This essay is for Southerners. I say this not with an air of bestowing a favor, but because for other parts of the country it can only indirectly have any point, and would mean little. It might even seem rude, which it will easily not be, so long as it stays in the family. The fact remains, however, that we can still say there is a Southern public; and I may speak to them without the constraint of speaking for the great one hundred million, to offend the least of whom is, according to good democracy, advertising, and journalism, worse than hanging a millstone about one’s neck.
Three years ago such an essay as this would have been impossible or, if not impossible, certainly wasted. From that time on, back for a decade to the War, and even before, American life was in such a state that my poor little points would have been sent off merely to a great blank. If ever there was a country on the run, on the wing, prospering, grabbing, gilding, so much simple hope, money, and preeminence in a commercial world, it was our America. It looked as if our virtues had led us to such rewards as history had not known before. Whatever had caused such a state of things must be right, and whatever conclusions deduced from it, prophetic. Even the words of President Coolidge, striking against the walls of gold, sounded not only intellectual but inspired. It seemed that not merely was there an automobile to every five persons in the land, the time was near when every baby would be born with an automobile and start moving at once, In the face of such glamour, headlines, energy, and high percents, who could stand out or be very sure of anything that would be apart or different? All sections of the country were absorbed into something that looked like the American whole, or the whole that was to be. There were everywhere growing pains, confusion and optimism, as might be expected in a transition toward a coming age. You could not imagine an individual who was not affected by what was around us, nor could you approve of anyone so unresponsive and so fixed as not to be affected. The same was true of districts, states, and sections.
It was natural, then, that the South should be shaken up and carried with the wide current; only a dead section would not have been. The general way of life, the traditions, the conceptions, and all the indefinable little shadings that make a society or a regional civilization were challenged. The old conflict of the type ideas, prejudices, and so on, deriving from an agrarian community and industrial community, became more sharp and conscious of itself; and the question more pressing as to how far the South was to fall in line with the national march.
All this was right enough and as it should be. Nobody could want his country to stay rigid or to return to any past. But there was not time to move deeply or along one’s own inner line. That was the trouble. There was such a blast of print, of publicity for certain theories and systems, such an overwhelming compulsion of prosperous philosophy, and such speed, that the gates were likely, to be rushed. Even, for example, in the South, treading the darkness of ancestor worship, it grew easier to think your grandfather was absurd; even in the South, mindful of kitchens, one could prefer canned soup if it had been advertised enough in a magazine with the largest circulation. I am not, however, taking sides among ancestral urns and jellos; it is obvious that for those for whom all this was right, it was right; and for those for whom it was wrong, it was wrong. (Or is it obvious?) The difficulty lay in the onsweeping persuasion of the national mind and pace. Siempre es simpatico el que vince, we always like the winner, or at least Spaniards do. Perhaps Nordics like what is big and right.
Well, now it happens that all is changed. This civilization created in the industrial North but vaunted and promoted in headlines everywhere has come a cropper. It is not even necessary for me to be specific: everybody knows about the depression, the unemployment, the decline in foreign trade, the gangsters, the crime, the railroad situation and the farmers’ ruin, the coal strikes, the factories and summer hotels that are closed, the empty ocean liners’ cancelled passages, the crowded penitentiaries, the reckless youth. The omniscience of our bankers is threatened. People who have grown so rich, empty, and impatient are in a state of innocent, childish panic. Even divorces have declined. The whole North is full of the squealing rich and the dumb, despairing poor. Almost everybody predicts some sort of change in the social structure. In sum the boasted, show-the-world-where-to-get-off, industrial American civilization is in a mess. And a good thing it is. For a few years now we may pause to take stock a little, to be puzzled as to the truth in life; and, since there is no longer such a whirl around us, to turn a little inward, to shake up the spiritualities.
