its fatal faults, had many virtues that the new South will strive in vain to perpetuate. In England, since the rise of the people to such power, there has been much said about the decay of good manners ; but in the Southern States has been a more rapid and a sadder decay. In the loss of many of the stiff manners of the cavaliers, the world has not lost much; but in one respect the new South would gain in looking more closely to the ways of its courtly ancestry. No civilization ever produced purer or tenderer women; and in the transition from the old to the new the women will be the greatest losers.
The many histories of the South that Southerners have written and are writing will never be of great value further than as expositions of certain political doctrines, and as chronicles of war. But there is need, and the time is already ripe, for a social history of the old civilization. He who writes it will do his country a service beyond all calculation, if he strike a proper mean. He will not need to idolize the cavalier spirit, and bewail its passing away, so much as to portray what was good in it and worth preserving ; so that before this old borough life becomes extinct, It may transmit its prime virtues to the younger life about it. The new South cannot build up its possible civilization merely by looking backward and sighing, nor yet by simply pressing blindly forward in the new paths that are now open. With a reverential respect for the past, which unhappily certain communities are too rapidly losing, and by a vigorous work for the future, which many more communities neglect, it has through poverty a chance for greatness that is almost unparalleled in history. The growth of a civilization is always slow. But with the proper fusion of the old and the new, greatness can here be achieved, and that rapidly.
Walter H. Page.