Browsing "Lost Cultures"

Toys and Fuel for Goths and Vandals

The barbarian invader will often destroy his victim’s institutions of religion and learning, symbols having no meaning for him. This invader will also destroy literature which he sees as counter to his narrow vision, replace it with that which extols his more primitive culture and base ideals, and then inform his captives that this is progress.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Toys and Fuel for Goths and Vandals

“Almost in the twinkling of an eye the whole social fabric of the South was swept away, and a half-century has hardly sufficed to produce an entire readjustment to new conditions, so fundamental was the change. The libraries and colleges, indeed all institutions that fostered and conserved its culture, suffered heaviest.

Almost every school building in the South was occupied at one time or other by soldiers as barracks or hospitals, and books and instruments of unknown value were used as fuel or served as toys for the idle hours of high privates. In many of the libraries, broken sets and mutilated volumes still remain as pathetic reminders of the days of blood and fire.

The famous library at Charleston was partially destroyed, the building being used as a military hospital; all the Virginia institutions suffered greatly, as did those in Kentucky and Tennessee. The most astonishing episode, however, of the kind, in that most astonishing conflict, was the burning of the library building and collections of the University of Alabama, during the final days of the war. This library, which was one of the largest and best selected in the South, was ruthlessly destroyed at a time when the issue of the conflict had been decided, and no conceivable gain could have resulted from such an action.

Of the influence of his books upon the man of the early South, we are permitted to judge by the work the Southerner did in the forming of the nation. [The] schools and libraries of ante-bellum days surely had a large share in the development of the men who defended, by impassioned speech and heroic deed, social traditions and an ideal of the state doomed by the spirit of progress.”

(The South in the Building of the Nation, Volume VII, Edwin Wiley, Southern Historical Publication Society, 1909, pp. 500-501, 510)

 

Endlessly Contemplating the Past on the Front Porch

The years after 1865 saw the family as the core of Southern society and “within its bounds everything worthwhile took place.” Even in the early twentieth century Southerners working in exile up North imported corn meal and cured hams, and missed the North Carolina home where “Aunt Nancy still measures by hand and taste,” and where “the art of cooking famous old dishes lives on.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Endlessly Contemplating the Past on the Front Porch

“The governing families [of the South] . . . possessed modesty and good breeding in ample measure; much informal geniality without familiarity; a marked social distinction that was neither deliberate nor self-conscious. Indeed, the best families in the South were the most delightful segment of the American elite.

Southern charm reached its culmination in the Southern lady, a creature who, like her plantation grandmother, could be feminine and decorative without sacrificing any privileges except the masculine prerogative to hold public office. Count Hermann Keyserling in 1929 was impressed by “that lovely type of woman called “The Southern Girl,” who, in his opinion, possessed the subtle virtues of the French lady.

What at times appeared to be ignorance, vanity or hypocrisy, frequently turned out to be the innate politeness of the Southerner who sought to put others at ease.

To a greater degree than other Americans, Southerners practiced what may be regarded as the essence of good manners: the idea that the outward form of inherited or imposed ideals should be maintained regardless of what went on behind the scenes. Southern ideals were more extensive and inflexible than those prevailing elsewhere in America. To the rigid code of plantation days was added, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the repressions of puritanism imposed by the Protestant clergy, who demanded that the fiddle be silenced and strong drink eschewed “on pain of ruin in this world and damnation in the next.”

Although Southerners were among the hardest drinkers in America, one reason they voted for Al Smith in 1928 was because he openly defended drinking. Many critics called this attitude hypocrisy, even deceit; the Southerners, however, insisted upon making the distinction between hedonistic tendencies and long-established ideals. If such evasiveness did not create a perfect code of morals, at least it helped to repress the indecent.

The home in the twentieth century remained the core of a social conservatism fundamentally Southern, still harboring “the tenacious clan loyalty that was so mighty a cohesive force in colonial society.” A living symbol of the prevailing domestic stability was the front porch where, in the leisure of the rocking chair, the Southerner endlessly contemplated the past. Here nothing important had happened since the Civil War, except that the screen of trees and banisters had grown more protective.

