The Thomas E. Watson Papers Digital Collection
Interview 2, Tape 3
Interview with Georgia Watson Craven by David Moltke-Hanson, part 3
The role books played in Georgia Watson Craven's life at Hickory Hill including the impact of the book "Grandmother's Stories From the Land of Used to Be" with historical stories from the South; books that her grandfather read or gave her; nineteenth century Romanticism and her perception of its presence in her grandfather's writings, in particular "Bethany"; the effect his account of Joan of Arc had on her; her grandfather's deep identification with the Old South; dinner and supper at her grandfather's house; his view of education; the public school in Thompson and her grandfather's decision to school the children privately at first. [23 minutes, 46 seconds]
David Moltke-Hanson:I'd like to talk a little bit, if you would, about books in the lives of Hickory Hill—in your life there. Books in your grandfather's library, discussions about books you might have had with him, your readings of his things. He wrote enormously, not just books, but articles, newspapers, magazines and I am very interested to know how that figured in your life, how you saw it figuring in his life when he was outside of his study.
Georgia Watson Craven: Of course books were one of the most important things in life as far as he was concerned and I think that that was naturally and painlessly passed on to at least his grandchildren and possibly to his children. Both my father and my aunt read in a world where there was not a great deal of reading. In terms of us the children—of course we were only sixteen when he died—he gave us books to begin with as gifts.
David Moltke-Hanson:What sort of books?
Georgia Watson Craven: Well, I, for instance, had A Child's History of England, a Dickens, is it Dickens? A Child's History of England. And a Gulliver's Travels. Those are the first two I recall in terms of titles. Then there were books that I'm not sure that were my grandfather's choice, but they were books that were all kinds of fairy tales—Grimms and Aesop's Fables and so on. Then I can remember... and of course he was interested in talking about Southern literature to a certain extent. I don't know that he particularly described those others but he talked about Sims(?) that you mentioned this afternoon. He talked about Father Rhine, was his name?
David Moltke-Hanson: Father Rhine. That's right.
Georgia Watson Craven: And he loved him.
David Moltke-Hanson: Oh really? That's very interesting.
Georgia Watson Craven: One of the books that I lost in my life that I loved most of all was a book called Grandmother's Stories from the Land of Used to Be. It was a book that my grandfather gave me. Do you know that book?
David Moltke-Hanson: I've seen it.
Georgia Watson Craven: I'm glad you've seen it. It was historical stories of the South—the Revolution and the Civil War. He was interested in giving us books that had to do with history. They were always books of good literature. They weren't just simple children's things thought. I think from time to time that he read novels that were popular during that period, which would not be considered much literature today because America had not really come very far of age in that particular era. I can remember one group of novels that I loved that I used to get downstairs that he approved of. He had got them and read them. They were the Col. Carter Cartersville books. He encouraged us at every state, whatever age we were capable of doing of reading.A little later he gave us, I can remember, one of Ouida's novels. Have you ever heard of Ouida? O-U-I-D-A? They were long, fresh African things—you know, romantic things. One of the things that he had a great strong feeling about I think that we read—I can remember laboring one whole summer over this, I couldn't read the print with six pair of glasses now—was J. Porter's Scottish Chief. I've never seen a copy of that. That was a long novel. This was a thick book. They have it out now in a juvenile edition, but I've never seen the other one. It was about Wallace and all of that romantic history and so on.
Sometimes I think that he read light things like the Col. Carter Cartersville books just to go to sleep maybe or you know, recreational things, but he was such a catholic reader in that way. He read clear across the span. He was interested in other cultures. I don't know that he was ever interested in Oriental things, but Americans didn't know anything about the Orient then. He evidently was interested in German poetry. There were quite a few German beautiful editions of German poets. I had some of those, which I've given back to Tom. I don't know whether he was interested in German philosophy or any kind of philosophy particularly or not. Of course he had things on the French, French history and so on, but I'm trying to stick to things that I knew or have known since. He lent books to a couple of young boys in the area who had no access to books, but had a superior thirst for knowledge. They used to come up and borrow books and he was always most generous in lending those books or lending books to people of that kind. His tastes just ranged all over. He was just not a narrow person in his curiosity.