In my opinion nothing could be better for the South than this crash. It means much poverty and hardship for us, as it does for the North. But the case is different, I believe. We have for some time been used to being poor, certainly much poorer than the North; and we have not been unfamiliar with hardship, turned garments, and stricken pride. Nor do I believe that Southern people, in the face of the depression, will be so ready as the North has been to feel that their civilization is a failure, to despair of their social system, to despise, complain, and stew. If the North helped to get the South into a mess, it might almost be said to have made up for it at last by trying out for our contemplation the industrial experiment to the full and showing to us, as a lesson and warning, its present mood of bankruptcy, social and spiritual. We have at least the feeling still of possessing a life on which we can build, from which we can go on without a wholesale discard of all that has come before, and in which we can maintain our roots. We can feel a sense of pressure and crisis around us today without finding our living so intangibly void. This of course may mean that we have not enough committees to warn us of our plight. It may mean that we are less intellectual and less modern; which might easily be true. Or it may only mean that we must practice our own method of having a mind, and must arrive at our own form of the modern. At any rate, the fact stands that in its present benighted state the South is not so conscious as some other sections are of a sense of hardness and gracelessness, prose brutality, of the mechanical, the ugly, the vulgar and dissatisfied and empty, in its daily life. Short-sighted, and sometimes well-born, foreign visitors to America have, for some decades now, frequently expressed agreement on this point. Life in the Southern part of the United States seems to them more familiar, human, and endurable.
The mention of foreigners brings me to the point of this essay, which may seem small pickings after so much of national preamble. Once in England I saw a public coach draw up at an inn, with trappings and the blare of trumpets, and out of it stepped a single little old lady. I hope the rest of this article will not be like that. At any rate our subject is this:
I have been lately some five months in Italy, a part of the time devoted to lectures on certain aspects of American culture, delivered in Italian to Italian audiences of a very representative variety and importance. This mission, together with various connections and artistic and sociological interests, besides old friendships again renewed, brought me into connection with a great number of Italians. Among them, as it happened, were many of the Italian aristocracy, in conversation with whom I often felt more at home—why should I not confess it?—than I do amid the conversations on a Pullman out of New York west. What I want to do now is to record certain observations I was able to make among this class of Italians, certain parallels that is, with some of our Southern traditions, problems, and cases.
I am led to this attempt first by the fact that all of us in the South, along with the rest of the country, have been so bombarded with print, movies, industrial shibboleths and catchwords, present-day axioms, advertising and so on and so on, that we hardly know what we do think or what to drop or what to stick to; and second, by the fact that, as Goethe remarked, it is curious the extent to which another’s agreement with our opinion strengthens our belief in it—on which basis any parallel with us may count a little by way of confirmation. If the question should be asked as to what significance can there be about a nation like the Italians, with all their difficulties, their secondary strength among nations, their debts and so on, I can only say: First, it remains to be seen what happens to the strong-nations idea, and to the definition of nationalism itself, et cetera. Second, that we have in America nothing so certain, old, and profound in its tradition as this Italian aristocratic class, and it can do us no harm to be reminded that, however determined in purpose, lively in progress, and high-handed with time we may be, centuries count for something. Third, that the history, fortunes, and social conditions of this class of Italians have shown much in common with the landed class in the South. The world of change crowds now on these Italians also; but they are used to eras and adaptations and deep permanence. They are thus for our use mirrors, with a history longer, grander, and more catastrophic than ours, of course, with dimensions, as in Roman society, quite out of our sphere, but nevertheless mirrors.
I will not say that these people and this kind of living are right necessarily. Nor am I concerned here with whether the qualities and traits described are faults or virtues. I only say that some notes about them may serve to reassure certain of us Southerners who have a certain persuasion or past, or to confirm us in some opinion, preference, tradition, or prejudice that will make us more resourceful or complete in ourselves, perhaps more happy or more deeply rooted or more hated. It is a good time now for the South to be hated roundly and well, again. It would define us for ourselves, force us to make choices, drive us toward a statement of whatever position we may have, and in the face of attack make us take shelter under something larger than ourselves, something profound and innate, whether popular or no. Or these notes may throw light on us, reflect, warn us, if you like, and make us change more rapidly, our ways. To whom among us, for example, shall belong the supposed equality, the pious revivalism, the Rotarian handshaking; to whom the pride, affability, and insolence; to whom the private obligation and code; to whom the concession and chaos? Et cetera.
