Columns from the Atlantic Contributor's Club for 1883
that may be by Sarah Orne Jewett
A Game of Authorship
Richard Cary in "Some Bibliographic Ghosts of Sarah Orne Jewett" (Colby Quarterly 8, September 1968, pp. 139-145) says that Jewett appeared rather frequently in "The Contributors' Club." He lists 11 columns from 1878 to 1884 that he is convinced for various reasons are by Jewett. He suggests that several more may have appeared in 1892-3.
I have looked through these years and have selected a few more that seem at least likely to be by Jewett. However, to my knowledge, we have solid verification of authorship for only a very few pieces.
"The Confession of a House-Breaker" (September 1883: 419-422) does not appear here, but with the reprinted version that appeared in The Mate of the Daylight.
This part of the Jewett Text Project offers us a kind of game. What internal and external evidence can be gathered to establish that Jewett was or was not the author of any of these pieces? Cary's opinions and some other possibly relevant facts appear in the notes.
Reader comments are welcome. The most interesting of these will be linked to the appropriate pieces. Send them along with any corrections to the site manager.
An Autumn Drive
January 1883: 135-6
-- I took a drive one October afternoon, which I remember not only for the beauty of the landscape, but for the changes it underwent in the space of a couple of hours. The road was an ordinary turnpike, running along past homely, pleasant farms, with white dwelling-houses -- comfortable, if not specially picturesque -- and old-fashioned, spacious, red-painted barns and out-houses. The air was mild, but deliciously fresh, the sky one clear sapphire, and a brisk breeze went rustling through the yellow maples, and dropping the leaves lightly on the piles of red fruit under the apple-trees. Golden-rod and purple aster were almost gone, but the flame of the Virginia creeper ran over the stone walls and climbed to the tops of the dark spruces and cedars, and even the little common weeds by the way seemed turned by the rich light into things of beauty. There was a wonderful sense of cheer in the look of the world that afternoon; her year's work was done, and the earth was enjoying her ease, at rest, yet full of hopeful life. By and by I turned off from this highroad at a right angle, left the upland country behind, and dipped down through a cross-track facing toward the river, where the light only dimly filtered through the close shade. For nearly a mile the road continues to plunge down through a piece of genuine woodland, full of the scent of moist mosses and ferns and other thick-growing greenery. Then it emerges from this cool, dusk region, and passes the old place known as the Danskammer, the name in full being Teufel's Tanz-kammer. I don't know whether beautiful spots like this were given over to the devil as a sort of propitiatory offering, in old times, when people were more afraid of him than they are now, or whether he was supposed to have selected them for himself; if so, he had very good taste. The house, invisible through the trees, stands right above the river, on a broad, level plateau, where no doubt the witches danced when the nights were fine, -- or did they prefer them dark? If the devil was present, did he play partner, turn and turn about, with the witches, or did he only look on in a superior fashion at their festive performances? When once fairly out of the woods, you find yourself down on the river-level, with nothing to intercept the view. Some five or six miles below, the stream expands into a broad bay, so closed in by a bend in the river's course and by the hills at the south as to have the appearance of a lake. This afternoon that I am telling of, river and hills retreated to indefinite distances in the pearly haze; the familiar hills lay sleeping, miles away, while below it was not the river-bay I saw, but some vague, far-off, unknown sea. It was one of Nature's pleasant little wiles; she has a wonderful way of managing her materials to produce her infinitely varied effects. Even when one has learned not to be surprised by them, one enjoys them all the same. I was not at the end of them that afternoon, for after a time, while driving on, quietly admiring this soft and tranquil scene, a big dark cloud rose suddenly, as it seemed, out of the west, and where I had not been looking; almost in a moment the whole picture changed: the dim sea disappeared, and the shadow on the water turned it dark and cold; the haze vanished from the dreamy distant hills, and they came forward to the river-bank, erect and bold, and closed the view up with a frowning wall. I think I never saw a more curious transformation scene. The storm-cloud after all was only an empty threat, for early in the evening the moon came up over the hills into a perfectly clear heaven, and flooded the whole night world with light.
June 1883: 854-856
-- I am fond of quoting, and still fonder of remembering, an experience of Eugénie de Guérin's. She says in her journal that, one morning, on her way to church, she passed some little wild flowers, and at first stooped to pick them, but on second thought decided to leave them until she returned, for they would only wilt if she held them in her hand until mass was over. But she went home by another path through the woods, and quite forgot them, and writes in her dear journal that it is often so in life, -- our opportunities do not return.