David Moltke-Hanson: A moment ago you used a suggestive phrase—romantic history. Did he, in conversations with you or in your hearing...
Georgia Watson Craven: I can't say that he carried on conversation with us as children, 15 years old and so on and before that. This was why the table was important. My main memories come from what was said at the table. He didn't have time... .I mean the times he shared with the family were at the table or in the walks or in the record playing and the dancing or the Sunday playing when my aunt played—and I was only 11 when she died so we didn't get a lot before that—when he played the violin, she played the piano and so on.I think you can sense in a lot of his things the romanticism of the 19th century. I mean everybody had it—whether it was about the South, whether it was Sir Walter Scott, or whether it was farther afield, all of life was shot with it, I mean, even kids in Thomson. Life was romantic. Different from what the world was now. It was supposed to be just, everything was romantic. That's all there was to it. It was a very easy word to use and you didn't get laughed at for using the word romantic. But I think romantic novels, I don't know how many he read, but I know that Ouida was some of them.
David Moltke-Hanson:What about his writings?
Georgia Watson Craven: I can't remember... I think that he used to talk this Uncle Ralph in the Bethany who was his Uncle William and died from Civil War wounds. He is made the hero of that book and that book is set in Thomson and the house is Bethany the house where the girl... This was a romantic love story too. That's still there. That is semi-historical, but it's a romantic thing. Tom thinks it's one of his best books because he was writing about something he knew in terms of the life and the period in place. In terms of asking what he liked to read, I don't remember any persuasion one way or the other. I remember telling him once that I had read—and I certainly didn't read the whole history at that age, but I looked it up for some school thing—his account of Joan of Arc and her death and how touched I was about it. I wasn't very mature in saying it.I was scared of my grandfather. He could be very warm and very loving and responsive and kind. I think of him at the table for instance in these conversations as a very gracious, relaxed, almost smiling man most of the time.Anyway, when I told him about reading about Joan of Arc, he said something to the effect—I think I said that I almost cried or I did cry or something—and he said something to the effect that he did too. That's the only thing I can positively remember that I ever said to him about his writings. Now I may have read some of Prose Miscellaneous and mentioned some of those to him. He would have a spell every now and then of writing poetry and I had for a long time and gave to Tom or should be a Chapel Hill, but this is the kind of thing where the paper would have disintegrated on many years ago, it was that very cheap paper that people wrote on then—a poem that he had come down with called "The Frosted Rose". That kind of writing was the sentimentality of the Victorian period.
He had a real and also, I almost want to use the world craving, in some way to be identified with the Old South and not to let that go. They weren't great, rich landholders before the Civil War, but they were on the way up with at least 50 slaves and he did not want to let that identity go. That's what he wanted to be. There's a paragraph in his Jefferson that says—I don't know his books that well, but I do remember this—that who wouldn't like to have a plantation with a certain name and all the rest that followed and so on. He identified deeply with the Old Southern life and I think he tired as much as possible in the period in which he was living to reach back to that and to identify. Now I don't think that is necessarily what I feel about identifying life with the Old South. The fact was that they were just lingering customs, lingering ways of doing things, lingering ways in the kitchen, of little grandchildren being near the mother or the grandmother, of the ways things were cooked or what you had at different seasons of the year. This was true all over, even in the little town of Thomson. You know all the men went home for dinner in the middle of the day. They didn't have anyplace else to go eat. They had the same thing. They had grits morning and night and they had biscuits morning and night and I don't think it changed a lot. They didn't have as much help, but help was plentiful because the blacks had to have work. Very often at night --
David Moltke-Hanson:You were saying that at dinner occasionally, not one of the young children would serve table but an adult for formal occasions.
Georgia Watson Craven: Those two children were just special children and that was only a certain period in my life when they didn't have anything to do and Grandmother sort of gave them a little job because their mother was ill and they had no place to be. I could name any number of the maids who were nice, well servants. But they weren't dressed in livery or anything of that sort. The boys in those days wore white aprons, almost like a cook's apron, the girls wore aprons with a bib and a little shirred skirt things and little white caps. It was only later that the men wore white coats, but not in my grandparents' period. At night, when there were fewer people identified whit the house or living there, supper was sort of prepared I think by the cooks before they went home. The cooks went home after dinner.