One day at luncheon at our Embassy in Rome, where the Ambassador and Mrs. Garrett have established an atmosphere of such charm and cultivation as is talked of throughout Italy, I sat next a gentleman something over fifty, very agreeable, very responsive. And in the course of the conversation we came to Italy just after the War, and the general upset in everything, the villages and the country especially. Peasants who had been on his family estate for generations, he told me, left and went to the towns. Sometimes they wrecked their cottages, or burnt the crops, or tore up the vineyards. For some months there was not a workman on the place. You let things go, you did the best you could, you managed somehow; after all history did not begin yesterday. And then in time they began to come back, most of them, and conditions settled, life went on as life does. It sounded familiar enough, all that, and I told him of the South, the war, Reconstruction, the details of the Carpet Bag era, and so on. He had heard a little of it already. He understood it all at once, a single point excepted: why should they want, more or less officially you might say, to ruin the country, after the war was won and done with? And this, obviously, I could easily explain in terms of our industrial-agrarian struggle. He had heard, he said, that I was to lecture in Florence; what was the date? Would I come to lunch? He gave me his card, the Conte G-, one of the oldest families in Tuscany, mentioned in Dante, and at present high in the Fascist government.
Conte G-lived in an old family palace, not huge, thirty rooms perhaps, but lovable, rambling, full of old and new things side by side, and with all the air of being lived in with freedom and distinction. His daughter was hostess, and the guests were the rector of the university, one or two writers, and half a dozen people of title. When luncheon was over and coffee and liqueurs done, and the guests had begun to scatter, the Conte explained that he must catch the three o’clock Milan train, would I stay on and make myself at home for as long as I could? and with that, Signor C-P- joined us and begged me to do this; there were things, he said, that he wanted to talk about with me, what he said was “wanted to learn” from me. The famous C-P- is seventy by now. He has known everybody in London, Paris, and Italy for two generations. For an hour we talked, with the house to ourselves. I answered his questions about the American theatre, but before very long he was telling me about the country villas in the old days, full of guests; how they used to invent charades and plays, everybody acting; and how, after dinner, the servants and peasants from the estate used to come in to watch the performance, and there was a great deal of talking and pleasure.
A month later I was in Florence again, and ran into Conte G-. It was noon, when his world drops into Doney’s for coffee or a glass or so (in the winter season, that is, before the tourists swamp the place). I must come to dinner, he said at once. But I was leaving Florence, I said, trying to let him off. When? Tomorrow—which was not true. Then I must come that night. But, he said, he must make excuses, for he and his daughter had returned only that morning from a stay in Majorca; it would be a family dinner. That night after dinner, at which two nieces completed the company, friends and cousins began to come in. Most of them were part of the family, were cousins; and what could it matter whether they were first cousins, second cousins, tenth cousins, or cousins only because some marriage or other long ago had everybody’s kinships all entangled. The daughter of the house, as hostess, was greeting these guests; I can still see them leaning down to kiss their young cousin’s cheek. At any rate the three salons were chattering, and coffee and liqueurs were again brought in. But before most of them came, the Conte had already been leading me about, into his study with the drawings and models of sailing boats and the pile of books sent in by the booksellers during his absence; into his bedroom where there was a fine old portrait or so, into this room and that. Presently some of the company had to go on to other engagements; and the rest of us, twenty at that, went off to a moving-picture of Paris street life, which we saw together from our two rows of seats at the back of the theatre.
