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THOMAS NELSON PAGE
THE TORCH OF CIVILIZATION
(Speech of Thomas Nelson Page at the twentieth annual dinner of the New England Society in the City of Brooklyn, December 21, 1899. The President, Frederic A. Ward, said: “In these days of blessed amity, when there is no longer a united South or a disunited North, when the boundary of the North is the St. Lawrence and the boundary of the South the Rio Grande, and Mason and Dixon's Line is forever blotted from the map of our beloved country, and the nation has grown color-blind to blue and gray, it is with peculiar pleasure that we welcome here to-night a distinguished and typical representative of that noble people who live in that part of the present North that used to be called Dixie, of whom he has himself so beautifully and so truly said, 'If they bore themselves haughtily in their hour of triumph, they bore defeat with splendid fortitude. Their entire system crumbled and fell around them in ruins; they remained unmoved; they suffered the greatest humiliation of modern times; their slaves were put over them; they reconquered their section and preserved the civilization of the Anglo-Saxon.' It is not necessary, ladies and gentlemen, that I should introduce the next speaker to you, for I doubt not that you all belong to the multitude of mourners, who have wept real tears with black Sam and Miss Annie beside the coffin of Marse Chan; but I will call upon our friend, Thomas Nelson Page, to respond to the next toast, 'The Debt Each Part of the Country Owes the Other.'”]
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN - I did not remember that I had written anything as good as that which my friend has just quoted. It sounded to me, as he quoted it, very good indeed. At any rate, it is very true, and, perhaps, that it is true is the reason that you have done me the honor to invite me here to-night. I have been sitting for an hour in such a state of tremulousness and fright, facing this audience I was to address, that the ideas I had carefully gathered together have, I fear, rather taken fight; but I shall give them to you as they come, though they may not be in quite as good order as I should like them. The gift of afterdinner speaking is one I heard illustrated the other day very well at a dinner at which my friend, Judge Bartlett and I were present. A gentleman told a story of an English bishop travelling in a third-class railway carriage with an individual who was swearing most tremendously, originally, and picturesquely, till finally the bishop said to him:
My dear sir, where in the world did you learn to swear in that extraordinary manner?” And he said, “It can't be learned, it is a gift.” After-dinner speaking is a gift I have often envied, ladies and gentlemen, and as I have not it I can only promise to tell you what I really think on the subject which I am here to speak about to-night.
I feel that in inviting me here as the representative of the South to speak on this occasion, I could not do you any better honor than to tell you precisely what I do think and what those, I in a manner represent, think; and I do not know that our views would differ very materially from yours. I could not, if I would, undertake merely to be entertaining to you. I am very much in that respect like an old darky I knew of down in Virginia, who on one occasion was given by his mistress some syllabub. It was spiced a little with-perhaps—New England rum, or something quite as strong that came from the other side of Mason
and Dixon's Line, but still was not very strong. When he got through she said, “How did you like that?” He said, “ If you gwine to gimme foam, gimme foam; but if you gwine to gimme dram, gimme dram." You do not want from me syllabub I am sure.
When I came here I had no idea that I was to address so imposing an assemblage as this. I had heard about forefathers and knew that there were foremothers also, but did not know that they were going to grace this assembly with their presence as they do to-night. When a youngster, I was told by an old gentleman, before the day of the unhappy stenographer, “You can go out in the world all right if you have four speeches. If you have one for the Fourth of July, one for a tournament address, one to answer the toast to 'Woman,' and the fourth 'to sweep all creation.'” I thought of bringing with me my Fourth of July speech. If I had known I was going to address this audience I would
have brought along the one that answered the toast to “Woman.
But I do not know any man in the world better prepared to address you on the subject of my toast, “The Debt Each Part of the Country Owes the Other," than myself, for I married a lady from the North. She represented in her person the blood both of Virginia and of New England. Her mother was a Virginian and her father a gentleman from New Hampshire; consequently, as I have two young daughters, who always declare themselves Yankees, I am here to speak with due gratitude to both sections, and with strong feeling for both sections to-night.