It is a great gift to recognize quickly the things that belong to us, and to seize them with a swift and willing hand, as one goes along the highways and by-ways of life. To some people's well-being a great many small things are necessary, and nothing makes such persons more miserable than to have lost a chance of securing some such treasure, which we never are offered twice. Sometimes it is through a fit of dullness, that hinders one from appropriating one's own at first sight, and sometimes the fancied wisdom of a friend's advice stands in the way; we are ashamed to carry out our own wishes in the face of disapproval. These words are not said with a view to such readers as are independent of their outward surroundings, -- who are not shocked at the thought of beginning life in the next world empty-handed; who could be as contented in a nun's cell, without one personal belonging, as in a long-lived-in-house, filled with beloved traps and trifles. But there are some people who have not outgrown the instinct for making to themselves idols, and who fill their homes with shrines, old and new. They build themselves a wall of happiness with their treasures, and if one brick has not been secured it always leaves a gap; its place cannot be filled in with anything else. From the person who clings desperately to a few things that are dear from long association, to the person who has a mania for making collections and filling cabinets, is a very wide range, but it is the same instinct, -- a love of things. The often-quoted depravity of inanimate objects seems a slur to them; they understand only the friendly and companionable side of nature and art; they unconsciously personify things, and attribute much sensitiveness to them.
I do not doubt that Mdlle. de Guérin thought about the flowers more than once afterward, and wished that she could beg their forgiveness for her neglect. It seems sometimes as if the unused life in the world, that waits its proper development, must be stored away in sticks and stones. What should draw some of us so closely to certain flowers, that seem to look eagerly and with perfect self-consciousness into our faces? What is it that makes it impossible for us to leave a table or a chair for somebody else to buy and to live with?
I remember that one spring, when I was driving in the country, I saw under a barberry bush a blue violet, which appeared to follow me appealingly with its eyes as I went by. I felt an impulse to stop and to gather it, but I did not, -- there was some reason. I thought my companion would laugh at me, or for some other cause it was not worth while. But the farther I went away from it the sorrier I was, and that violet has haunted me even to this day. The tall white daisies, or white-weeds, have a way of fixing their eyes upon you, as if they wished for something. And I remember that a friend once told me, in sacred confidence, about a little maple-tree that had stood at the roadside as she drove by and begged her to take it away. She did not stop. She never knew, and never would have known, any way, from what loneliness and sorrow it wished to be removed; but these many years she has regretted that she did not respond to its perfectly evident longing for her sympathy and assistance. It was a very young and small maple-tree. She described it to me touchingly: its leaves were brilliant with the colors of its first autumn, and when they had fallen it must have been only a thin, unnoticeable twig.
Desires for certain objects of art lead some persons into careers of wretched extravagance; but to a person who is sensible, and has a proper amount of self-control, there need be no such danger. Indeed, it is the things we saw and loved, and knew to belong to us, and yet did not take or buy, that cause us most sorrow. The things for which we have the greatest and most unbearable yearnings are almost always within our reach, and only hesitation makes us lose them. Perhaps the influence of our surroundings plays a greater part in the development of our characters than we have ever recognized, and we are given our instincts for a picture, or a china cup, or a Chippendale chair, with a wise and secret purpose. Reason should not attempt to decide these questions, for they do not belong to reason's province. Out-of-doors, flowers are getting ready to bloom for us, and in-doors, books and pictures and china cups and little boxes are being made for us here and there all over the world, and we are wise to take them when we find them. If they have gone astray, and landed in some friend's parlor instead of our own, and can neither be bought nor stolen, we must make the best of it, but remember that they are ours and we are theirs, all the same, and revel in the secret understanding. But it is very puzzling to know why some things should have had anything to do with us. I have been troubled for some time with the small ghost of a cigarette-case that was displayed for sale in the chief room of a quaint old hotel in Northern Italy. It was curiously made of some East Indian grass-cloth fabric, and its colors were soft and pretty. It was filled with cigarettes, and I did not like to be thought a smoker. I did not succeed in giving myself any reasons for buying it, but I went near the case which contained it, and looked at it lovingly and longingly whenever I could, and then at last came away without it, knowing myself to have done wrong, and to be the concealer forever of an incurable regret. But the memory of this is nothing beside the sadder one of a green glass vase, hung with little gold rings, that I left behind me long ago, one day in Amsterdam.
July 1883: 140-1
-- The reign of the sunflower has been a long one in the world of decorative art, and it might be well to consider its successor. It has been suggested that we turn our attention to the beauty of leaf forms and colors. We never have given full credit to the satisfactory qualities of a well-arranged bouquet of leaves; to tell the truth, people in general know very little about them. It takes a very observant eye to catch at their details, for most of us look at trees or bushes, or at any foliage, only in the mass, -- which is like judging flowers and making friends with them only in solid parterrés. Appreciation of the leaves of native and foreign plants will come only by close study of them, and nothing will forward this like their becoming fashionable. As for the monotony of color, it is no disadvantage, if we once grow used to the delicate gradations of tint.