This sense of one’s house, of cousins and friends, and strong, simple ties among the Conte G-and his kind, goes back ultimately to the land. The tendency toward cutting down your kinsmen to the narrowest limits, to first cousins, say, and hardly that, belongs, I am convinced, to a trade society. Be that as it may, it is remarkable how few foreigners know to what extent the Italians are a country people. It may have something to do with the Mediterranean, the ancient life, and its sense of the land, the earth mother, of bread as the staff indeed of life. It may be, too, the tradition of land as one’s kingdom, one’s family centre and stronghold, and also the love of natural elements, of the sheer continuation of life, that is so strong in Italians. At any rate, whatever you choose as the explanation, you may in Italy take the head of a family, solid, strict, patriarchal, or you may take some young noble, idle, more or less dissipated, and a score of types between these two extremes, and you will find, oftener than you might ever guess, that each of them has his estate—some, half a dozen estates— which may be left sometimes to rock along as best they can, or may sometimes be tyrannized and exploited as a source of money and pride; or sometimes thought of as only a ramification and enlargement of the family itself; or sometimes used as a place for elaborate experiments in modern agricultural methods and theory. But, however it stands otherwise, this estate is above all his tie with his country. From this sense of family and land spreads his love of Italy. It is a feeling that at times results in mere provincial self-complacency and degeneration; and at times in a deep and passionate love, a source of sentiment, amour propre, loyalty, and endurance.
It was, in a roundabout way, this same land motif, plus some connections with younger members of the family, that led me to an acquaintance with the Marchesa V-. My novel “Heaven Trees,” she said, — she would never have believed that anything had ever existed in America so like the Italian family life as the life I depicted in the old South, and asked if I would come and see her. One of the grandmothers of this house was a sister of Napoleon’s, and names from Italy, from Spain, popes, princes, and so on make up the line. In the hall leading to the salon, the walls were solid with family books and papers that begin around the year 900. She had just been for three days, the Marchesa said, at one of the family places, where there was a difficulty among the contadini. A man had made trouble for some girl, and the contadini—whose notions of the common propriety maintained among them are very strict—were threatening him. She had had to see first one and then another on the estate, persuading them to be reasonable, and making peace among them. She had talked to them like a mother. The system in Tuscany by which such estates are run is fifty-fifty, the proprietor half, the peasants half of the crop. In bad years, of course, the proprietor carries them; at all times he feels responsible. She was sorry to have been compelled to send the man away, at least for a time, because this man’s ancestor had served one of the family in the crusades; his descendants had been on the land ever since. Naturally you could not think of him as a mere farmhand. The whole story gains in the light of the Mar-chesa herself, that beautiful head, the force, the sense of character and goodness.
It has something to do with this land basis, I believe, with its more inexplicable, deep, and elusive qualities, that the Italians are not the most gifted propagandists for themselves. With a member of some other race, however boasting or self-insistent he may be, they are most delicate in setting forth Italian virtues or achievements. Any cocky Englishman or American boasting of progress can put them out of countenance. They can be soaring or declamatory or hot and hasty, like Southerners; or, again like us Southerners, they can but poorly, defend their inmost tradition and way of life, and, before a harder, sharper, more obvious theory or surface assurance, especially a point of view fortified by mere energy and success, they are not effective defenders of their own. Many a time I have loved them for it; once long ago a young man from Chicago, after listing the excellences and sizes of his region and the things they could teach us, challenged me to some virtues for the South, where, as he said, the fences are falling down. I tried honestly to think. Yes, there were many things they could teach us. I had to say at last that I was afraid we had nothing we could teach him.
This lack of propaganda talent in the Italians appears in their statement of their case and themselves abroad, which is apt to be by turn rather florid or oversaid, by, turn vague or ineffectual. To this Italian fact, the South’s statement of itself at present and historically, as compared with that of New England, for example, will make a fruitful parallel.