It seems to me that the two sections which we have all heard talked about so much in the past, have been gradually merging into one, and Heaven knows I hope there may never be but one again. In the nature of things it was impossible at first that there could be only one, but of late the one great wall that divided them has passed away, and, standing here facing you to-night, I feel precisely as I should if I were standing facing an audience of my own dear Virginians. There is no longer division among us. They say that the South became reconciled and showed its loyalty to the Union first at the time of the war with Spain. It is not true; the South became reconciled and showed its loyalty to the Union after Appomattox. When Lee laid down his arms and accepted the terms of the magnanimous Grant, the South rallied behind him, and he went to teach peace and amity and union to his scholars at Lexington, to the sons of his old soldiers. It is my pride that I was one of the pupils at that university, which bears the doubly-honored names of Washington and Lee. He taught us only fealty to the Union and to the flag of the Union. He taught us also that we should never forget the flag under which our fathers fought during the Civil War. With it are embalmed the tears, the holy memories that cluster thick around our hearts, and I should be unworthy to stand and talk to you to-night as an honorable man if I did not hold in deepest reverence that flag that represented the spirit that actuated our fathers. It stood for the principles of liberty, and, strange as it may seem, both sides, though fighting under different banners, fought for the same principles seen from different sides. It has not interfered with our loyalty to the Union since that flag was furled.
I do not, however, mean to drift into that line of thought. I do not think that it is really in place here to-night, but I want you to know how we feel at the South. Mason and Dixon's Line is laid down on no map and no longer laid down in the memory of either side. The Mason and Dixon's Line of to-day is that which circumscribes this great Union, with all its advantages, all its hopes, and all its aspirations. This is the Mason and Dixon's Line for us to-day, and as a representative of the South, I am here to speak to you on that account. We do owe—these two sections do owe -each other a great deal. But I will tell you what we owe each other more, perhaps, than anything else. When this country was settled for us it was with sparsely scattered settlements, ranging along the Atlantic coast. When the first outside danger threatened it, the two sections immediately drew together. New England had formed her own confederation, and at the South the Carolinas and Virginia had a confederation of their own, though not so compact; but the first thing formed when danger threatened this country was a committee of safety, which immediately began correspondence among the several colonies, and it was the fact that these very colonies stood together in the face of danger, shoulder to shoulder, and back to back, that enabled us to achieve what we did achieve.
Standing here, on this great anniversary at the very end of the century, facing the new century, it is impossible that one should not look back, and equally impossible that one should not look forward. We are just at the close of what we call, and call rightly, a century of great achievements. We pride ourselves upon the work this country has accomplished. We point to a government based upon the consent of the governed, such as the world has never seen; wealth which has been piled up such as no country has ever attained within that time, or double or quadruple that time. It is such a condition of life as never existed in any other country. From Mount Desert to the Golden Gate, yes, from the islands which Columbus saw, thinking he had 'found the East Indies, to the East Indies themselves, where, even as I speak, the American flag is being planted, our possessions and our wealth extend. We have, though following the arts of peace, an army ready to rise at the sound of the bugle greater than Rome was ever able to summon behind her golden eagles. We are right to call it a century of achievement. We pride ourselves upon it. Now, who achieved that? Not we, personally; our fathers achieved it; your fathers and my fathers; your fathers, when they left England and set their prows westward and landed upon the rock-bound coast; when they drew up their compact of civil government, which was a new thing in the history of the world. We did our part in the South, and when the time came they staked all that they had upon the principle of a government based only upon the consent of the governed.
We pride ourselves upon the fact that we can worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience. We speak easily of God, “whose service is perfect freedom,” but it was not we, but our fathers who achieved that. Our fathers “left us an heritage, and it has brought forth abundantly."
I say this to draw clearly the line between mere material wealth and that which is the real wealth and welfare of a people. We are rich, but our fathers were poor. How did they achieve it? Not by their wealth, but by their character-by their devotion to principle. When I was thinking of the speech I was to make here to-night, I asked the descendant of a New Englander what he would say was the best thing that the fathers had left to the country. He thought for a second and made me a wise answer. He said, “I think it was their character." That is indeed the heritage they left us; they left us their character. Wealth will not preserve that which they left us; not wealth, not power, not“ dalliance nor wit " will preserve it; nothing but that which is of the spirit will preserve it, nothing but character.
The whole story of civilization speaks this truth with trumpet voice. One nation rises upon the ruins of another nation. It is when Samson lies in the lap of Delilah that the enemy steals upon him and ensnares him and binds him. It was when the great Assyrian king walked through