Uncollected Pieces for Young Readers
Main Contents

The Wrong Side of Clubs
The Contributors and the Children

Sarah Orne Jewett

     I have been thinking a good deal lately about the wrong side of the effect of clubs and classes. I must begin by declaring that many towns need more than they have and not be misunderstood as an enemy of clubs altogether. But for the most part we have got the idea of organization so thoroughly into our minds, the value of joining what one person has learned or can think or do with what another person knows or plans or does, that we have to guard against what old-fashioned people call "not standing in our own lot and place."

     The clubs are good for us, just so far as they help us as individuals to grow and become as valuable as we can be to ourselves, our families, and the town and country where we live. There is an undoubted value of the club as a club, but this depends of course upon the value of the persons of whom the club is formed. And sometimes, perhaps always, we can develop ourselves better alone, from the outcome of our own thought, than in the best of company.

     Growing wiser and more able to do our work does not invariable depend upon the stimulus we get from others, even from those who seem to be climbing the same hill and aiming at the same mark.

     I know two or three girls who live in a large wide-awake town where there is a fine school and the teachers of course and all the studying that goes on gives an intellectual tone to society in general. There are some book-clubs and reading clubs of course, there are clubs for discussion of the topics of the day, and, besides this, sewing societies connected with the churches, and benevolent associations to which my young friends give a good proportion of their time. But I was startled to find they also had not only a theatricals club and a boat club and a French club and a walking club, but a picnic club, and that they seemed to have almost no personal and individual existence. And after a few days of listening I heard one dear girl deplore her lack of time for practising, though she has a remarkable gift for music and if left to herself would naturally put it first of all her pursuits. Another dear girl seemed to be neglecting her gift for drawing in the same way, protesting piteously that she hated to be doing nothing but scratching a hasty sketch now and then at one of the club picnics. There was no idleness, for the clubs involved various committees, and these girls were being appealed to and interrupted constantly in the routine or emergencies of so much general business. The quiet home-life was reduced to a fragment of time; I wonder if this is not so in many other wide awake towns?

     I have not much patience with at least half the members of such clamorous societies - they are pretty sure to be persons who would do nothing by themselves and who like the excitement and shelter of those efficient girls and boys who do all the real work unselfishly. It seems a cruel slight and piece of selfishness to refuse to join a proposed union of forces for any good object; but I hope that every club-bound young reader of mine will stop and think whether there is undoubted profit to be won from making at least any new promises. There is a great deal said nowadays about "being in the swim," but after all one must not dissipate one's powers, particularly if one has really a calling of one's own, and if the organizations of society will hinder that calling from being properly answered. Sometimes a solitary walk or row on the river, or a whole afternoon to one's self to grow quiet and to think and plan in, to "listen to the voices" in, is the greatest comfort and help in the world. In our reading it is a grave question whether the evening club-meeting every week that drags through some book of not vital interest to half the people who read it, and half the time is even then wasted in idle talk - whether an evening like this is so well spent as if every member of the club stayed at home and read the book that really belonged to her and had a message for her.

     Some clubs we must and ought to have, but do let us remember to save time enough for ourselves, for our own life and plans at home with our families and with our work and books. Club union is not always strength; sometimes it means the weakness that comes from a profitless scattering of our forces.
 

Sarah O. Jewett.


Notes

"The Wrong Side of Clubs" appeared in Wide Awake (26:214-215) in February 1888. This text is made available thanks to the assistance of the Newberry Library and the courtesy of the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale library. If you find errors or items needing annotation, please contact the site manager.
     [ Back ]

not standing in our own lot and place: This phrase is echoed in a variety of places, for example in Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), "Self-Reliance" (1841), near the beginning, where he admonishes the reader to "Trust thyself" and to "Accept the place divine providence has found for you." See also Daniel 12:12-13.
     [ Back ]

"listen to the voices": This allusion could easily be to Ralph Waldo Emerson in "Nature" (1836) or William Wordsworth in any number of poems such as "Tintern Abbey" (1798) or to any of several other transcendentalist writers. The Bible refers often to listening to God's voice in stillness or a pastoral or private situation, as in Psalms 95 and John 10, the story of the transfiguration of Christ in Luke 9. Perhaps also the story of Pentecost in Acts 2 is relevant.
     [ Back ]

scattering of our forces: Early in "Self-Reliance," Emerson says, "The objection to conforming to the usages that have become dead to you is that it scatters your force."
     [ Back ]

Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College


Uncollected Pieces for Young Readers
Main Contents