When the Roman colonies sent out to diverse parts of the peninsula arrived, they found tribes speaking diverse languages; from the Roman combination with these arose the Italian dialects. There are as many dialects as there are provinces, and dialects for scores of towns and cities besides. Bolognese, for instance, cannot be understood by a Florentine; and on down from such a difference come dialects that differ only in certain words and forms. There are, for example, Cremonese, Milanese, Genoese, Venetian, Calabrese, Romanguolo, Barese, Sicilian, Neapolitan, and so on and so on. It has always pleased me to remember how any Italian family, however high, will be likely to speak its dialect at home in the family and wherever else it pleases; how they make a point of keeping their own speech, along with their cultured literary Italian; how an accent, a tone, a word will show what their part of the country or their town is. I remember the shock once, when, as a college student, I first heard Sir Henry Irving pronouncing half a dozen words exactly as I had once done through inheritance, before all the middle-class practices, concentrated in my, public school teachers and got from books and not by ear, corrected them out of me. I remember, too, all the careful or frightened little people in New York who are afraid lest you know by the way they speak that they came from somewhere.
I shall not forget old Emilio in his woolen suit, long since washed to crinkles, showing me down the tapestried hall to the drawing-room hung solid with seventeenth-century crimson damask, commenting on the season as he went and the brutality of last night’s wind in the garden—but patience! he said. And I shall not forget old Luisa scolding me because I had not made earlier a little visit—visitina—to her mistress, had I not heard that she was ill? Nor the caretaker at a country castle of one of the greatest Roman princes, whose town palace architects are apt to call the finest in Rome. She had taken us from room to room, the family being still in town, and led us finally to the kitchen. There never was so good a house, she said; she herself was “living a martyrdom,” she had a husband and children across the valley; but she would never leave this family. In the kitchen here, every night when the family were in residence, the prince came down, after their dinner upstairs, to see how the servants’ dinner went, and either sat by, the fire awhile or stood, talking with them or saying something that made them laugh. He never failed. His mother, the old princess, had been a saint, as we should see by her portrait. She held her head up, but she was a saint.
An Italian will ask you not if your servants are efficient; he asks you are they affetuosi, that is, are they devoted. This explains everything. They scold and pet their servants by turns, and the servants, if you pass, look up and smile, and have something to say, as if both they and you were human beings and life must be as human as we can get it, other things being equal. The stiffness or the mechanical relationship between servants and their masters, so often seen in London and New York, is not Italian; they have no need for mechanical safeguards but make their wits and tact manage the situation. And yet the line between servant and master in Italy remains clear and sharp, fatalistic almost, almost biologically so.
Nor shall I forget that afternoon party at the Marchesa >C-’s. She is not rich, and long since she moved into a smaller house. Half the great names of Rome had come to see her; there were tea and punch, and later on there was to be some kind of music. Before the music, however, I had to leave for another engagement, which was fortunate, since I saw only the first bloom, so to speak, of the party. How strangely familiar it seemed, the cordiality, the furniture slightly worn, the spirited chatter, even—it might have been that aunt of mine born in New Orleans—the hostess’ white hair piled high on her head, her very generous rice powder, and her white silk gown with almost the Watteau pleat in the back, home-made looking, full of an old, unfashionable, and inexpensive grace 1 I was, later on, for a night in early summer, at the Marchesa’s villa in the country. The carriage that met me at the station could have shown more varnish; at one corner of the garden where the drain from a neglected fountain had gathered into a small pond, they had made a duck pen. The Marchesa, greeting me in her black silk, rather worn, said, you will see we are country people, my dear. Yes, but what I saw also was that the onslaught of advertising, things you must have if you are to respect yourself, the created, endless needs and ever-changing articles, the life of things, things, things, of distribution, acquisition and Prosperity, had not come into her world. And I fear a music of dear familiar echoes set up in my heart when I saw the paint off here and there about the house, the furniture and objects of every epoch, according to when they had come into the family, and of every quality, according to the buyers’ tastes, finances, or whims. This house belonged to the family; not a decoration magazine in New York would have featured a corner of it. And what shall I say of that night when at bedtime I was shown to my boundless room by the maid, Giuseppina, born and grown fat in the family service, who pointed out to me where the shutter was off, what with the spring storms, they must get it mended; she would pin up her shawl over the window against the morning light in the Signorino’s eyes; and I was not to be frightened if I heard a strange, terrible noise soon after sunrise; one of the peacocks had taken a fancy to squawking down the chimney. However, you never knew which chimney he would choose.