David Moltke-Hanson:Dinner was at 1:30?
Georgia Watson Craven: Yes.
David Moltke-Hanson: The main meal of the day?
Georgia Watson Craven: The main meal was I think around 1:30—not as late as being in style in Charleston or Savannah or even Augusta. Now, I used to feel once in a great while when I used to have lunch in Augusta at somebody's home, that there was a difference between the country and the city. Don't ask me what it was; but it was just a little bit more sophisticated, a little bit more something than we had. Ours was dignified and not misbehaving and a time of togetherness and sincerity and all that kind of thing; but it didn't have any of the little formal tricks that the city had acquired. I don't want to say tricks, I mean niceties. When I say niceties, I don't mean there wasn't anything... There was nothing questionable at all. I would be proud today to take people from wherever they were to my grandfather's table.My aunt made or had the cook make the rolls that she had. They were such wonderful rolls, and the cook left them and all they had to do was rise and then somebody would have them hot for supper. Maybe this was just summer, maybe I've forgotten what the winter suppers were like, but they were very apt to have grits and some sot of meat and maybe in wintertime or summertime, sliced tomatoes and such, but not much more than that. It was a light meal because dinner had really been a big meal with everything available on the table. Now we didn't have the, I can remember certain homes that I've been in—and maybe some of them were in the country, maybe some of them were in town, where they had several kinds of meat on the table at once as well as innumerable vegetables. I don't remember that we had more than one kind of meat on the table at once unless it was something that was especially prepared for my grandfather, but it was abundant but not outlandish.
David Moltke-Hanson: You spoke earlier this evening when we were away from this tape about the way your grandfather supported, encouraged your education.
Georgia Watson Craven: He was all for education. He thought that was the most important thing of all and I think that the reason he sent my aunt to this convent in Washington, Georgia, was that probably the public schools were very slight in a town like Thomson. I don't know how long Auntie was there—whether she was there more than a year or two—but anyway she loved it and he felt that it was a good and disciplined school. He sent my father to military academy in Milledgeville and he used to talk about, but never got around to doing anything about it, having a French governess come for my cousin and me. Now, when we were growing up in Thomson in time to go to the public school, the man who was the principal in the school at that time had a reputation of being an old-fashioned school Master who whipped the boys and was rather blustery in terms of his discipline and Grandpa didn't want us to go to school—whether there was any personal reason, I don't know. He had for us a teacher all our own. It was one of the little Negro houses, just a one-room affair—a servant house—that he turned into a little schoolhouse. We had two little desks and two little blackboards and a funny little stove in there, and we had at least three different teachers before we went there—no grades of course, we just went along. After my aunt died—she died in August and my father died the next Spring in April—we wanted to go to public school. We wanted to be with our friends and so he consented to us going to the public school. We entered in what was called High Fifth, which meant the second part of the fifth grade. This was in September. When we were going to get to high school we would have been put back a half a year. I was in Upper Fifth and Lower Sixth that year. The next year I was in Upper Sixth and Lower Seventh. I think it was because my mother's sort of sense of regularity than this and that. She kind of encouraged me or I had marked in me from somewhere on one side of the family or the other, the desire to get into some sort of ordered thing and so I... Mr. Ware this superintendent used to have a summer school. I would go to the summer school and learn under him with kids of all different ages and whatever they were learning enough to take me from the seventh grade to first year high school which was eighth grade. I did that that summer and I just fell in love with this Mr. Ware who was this old bear and he was an old bear, but he was a marvelous teacher. I never had a better teacher. He taught me more English grammar than summer than I ever learned before or since. Then I went into high school. Then Tom's mother—I guess she was there in school one ear under Mr. Ware and then they got a new principal. I don't know. Her life is kind of irregular. Her mother died and she was living in the—anyway, Mr. Ware was let go and he went down to another little town and had a school and she went down there and went to school with him in that place and I stayed in Thomson.