Fitting Appreciation of the Work of Sarah Orne Jewett, the Writer.
At the Federation of Women's [Womans] Clubs held at Waterville this week, Mrs. Fred P. Abbott of Saco, a prominent member of the E. and I. union, and chairman of the literature and art committee of the federation, paid a tribute to the late Sarah Orne Jewett, Maine's favorite authoress, that was one of the best efforts of the entire session. In speaking of the tribute and of Mrs. Abbott, the Lewiston Journal says:
"In her always charming way, Mrs. F. P. Abbott of Saco, chairman of the department of arts and literature, paid tribute to Sarah Orne Jewett, who had formerly served as a member of this committee in the Federation.
"Wishing for something especially good and acceptable to you for the mid-winter meeting at Augusta, I wrote and asked our late honored member, Miss Sarah Orne Jewett, to speak to us," said Mrs. Abbott in commencing.
"This is her reply:
149 Charles Street, Boston.
16th January, 1909.
My Dear Mrs. Abbott,
I am very sorry indeed that your letter of the 5th was mislaid and that I am so late in finding it here and answering it. I have no gift for speaking and am afraid that I should have been of very little use in that way, but I should like to have you say for me at this meeting (I fear it is over) or at some other, how anxiously I have watched a tendency in the clubs to give up effort on the part of most of the club members, and to make the meeting depend upon outside entertainment. Often these lectures or talks are not half as good as some of the members themselves might give! And, the good of receiving, of being amused for an hour is not equal to the good that comes from developing our own gifts.
If we cannot write papers, we can read good things that we have taken trouble to find; or we can have interesting talks between three or four members who have looked up a subject of immediate interest. I do [not] value our entertainments from outside, but to me they are almost always second in value to what we bring out of our own treasuries of thought and experience. I do not think that they are what our clubs are really for and the mere fact of the long lists of people, who do things for the clubs, shows a dangerous tendency to stop doing things for ourselves! Cannot we make new plans toward this end?
(Signed) S. O. Jewett.
"I feel honored and grateful for the privilege of bringing this message to you and of humbly expressing my deep appreciation of that sterling Maine woman to a representative audience of sterling Maine women. Some of us knew her personally, all of us, I am sure, through her works. How proud we have always felt of her! How loyally we have loved her -- a gentlewoman in the highest sense of the word, conscious of her heritage of culture, sensitive, ever receptive of the deeper emotions and more intense thoughts; lacking perhaps the constructive ability of prime greatness and the magic inspiration of great genius, but truly, wisely, sweetly human, brave intellectually, philosophically observant, womanly and true.
"Hers are not 'tales to cure deafness,' neither do we hear the 'winding of the watch of wit.' Her stories are simple, sweet and as wholesome as her own dear self; true to life, fragrant with the odor so dear to our nostrils of fir, balsam and pine and the invigorating salt of the sea; melodious with bird song and the rippling waves of the shore.
"You may search in vain through all her pages for catchy headline phrases or vulgar self-advertising; for complex characters of intricate social problems. There are no bridge whist parties or 'Rubyats'; no international marriages. No 'poison' label is needed -- they will all pass the pure food test!
A True Artist's Skill.
"Miss Jewett had the true artist's skill in subtly imitating with a few strokes of characterization, humor that drew a smile or quiet chuckle but never stung. She had such a loving sympathy toward her characters that you felt sure they must be her friends, real people of flesh and blood -- good mannered people always, it seemed living up to the best standard they knew. She drew with fidelity what she saw (and how careful she was to see the best) graciously content to leave with her readers the ethical and spiritual impressions of the words and deeds of her characters.
"She has filled the pages of her books with word pictures of exquisite delicacy; pictures of marsh and sea: of sunset and twilight hour; of pale moonlight and misty morning. One could almost wish that she had used a brush and colors as a medium but we are glad that she did not, else they could never have reached so many hearts and homes.
"It is pleasant to talk to you who know her lines so well; to realize that your hears, too, have undoubtedly been touched and some burden lightened by that wonderful 'Story of Nancy.' To me it is her masterpiece (possibly because I have known intimately a Nancy by other name. [)] That fair, fresh country, girl, full of life and hope and love--at the very high tide of her girlhood, laid aside physically helpless but oh, that joyous, buoyant, sunshiny spirit, glowing like a precious gem got in metal: sending comforting messages to the sick, teaching the country children manners, telling the man she loves that he had been her inspiration through the long years -- 'there never has been a day when I haven't thought of you' -- pure, unselfish, womanly love."
Mrs. Abbott then spoke of "The Marsh Island," and went on to ask, "Do you remember the morning that that good housewife, Martha Owen, fell to complaining while she got the early breakfast -- she had no clothes fit to wear,['] the same old war cry, impromptu with Madam Eve on that first memorable trip abroad. How persistently it has rung down through the ages! Fortunately Israel['s] [had] saving sense of humor [had] cleared the atmosphere by telling the story of 'old Sergeant Copp's wife that was always quarreling.' Somebody heard her going on one day, 'I do wish sombody'd give me a lift's furs Westmarket. I feel's if I ought to buy me a cap. I ain't got a decent cap to my back. If I was to die to-morrow, I ain't got no cap that's fit to lay me out in!' 'Blast ye,' says he, 'why didn't ye die when ye [he] had a cap!'
Continuing, Mrs. Abbott quoted from Miss Jewett, delightful lines relative to "Deephaven" and then, in fascinating way, referred to several of the characters. "I should like to speak with old Capt'n Littlepage, 'though his mind was touched,'" she said. "He thought 'Shakespeare was undoubtedly a great poet,' but adds, 'You have to put up with a lot of low talk' and so he preferred Milton as 'being more lofty.'
"There is a fascinating undercurrent of droll humor throughout this entire book," continued Mrs. Abbott, and then she quoted further from "Deephaven," giving the lines descriptive of a sunset, and in closing said:
"And now, let us think of her who wrote these beautiful lines, as just having quietly drifted out into 'the very heart of a glorious sunset' into that 'far, faint beyond' which 'was neither sea nor sky,' leaving to us the golden heritage of her splendid life's work."
And this exquisite tribute so like Mrs. Abbott, with her clear insight into human nature, her broad sympathies, her deep culture, that never sounds a note of the superficial, but which rings true and clear and strong, needs no further comment. County club women feel a warm pride stir the heart when they speak of her attainments, for she belongs to the county, to the state -- she is cosmopolitan.
Biddeford, ME Daily Journal. No date for this article is available, though clearly it was after Jewett's death on June 24, 1909. It is listed with works by Jewett because it contains a Jewett letter.
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.