Sarah Orne Jewett Works
Contents: Uncollected Stories and Essays
 


A Memorial of the One Hundredth Anniversary
of the Founding of the Berwick Academy
South Berwick, Maine

Preface

Sarah Orne Jewett



     In presenting to the public this "Memorial of the Celebration of the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Founding of Berwick Academy" I am aware that the records of such a delightful day need little comment.

     The general and lasting interest in our great occasion was only another sign of the interest that has always been felt by the town and neighborhood in the affairs of this long-established school, as well as by those of us who have been its pupils. We who can join the deep and tender remembrance of our own youth to our later sense of the value of good influences found ourselves possessed of unexpected sentiment about the academy. In the business and simplicity of daily life, perhaps from an inheritance of that principle of repression and severity so marked in our forefathers, we New Englanders are almost surprised by our own great enthusiasms and overcome with the joy of yielding to their impulses. Once awakened, however, - once made self-forgetful by the depth of our love and pride in something that touches the history or welfare of country, state, or town, repression of feeling is swept away as by a flood, and there is felt the beating of a common heart, thrilling the least vein of common life. A new expression comes to each face, a new warmth of affection shines in every eye; whatever has seemed selfish and trivial is forgotten; whatever has seemed prosaic and familiar is by some lovely enchantment made poetic and carried higher, and makes possible the keeping of a great festival.

     Naturally this reunion of the academy students was of greatest interest to the elderly persons who were present. Such an occasion has naturally less sentiment for young people whose separations have been of shortest duration, and whose meetings and common experiences have been the rule of their lives, not the exception. A very large number were assembled of those who might justly be called the old scholars, and their eager greetings and delighted recognitions of one another were pleasant to hear and to see. Several of these earlier pupils were heard to say that they had come to the celebration with reluctance, being afraid that they should find none of their old companions and that the day would be sad. This did not prove to be true in any case, so far as was known. Nobody found himself alone at the feast; in fact, the older people made most effort to be present, and really had the best of the pleasure. It was delightful to hear the reminiscences, the merry talk of old schooldays, and the tender words of remembrance for those whose faces were missed. The day was far more significant to those of us who were rich in the memory of our years than to those who were looking forward along the way of life.

     There were at least a thousand in the great assembly. The long line of the procession reached nearly from the church to the hill. Beside the former students there were many invited guests. More than one pupil of Berwick Academy must have been deeply moved, even to tears, at his first glance at the simple old school building, which seemed to stand in its place with new dignity - almost with personality - to welcome its great brood, - Alma Mater that gathered us men and women her children, back to her side.

     In the village a fine spirit of hospitality was as evident as the spirit of interest and pleasant association with which those returned who had grown to be strangers since the time of their schooldays. Even the old remembered trees seemed to wave a welcome. It is safe to say that nobody found himself quite forgotten in the town, and though many names might be repeated here of those who received a special welcome, all were welcomed, and each one added something to the common store of enjoyment.

     And now it were well for those of us who believe in the future of Berwick Academy as well as in its past, to cast a glance forward. We believe in the preservation of its time-honored traditions, in the guarding of its individuality. Again and again this has been assailed with plans which have seemed, to some warm friends, full of promise. The modern system of graded schools, or at least the responsibility of some one beside the trustees and the teacher; the guardianship of the town, of the State, have in turn been held up for admiration, but this ancient school has held bravely on its way. Its plan has given large liberty to the best teachers, and has held somewhat in check those who would degrade its work. It is safe to say that there has never been a teacher of any sort of cultivation or distinction, social or intellectual, who possessed the gift for teaching, and made a conscientious use of it, who has not found the community responsive to his efforts. Seasons of the school's decadence have always been recognized and deplored, and the memory of the brighter years, the presence of those instructors who are truest to their high calling, is sure to be gratefully acknowledged in their turn. To say that our academy has not in the main held bravely to the high hopes and standards of its founders would be unjust. They gave it a dignity and respectability out of their own character which could not be easily lost. Their own respect for culture, and their own desire for a recognition of the higher duties of life, gave the school to their descendants and shaped its career with the simplicity and reasonableness which all really good things must have. The touching earnestness of the early records, the eagerness to keep in touch with the best civilization that was possible to provincial society; yes, and a longing to put it into the power of the young people of that day "to know the best that has been thought and said in the world," - these things are plain to discover. The planting of Berwick Academy was done with good intent.

     While to a certain extent it must be ranked as a fitting-school for the colleges and hold its modest place below these and above the common schools, yet to many and many a pupil it has given his last opportunity for instruction, and so has held the final chance of directing and developing his young ambitions. Many a man and woman owe their success in life largely to the impulse here given, to the expectation of the academy that her children will go out into the world to follow duty and to learn truth. The fact that so many men and women have made themselves known and respected by the help of these same advantages has been a great stimulus to their successors. At the time of the celebration it was observed that the pupils of certain teachers were of better development in social and intellectual activity than those of others. Some were evidently living on a higher spiritual level, as if they had been taught by precept, if not by example, the truth, that it is far better to know how to appreciate than to criticise, and as if their early advantages had enabled them to say as Thoreau did: -

"I hearing get who had but ears;
And sight, who had but eyes before."



