THIS is not an essay in criticism. It is an argument from example; containing also the personal observations of an unabashed æsthetician, who takes her own where she finds it. A living organism of industry, all compact of social values, may be truly an æsthetic whole. It may have beauty transcending a multitude of partial uglinesses, not because it is good, but because its excellence shows the form of perfect unity. That harmony of potent action, that blending of mutual influences, which, in symphony or drama, makes it difficult to disentangle cause and effect, is an unfailing mark, in the conduct of life no less, of the presence of the sesthetic quality. If all art aspires to the condition of music,’ certainly all to which we can ascribe beauty is known by such a fusion of efficient action and results as I mean to try to tell of here. The very difficulty of the task is warrant of the quality of the subject.
It was certainly with no undue expectations of charm or inspiration that I alighted at Vateria, after a night in which dark phantoms of round-topped Southern pines had marched slowly and continuously by the window of my berth. From Washington down, the journey had revealed untidy houses, idle negroes, unkempt whites. The Southerner of Nicholas Worth was in my literary baggage, and, like a character out of the book, a distinguished Georgian had on the way assured me, ‘You know all this hookworm talk is just to keep capital away from the South.’ And the first aspect of the town held in its unloveliness nothing unforeseen. All about were fields of blackened and ragged stumps, showing where the magnificent pine forests had once stood. The fine new schoolhouses and bank were shouldered by shabby shingled relics of the earlier mushroom growth; and when a yellow cow came strolling along the sidewalk seeking what she might devour, it seemed that the last touch of character had been given. Only the wonderful aromatic fragrance of the cut long-leaf pine, which filled the air, gave intimation of a quality soon to be revealed — a truly symbolic note of beauty.
For the place I shall call Vateria is a Mississippi lumber town. It is also one of the most remarkable communities of the New South, in which a strain of power and self-completeness strangely dominates our academic notion of outward civic beauty. There is, indeed, an authentic and virile charm in the spectacle of its common life; but it can be clearly envisaged only in some interpretation of the unusual forces at work there for some twenty years past.
One who knew what other Southern lumber towns were like, ten or more years ago, before t he leaven of Vateria had worked throughout the Gulf states, would have earlier discerned its quality. In those days, not yet ended indeed, the lumberman came in only to exploit and to destroy. A saw-mill was built on the railroad, a logging-camp of violent and often vicious men profaned the forest. The country people furnished few workers to either mill or camp. It was a dissipated and irregular life, and a shifting crew. The common saying went that a camp had three crews — ‘one coming, one going, one at work.’
No families were ever taken into the woods, and all the vices flourished there, with at least the tacit encouragement of the owners; for though ostensibly high wages were paid, it was expected that most of this would return to the company either directly through the high prices the men were compelled to pay at the commissary (company store), or indirectly through the leasing of this privilege of exploitation. Like the turpentine-camp of to-day, it was a synonym for almost intolerable conditions. No land was taken up in the town by employees, no houses built; but when the timber was cut off to such a distance from the saw-mill that it was no longer profitable to haul it in by primitive methods, the company moved on from the denuded land, the camp vanished, and the town dwindled.
Moreover, in the best of circumstances, the supply of logs to the mill was most irregular. For this reason, a mill never ran steadily throughout the year, but was always stopping and starting up, to the great detriment of the working efficiency of its force. So bad was the traditional reputation of these lumber towns and camps, and of the management of the companies, that it was almost impossible to get banking accommodation for a lumbering proposition. No industry suffered such deep distrust on the part of bankers, and the consequent hand-to-mouth methods of financing completed the vicious circle. Moral and physical ugliness, dreariness and sloth, marked the Southern lumber country.