The most obvious indication of the tenacity of home life was the survival of the Southern style of cooking. Assaults upon it came from the outside, with scientists claiming that monotony and lack of balance in the eating habits of millions resulted in such diseases as pellagra.

National advertising imposed Northern food products upon those Southerners who would heed. Federal subsidies after 1914 enabled home economics to carry the new science of nutrition into Southern communities and schools. Yet no revolution in diet took place. Possibly, the . . . teachers overstepped . . . when they sought to introduce the culinary customs of Battle Creek and Boston. Their attempted revolution failed for the same reason as that of the Yankee schoolma’ams during Reconstruction.”

(The South Old and New, A History 1820-1947, Francis Butler Simkins, Alfred A. Knopf, excerpts pp. 292-295)

Vindicating the South

The articles of Dr. Albert Taylor Bledsoe would often express “in vigorous language . . . the best types of literature of the conservative point of view” from the South. In battling against the inevitable tendencies of modernity changing the postwar South, he reminded Southerners that their civilization was one to cherish and perpetuate.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Vindicating the South:

“The most indefatigable champion of the Southern cause was the Southern Review, established January, 1867, by Alfred Taylor Bledsoe, formerly professor of mathematics in the University of Virginia and the author of the noteworthy book entitled “Is Davis a Traitor?” A man of undoubted intellectual power and with remarkable energy and resourcefulness, he had already during the war, by his studies in the British Museum, made himself familiar with the first hand sources necessary for the study of early American history.

He brought back into the South the point of view of John C. Calhoun and gave forth the arguments in favor of secession with searching logic and a scholarship that was more exact than that of the great statesman himself. He conceived it to be his duty through the Review to give permanent statements to the ideas that had been fought for by the Southern people. He would not let any criticism of his course to change him in his desire to set forth the Southern point of view.

“Shall we bury in the grave of the grandest cause that has ever perished on earth, all the little stores of history and philosophy which a not altogether idle life has enabled us to enmass, and so leave the just cause, merely because it has fallen, to go without our humble advocacy? We would rather die.”

He quoted with great gusto the words of Robert E. Lee: “Doctor, you must take care of yourself; you have a great work to do; we all look to you for our vindication.” None of the discouragement incident to the management of the Review or threatened poverty could for one moment cause him to swerve from his frequently expressed object. In a long article in Vol. VIII, in pleading with the Southern people to stand by him in the fight, he says:

“To abandon The Southern Review would be like the pain of death to me. It is the child of my affections. Money is not my object. I am willing to work for the South; nay, I am willing to be a slave for the South. Nothing but an unconquerable zeal in the cause of the South and of the truth, could have sustained us under the heavy pressure of its doubts, its difficulties, its trials, and its vexations in spirit.”

He has no sympathy for modern democracy, for to him it was the child of infidelity. He is opposed to all the tendencies of modern science, for it tends to destroy the faith of mankind. He is opposed to industrialism, looking upon it as the enemy to all that is chivalric and beautiful in civilization. He will have nought to do with German philosophy or German criticism, for they are both the inaugurators of the reign of radicalism and rationalism.”

(The South in the Building of the Nation, Volume VII, Edwin Mims, Southern Historical Publication Society, 1909, pp. 463-465)

Chapel Office of a Protestant Saint

As a college president after the war, General Robert E. Lee gave no indication of being a scholar, did not begin any research of his own, and showed no interest in collecting material for wartime memoirs. Lee informed Scotch visitor David MacRae that he had not read any accounts of the war or biographies. He said: “My own life has been written, but I have not looked into it. I do not want to awaken memories of the past.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 
Chapel Office of a Protestant Saint

“Offices are silent biographers of those who spend much of their lives in them. Beginning as inanimate rooms, offices become organic spaces, with personalities and meaning of their own. Robert E. Lee is gone, but his office is intact. After his death, college officials decided to preserve it exactly as it was when he walked out on a soggy fall day in 1870. No major item has been added or removed. Time has been blocked out and history boxed in.