We have already accustomed ourselves to exquisite arrangements of ferns, but if some reader will carry the idea further, she will be greatly astonished at its success. The leaves of the silver poplar, with their whitish under surface, are most beautiful for table decoration. A few sprays in clear glasses, that show plainly the leaves that are under water, with their clinging air bubbles, and the outline of the stems, -- these, above the white surface, or even colored surface, of the cloth of the tea-table will be found surprisingly delicate and refreshing on a hot evening, instead of fiery geraniums, or intensely yellow marigolds, or other flowers of the sort. At least, while we do not underrate the value of brilliant colors, we beg our lady friends, who are ever on the lookout for novelties and new effects in their housekeeping, to try their hands at some of these imperfectly suggested symphonies in green. We do no imply a desire simply to return to the fire-place decorations of asparagus, beloved of our great-grandmothers, though the use of that sad-tinted but graceful foliage has been grievously overlooked by the æsthetes and the sentimental Wilde men and women, of languishing attitudes and clinging draperies.
October 1883: 574-5
-- After a series of drives in one the smaller New England cities, I feel inclined to deplore in public the choice of shade trees with which the unvarying citizens have adorned their pleasant streets. Surely, because maples and horse-chestnuts are fast growers, and soon make their sheltering presence felt, it is not worth while to disregard the claims of many other American trees which are easily persuaded to flourish and take kindly to town life. Indeed, many of the more delicate ones are thankful for the care and shelter. But by the time the maples are old and wise enough to put their heads together, they become harmful enemies of their would-be protectors, and keep the sunlight from the lower rooms of the houses, besides making the ground sodden and damp. I am not learned in forestry, but I have been imagining with great delight the beauty of long double lines of birches, with their white bark and glistening leaves; of silver-leaved poplars and mountain ashes gay with their brilliant fruit. There are many varieties of maples with most delightful characteristics, and it would possibly not offend the taste of many persons if, where a street is bordered with a row of Queen Anne houses, a prim procession of poplars was planted to match. Other trees than maples and horse-chestnuts may require more care as to protection and suitable soil, but we ought to be willing to take the trouble for the sake of the pleasure, and the great addition to the beauty of our fast-lengthening streets. Surely where a new highway is laid out the trees ought not to be thought of last, and provision should be made for their successful growth and well-being. We associate certain trees with town life, but that may be more from habit and custom than from any necessity. In foreign countries there are wayfarers' orchards along the great avenues and narrower by-paths of travel; but it is to be feared that if a fruit-tree proved itself commendable it would find itself at the mercy of the predatory small boy, who impatiently risks life and happiness to eat his apple while it is yet green. Or we can think of some New England farmers, who, with an excess of thrift, would loop in the prize with their nearest unstable line of fence. It may be urged that town trees are depended upon more for shade than for decoration, but there are few that will overarch the streets, at any rate, and there is no reason why we should not try some experiments. Then the Willow Streets and Pine Streets and Chestnut Streets would deserve their names.
December 1883: 850-1
-- Who can tell why the working of tapestry has gone out of fashion? It would be so much more satisfactory than the endless procession of tidies and pincushions and sofa-pillows, each with its little design, if some fair needle-woman would give her spare time and thought to a larger piece of work. It might be done in small separate squares, so that there would be no objection to the clumsy roll of canvas, which could not be moved about or looked upon as fancy-work; and it would be so picturesque and full of the spirit of romance to see a lovely lady with her colored crewels and her quaint designs, and know that she was stitch by stitch achieving a great work which would keep her memory bright for years to come. Nobody cares what becomes of the smaller pieces of needle-work after their bloom is, so to speak, worn off, but let us picture to ourselves the religious care with which we should guard the handiwork of our great-grandmothers, if it were of this sort. We venerate the needle-books and work-bags and samplers almost absurdly, and this is an index to our capacity for appreciating a more important treasure.
Besides, it is a great loss both to art and literature that our stitches tend to such petty ends. An embroidery frame is a charming addition to a portrait, and nothing could make a more delightful and suggestive background than the blurred figures and indistinct design of a tapestried wall. And in a story, what aid a writer could give his reader by his suggestions of the work the heroine's slender fingers toyed with idly, or called into existence skillfully in a busier hour! What light, indeed, the description of the design would throw upon the character of the maiden! We could make up our minds instantly to many certainties when we knew whom she had taken for her hero in a battle piece, or if it were only a quiet landscape which she deftly wove when her lover met her first.