It remained for a Westerner with imagination to transform these conditions in one town, and, by force of example, largely throughout the South. He saw that an element of permanence must be given to what seems in its nature the most unstable and nomadic of industries. This man of insight came South in the early nineties from a wide western experience in lumbering. He found at Vateria the usual moribund company with a small saw-mill nearly at the end of its possible hauling distance with ox-teams. The town was then a dismal little community of some two hundred souls, getting a precarious living from its few cotton-fields dotted here and there among the pines. The farmers were in the grip of the vicious ‘credit system,’ under which they owed the store-keeper three prices for all supplies advanced before harvest, and were held fast by their creditor to the single ‘money crop’ — cotton. Timber land was a drug on the market at any distance from the railroad, and cleared land did not produce more than fifteen dollars worth of cotton the acre. The inhabitants were on the cultural level of full fifty years ago. Cooking was still done entirely in open fireplaces; few had ever seen a stove, much less a steamengine. The story is still told of the countryman who came into the tent of a surveyor for the first railroad, not long before our story begins, and said, looking at the iron stove, ‘Well, now, they tell me that is a very fine invention. I suppose all you have to do is to build a fire in that thing and off you go!’ It was his notion of a locomotive.
The destiny of such a lumber town hangs on its mill, and the prosperity of the mill, to an extent few people understand, on the efficiency of the loggingcamp. Saw-mill practice has been almost completely standardized. The economical size of the mill, the order and method of procedure, and the proportionate space allotted to different activities, areall well known. Few variations, except in the way of dealing with the personnel, are to be found over the whole country. But in the field it is different. The unlike types of timber, of situation, of transportation, of climatic conditions of work, furnish infinitely varied problems. In buying, cutting, loading, and hauling timber, in maintaining hundreds of men in the wilderness, — here lie the moral and the financial risks, and the opportunities for generalship. The great lumbermen have had their hearts in t heir camps,and our Westerner was no exception to the rule. I shall follow the transformation of the industry and of its people, then, from camp to town.
It was clear that, for permanence in the lumber industry, the first requirement was a steady unfailing supply of raw material for the mill, and the new owner’s first means to that end was a logging railroad to the camp. This railroad was built of standard gauge, but light and flexible, so as to be easily carried from one timber ‘stand’ to another. It goes ahead with its temporary spurs at the rate of a mile and a half every four days, curling into every ‘forty’ ahead of the sawyers, who cut their twenty acres a day. Twenty miles of it have since been sold to a new railroad, which has madcVateria a branch; to-day cutting is going on thirty-five miles away from the mill. The life of the mill operations has been extended at least another generation, and entire steadiness ensured throughout the year.
To follow the logging railroad into these woods on a February day is to voyage into an aromatic fairyland. It may be only a chance unawareness of my own, but it seems to me that no one has ever truly described the happy, sturdy beauty of the Mississippi forest. All my literary premonitions were of muddy river-bottoms, sinister cane-brakes, and dark, lowering, moss-hung swamps. But no swamps are here. There are, rather, several levels: first, the creek-bed and banks; then the thick-grown bottomlands, so-called, which are sometimes overflowed, but except for an occasional marshy hollow, mostly dry; and then a third rolling level, where the longleaved pine trees grow, beautifully open and free from underbrush, and covered with a bright-green coarse grass. The bottom-lands are dense with broadleaved evergreens and hardwoods, — cottonwood, sycamore, beech, and poplar, this last of enormous growth never seen in the North. Spruce-pine grows here, too, with gray bark instead of redbrown; sometimes headed up, at sixty feet above the ground, into a bit of dense greenery like a clipped evergreen on a lawn; and ancient cypresses, with their lower trunks spreading out into deep flutings, like wooden buttresses. The cheerful trees, however, are the broad-leaved evergreens, — magnolia, holly, and bay; clothed in dark green, incredibly polished leaves, the sunlight striking from them all over little gleaming points. And draped from tree to tree, over the flowering wild plum, the red blossoms of the buckeye, and the milk-white starry dogwood, the yellow jasmine flaunts its golden trumpets.
This is on the lowlands. But the longleaved pine forest on the rolling uplands is more beautiful than words can tell. Even the young shoot is tall and vigorous, like a mammoth painter’s brush, before it branches at all, and of a rich and juicy growth. Alongside the other little pine saplings it looks like a lion’s cub beside a terrier. The grown tree has very few branches, and these short and irregular, with few branchlets. But each one of these twigs and branchlets bears a whorl of pine-leaves, two or three times as large as a man’s head, and retracts in its growth, presenting the tip of its whorl upward. The trees grow rather sparely, each one to be seen in outline; the deep-red bole, smoothly marked, with a long clear trunk straight as an arrow; then the fascinating sparse irregularity of the branches with their cloudy whorls, like a parure of choice jewels, outlined in black and green against the sky. The branches, too, however gnarled and unsymmetricai, preserve a wonderful balance of arrangement. Each tree is a unique composition, but even the imperfect ones seem to have this gift of hidden symmetry; so that a cut-over field, where the small, worthless trees have been left standing, is still a thing of beauty. Each tree has caught a trick of balance in its branches and branchlets worthy of a Japanese painting.