Lee’s office is in the basement of [the chapel he insisted be built for Washington College, and authorized by the Trustees on 18 July 1866]. One naked electric light bulb shines at night, placed where an oil lamp hung in Lee’s day. The brick floor at the foot of the stairs has been worn and cracked by the feet of many pilgrims.

To the modern eye, the fifteen by eighteen foot room seems plain to the point of austerity. There is no rug on the pine floor of random-width boards, no curtains on the two windows, no paintings or prints on the plain white walls. The furnishings reflect the ear and the man.

The largest object in the room is a bookcase . . . [with only] Webster’s dictionary [being] the largest [book in it]. Most of the others were nineteenth century texts: DeVere’s Grammar in French, Brown’s English Grammar with Analysis, Morris’ Greek Grammar and Downes’ Algebra, for example. All are frayed and worn from frequent use.

On the mantle stand three faded pictures: George Peabody, a Northern benefactor, an unidentified Confederate family, and George Washington. Underneath the central table is a large wicker waste basket, given General Lee by a Negro woman. This is all one finds in the office of the American who is regarded by many as a sort of Protestant saints.

Across the hall, a few feet from the office, the earthly remains of Lee are sealed in a family mausoleum. Above him rests his wife. To his right is his father, “Light Horse Harry”; to his left his oldest son, Custis. The General is entombed not far from the place where he worked and where he led in peace a whole region which he could not free in war.

This was the focus and nerve center of his administration. Here we wrote, planned, conferred and meted out justice. Duty, like marrow, was in his bones. Precisely here the college was transformed into a university. Like his clothes, speech, manners and campaigns, the office, too, was fastidious. A passion for order dominated Lee’s whole life.

Rising early, he held private prayers, after which he went promptly to breakfast whish was usually delayed by his tardy wife. There were family prayers at this morning meal as well. Lee ate heartily and left promptly for the seven forty-five chapel service. Lectures began at eight o’clock. By then, he would have slipped downstairs to his office.

Faculty members had to report every week on every student. Lee tabulated and remembered the comments and grades. Soon after the grades were known, Lee arranged to see those who were doing poorly, sending Lewis, the college janitor, to their rooms with notes.

He attended many daily recitations. “I recited in the presence of General Lee many times. It was a severe ordeal,” C.A. Graves, an ex-student, remembered. “I have often wondered how he found the patience to endure the many hours of attendance on the many classes.”

(Lee After the War, The Greatest Period in the Life of a Great American, Marshall W. Fishwick, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1963, excerpts, pp. 128-132)

Biblical Basis of Learning in the Confederacy

The Confederate Spelling Book was written by Richard McAllister Smith (1819-1870), and included “Reading Lessons for the Young, Adapted to the Use of Schools or for Private Instruction.”  It was a companion book to the Confederate First Reader of Prose and Poetry,and was designed “to instruct the pupils, and at the same time to elevate their ideas and form correct tastes and instill proper sentiments.”

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Biblical Basis of Learning in the Confederacy

“The Confederate Spelling Book propounds its philosophy in its preface: “It is a delusion which has gained some foothold with the unreflecting, that a child should not be made to memorize what it does not in all respects understand. Nature has rebuked this idea by developing the memory in advance of the understanding.”

According to the Confederate Spelling Book, teachers of the Confederacy received no little assist in discipline and conduct from the teachings of the Bible. Interspersed with delightful dissertations on such subjects as the pleasures of traveling by steamboat are frequent admonishments supported by references to the Good Book.

The speller cites scripture such as “The Bible tells us that liars cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” A favorite admonishment was “God made all nature cheerful and he intended we should be cheerful also. Cheerfulness does not teach us to be giddy, and boisterous and rude, but to observe a pleasant and polite demeanor toward all whom we meet.”

