In the old days
“It was a dog’s life,” said the poor old gentleman, quite reassured, “but it made men of those who followed it. I see a change for the worse even in our own town here; full of loafers now, small and poor as ’tis, who once would have followed the sea, every lazy soul of ’em. There is no occupation so fit for just that class o’ men who never get beyond the fo’cas’le. I view it, in addition, that a community narrows down and grows dreadful ignorant when it is shut up to its own affairs, and gets no knowledge of the outside world except from a cheap, unprincipled newspaper. In the old days, a good part o’ the best men here knew a hundred ports and something of the way folks lived in them. They saw the world for themselves, and like’s not their wives and children saw it with them. They may not have had the best of knowledge to carry with ’em sight-seein’, but they were some acquainted with foreign lands an’ their laws, an’ could see outside the battle for town clerk here in Dunnet; they got some sense o’ proportion. Yes, they lived more dignified, and their houses were better within an’ without. Shipping’s a terrible loss to this part o’ New England from a social point o’ view, ma’am.”
–Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs
Today is the birthday of Sarah Orne Jewett (September 3, 1849 – June 24, 1909)–American novelist, short story writer and Episcopalian.
The Sarah Orne Jewett House is a historic house museum at 5 Portland Street in South Berwick, Maine, which is just over the border from New Hampshire. Built in 1774, it is an excellent example of late Georgian architecture.
I guess I’ll have to add it to my list of literary/historic places to visit. In the meantime, let’s toast old Sarah and maybe re-read The Country of the Pointed Firs, which I have somewhere. You can download it here.
While we’re toasting Sarah, we may want to raise a glass to Sally Benson (September 3, 1897 – July 19, 1972) whose birthday is also today. She was a screenwriter and prolific short story writer for The New Yorker back in its heyday. She is best known for her semi-autobiographical stories collected in Junior Miss and Meet Me in St. Louis. Yes, that “Meet Me in St. Louis.”
Her other screen credits include Shadow of a Doubt (1943) for Alfred Hitchcock, Summer Magic (1963) for Walt Disney, Viva Las Vegas (1964) for Elvis, and The Singing Nun (1966)–quite a disparate group! Her screenplay for Anna and the King of Siam (1946) was nominated for an Academy Award.
Here is a sketch of the St. Louis house in which Sally grew up:
This North St. Louis neighborhood “declined” and the house was torn down in 1994. Here’s a picture of the Hollywood version:
(The pictures of the “Meet Me in St. Louis” houses were found here on a fun blog about houses.)
The Hollywood version was eventually torn down too when MGM sold off its lots in the 1970s.
C’est la vie. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. (See above quote.)