Along the fringes of this sylvan paradise stretches a quite other world, the world of service and of devouring utility. On the flexible track, which yielded visibly to our passing, we made way ever and again for long trains of enormous logs, going to the saw-mill at Vateria. They were hauled by a curious disjointed sort of engine, known as the shay-geared, which is so contrived as to give to every irregularity of the track. This makes possible the easy and safe hauling of heavy loads — or, rather, makes possible such a light and temporary railroad to haul them on, as can serve every nook and corner of the timber stand. The camp itself was our goal, but since the camp as it is grew out of the revolution in methods inaugurated by the new company, I will try to describe those methods first.
Prior to the coming of the Vateria Company it was general practice in such logging camps to fell the trees each side ol the railroad, haul them up to the track with horses or mules, and hoist them on an ox-chain to the car-trucks. One of the first great changes of the new company was to bring in the steam ‘skidder,’ which hauls in logs from a distance of nearly a thousand feet from the track. This machine is formidable in its appearance and terrifying in its action. It consists of two car-trucks carrying the engines and the derricks of two powerful steam hoisting-machines. The engine-car is chained to the track, and the derrick-car is anchored from its top both ways with heavy steel guylines. From four great steel drums, four three-quarter-inch steel cables, terminating in steel hooks, pass through as many blocks rigged on this derrick-car. The ends of the cables are dragged out by the horses, and hooked each about a felled log within the semi-circle of seven hundred feet radius. Then, at a signal, the engine races, the drums wind up the cables, and the great logs come tearing and crashing in like so many furious beasts — uprooting saplings, rending even good-sized trees, till they bring up end-on on the pile. Six hundred logs a day can be brought up to the track in this way. When the full circle on both sides has been cleared of logs, the machine is unclamped from the track, moves on, under its own steam, to its next station, and in four minutes is pulling in another log.
After the skidder comes the steam loader. The first one was brought to the South by the Vateria Company in 1895, to replace the old slow method of the inclined plane and ox-chain. This machine, though not so startling in action, is, perhaps, more wonderful in its achievements than the skidder. It is operated by three men, or rather by the driver and two helpers, for the first is incomparably the most important. The loader — also mounted on a truck — is a great steam crane, swinging freely on a central pin, and carrying a sliding steel cable ending in sharp steel tongs, like ice-tongs. The driver swings his boom around to the waiting pile of logs, at the same time releasing the cable, which whirls the heavy tongs out and down. At the exact moment they are caught by the man on the pile of logs, and hooked about one. The boom whirls again, carrying up the great log, which is, as if by magic, — really by the skillful paying out of the cable, — deposited in the exact spot indicated by the man on the empty truck, who has hardly even to direct its fall. The driver becomes immensely dexterous with this monstrous weapon, all the more fearsome in that he is dealing wdt.h two variables, the moving boom and the weighted cable which slides out on it. Watching this perilous play I could not help thinking of that dictum of a certain judge, in deciding an accident case in favor of an electric-car conductor: ‘ You cannot wield a trolley-car like a rapier.’ The learned justice could never have said that of the steam loader.
