A Word From a Neighbor
Sarah Orne Jewett
It gives me great pleasure to know of the continuance and well-being of our York County Institute. I well remember my father's warm interest in its earlier years and how strongly he felt the necessity of some such central gathering place for the many interesting relics and records of our ancient history as a county. Some old papers and bits of local record which he had for some years and prized exceedingly were sent by him to the Historical Collection.
I think that there is nothing better for a growing town or city, than to have a good reading room and I am so glad that this has been arranged. It often is a fosterer of an interest in books and makes a means of communication between young people, in whom the habit of reading, is not yet formed, and the great library which in itself might be unavailable and even unattractive. The papers and magazines that lie invitingly within reach, the pleasant story that a boy in the next chair chuckles over, the sober book of travel or history or biography, that some grown man or woman spends an eager hour upon -- all these books become known or at least introduced to young readers, who look curiously to see their titles. The guarded collection of a great library may be like an unknown crowd but the reading room leads one into a friendship with the individuals that compose it. And when the boy passes from a delighted acquaintance, with some relic of the French and Indian war, to a desire to know something more of the exciting times in which it was used or made -- how good it will be to tell him that in such or such a volume of Mr. Francis Parkman's histories in the next room, he will find the story told. How few of us York County people know the debt of gratitude, that we owe to Mr. Parkman, or how delightfully and clearly he has written the story of the battle of Woosters River in Berwick, or the sad tale of the burning and devastating of York and Wells; of the troublous times all through our county and state in the French and Indian war! We are just beginning to feel an interest in these most interesting things and to recognize the fact that we inherit from an ancestry, who possessed great traits of courage and unselfishness.
The History of Saco and Biddeford has always been in one of the old bookcases at my home and I have known it well, and Judge Bourne's later History of Wells and Kennebunk is also most familiar and interesting. I only wish that we had as good a history of our other old towns of York and Kittery and Berwick for these are the mother towns of York County, from which the rest were born.
I wish that we were more careful to make the writing of future histories possible, by writing down the valuable bits of tradition, that every one of us has the chance of learning from older people. How often we sigh over a lost fund of neighbourhood or local tradition when some old friend goes out of this world, who had the power of remembering and of fixing such things in an orderly memory. All this wealth of tradition and experience might be added to our common store if somebody, who can write at least, if she cannot remember, would take the trouble to write a page of records now and then at the end of a delightful talk. I do not think we value our old church and town record-books half enough. Only the other day I was amazed to find how much there was of deep historical value in one that I had occasion to look over and to one good clergyman with a taste for antiquarian matters, who made some marginal notes about the old houses and people, I believe that I did not know how to be sufficiently grateful. These facts, which he had gained from some very old persons, who died during his pastorate would be perfectly unattainable now.
The existence of the York County Institute is a matter of great pride to me; it was one of the earliest foundations of the sort and born out of the thoughtful and cultivated circle of men and women for whom Saco was early distinguished and by whom, she was able with her sister city of Biddeford to take a most honorable place among our earlier settlements and communities. We are too apt to say that our dear old New England towns are not what they used to be, that the best of their society drifted away after the building of railroads, to the larger cities and wider horizons; that the smaller towns have dwindled in culture as the larger cities have increased, that the smaller towns have been given over to money making alone. But I for one, rejoice in the fact that the general level of culture and intelligence has changed so much for the better. We may miss the picturesque and distinguished figures of the past, who lived such dignified and stately lives and surrounded themselves by an atmosphere of respect and deference, over whom the glamour of distance has placed its veil of enchantment or perhaps mystery -- we may regret a certain repose of manner and a leisurely way of keeping, unhindered, to the higher ends of scholarship and manners and statesmanship and the demands of the great professions.
Yet our own best ladies and gentlemen could meet those of an earlier time without any sort of dismay and while there were only a few far-sighted and generous-thoughted persons to plant our academies and libraries and Institutes, a far larger number have come now to the place, where they demand for themselves and their children, the very best that such foundations can give and are eager and willing to take hold all together, to make them more stable and efficient and to carry them nobly forward as our best and noblest gift to a new generation.
Sarah Orne Jewett
"A Word from a Neighbor" appeared in The Artful Dodger (1:1,3) - a publication of the York Institute of Saco, Maine - on January 25, 1893. This text is available courtesy of the Dyer Library Association, which oversees the Dyer Library and the York Institute Museum. Special gratitude is due to Jean-Paul Michaud of the New York Public Library for contacting the association on behalf of the Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project, and to Gerard R. Morin, Dyer Library Director for searching out this text.
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Mr. Francis Parkman's histories: Jewett refers to the French and Indian Wars, the series of wars between France and the English colonies (1689-1745). Jewett tells the story of the battle at length, including the carrying of local hostages into Canada in "The Old Town of Berwick," where she gives Parkman's Frontenac and New France, Chap. XI as her source. There Woosters River is called Worster's River.
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Judge Bourne's later History: Edward Emerson Bourne (1797-1873) and Edward E. Bourne (1831-), The History of Wells and Kennebunk from the Earliest Settlement to the Year 1820, at which time Kennebunk was set off, and Incorporated, with Biographical Sketches (Portland, 1875).
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.