The Training of an American: The Earlier Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, 1855-1913

By Burton J. Hendrick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
SHAKESPEARE AND JEFFERSON

I

IT was quite in keeping with his humour that Walter, after leaving Johns Hopkins, should retire for a few weeks to "the Old Place across Crabtree," and spend the time here in conversation with his grandfather, in reading his favourite poets, and in meditating on the future. The house always inspired in him the philosophic mood. A few letters of this time record excursions into literature and thoughts on many weighty subjects, in particular religion. His ever-present companions were Shakespeare, Shelley, Keats, Matthew Arnold, Wordsworth, and Milton. A new discovery was Chaucer. Page's comments on these and other writers are necessarily juvenile and not important as literary criticism, though now and then he does disclose a spark of insight, as in the remark that the achievement of Tennyson in the "Idyls" is not that the poet "has done a great thing, but that he has done a little thing greatly." The importance of Page's reading is that it shows the quality of the food upon which this adolescent mind was feeding. Page, on his literary side, was the product of the heroic commonplaces of English literature. The thoughts and phrases that had stimulated generations of Anglo-Saxon minds sufficed for him. For the abnormal and the freakish and the degenerate he never had anything except aversion. He despised the pre-Raphaelites with the same heartiness that he scorned the peddlers of passing political nostrums. In all departments of life he was the steadfast upholder of the healthy mind. His allegiances in

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