Southern Gallantry

Monday, July 18, 2011

Did you know that Lew Wallace, the author of Ben Hur, was the Territorial Governor of New Mexico from 1878 to 1881? He figures prominently in this apparently true story gathered by the Federal Writers' Project in 1936-1940. The narrator is Mrs. Pauline Meyer.

My husband had just returned from a hunting trip when a government wagon with four handsome mules drew up in front of the house. It was Governor Wallace's outfit. It was a chilly October day and as the sun went down it grew chilly enough for a fire. I was amused by the Governor's behavior which exemplified our idea of southern gallantry. First I obtained the necessary kindling and other necessities for the fire. These I placed in position, ready for lighting. All this time Governor had been watching me as I went about the task. Then, just as I started to strike a match to light the blaze, Lew Wallace took the match from my fingers.
"Allow me," said he with a slight bow. "No lady has yet lit a fire while I was in the room." And with that he struck the match and set it to the paper beneath the kindling. He made quite a ceremony of the match-striking.
After Lew Wallace had gone I reminded my husband of his "gallant" act.
"Huh--" my husband scoffed jokingly. "If he was so gallant as all that, why in thunder didn't he carry in an armload of kindling for you! He sat there and let you do all the work, then he ups and strikes the match with a big-to-do, just as if he'd done something wonderful."
Of course I couldn't help but agree with my husband, though of course I never let him know it.
NOTE: I copied the picture from the Wikipedia article on Lew Wallace. I have no idea who the photographer was, but the photograph is in the public domain because of its age.

The Federal Writers' Project interviews are government-created documents and are available on the Library of Congress' website. WPA Life Histories. The quoted passage is from "Early Days in Albuquerque," Item 58 of 218 in the New Mexico Section of the American Life History manuscripts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love reading/hearing interesting tidbits fro history. Gives a writer ideas! :)

Thanks for sharing, Kathryn.

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