One day motoring, a Philadelphia friend and I came with a sudden turn in the road, upon the full view of a palace facade. It made with its terrace a sort of parapet above the town wall at that spot. The road passed round the entrance and on toward the main piazza of the town. My friend, intrepid and curious about gardens and dwellings, would have asked permission to enter, but we were saved all difficulty by the host’s coming out of the gate. He turned and with great courtesy invited us to follow. I will not make a story out of the incident. It was an agreeable palace of the late sixteenth century, much of the interior done over into Empire. After the other apartments we came to a series of five rooms opening one into another, each with a great window overlooking the landscape. The walls were lined with books, I soon saw how choice they were, with here and there a painting or bust. What serves my theme is this: Here in this hill town, of ten thousand people perhaps, was this house so plainly cherished, and this library. All over Italy are tucked away, lovely houses, fine libraries of books, lovely pictures and gardens. Nobody thinks of them save as private living, there is no publicity for them, they are merely places loved and kept. The whole point, of course, so far as this discussion goes, is the relation of a house or a town or a section to some chief metropolis, glare, publicity, or standardization. In the South (in other older regions also, but they are not our field) there were many places existing here and there, a family house, a proud, gentle town, a locality living in its own resources, its own air and custom. Now the great cities, New York especially, and their devastating machinery for advertisement, multiplication, and noise, draw us out of any local civilization, have put competitive infection into our purpose and uniformity into our tastes. Only here and there does there still survive some of the old localism, richness, and privacy. How far is the present state of things an advance? How much should a revolt against New York in favor of sections be furthered? To what extent will places, sections, houses sooner or later grow sick of it all and live by their own existences?
Don S-de M-, the next Duke of A-, is still at
the university, studying for a degree in philosophy and law.
He is a young man of twenty-two or -three, very well read, interested in modern liberal thought, most curious about what has been going on in European social theory since the War. His face, long, with its color white and red, the dark eyes and hair, has a Spanish cast which has descended to him from the ancestor who came with Charles V, one of whose lords he was; it is a face somewhat melancholy, brooding and grave; his figure is slender and elegant. The old duke, his father, is a doctor of philosophy from the University of Pisa, where he became also learned enough in music to conduct ari orchestra. But for many years he has stayed at home, in the provincial capital of the province in which the family estates lie, and here he is like a king. With his son he is rigid and aloof. He allows him during these university years only enough money to scrape along.
From what I gathered, talking so often with Don S- on every subject, the duke grows more tyrannical, harsher, more morose every year; sinks further into some secret inner absorption, draws about him more of a sort of macabre power. My friend sees his father very clearly, I think; but despite any liberating, revolutionary modern theory, about parent and child, sees him always with respect. He regards him as a part of an order and tradition, in the light of which, for the sake of his own, not his father’s, merit, he takes his filial position. He sees this man as part of the continuation of life, as a secret strain in himself. Something proud and haughty would stiffen in the son’s heart if anyone spoke to disparage his father.
I have never seen the duke, but I saw once the great white, baroque palace, like those of Cordova but larger, where he lives. It would never occur to Don S-to take me there. But one week-end when he came with me on a motor trip through the country around Sulmona, he proposed that I should go with him for a call on a cousin whose villa, he said, was close by on our route. His cousin was an old count, for whom Don S-had a great affection.
