Smith Memorial Service
September 9, 1995
Address by John Dizikes
"A book is a poor contrivance to catch a life in." Thus Page Smith in the
"Introduction" to his biography of John Adams, the book that established his reputation as a writer, won a medal and a prize, and brought him to the new university in Santa Cruz. That was a great deal for one book to do; but there was more to it and there were deeper levels of meaning in it. John Adams set out two of the important themes of Page's subsequent career as historian.
The first occurs, as the book's climax, the death of Adams on the 4th of July, 1826, precisely fifty years after the Declaration of Independence and coinciding with Thomas Jefferson's death, on the same day, in Virginia. For Page, this extraordinary occurrence, to which he returned again and again in conversation and in lectures-the joint departure of two presiding spirits, two lives, two deaths, free will and necessity unfathomably intermingled-suggested something far beyond mere coincidence: history as divine drama. "It could not be said that Americans were struck dumb," he wrote; "rather the reverse. They were struck into an out pouring of wonder and astonishment," of "amazement and awe." And in these last few days many of us, too, have felt something of wonder, of amazement, of awe.
The second theme, the presentness of the past, was set out at the very beginning of the book. The biography of John Adams was also a biography of Abigail Adams, and one of its most compelling aspects was the way past and present were merged, the 18th century and the 20th, life and love, husband and wife existing simultaneously in the consciousness of the writer and of the reader, exemplified by the book's unforgettable dedication to Eloise: "through whom I know what Abigail meant to John."
Eloise and Page, Page and Eloise. A few words at a memorial service are a very poor contrivance to catch two lives in, especially two lives so abundant and vibrant, so complex and creative. Behind the sound of my voice, between my lines, all of you are simultaneously composing your own words, will be contriving to catch something of these two lives, will be recapturing images and scenes, words and actions surging up from our collective past, remembering that vibrancy and complexity, that abundance and creativity-dramatic moments relived, joys recollected, laughter shared, kindnesses recalled.
Eloise and Page. Arts and letters. The Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery and the Page Smith Library of Cowell College. There was an abiding mystery about the sources of Eloise's artistic talents, no hint of them ancestrally or environmentally. But there, overflowingly, they were-rich, vital, disciplined, incessant in exploration of technique. Impatient of conventions, disdainful of trendiness, Eloise refused to stand still as an artist. Ever borrowing, refashioning, absorbing the materials and subjects of her art, the only thing she was incapable of was not painting. Art, for her, was joy and delight. Art, for her and for Page, was magical. Page saw a painting and was charmed by it, met its painter and was forever captivated by her. But art was still more. Art was capable of redeeming lives. Even in prison the human spirit could be touched by it, and break free.
Page and Eloise. Both were teachers: what they said, what they did, who they were. Teaching by example. At the heart of it all was passion: the passion to express, to persuade, to build, to reform. Page: the Protestant Passion, the Protestant reformer. To build and to reform sometimes meant to tear down what was already there, to overcome opposition, to plough through criticism. Both of them would have been dismissive of any words which ignored or minimized the intensity of their passionate natures. Will could become willfulness, determination, obstinacy. Eloise's shrewd amusing comments about things and people, candor that could be crushing, circulated widely. Was she surprised that people took offense? Probably not. Was she deterred by this? Certainly not. Page, in the early years of UCSC, commanded the U.S.S. Cowell through some very stormy seas in his lordly, his Admiral-Samuel Eliot-Morison manner; the crew was often exasperated, occasionally rose in mutiny, usually followed by remorse and repentance-on the crew's part, not Page's.
Santa Monica and Santa Cruz. Bonny Doon and Cowell College. For Page and Eloise learning was a collective enterprise, utopian perhaps, undoubtedly idealistic, a community of friends pursuing truth. Citizens and artists. They belonged to Santa Cruz more than to the university; only one of their three decades here was directly connected to that city on the hill. In The Historian and History, the most personal of his scholarly books, Page confronted history's "terrifying questions and anxieties;" he identified the most devastating anxiety for Americas as the "hellish isolation" of individualism, people, alone, trapped within the remorseless claims of the self. He wished all his books to testify to the collaborative nature of learning and of history: "We are all both heirs and ancestors; beneficiaries and testators." And so forty years ago, in company with many others at UCLA, I was inspired in the classroom and welcomed into the home; and so were we, innumerably, in Santa Cruz, where the forms of hospitality proliferated-College Night, Culture Break, the Penny University, The William James Association, homes for the homeless.
Ideas, achievements, careers. Yes, but Eloise and Page were so much more-bigger, grander, more immediate, commanding. They exuded affirmation of life. Page and Eloise: power and glory. Eloise in her studio, preparing her triumphant show of this past January; Page, the patrician farmer, entering a room-any room-with that air of ineffable command. Can it be that they are not here? That we, vulnerable, exposed, unprotected, undirected, are left on our own?
One hundred seventy years ago William Hazlitt was writing a somewhat peevish essay about Lord Byron when he heard the soul-stopping news of Byron's death. Instantly aware of the grandeur of what was lost, he broke off what he had been writing and was inspired to noble words, words appropriate for Eloise and for Page. "Death is the great assayer of the sterling ore of talent. At his touch the drossy particles fall off ... the finer and more ethereal part mounts with the winged spirit to watch over our latest memory. Death cancels everything but truth; and strips [us] of every thing but genius and virtue."