Along with these two great machines to multiply the work achieved by a given number of men, there should be recalled another, which is, perhaps, not less an instrument of saving. Of course, the power in such a camp is all from the waste wood as fuel; but the old casual hit-or-miss method of gathering wood for the locomotives along the t racks has been superseded by a most ingenious fuel machine, which supplies seven locomotives with wood of the right size. At intervals, the steam skidder assembles a car-load of ‘culls’ or useless logs, — the defective ‘dead-heart’ logs, or the gnarled branches. These are hauled down to the yard where stands the fuel machine, every inch of solid steel. A log is hoisted by a small donkey-engine on the machine truck to an endlesschain conveyer, which brings it under a steam cross-cut drag-saw. After the saw has cut it into lengths it slides on, still on its conveyer, to where a negro waiting with a hook, like a cotton-hook, twists it around to stand on end under something between a pile-driver and a guillotine. That is, the pile-driver is fitted with a guillotine of five knives set in star-fish shape. At the signal the pile driver comes down with a ‘short, sharp shock,’ and the log falls apart, neatly split in five sections. If the skidder is terrific, and the loader elegant, the wood machine can only be described as incisive! Certainly one watches it with amusement, and can hardly refrain from attributing to it an all but human temperament.
The tremendous increase over the old method, in the number of logs thus harvested, and the great skill and daring developed in the wielders of these machines, have their influence on the prosperity of the company and on the earnings and morale of the men. But, before and beyond this, the whole group of conditions has been, it is not too much to say, metamorphosed by the presence of the loader, so that the camp has been made a place for human living.
Up to 1895 no families ever lived at a logging-camp — there was no place for them. The men slept in bunk-cars and ate in a cook-car; with the methods of payment and camp rule then in vogue, what that meant in vicious living and slovenly habits of work I have tried to indicate. And even now, as Professor Hart says in his recent Southern South, ‘The great lumber camps give employment to thousands of people, and are on the whole demoralizing, for liquor there flows freely, the life is irregular, and saw-mill towns may suddenly decay.’ Yet with a probable seven hundred and fifty people or so to care for in a migratory camp, no other disposition seemed possible. But with the cheap, quickly-made tracks, and the powerful loading machine, the problem was solved by the Valeria owners. If logs could be lifted on and off cars with ease and expedition, so could other things. The company proceeded to devise a unit shack, twelve feet by eighteen, with a hole through the floor and roof through which an iron rod with an eye on top, like a huge needle, could be bolted. In the South small cabins always stand on posts, free of the ground. How easy, then, to bring up the loader on a temporary spur, hook into this needle’s eye, and swing the shack up on a railway truck, to be deposited in the same way fifty feet from the track in the heart of the new camp.
To-day the camp has a completely developed family life. Every workman has his one or two shacks free, and as many more as he wants to pay for, at a dollar a month or so. In a region where the common type of farmhouse — and the best for country living — is two rooms set some six feet apart with a raised common roof over all, the shacks are a most liberal substitute. The usual arrangement copies this, or assembles three or more shacks end-on to a central square or platform, and covers the whole with a raised roof, built either by the men themselves or the company’s carpenters. Many of these houses have fenced-in gardens, full of flowers and vegetables, with vines running luxuriantly over roofs and fences.
Thus the unit shack and the loader together have made it possible for four hundred or more men to keep their wives and children with them through frequent changes of camp, with all that that means for thrifty living and steady work. It has meant that the best workmen in the country have come and stayed with the Vateria Company, and by their skill and productive work have contributed again to the same efficiency which first gave the basic conditions of their life.
It is, however, not family life alone that has been made possible. Other lumber-camps, if not utterly neglected, are cared for with benevolent despotism. That the camp and the store, boarding-house and hospital cars, are lighted with electricity from a company plant, and supplied with water from an artesian well, and that the employees have the free use of the company’s telephone, shows only the care of the company to abolish so far as possible the minor hardships of camp life. But it has been the practice of the Vateria Company to have each logging-camp regularly incorporated as a town under Mississippi law, with alderman, constables, school board, and so forth. And it is the laboring men, not the superintendents, who become the responsible town officers. As the camp has a full life of some two years, and, thereafter, frequently remains a way station on the logging railroad, this is entirely feasible. The company builds a schoolhouse and a Y. M. C. A. building with baths, and a combined church and schoolhouse for the negro end of the camp; but the citizens of the ‘town’ pay for their own teachers, and, as members, for the services of the Y. M. C. A. director. There are now three teachers and over a hundred children in the white school, which compares favorably with any rural school I have seen. The workmen also largely sustain the camp doctor, with a drug store and good operating-room arranged in a car. The company store sells for cash at ordinary town prices.
