Down East Diary
by Benjamin Browne Foster
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Benjamin Browne Foster’s Down East Diary is a highly readable day-to-day account of what mid-nineteenth-century Maine, and indeed America, was like for a young man in his teens and early adulthood.
What makes this diary different from mundane recordings of weather on a given day, or similar tedious details, is the fact that Ben could and did write well, and that he had the intellect to analyze and interpret the events, the social movements and the people with whom he came in contact.
This book makes the mid-1800s seem immediate and gives insight and explanation by example of the very real effect the transcendentalists had on the young people of the period. Ben has already broken with the Puritanism of his parents’ generation, and has embraced (perhaps even without realizing it at 16) the thoughts of Hawthorne, Thoreau, and Emerson. This is evident from the outset when he explains himself in phrenological terms like Wit and Mirth, rather than the usual concepts of sin and grace.
What effect this had on Ben’s own life is revealed in the pages of the Diary as he gives us vivid accounts of his introduction to the mercantile world as a clerk in Bright’s Store in Bangor, his flirtations and amorous encounters with the young ladies of his day (the reader will be shocked at the freedom!), the major social events of the time in Bangor and Orono, and all the other influences to which he was exposed. The Diary ends with Ben’s undergraduate days at Bowdoin College. The view of life among the students of the time is quite a bit different from the commonly-held notion of strait-laced academics. Ben reveals them as being shrewd, and almost vulgar rowdies in large part, and not at all the high-minded searchers after truth other histories would have the world believe.
As one reads the book, and it is not easily put down once started, one comes to know Ben as an extremely thoughtful, witty, and perceptive commentator on a period of social history that sorely needs this kind of illumination.
“This is one of the most captivating of American diaries. Indeed it is the only detailed, firsthand account of any consequence dealing with mid-nineteenth-century Maine . . . a contribution to American studies admirably edited by a dedicated descendant.”
–Boston Evening Globe
377 pages, 6 x 9, illustrated with 15 photographs
Shipped without dustjacket.