Browsing "Southern Culture Laid Bare"

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)