It is easy to see what an independent and self-respecting community is thus encouraged; but what is not so obvious is the far-reaching importance of a very simple economic change made by the company, which preceded and conditioned all these developments. To an Easterner it would seem only ordinary business method; but from the point of view of universal lumbering practice in the South, it was nothing less than revolutionary.
The real great secret of the recklessness and irresponsibility of the lumber crew was their financial bondage. In all lumber-camps and saw-mill towns the men were compelled to trade at the company store, and were paid only by being allowed to draw their balance over this store account once a month. And as in the towns, the prices at the commissary, or company store, were highly exorbitant, and the workmen were always tempted to run up large accounts. In fact, practically all the lumber companies that made any profit at all, made it out of their stores, — ‘operating on a commissary basis,’ as it is called, — with results to the workmen that may be imagined. To change this custom was by other lumbermen looked on as suicidal.
But the Vateria Company began at once the payment of its workmen once a week in cash. It is hard to make clear the miracle that this one simple fact works, and has worked here, in the conduct of a man’s life, and in his moral attitude. It might be said that this is a commonplace business method, a matter of course. Unfortunately it was, and is, so little a matter of course in the South that the country’s whole economic condition would have been changed, if fifteen years ago the credit system could have been swept away everywhere and cash payments inaugurated. A large number of immigrants brought with great hopes to South Carolina in 1906, left there within a year largely because they were not paid in cash and had to trade at the company store. And to-day, still, the camp, mine and plantation hands, the tenant farmers and the small freehold farmers, are nearly all fast-bound, each under the special conditions of his calling, in this cruel system of indefinite credits and inordinate payments. But by this first act of economic justice on the part of the Vateria owners, the first condition of independent and self-controlled living was given, to which the others were but corollaries. All the incentives to steady and thrifty living, to self-control and self-respect, were thus supplied to the workman: family life and responsibility, the opportunity for civic duty, education, and the basic condition of all, control of the product of his labor.
It was this same financial freedom which in Vateria itself gave an early firm foundation for its healthy and enterprising growth. With liberal weekly wages in hand, the mill-workers could trade where they would. The result was that merchants and storekeepers of all kinds came to set up in the town; a healthy competition was induced, which kept prices reasonable, so that the country trade came in from all about. The thus augmented stream of ready cash attracted banks, and the deposits made new enterprises possible through loans. Thus simple commonsense fairness in paying off laborers became a very great factor in the building up of an active town.
To this day many lumber companies are ‘operating on a commissary basis.’ If, however, they tell of the reckless improvidence of their mill and camp operators, it is easy to impute the responsibility; Vateria has demonstrated the results of the other method.
Thus, drawn by steady employment and prompt payment, the best workmen were available. Much at variance with the usual outlook, the main reliance of the Vateria Company, both mill and camp, was to be on the country people. These were at first reluctant. They had the usual view of ‘ lumber-jacks ’; they were of pure American stock, used to farming only; poor and proud, and, at first, indolent. But if a man has a stake in the country in property and family relations he is fixed, steadied, and speeded. The Vateria Company encouraged in every way the ownership of land and the building of homes by its men. Though the legal rate of interest in Mississippi is six per cent, most of the country bankers get their ten and twelve per cent and over; but the lumber company lent money to its employees at six per cent, and sold plots of ground to them on easy terms.
A tremendous inducement tosuperior workmen is an opportunity to educate their children. Now the success of the lumber mill, the shops, and the various subsidiary enterprises of Vateria, soon made it possible to spend town money for schools. In this one field all the influence that the company could bring to bear was openly exerted. It was augmented by this time by a large group of energetic young men, friends and relatives of the original pioneer, all of whom lived in the town. This again sounds to Eastern ears like a commonplace, but in truth it is almost unheard of in lumber towns and other such large enterprises in the South. Hardly one but suffers from absentee landlordism. But our Westerner and his associates served on the school-boards, sent their children to the public schools, and fought for them year in and year out, in large and in detail. Other citizens demanded more public buildings, paved streets. ‘After we have good schools,’ answered the lumbermen. In 1905 the average annual expenditure per pupil in daily attendance in the South was $9.75, in the North about $28.45. In 1900, Mississippi spent but $6.17 per pupil. But the Vateria school budget has been for years $35,000 for a town of 8500 people, or $20 per year per white pupil. The result is that the schools of Vateria are acknowledged the best in the whole state. The good old country stock thereabout, of English and Scotch-Irish descent, has awakened to the opportunity. Family after family moves to town that its children may be educated, and the personal level of the workmen available has been, in consequence of this large material for selection, obviously raised.
