The Cheer of New England Life
For one, I utterly deny that the rural society of New England, taken as a whole, is in a grim, stern or extravagantly repressed condition. I do not know much of Connecticut, but I know a good deal of the rural parts of Massachusetts, Vermont and Rhode Island, and am not ignorant of Maine and New Hampshire. It would be interesting to learn how much your lamenting contributors personally know of the country life of those States.
Did they ever go deer-hunting or moose-hunting; ever take part in a squirrel-hunt, or even a “turkey-shoot?” Did they ever see a militia muster; ever observed with wonder that old-time miracle of armed display, “a Cornwallis?” 1 [Even Lowell’s Hosea Biglow is obliged to own that “there is fun to a Cornwallis.”]
Did they ever go to a husking-party, or a hop-picking, or a “sugaring-off;” or attend a lumberman’s ball at the close of the season? [“The things they don’t say and do at one o’ them balls,” said a Maine stage-driver once to me, “ain’t worth thinkin’ of!”] Did they ever join a party going down the Merrimack to the salt-marshes for hay, in a “gundalow;” or a Salisbury Beach “camping-out,” or a party to explore the “glen” by torchlight, at Stockbridge, or go through “purgatory” in the same way, at Sutton?
Did they ever visit those innumerable picnic grounds now distributed all over New England for summer pleasuring, and so well equipped for innocent amusement; or observe how the world of merry-makers has gradually overflowed the camp-meeting grounds at Martha’s Vineyard; or spend a summer day at the thronged water-places of Narragansett’s Bay–Rocky Point in particular, where from one to five thousand chance-visitors go to dine daily, and may be seen whirling in the dance, hour after hour, as busily as if they were born Germans?
Do not these critics know that half New England lies within easy reach of the Atlantic shore, and that from every part of that shore gay sailing parties are putting forth or returning at almost every hour of day or night, all summer long? Do they not know that all the interior of New England is threaded by the Connecticut River, and that a score of the inland villages have been for many years the traditional centers of cultivated and agreeable society? If you wish to see what Lennox and Stockbridge are and were, read the Life and Letters of Miss Sedgwick; or, for Northampton, read the charming memoirs of Mrs. Lyman.
….Town after town comes up to the memory of any man of large social experience, any one of which refutes this dismal theory.–[Excerpt from June Atlantic and May 1879 several newspapers].