The Curious Case of Artemus Ward
“The village from which I write to you is small. It does not contain over forty houses, all told; but they are milk-white, with the greenest of blinds, and for the most part are shaded with beautiful elms and willows. To the right of us is a mountain to the left a lake. The village nestles between. Of course it does, I never read a novel in my life in which the villages didn’t nestle. Villages invariably nestle. It is a kind of way they have.” (Affairs Around the Village Green)
I have returned to the village, Waterford, Maine, in which my grandmother was born and where I lived when I was born. Albeit, the elms are now gone, a victim of Dutch Elm Disease, but it is still a “small and nestling” place. I climb the mountain and swim in the lake. It is a village my family have returned to practically every summer. My grandmother lived there year-round as does my sister now. I am drawn to it as a migratory bird is drawn back to its nesting grounds. It is a place that renews my soul and the one place I truly feel is home.
Ever since I could remember, there has been a sign on the common which mentions the founding of the village, when it was incorporated, and the fact that it was the birthplace of Artemus Ward (April 26, 1834–March 6, 1867). As a snot-nosed kid, this fact did not mean much to me but one day I discovered a book, Works by Charles Farrar Brown, amongst the shelves at my grandparents’ home. As I was flipping through it I found that the author of the stories wrote under the pen-name of Artemus Ward. That large house across the common was where this once anonymous person was born. Funny, who knew? I hadn’t.
Charles Farrar Browne or Artemus Ward was a humor writer and a very popular one, apparently. He was widely read in the United States as well as Great Britain and was in England, on a reading tour, when he became very ill and died at the age of 32. He was one of Abraham Lincoln’s favorite writers and it is alleged that he read to his cabinet one of Ward’s articles before getting down to the business of presenting his Emancipation Proclamation. Artemus Ward was also said to have inspired his contemporary, Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain.
One of the stories in that book I stumbled upon, “Affairs Around the Village Green”, was particularly interesting because Artemus Ward perfectly describes the place that has meant so much to me. That the little hamlet of Waterford had changed so little since his time, my grandmother’s time, and my father’s time gave me a sense of continuity and connection, one I could never have in New York. And one day I will return there for good…it is a wonderful thing!
“Why stay in New York when I had a village green? I gave it up, the same as I would an intricate conundrum and, in short, I am here.”