The proportion, among the employees, of American country people settled in their own homes, to the nomad workers, is enormously greater than that in other mill towns and camps. In the town of one great enterprise in this field a teacher of the lowest grade school was asked as to the nationality of her charges. ‘All dagoes,’ she answered. ‘They are very quick to learn, but they get little schooling, because their parents never stay any time in the same place.’ In the light of these facts, and their significance for the community life, the unpaved streets and homely vistas of Vateria ceased to have a negative aesthetic value. A breath of energy and of hope seemed to blowacross them.
This is, perhaps, the place to speak of what most discussions of Southern industrial conditions seem to lay most stress on — the race question as it enters into labor competition. In Vateria, at least, the problem does not obtrude itself; it seems rather to be solved by obvious necessity. The negro cannot work in the cotton mill; he is too clumsy for the delicate operations, and the noise stupefies him. In the camp and the saw-mill he works side by side with white men, and the best man wins.
By far the most important workman in the saw-mill is the sawyer, he who guides the mammoth log on its steamcarriage up to the great endless bandsaw, and directs its cutting, board by board. Good judgment on the part of the sawyer as to how to cut a log to get the most out of it, is the most essential element in the conduct of the mill; as the logs are cut, so is the gain or loss from the whole operation. Yet the best sawyer the Vateria Company ever had was a colored man. For years he drew sawyer’s wages, three or four times the ordinary wage of the mill-hand, with no murmurs from the others — his superiority was too obvious. On the other hand, neither in mill nor camp are there negro foremen; they do not ordinarily develop those qualities of character necessary to hold a foreman’s job.
In general, race troubles seem to arise where the poorer whites are ignorant and inefficient, and so have some reason to fear competition. In Vateria they are so absolutely the opposite of this; they are, on the contrary, of such fresh and untried stock, responding so quickly to any opportunity for education and self-help, that their comparatively good relations with the large negro population are not hard to understand.
In the building up of the town, however, there are other elements than education and raising the quality of human material. A lumber town that is a lumber town alone has too many of its eggs in one basket. They are just beginning to preach diversified farming in the South, but the energetic spirits of Vateria set to diversifying industry as soon as their lumber company was on its feet. They founded a cotton mill, which has now twenty thousand spindles; they aided the fortunes of a cotton-oil and fertilizer mill; they welcomed the advent of other lumbermen. In the place today there is a brick plant, a wagon factory, a hardwood saw-mill, and a cotton compress (cotton being sold by weight, but shipped by volume). And now, in 1912, a group of business men have secured and largely support the services of a Federal agricultural expert and demonstrator for the country immediately surrounding Vateria — probably the first instance of such activity in behalf of the farming neighbors of a single town.
The cotton-mill is of the usual type, save for the small number of children at work. In going through the schools of the cotton-mill quarter, and noting the good appearance of the pupils, it is impossible not to sympathize in some degree with the Southern tolerance of a modicum of youthful labor in mills. It is light labor, with no children under twelve, and no night work. The cotton operators are originally of a much lower grade than the lumber workers; they come in from farms where the whole family has worked half-starved, in unsanitary conditions. The new-comers are very badly nourished, and have no ideas of orderly living; barely twenty per cent of them can read or write. In the town the whole family still works; but where fair wages and steady employment insure good living, where the company sees to it that they keep proper home conditions, and there is every incentive to education, the children develop well. The second generation of cotton-mill workers is a vast improvement on the first, — as observed, at least, in this country town, where the community spirit is so highly developed.