(Plantation Heritage in Upcountry, South Carolina, Kenneth and Blanche Marsh, Biltmore Press, 1962, excerpts pp. 32-110)

Better to Die in the Last Ditch

Of the war and its end in the submission and occupation of the American South, those enduring the degradation vowed that “These things will not stay forgotten . . . daughters and Veterans can not afford to be silent about the painful past. Let our descendants have a truthful account of that awful time as far as written words can give it.” The source below can be obtained from Orders@Xlibris.com.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Better to Die in the Last Ditch

“Twenty years after Appomattox in a survey to determine “how the war had most significantly changed” the lives of Confederate women, “all said that doing their own work or adjusting to hired Negro domestics was their major postwar problem.” Sallie Southall Cotton wrote to General William G. LeDue in 1909 about Reconstruction:

“Defeated, oppressed, humiliated, poverty-stricken, disenfranchised, taxed to pay the war debt, while too poor to support ourselves, deprived of opportunity politically, and handicapped by pride and the bitterness of rebellion against our condition, the South was a pitiable spectacle – and her rise from that condition to the splendid attainments of today is a crown of honor she deserves because she has won it by overcoming obstacles which at first seemed insurmountable.”

Dr. Henry Bahnson, in his speech to Confederate veterans, had this to say about Confederate women:

“We can speak in unstilted praise of the best and greatest glory of the South – the women of the war. Their soft voices inspired us, their prayers followed us and shielded us from temptation and harm. We witnessed their Spartan courage and self-sacrifice in every stage of the war. We saw them send their husbands and their fathers, their brothers and their sons and their sweethearts, to the front, tempering their joy in the hour of triumph, cheering and comforting them in the days of despair and disaster.

Freely they gave of their abundance, and gladly endured privation and direct poverty that the men in the field might be clothed and fed. Their days of unaccustomed toil were saddened with anxious suspense, and the lonely, prayerful vigils of the night afforded no rest.

They nursed the sick and wounded; they soothed the dying; and in the last stages of the war when all was lost but honor, were made to marvel at their saintly spirit of martyrdom standing as it were almost neck deep in the desolation around tem, bravely facing their fate, while the light of heaven illuminated their divinely beautiful countenances.”

Catherine DeRosset Meares [of Wilmington] remarked: “The sense of captivity, of subjugation . . . [was] so galling that I cannot see how a manly spirit could submit to it . . . Oh, it is such degradation to see [our] young men yield voluntary submission to these rascally Yankees. Better to stand on the last plank and die in the last ditch.”

(Blood and War at My Doorstep, North Carolina Civilians in the War Between the States, Brenda Chambers McKean, Volume II, Xlibris, 2011, pp. 1082-1083)

Kindness Toward the Colored People of the South

Walter Clark rose from a sixteen year-old North Carolina soldier in Lee’s army who saw the fields of Second Manassas to Bentonville, where he ended the war as a major, to Chief Justice of North Carolina’s Supreme Court. His kind feelings toward those he found less fortunate than him were typical of the South’s leadership, and a high example for others to follow.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Kindness Toward the Colored People of the South:

“Born in a slave-owning home, Clark was taught always to treat the Negroes kindly and to care for them rather than abuse them, as unfortunately some masters did. This attitude he consistently maintained through life. When, in the army, Neverson, the Negro boy who faithfully attended him as a bodyguard, went with him to the line of battle, he would sent the boy back with their horse so that he would be personally out of danger; together they shared their scanty meals, and together they endured war’s hardships as true companions.

As late as 1919, Dr. James E. Shepard, a prominent North Carolina educator and president of the North Carolina College for Negroes at Durham, wrote Clark a letter of appreciation for the services he had rendered the Negroes and for his consistent justice in dealing with them. In reply Clark wrote:

“I have been the employer of colored labor ever since I became of age. I know them well and I have never received anything but kindness at their hands. I have the kindest feeling for the race and have seen the difficulties which surround their efforts to rise to better things. In my judgment, the best remedy for the situation the colored people find themselves is . . . extending the education as far as possible to all your people, impress upon them sobriety, self-control under what at times may be aggravating circumstances, the acquirement of property by industry and thrift, and the attainment, by their personal conduct, of the respect of white people.