We have long lost the fashion of commemorating historical events in this manner, and we are contented to cover our walls with gilt and shining papers instead of these splendid hangings, though I happened to find the last of the tapestry-makers some time ago, -- a plain little countrywoman, whose worsted works were the admiration of her village neighbors. The fountain of inspiration as to composition and artistic excellence had nearly run dry, but her patience was superhuman, and she had covered her walls with huge pictures in cross-stitch, -- portraits of illustrious men of her time, and one or two large groups, like the surrender of Cornwallis and Washington crossing the Delaware, where there had been a long and severe and most monotonous season of embroidering the raging waves of the river. The likenesses, as a rule, were not satisfactory, but who could resent that unimportant defect? The colors were brave and chosen for their brightness. There was one great undertaking nearly finished, -- a view of the Capitol at Washington in shaded grays and white, with a splendid blue sky and green grass. It really was most imposing. But one could not help remembering that it must be an inherited gift from some Flemish or French ancestress, who had sat among her maidens in a high stone tower, and sung the songs of the troubadours as she bent over her work. There were brave knights gone afield while she drew in her threads and plied her busy needle in their honor, as she sat at home.
A Good Inheritance
December 1883: 855-6
-- In speaking recently of inherited tastes and preferences, I remembered something which had been forgotten for years. When I was a child I bestowed great affection upon a small copy of Sterne's Sentimental Journey, which I chanced to find in an upper room of the house, among an uninteresting collection of old pamphlets and magazines and cast-off books which had been brought up from the shelves of my father's library. The lower part of the house was, as is not unusual, constantly being relieved of these armfuls of miscellaneous literature, and I used to please myself by hunting and searching, I did not know exactly for what, though I sometimes read eagerly a story or two in a magazine, and always was enticed by the pictures. One day, however, I lighted upon a slender little volume, bound in boards, with pale yellow paper sides and much-frayed back, and I immediately took a great fancy to it. It was a case of love at first sight. I had no need to wait for a taste of its contents, and it seemed perfectly consistent with its instantly recognized character that I should discover, on further acquaintance, the story of the prisoner and the starling, of the happy peasants, and of poor Maria. It seemed more like a long-lost treasure brought to light than a new and unfamiliar book. It gave a certain completeness and satisfaction to my life, and from that time I always knew where this little book was. I carried it about with me, for it was not too large for even my small pocket, and no doll that ever lived and was loved could have been so great a delight to me.
One rainy afternoon I was sitting by a window with the book in my hands, and my father stood beside me, and was speaking to me laughingly and carelessly; but suddenly, as he looked down at my lap, he reached for the book with great surprise. "Where in the world did you find this?" said he, and turned its pages with affection. "I have not seen it for years, and was afraid it was lost. I have had it ever since I can remember, and when I was a child I used to insist upon taking it to bed with me and keeping it under my pillow. I suppose it was because it was small and like a plaything, at first; but when I grew old enough to read it I used to wake early in the morning and spell out the stories."
I felt only a sense of pride and of being like my father, at that moment; but since then I have thought many times of the curious incident, and my almost superstitious feeling toward the playfellow volume has interested me very much, it was so plainly an inheritance in which my will took little part. Though I have always enjoyed a Sentimental Journey most sincerely, yet I must confess to often finding myself a little astray in modern editions, and I turn the small leaves of this beloved copy with pleasantest memories and best content.
An Autumn Drive
Teufel's Tanz-kammer: German; the devil's dancing room.
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Eugénie de Guérin: Eugénie de Guérin (1804-1858) lived a solitary, retiring life in a château near Albi in south central France, near the Spanish border. The Journal of Eugénie de Guérin first appeared in French posthumously, in 1855. There was an English translation available by 1865 and other editions followed. The 1855 French publication also included writings grouped under the title Reliquiae that are notable for their spiritual, melancholy quality. During the years 1832-34, she kept her Journal intime for her absent brother, Maurice, the famous poet who later died tragically young of tuberculosis while under her care. (Research assistance: Carla Zecher)
Jewett published a signed essay about Eugénie de Guérin, "A French Country Girl," in The Congregationalist (35:53) on Tuesday, February 15, 1883.
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barberry bush: "A shrub (Berberis vulgaris) found native in Europe and N. America, with spiny shoots, and pendulous racemes of small yellow flowers, succeeded by oblong, red, sharply acid berries; the bark yields a bright yellow dye." (Source: Oxford English Dictionary).
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Sentimental Wilde men and women: Referring to some of the typical characters in the works of Oscar Wilde (1854-1900).
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Cary believes this piece is by Jewett. It seems also to have been titled "An Autumnal Nuisance."
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A Good Inheritance: Cary believes this piece is by Jewett.
Sterne's Sentimental Journey: A Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne (1713-1768) was published in 1768.
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