On the way, however, he had the thought that we should make another visit. It was a far slighter matter, he said, but there was a terraced fountain designed by Vignola at about the same time as the Villa Lante garden. I must see that, and his cousin, Donna Paulina, would not matter for so short a time. I saw the fountain, a stair with its border of dolphins entwined, the water descending in little cascades, and at the top the stags, or mythical gazelles, or whatever they were, very stylish and exotic on their square columns half buried in ivy. But what falls within our subject is not the garden or the fountain but the hostess. I knew a little about Donna Paulina already. Her young cousin had told me that she was modestly well off, that she was a character and a “caution,” he said, laughing at his game of speaking English. She was naturally dull, incessant, and animated. She was also superstitious. For years the main door of the villa had been bolted because someone with the evil eye had passed through it; you were obliged to enter by a side door. Donna Paulina came out on the garden terrace to meet us, a lady fairly tall and rather too plump, with hair and toilette that looked as if she had just fallen out of a tree. If you could never have recalled what she said, her voice and accent were, nevertheless, delightful. She made us charmingly welcome, showing us the house, which she had sawed, draped, and messed up in great style.
In the car afterward we talked of this lady, and her cousin said that she was not only voluble but delicately jealous of her claims to attention, and that she lived on the worst of romantic novels. Once in his childhood he had seen her asleep in her curlpapers. Nevertheless she had managed to put quite a tone into the moment, I said; she reminded me of a cousin of my own, down South. We got on the subject of the background, the social system in relation to the individual. It was quite wrong, we agreed, to judge a society by some such person as his cousin or mine—as if you said, “I don’t think so much of her,” judging the tradition thus. The thing you should do is to ask yourself what would she be without the tradition? What would she be without the tradition? Riding along those roads, in the late spring, with the mountains above us and in the valleys the ample and gracious and ancient fields, this seemed to us a wise conclusion. It seems so still to me.
The old count was sitting on the porch of his villa, with its columns in the Palladian style, neglected now and faded, as were the garden and walls and everything about the estate. He had never done anything since his marriage but give up gallantry, fine clothes, and fashionable watering places; and, the weather permitting, had sat, with his family, his books and friends, here on the porch for a good part of many years. The bombs of the war raids had wrecked another villa of his farther north; and at the sight of it, he had given it, land and all, to the government for an orphanage, and had driven away forever.
The annals of the count were short. You could feel yourself taking life from him; you knew at once why so many, of his family loved him, what he meant and would mean afterward. Don S-, his young cousin, went up and kissed him. It was as if again I were sitting with my Uncle Hugh, on his old porch with the white columns, far away, and far away in time too.
After the Civil War my Uncle Hugh, still in his twenties, could have gone to work, I suppose. It is true that prices for cotton made it scarcely worth growing and the tariff was so high that nothing could be bought on such crops. Nevertheless, instead of being land-poor and sitting on the porch, he could have ploughed in the fields, and my aunt could have said, children, let your father alone, he is tired and doesn’t want you bothering him. If nothing else, he could have constantly gone out somewhere and come back again; or taken up business, at which he would have ruined himself even worse than he had already done by lending what money he still had to friends and kin who had less than he. However, there was some income from the plantations, a trifle under a thousand dollars, I have been told, and what with selling off a piece of land now and then—he gave away, a place in Tippah, two counties off, because you had too far to ride, looking after it—the family managed to exist. All I know is that he was loved, most of all by the younger of us as we came along, that we fed out of his heart and were disciplined by the deep refinement of his nature, that even now after these years our voices when we speak of him soften, and that there are worse things than living with dignity within small means
and with small needs. My argument is weak, but Don S– would understand me when I say that my conception of the aristocratic is founded on this memory of my uncle sitting there talking family matters, or things drawn from his long, keen observation of natural life, plants, animals, seasons, or Darwin or Southern history and politics, all of us together during the long summer evenings one after another. And I remember Lord Melbourne’s saying that of all the orders he preferred the Order of the Garter; there was no damned merit about it.