It was not that Yankee generosity which sends pundits to convert Hottentots, founds school systems, hospitals, sanitary commissions, and endows colleges with millions. It was the old-fashioned sort, the generosity of the Arab and of the feudal noble, feeding every beggar who came to the door, setting bounteous tables and keeping full wine-cellars. It was the profuseness not of philanthropy, but of good-fellowship. Even before the war there were single States in the North which gave more to missionary, educational, and charitable organizations than the entire South.
But the Southerner was more than lavish; he was good-natured and easy in his business transactions; he had such a contempt for small sums that he would not use pennies; he paid loosely at long credits, and was careless in his collections. I knew an upright wretch in a Southern town who strictly settled his debts and sternly demanded his credits, and who was consequently very unpopular, in spite of many virtues and worthy deeds. I knew a jolly fellow who was not much astonished, and not at all angry, when another still jollier fellow borrowed a hundred dollars of him, treated him handsomely out of it, and never repaid him.
“Is that what you call generosity ?“ I asked, with a Vandalic sneer.
“Well, I like it better than stinginess,” replied the victim. “He thought he was doing what was handsome; he felt as if it were his own money. If it had been his own he would have spent it just as freely. It was just a little rough, though, that He should get all the credit of the bender when it was I who really paid for it.”
Meum and tuum were a little mixed; people who lived on negroes felt it right to live on each other and to help each other; what a man could borrow or get trusted for was his own until a neighbor asked for it. Happy-go-lucky planters settled their store bills once in seven years, or after they were dead; and the store-keeper settled with his Northern furnisher as soon after his notes matured as was convenient. When the war opened more than half the rice and sea- island estates were mortgaged to the verge of bankruptcy; and the personal debts of Southerners to Northerners were estimated at eighty-five millions of dollars. The virtue of generosity had been prolonged into the vice of ruinous extravagance.
De Forest, J.W., “Chivalrous and Semi-Chivalrous Southrons” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Volume 38, Issue 224, January 1869; New York: Harper & Bros.
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