As for the cotton-oil mill, the great stoop-shouldered structure makes at least one picturesque corner in the growing town, but color is needed to depict its interior. The cotton seeds, still greenish-white with lint, are led on a high conveyer to the part of the mill where they are to be ground, and there fall from it into a pile — a mountain — the slope of whose sides is repeated in the slant of the covering roof. This gray-green mound, and the shafts of light and depths of shadow in the cavernous spaces of the great mill, make a perfect setting for the negroes at work. In and over everything is the golden oil from the presses and the golden dust from the grinding — a rich brown on walls and floors, wonderful amber and green tints on thegarmentsof the workmen; it seems, indeed, to have passed into their veins, so mellow-gleaming are the tawny faces. And not the least of the mill’s fascinations is the delicious odor of the steaming meal. It is strange that this, as well as the oil, is not in more general use as food — certainly, to the eye, the nostril, and the palate, it is most agreeable.
But I have dwelt overlong on the various activities involved in the growth of such a community, and must not forget the basic condition of it all. A frontier country must be opened up, and must have capital to develop it. The capital has been given by the success, through good management, of the lumber company, and by the accumulation of money in the town that it drew together; it has been distributed, also, to many small farmers who have been freed from debt by the cash proceeds of their small timber holdings. Secondly, the country has been opened up to farming by the removal of the forest. Such land as that in southern Mississippi is too fertile not to be every inch under cultivation. To the eye the unworked ground is clayey and unpromising; but it responds like magic to intelligent effort. I have seen gardens in Vateria with quite incredible records at the end of two years, during which time the soil has turned to a rich dark loam, capable of anything, from artichokes to gardenias. The climate is much more favorable in every way than in the lower altitude of Louisiana, and when the farmers get to organizing in the fashion of California, this country may be the greatest truck-garden in the United States. But there is not too much enterprise among them, and thoughtful men are not deploring the advent of the cotton-boll weevil. Cotton ought not to be the only crop; and if the backwoodsmen are only forced into diversified farming, it will be a blessing for the countryside.
But it is the lumber operations that have brought the railroads, the traffic, and the market; and a new spirit of energy and responsibility and prosperity. The cut-over land needs but to be fully cleared, to become an agricultural paradise. Only æsthetic sentimentality could still yearn for the lost forest aisles. The forest has died in giving birth to something more precious than itself.
And what of the æsthetic meaning of Vateria? The town does not lack all outward fairness. It has dignified public buildings. Stately long-leaf pines in its park stand up against the western sky; around them are some charming houses, lovely gardens. But not by these is it æsthetically saved. Nor is material prosperity here to be regarded as compensation for vanished beauty, though it may, indeed, be accepted as such on occasion — no doubt every ugly thriving town might make the claim. And not even does the effective activity of the industrial system give warrant for accord ing it a positive aesthetic quality. There are many smooth-working great industrial machines in which there is no essential distinction between the animate and the inanimate elements. Such industrial machines are just over the æsthetic threshold — they have the low-grade unity of the steam-engine and the dynamo. As, in criticism, the highest place is refused to that literature which, however integral in plan and exquisite in workmanship, conspicuously lets go the prime factor in human beings, will and its obligations, — as the book which aims to deal with life and yet ignores its essential meaning, fails of great art, — so the industrial creation which aims at organic perfection, and yet takes no account of its essential element, human character and its needs, fails in the same way. There is a fatal flaw in that integrity which alone can give it æsthetic value.
Here is the distinction of Vateria. The genius of the pioneer lumberman lay in the way he made every improvement in method subserve the character and training of his workers, and every improvement in character of the workers subserve the organic growth of the enterprise. Vateria is no little Elysium of ‘welfare work.’ Of such there is very little; the employers are too just, the workers too proud, to allow it. It is rather a place where intense effort toward industrial excellence and simple justice in financial policy have been made an opportunity for individual growth. This it is which makes the æsthetic value of efficiency in the industrial system. This ultimate integrity of the industrial organism is gained by guarding the self-respect and the moral and mental growth of the employee by the mutual practice of industrial efficiency.
The authentic charm of Vateria is in the harmonious action of its spirit of conscious competence. That spirit of competence turns to the best human uses its hard-won material gain, and turns again the energy drawn from mental and moral freedom back into the conduct of affairs. The reasoned appreciation of such sturdy, self-complete civic entities is worth encouraging in America to-day. Too often is the City Beautiful held to be a matter of parkways, fountains, groupings, and vistas. Let us rather learn to see the quality of beauty where there is lucid excellence of civic and industrial performance.