Avoid giving this a setback by the intemperate utterances, especially by the young people of your race who are impatient at what they deem continued injustice. Most often this matter is due to the language used by office-seekers, who appeal to and excite race prejudice for their personal ends. I am sure that the vast majority of the white people of North Carolina wish to do equal and exact justice to the colored race, and their number is increasing with the proofs which the colored people are giving that they are better educated and are attaining a higher standard of morality and right living.”

(Walter Clark, Fighting Judge, Aubrey Lee Brooks, UNC Press, 1944, pp. 175-176)

The Aristocrat of the Old South

Southern planters wondered at how educated men and women of the North, former slaveholders and slave traders themselves, could believe that they would willingly injure black men and women under their care, or allow them to be beaten. The sheer cruelty of New England’s slave trade and its infamous middle passage could never be surpassed by the plantations of the Old South.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

The Aristocrat of the Old South

“It is true the aristocrat of the Old South did not go into his blacksmith shop to shoe his horse nor his wife into the kitchen to cook, or to the wash tub to wash, but it was not because they were ashamed or scorned to do it, but because there was no need for them to do these things.

History has greatly maligned the old aristocrat of the South. He was not “haughty,” he was not “purse proud,” and he did not consider himself “of finer clay” than any one else, as history has unfairly represented him.

Aristocracy was then gauged by manners and morals, and not by the size of the bank account, as I fear is too much the case today. Far more time was spent in cultivating the graces and charms of life than in amassing fortunes. They realized that “Manners are of more importance than money and laws” – for manners give form and color to our lives. They felt, as Tennyson said, “Manners are the fruit of lofty natures and noble minds.”

It will take us a long time to undo the falsehoods of history about the civilization of the Old South.

Who was the head of the plantation? Why, “ole Miss,”. . . Her life was a long life of devotion – devotion to her God, devotion to her church . . . devotion to her husband, to her children, to her kinfolks, to her neighbors and friends and to her servants. She could not be idle for she must ever be busy.

“Ole Marster” could delegate many of his duties to the overseer, while he entertained his guests. He would rise early in the morning, eat his breakfast . . . Broiled chicken, stuffed sausage, spareribs, broiled ham and eggs, egg bread, corn muffins, hot rolls, beaten biscuits, batter cakes or waffles with melted butter, syrup or honey, and the half not told.

Then, after smoking his Havana cigar, he would mount his saddle and ride over the plantation to see if the orders given the day before had been fully carried out. Then give the next day’s orders, ride to a neighboring plantation and return in time for an early dinner. Dinner was always midday on the old plantation. If it were summer . . . [he would] lie down on the wide verandah . . . while he took his noon-day nap. If it were winter, he would go into his library, and, before a large, open fireplace with whole logs of wood, he would discourse upon the topics of the day with visitors.

There was no subject with which “Ole Marster” was not at home – whether politics, philosophy, religion, literature, poetry or art. “Ole Marster’s” sons for generations had been well-educated and had a perfect familiarity with the classics – they could read Greek and Latin better than some of us can read English today. The best magazines of the day were upon his library table, and the latest books upon his library shelves.

Time [on the plantation] was measured to Christmas, and three weeks before Christmas Day the wagons would go to the nearest city or town to lay in the Christmas supplies. Every Negro man had to have a complete outfit, from hat to shoes; every Negro woman had to have the same from head handkerchief to shoes; each Negro child every article of clothing needed.; and warm shawls, and soft shoes, or some special gifts had to be bought for the old Negroes too feeble to work.

How happy all were, white and black, as the cry of “Christmas Gif” rang from one end to the other of the plantation, beginning early in the morning at the Big House and reaching every Negro cabin – Christmas can never be the same again.”

