HB and "Social Media"
It at the Fo’castle that Beston truly “found himself” as a writer, realizing that he needed, as Elizabeth Coatsworth recalled, “to possess and be possessed by his surroundings. He needed to brood, uninterrupted, for as long as he wished. He needed to observe at leisure. Lastly, he needed to write when he was ready to write, mostly in the mornings, his best time, though he put down notes at any hour.” While Beston’s work often seems to have an “inevitable” quality to it, it was a hard won inevitability: “He wrote with pencil or pen—on typewriter paper, except when taking notes—he never typed, for the sound of a machine would have interfered with the rhythm of his sentences, which meant so much to him. As he worked, the floor became littered with discarded paper. He sometimes spent an entire morning on a single sentence, unable to go on until he was completely satisfied with both words and cadence, which he considered equally important.”
After the end of the Second World War, the pace of modernization in the United States, even in rural areas, accelerated rapidly. Beston’s response to these manifestations of modern civilization was mixed; he was not interested in having a radio or later, a television at the farm, but when a petition circulated among the residents of East Neck in September to bring in an electric line sharing the cost among them Beston was among the signatories. He remained ambivalent about the benefit of having electricity at Chimney Farm and may have signed the petition just to be neighborly. “An electric ice box would free us of this [ice delivery] nonsense—free us of its waywardness”; he reasoned, but on the other hand, “it would “rob us of a human contact.” In June 1946 Beston sent a tongue in cheek “birth announcement” to Morton and Margaret Smith: “ Mr. and Mrs. Henry Beston announce the arrival of a dear little telephone Damariscotta 239-4, to be reached 8-9 A.M. & P.M.: other hours closed off.” The following year Chimney Farm was wired for electricity and indoor plumbing and Henry reported to Elizabeth in Hingham, “The electric pump is installed and working. I had it connected up so you could use the upstairs ‘terlet’… it is automatic, and one doesn’t have to fuss about the gas engine in the shed. I really miss using the icy, the arctic, the meditative ‘terlet’ in the strawberry box. But this will be more civilized and certainly more accessible.”
There was one modern technology that Beston thoroughly enjoyed; as a corollary to his lifelong love of the theatre he had developed a fondness for the cinema and regularly frequented the movie theatre in nearby Damariscotta to see the latest Hollywood releases. After working on Bambi, Jake Day often got complimentary tickets to Disney releases that he shared with the Bestons. They saw the animated Disney feature “Song of the South,” which Beston praised, but when he went with Bee Day to see Lady in the Lake, a film noir murder mystery starring Robert Montgomery and Audrey Trotter, he absolutely loathed it: “[I] came back spiritually sick with that vision of modernity, ruthlessness, and non-human hard boiledness; a horrible story. Human life lived as by dogfish or preying and murderous worms. Can that continue? What happens when man ceases to be man? Well…the answer, I suppose, is look at the world.”
By 1967 Beston was largely confined to bed, dogged by the gout, recurring fevers, and a myriad of other health issues. By March he felt so restless and confined that Elizabeth tried something that Henry would never have countenanced in the past; she bought a Philco television and put it on a stand in his room. As she wrote to Margaret, “He longs so for the theatre, even for a movie like “Khartoum”—so far it puts him to sleep (good in itself) we’ll see as he gets stronger.” Much to Elizabeth’s surprise, Henry—the philosophical arch foe of the technological twentieth-century—not only accepted the arrival of the television but seemed (at least in moderate amounts) to welcome it, particularly when classic plays or operas were telecast: