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Columns from the Atlantic Contributor's Club for 1884
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.

     This part of the Jewett Text Project, therefore, 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 ones I receive will be linked to the appropriate pieces. Send them and any corrections as well to the site manager.


An Adventure

January 1884 pp. 143-4

     IT goes without saying that in this country we do not know much about feudal castles. Whatever wondrous reconciliations between opposed styles in architecture we may have to show, a traveler would journey hundreds upon hundreds of miles without once seeing towers and battlements, or so much as a moated grange. It was therefore a great surprise when, lately passing through a woodland near my home, I came upon what completely satisfied my notion of an ancient manor house. The inmates, if there were inmates, I fancied were taking a hundred years' sleep, so mouldy and solitary was the air of the place. With a boldness I would now call foolhardiness, I determined to explore the gloomy mansion. When at last I stood in a spacious chamber, well at the top of the house, it seemed somewhat strange that I could not remember by what steps I had arrived there. But my attention was soon directed to the great array of old armor which hung on the walls. I thought of the stir that such a trouvaille would cause in the State Historical Society (hitherto compelled to take up with Indian and Mound Builder relics). I felt a thrill of satisfaction that my name, as the finder, would be connected with this valuable antiquarian collection. In the midst of these reflections, I was startled by the sound of footsteps in some adjoining chamber. Instantly, fear laid hold on me; on cautious tiptoe, I hurried out through the nearest door, and was rejoiced to find not so much as a ghost to dispute the passage. There was a flight of stairs, down which I hastened with a kind of winged speed (for I still heard footsteps). Following the turn in the landing, I came to another flight of stairs, and descended this to another; and so on, down, down, until a landing, or hall-way, was reached that had but one door, and a window opposite. Thinking to make my way out at last, I opened the door. Complete darkness. A slight, soughing draught from I knew not whence brought a thick veil of cob-webs across my face. I dared not take refuge in this mysterious limbo; yet something must be done, for the steps of the pursuer were heard louder and nearer. Quick as thought, I ran to the end of the hall, and leaped through the window, -- not to the ground, however, but into another chamber! Then I -- but for artistic reasons I prefer not to recount the manner of my escape. There's but one fault to be found with the charming tales of Morphean adventure told in The Spectator: the author seems to think it needful he should reverse his spells, and invite the reader to witness the dissolution of the "baseless fabric." Why should he take such pains, when the reader does not ask to be disenchanted?


Winter Flies

Feb. 1884, p. 288-90.

- It is astonishing how easily we change our minds, and how impossible it is for us to regard the individual as we do the class to which it belongs. Perhaps the sum total of the faults of a class is more than we can bear, while the single offender has not the power to disturb us, and we are ashamed to oppose ourselves to so small and defenseless an enemy. These thoughts were not directly suggested by human beings, but by flies. One recoils from the sound of their name, as a reminder of their constant annoyance in some places and at some times of the year; but I must confess that, sitting for hours at a time by the same sunny window in winter, I have more than once become fondly attached to a single fly, which has hovered about my desk and basked in the corners of the window-paces. This year it is a singularly tame little insect, and unusually free from troublesome tricks. He is not sticky-footed, neither is he one of the pertinacious sort, which insists upon returning again and again to the same spot on my nose or eyebrow. He is more apt, when away from the window, to take up his position on my stamp-box, or the edge of a Grand-Canal-colored Venetian shell, which is fastened against the wall, near it. From thence he looks at me steadily, as if he were waiting to fly my errands for me; and I have wondered if it is he who brings back to me the words that I sometimes miss from my sentences, as I write. He buzzes them gently into my ear, and returns to his post to trim his wings for the next flight. I fancy that he sees my stories in detail, letter by letter, and that a word of four syllables has to be carried back by piecemeal, so that I vainly search my brain for the whole when only part has yet arrived.

     If I have had a bit of candy, my fly is sure to find some fragments of it which escaped me, and he walks boldly among the edges of letters and sheets of paper; and if I must move them about, he takes the shortest possible flight, and comes back again fearlessly. I wonder that it does not strike him dead with terror when I stir, or when even my hand passes over him, eclipsing the rest of the world for the time being; and yet he only flies out of its way, when the hovering weight is at too close quarters. I cannot conceive why the smaller animals are no more afraid of us, and do not appear more sensible of their danger when we approach. The least of the insects probably leave the same feeling that we do when astronomers tell us that the world spins round and moves through space; and who knows what theories the wise spiders have made, being proficient in geometry and other exact sciences! They must look upon human beings as we look upon comets, and think of life as filled with accident and disaster from the eccentricities of our orbits.

     The winter fly is less energetic than his summer friends, and takes life calmly, and indulges himself in quiet pleasures. He seems sometimes like a very old man, who has outlived his generation, and whose horizon grows narrower every year. The recollection of the past season must be a great surprise to my friend the last fly; and to find the world a changed and depopulated place must be melancholy. It may be that insects and animals have much more affection for each other than we suppose, and even seem to each other to be possessed of souls. They may anticipate a future life with awe, and the caterpillar, who weaves his own shroud, may do it with a solemn excuse of his future angelhood. He may have been told try some longer-lived neighbor that he will not always grovel among earthly things, or at best climb perilously up a grass stalk or fence post, but will wear shining wings, and wander at his will through space and from flower to flower. He would almost be sure of the millennium, if he did not know that his heaven and hell were dismally interfused, and that such things as sharp-beaked birds, and little boys with nets and pins, and Death himself were lying in wait for him in the bowers of his paradise.

     On those days when a flood of sunshine comes through the window my lonely winter fly takes courage, and soars and buzzes as if it were summer again; but when the sky is gray he goes afoot altogether, as if he were rheumatic, and he stays a great while in one place, and does not venture into the air except for safety at a time of great danger. There is a pot of geranium on the window-sill, which serves him for a garden; and here he gets a drink of water, once in a while, or goes aloft to sit in the middle of a broad green leaf. He behaves at such times as if he wished for company; and I pity him, and should be very much shocked if I were reminded how many of his relatives I have killed with a newspaper or other engine of destruction, in the summer months. His sleeping place is behind a little picture, and I am always glad to see him walk out in the morning; for I have learned from sad experience that some day I shall miss him, and my pen will bring a dreadful blotting fragment from the depths of the ink bottle, which will drop upon my sheet of paper, to remind me that my fly was mortal, and tell me that his life is spent. His crumb of cake will presently be dusted away, and for many days I shall forget that he is dead, and be careful to avoid throwing books upon him, or to carelessly harm the fragile creature, whom I fancied had learned not to be afraid of me while he shared my fortunes. I liked to see him sit upon my hand, and ride back and forth along the lines as I wrote. But why do I speak as if my poor friend were already dead, since here he comes, brisk and busy, to see what we have before us in the way of scribbling, this pleasant winter's day.


Oak Galls

June 1884 pp. 863-4

- Every autumn I observe, with speculative interest, the great amount of spurious mast which the oak-tree discharges along with its natural fruitage. It seems not unlikely that, if a count could

be made, the numbers of this spurious mast would be found to exceed those of the acorns. Inside of one of these mock nuts, round in shape and of the size of a pea, a kernel not vegetable is found

this is the sleeping-chamber of a lazy white grub,-- suggestive type of the earthling, buried in fat content in its own little terrestrial ball. A strange servitude is this of the oak to the cynips, or gall-fly, in thus contributing of his substance to the housing and nourishment of his enemy's offspring. The mischievous sylph selects sometimes the vein of a leaf, sometimes a stem, which she stings, depositing a minute egg in the wounded tissues. As soon, at least, as the egg hatches, the gall begins to form about the larva, simulating a fruity thriftiness, remaining green through the summer, but assuming at length the russet of autumn. The innocent acorn Nature puts to bed as early as possible, that it may make a healthy, wealthy, and wise beginning on a spring morning;

but the cradle that holds the gall-fly's child she carelessly rocks above ground all winter. I should suppose unit more than one hunger-bitten forager, four-footed or feathered, would resort to a larder so convenient and so well stocked with plump tidbits.

     When I visit my old favorite oak in spring, I notice that the nut-galls are emulating the acorns in emancipating their imprisoned germs of life. Most of the former are already empty, their brown-papery tissues riddled like firecrackers whose use is past. In some few the grub is still enjoying a sluggard's slumber; others show a later stage of metamorphosis, -- the small bronze and blue-green fly, with its wings folded about it, like a queen in the tomb of the Pharaohs. Sometimes, when I open the gall, the inmate is already mobile, and flies away as soon as light and air reach it. For the moment, the incident has a symbolical significance: I fancy myself an enchanter, - the receiver of a smouldering spark of vital fire. Perhaps it was Psyche herself whom I wafted to the enjoyment of ethereal pleasures.


     An Adventure: Cary attributes this piece to Jewett.
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tales of Morphean adventure told in The Spectator: Morpheus is the Greek god of dreams. The Spectator probably refers to the original magazine edited and, mainly, written by Richard Steele and Joseph Addison in the early 18th century.
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     Winter Flies: Cary does not attribute this piece to Jewett.  However, in a 2/19/1903 letter to Edith Forbes Perkins (in Cary's collection), Jewett writes: "I was amusing myself lately by thinking how much I feel like one of those stupid old winter flies that appear out of their cracks at this time of year, but I know one thing -- how "sensible they are to kindness," as my grandmother would say."  She has, at least, paid attention to the phenomenon of winter flies.
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     Oak Galls: Cary does not attribute this piece to Jewett.
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Psyche: A princess loved by Cupid, Roman god of Love; she usually is associated with the human soul.
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