(The Civilization of the Old South, Mildred Lewis Rutherford; North Carolina Booklet, Vol. XVII, No. 3, January 1918, pp. 142-147)

America's Classical Catalyst

While in Paris Jefferson sent home his design for the Virginia capitol, a building to be “simple and sublime . . . copied from the most precious [mode of ancient] architecture remaining on earth.” He wrote that from “Lyons to Nismes I have been nourished with the remains of Roman grandeur . . . I am immersed in [antiquities from morning to night].” Understanding that modern man stood on the shoulders of giants, men like Jefferson looked to the foundations of Western Civilization for guidance in their experiment in government.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

America’s Classical Catalyst

“We no longer characteristically study the ancient tongues. Greek has disappeared from most public education; Latin has shrunk to a shadow of its importance in the days when the founding fathers read it fluently; and though the vogue of courses in translation and of general education has restored a certain pale of vitality to the Greeks, it has done less for the Romans. For these and other reasons the notion that the classical past has exerted an important influence on the culture of the United States seems to many absurd.

Yet evidence of that influence lies all around us. Many villages, towns and cities have either classical names such as Rome, Troy, Athens, Syracuse, Ithaca, Utica, Alexandria, or Augusta, or names compounded, sometimes uncouthly, out of one or more classical elements, as Thermopolis, Minneapolis, Itasca, or Spotsylvania.

Our streets are sometimes known as Euclid Avenue, Appian Way, Acadia Drive, or Phaeton Road. The names of the States occasionally reveal classicism, as in the cases of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Georgia.

The American college occupies something called a campus, a word that came into American English in this sense in 1774. Fraternities and sororities display Greek letters standing for words known only to the initiate, as if the Eleusinian mysteries were still operative. Certain categories of students in high school and college are sophomores, juniors and seniors; the first of these Latin derivatives dates (in this country) from 1726, the third to 1651, and the middle term from some period in between.

Constitutionally we are not a democracy but a republic; that is, res publica, a phrase referring to the commonweal, which in the sense of a government by elected representatives came into English in the seventeenth century. The congress meets not in a parliament house . . . but a capitol, a word originally designating a citadel or temple on a hilltop, like the Jupiter Optimus Maximus which stood on the Capitoline Hill in Rome.

The great seal of the United States bears an eagle, a bird suggested by the eagle of the legions, the difference being that the American eagle is a bald eagle and not a Roman one. It clasps and olive branch in one talon, a sheaf of arrows in the other, emblems of peace and war . . . having classical connotations. The figure is surrounded by an enigmatic Latin phrase, E pluribus unum.

Our coinage, largely created by Jefferson, is decimal coinage . . . it was early agreed that our hard money would not show the head of any living president, partly because Roman coins had displayed the heads of deified emperors. The goddess [Liberty] persists . . . she is known as Columbia, but she is always a goddess. She is clad in classical garment; and on her head, or near her on a pole or standard she sometimes clasps, is a Phyrgian cap, worn in Rome by liberated slaves.

That the young nation should have accepted a set of classical coordinates to particularize components of its government and its republican culture is less astonishing than its failure would have been. To western man between the fall of Constantinople (1453) and the fall of Napoleon (1815) the classical past was perpetually a catalytic agent, a dynamic force so wonderful and so elusive that generation after generation of thinkers recast Greece and Rome in their own images.

If the humanists did not literally rediscover antiquity, they remolded it, they energized it, they caused it to shine upon the horizon of European culture with a golden splendor. [This study revealed to them] a world at once timeless and flexible, elusive and permanent, a lost Utopia of the west inhabited by noble beings – Aspasia, Pericles, Marcus Aurelius, Horatius Cato, Cornelia, Caesar, Harmodius, Aristogeiton – men and women capable of creating republics and extending empires, writing tragedies and concocting satires, codifying wisdom and anticipating modernity. They were the wisest and most beautiful of mankind.”