     Above the character of students or principals, however, stands the character - I had almost said personality - of the academy itself. Part of this has come to exist because of its age and continuance through so many years, and the natural development which has been so much better than any amount of experiment and change. We restless Americans are apt to forget that something more is usually much better than something else. But there is no doubt that the best teachers of our beloved school have always been helped, not hindered, by following its old traditions, and by being in sympathy with its plain ambitions, not trying to make it other than its nature would direct. There was a time when one often heard the academy spoken of as too conservative, and inferior to the high schools that sprang up under its shadow; but it has lived on, though often poor in purse, to have thoughtful people recognize that it could give a beautiful gift to its children, to see the high schools criticised in their turn, and even denied their once vaunted perfection. The gifts of the academy's founders and benefactors render more benefit to us her students than we often stop to reckon; the example of those who have best made use of these gifts serves us better year by year. May it be counted every year, and for every good reason, a higher honor to call one's self a Berwick Academy scholar.

     Perhaps we were all in danger of feeling that the academy was of narrow and local interest until a response came to the invitation of its secretary from not only the shores of our own river, but from all over the United States and many parts of Europe, from China and South America, and many far away corners of the world. We thought of the interest of the day as depending almost wholly upon what we of the town could do ourselves, but some of the best-known men in our country came and spoke to us eloquently of what the old steadfast school had done in the past, making noble suggestion not only by their words, but by themselves and the inspiration of their presence. We were hardly willing, after our great day was over, to let it be said that ours was one of the old country academies, but there was a new eagerness in our hearts that it should hold its place as the representative country academy, a model for all the rest. We had hardly taken it in that we counted four college presidents and three governors on our roll, and many college professors and eminent teachers, men and women both; highly accomplished men of professions and men of affairs; soldiers, sailors, and statesmen of renown; and women who in their ever widening public service and beautiful, influential home-keeping lives, have been among the true leaders of civilization in their time.

     President Eliot said not long ago that the fruit of a liberal education is not knowledge or learning but a thirst for knowledge and a capacity for learning, and Mr. Lowell tells us in one of his great essays that, after all, the better part of a man's education is that which he gives himself; but adds, "it is for this that a good library should furnish the opportunity and the means." So the truth comes to us once more from a great authority upon matters of education, and from a great scholar, that the best thing we can expect from our schools is not so much the actual acquirement but the direction and stimulus of growing minds. These must come from the personal example and influence of the teacher, and from the spirit of the school.

     The history of Berwick Academy as recorded in this memorial of the one hundredth anniversary of its foundation, and the long list of names of those who have gone out into life sincere, awakened, uplifted to their high duties and responsibilities, should make us hopeful, nay, confident of continued vitality and usefulness in the years to come. The increased accommodations that are soon to be offered the school in its house and home will be sure to attract many who have not been aware in other ways of its aims and reputation, but we must never forget that even these great advantages cannot of themselves make a great school and place of learning; they are only the body, not the soul. It is the largeness of view, the enriched personality and unselfish sympathy of those who have it in any way in charge; it is the sincerity of the students, their respect for their opportunities, their happiness and their sober-mindedness, that make together the school's soul, and can maintain as nothing else can its noble character.
 

Sarah Orne Jewett.



Notes

Memorial of the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Founding of the Berwick Academy South Berwick, Maine was published on July 1, 1891 by the Riverside Press of Cambridge, MA. The Berwick Academy was founded in 1791 (See Jewett's "The Old Town of Berwick" part three). Jewett contributed several pieces for The Berwick Scholar, the school magazine founded in 1887. She helped with the Centennial arrangements of her alma mater, contributing to the Scholar an article, "The Centennial Celebration" in v. 4 (March 1891). Jewett's preface to this volume is available courtesy of Jean-Paul Michaud of the New York Public Library. If you find errors or items needing annotation, please contact theller@coe.edu.
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the best that has been thought and said in the world: See Matthew Arnold's preface to Literature and Dogma. "Matthew Arnold, b. Dec. 24, 1822, d. Apr. 15, 1888, was a major Victorian poet, the principal English literary critic of his generation, an important commentator on society and culture, and an effective government official. His father was Thomas Arnold, the headmaster of Rugby School." (Source: Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia).
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Thoreau ... "I hearing get who had but ears; / And sight, who had but eyes before": The following stanzas are from "Inspiration" by Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862).

     But now there comes unsought, unseen,
       Some clear divine electuary,
     And I, who had but sensual been,
       Grow sensible, and as God is, am wary.

     I hearing get, who had but ears,
       And sight, who had but eyes before,
     I moments live, who lived but years,
        And truth discern, who knew but learning's lore.
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President Eliot: Charles William Eliot, (1834-1926) was, according to the Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, "a reforming president of Harvard University and editor of the Harvard Classics."  The source of the quotation has not been found.  Help is welcome.
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Mr. Lowell tells us in one of his great essays that, after all, the better part of a man's education is that which he gives himself; but adds, "it is for this that a good library should furnish the opportunity and the means.": James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) was a poet, editor, professor and diplomat. The source of this quotation has not yet been found. Help is welcome.
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.


Sarah Orne Jewett Works
Contents: Uncollected Stories and Essays