(O Strange New World, Howard Mumford Jones, The Viking Press, 1964, pp. 227-234)

Nov 23, 2014 - Lost Cultures    No Comments

Southern Conception of the Good Life

Author Donald Davidson wrote of the decline of Northern cities committed to progress and the past resistance of Southern cities like Charleston and Savannah to the relentless march of industrial capitalism. But, he observed the ruins all around us, “the ruins of societies no less than the ruins of cities. Over the ruins stream mobs led by creatures no longer really human – creatures who, whether they make shift to pass as educators, planners, editors, commissars, or presidents . . .” lead the way on the path to destruction.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Southern Conception of the Good Life

“Continuity of family, of family life, and family position – irrespective of economic status – was in fact a great distinction of Charleston among old American cities; for elsewhere that continuity had been generally broken by one cause or another. With this continuity Charleston had a stability that expressed itself in the pattern of its streets and the conservatism of its architecture. The map of Charleston in 1948 was not substantially different from the map of Charleston two centuries before.

If John Stuart, whom George III in 1763 appointed superintendent of Indian affairs in the South, could have returned in 1948 to seek his home, he would have found it at 106 Tradd Street, just where he built it in 1772 – for a brief occupancy, as it happened, since the Revolution ejected him, as a Tory, rather speedily from his new house.

The secret of Charleston’s stability, if it was any secret, was only the old Southern principle that material considerations, however important, are means not ends, and should always be subdued to the ends they are supposed to serve, should never be allowed to dominate, never be mistaken for ends in themselves.

If they are mistaken for ends, they dominate everything, and then you get instability. You get the average modern city, you get New York and Detroit, you get industrial civilization, world wars, Marxist communism, the New Deal.

Historians, noting that the antebellum South was in a sense materialistic, in that it found ways of prospering from the sale of cotton and tobacco, and relied heavily upon slave labor, have had the problem of explaining why that same South developed a chivalrous, courteous, religious, conservative and stable society quite different from that which obtained in the also materialistic, but more industrialized, rational, idealistic, progressive North.

The planters’ “aristocratic” leadership was the result, not the cause, of a general diffusion of standards of judgment that all the South, even the Negro slaves, accepted a basic principle of life. Mr. Francis Butler Simkins, in his book The South Old and New, has taken securer than the average historian when he notes that the South at the outbreak of the Civil War was almost the only true religious society left in the Western world.

That old, religious South set the good life above any material means to life and consistently preferred the kind of material concerns that would least interfere with and best contribute to the good life. Its preferred occupations were agriculture, law, the church and politics – pursuits which develop the whole man rather than the specialist, the free-willed individual rather than the anonymous unit of the organized mass.

[With] reference to material means of existence, such as money, one could clinch the discourse by pointing out the traditional attitude of the Southern Negro toward work and wages. If you paid the Negro twice the normal wage for a day’s work, you did not get more work from him – that is to say, more devotion to work within a given period, with increased production as the result. Not at all.

The Negro simply and ingeniously worked only half as many days or hours as before – and spent the rest of the time in following his conception of the good life: in hunting, dancing, singing, social conversation, eating, religion, and love. This well-known habit of the Negro’s, disconcerting to employers and statisticians, was absolutely correct according to Southern principles.

The Negro, so far as he had not been corrupted into heresy by modern education, was the most traditional of Southerners, the mirror which faithfully and lovingly reflected the traits that Southerners once all but unanimously professed.

That had been the idea in Charleston too. It was what Mr. Simkins in his book, perhaps being misled by his historical predecessors, had called the “country gentleman” idea. But Charleston, which had always been urban, always a town or a city of counting-houses, warehouses, factors, bankers, financial agents, and the like, was not a city of country gentlemen, exactly.

It had agreed with the country gentleman and with others of every sort, including the Negro, on letting the relationship between work, wages and life be determined by the metaphysical judgment indicated above. That was what made Charleston Charleston and not “The Indigo City” or something of the kind.”

(Still Rebels, Still Yankees, and Other Essays, “Some Day in Old Charleston,” Donald Davidson, LSU Press, 1957, pp. 221-224)

 

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