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date: 28 September 2021

Bradstreet [née Dudley], Annefree

(1612/13–1672)

Bradstreet [née Dudley], Annefree

(1612/13–1672)
  • N. H. Keeble

Bradstreet [née Dudley], Anne (1612/13–1672), poet, probably born in Northampton, was the eldest daughter and second of the five children of Thomas Dudley (1576–1653), governor of the Massachusetts Bay Company, and his first wife, Dorothy, née Yorke (1581/2–1643), who had married in Northampton on 25 April 1603. Joseph Dudley, later governor of Massachusetts, was her half-brother, being the son of Thomas Dudley's second marriage. According to Cotton Mather, her mother was 'a gentlewoman both of good estate and good extraction' (Adlard, 26); Bradstreet described her in an epitaph as a woman of 'unspotted life', 'Religious in all her words and ways' (Works, ed. Hensley, 204). Her father, a man of great 'Natural and Acquired Abilities' and 'excellent Moral Qualities' (Mather, 1.20) who encouraged his daughter in both her studies and her writing, she greatly admired for his unwavering commitment to public service and for his 'love to true religion' (Works, ed. Hensley, 202). On the recommendation of William Fiennes, first Viscount Saye and Sele, in 1619 he became steward to Fiennes's future son-in-law Theophilus Clinton, fourth earl of Lincoln (c.1600–1667), at Sempringham, Lincolnshire. Like both Fiennes and Clinton, afterwards parliamentarians, Dudley was a man of puritan conviction, much influenced by the Northamptonshire minister John Dod. About 1625 the Dudley family moved to Boston, to enable Dudley to join the congregation ministered to by the eminent puritan John Cotton. By then his daughter would have had the opportunity to become acquainted with her future husband, Simon Bradstreet (bap. 1604, d. 1697), the son of Simon Bradstreet (d. 1621), nonconformist puritan vicar of Horbling, Lincolnshire, since, after his father's death, he served as a member of Lincoln's household under Dudley. They married in 1628, when Simon Bradstreet was steward to Francis Rich, dowager countess of Warwick, at Leighs Priory, Essex. In March 1630 they sailed, with Thomas and Dorothy Dudley, from Southampton at the very start of the puritan ‘great migration’ to New England on board John Winthrop's flagship, the Arbella. It was, says Mather, Anne Bradstreet who persuaded her husband to emigrate (Mather, 2.19).

Bradstreet later addressed to her children for their 'spiritual advantage', 'not to set forth myself, but the glory of God' (Works. ed. Hensley, 240), a short reflective account of her experience which confirms what might be inferred of her upbringing, temperament, and convictions from these puritan connections. From the age of six or seven her conscience was sensitive to wrongdoing. Prone to blame herself for her moral failings, she 'found much comfort in reading the Scriptures'. At the age of fourteen or fifteen she grew 'more carnal, sitting loose from God', but about the age of sixteen she was restored to faith through recovery from an attack of smallpox (ibid., 241). The only recorded reference Bradstreet makes to the challenge of emigration exemplifies puritan acquiescence to the divine will:

After a short time I changed my condition and was married, and came into this country, where I found a new world and new manners, at which my heart rose. But after I was convinced it was the way of God, I submitted to it and joined to the church at Boston.

ibid., 241

This was the church of which Cotton was afterwards chosen minister on his arrival in New England in 1633. Her poetry returns repeatedly to this tension between the duty of Christian patience and the pain of human experience and disappointment.

The Arbella reached Salem on 12 June 1630, to find the previous year's settlers, in Dudley's words, 'in a sad and unexpected condition' (Works in Prose and Verse, xxx), many dead, the survivors weak and sickly, with barely two weeks' provisions. Since Salem could not provide for them, the new arrivals had to move elsewhere. The Bradstreets settled briefly at Charlestown, then at Boston, and then (in December 1630) at Cambridge (then called Newtown). About 1635 they moved to Ipswich (Agawam), and between 1640 and 1644 they made their final home in Andover (Merrimack). Though she herself made no direct intervention in the political or religious life of Massachusetts, Bradstreet's was one of the most politically significant families in seventeenth-century New England. Both her father, 'a principal founder and pillar of the colony' (Morton, 167), and her husband held a succession of public offices, both serving several terms as governor of Massachusetts. God having kept her 'a long time without a child, which was great grief to me, and cost me many prayers and tears' (Works. ed. Hensley, 241), in 1633 or 1634 Bradstreet gave birth to Samuel, the first of eight children (Dorothy, Sarah, Simon, Hannah, Mercy, Dudley, and John).

Bradstreet's The tenth muse lately sprung up in America, or, Severall poems, compiled with great variety of wit and learning … by a gentlewoman in those parts was published in London in 1650 (Thomason's copy is dated 5 July). The prefatory material identified the 'gentlewoman' as Anne Bradstreet, 'at present residing in the Occidental parts of the World, in America, alias Nov-Anglia' (Works. ed. Hensley, 8) but the unsigned address to the reader, apparently written by her brother-in-law John Woodbridge (1613–1695), husband of her sister Mercy and minister at Andover, states that the book is published 'without [Bradstreet's] knowledge, and contrary to her expectation' (ibid., 3) in order to prevent the publication by others of imperfect copies from manuscripts in circulation. The project was clearly well planned (The Tenth Muse carried eight commendatory poems) and, whether or not she had any inkling of it, Bradstreet certainly took her poems sufficiently seriously to have dedicated a manuscript collection of them to her father (himself a writer of verse) as early as 20 March 1642, and already to have written a full apologia for her writing, as though anticipating its appearance in print (included as 'The Prologue' in The Tenth Muse). In the later poem 'The Author to her Book' she professed dismay at this unauthorized publication, but her response was to revise her texts and to add new poems for an authorized second edition, which appeared in Boston posthumously in 1678.

The fact of this publication is itself sufficiently remarkable to secure Bradstreet's fame. She was the first English woman and the first New Englander to publish a collection of original poems, and so may claim to be both the first female poet and the first colonial poet in English, and a radical figure. In 'The Prologue' she is very well aware of the contemporary prejudice against women's engagement in intellectual and artistic activity:

I am obnoxious to each carping tongueWho says my hand a needle better fits,A poet's pen all scorn I should thus wrong,For such despite they cast on female wits.

Works. ed. Hensley, 16In 'The Prologue' and in other poems such as her elegy on Queen Elizabeth, who

hath wip'd off th'aspersion of her sex,That women wisdom lack to play the rex

ibid., 196Bradstreet issued a direct challenge to prevailing notions of woman's place and duty.

The Tenth Muse is shaped by the protestant Renaissance tradition. Four long four-part poems, or quaternions (modelled on a lost poem by Bradstreet's father entitled the 'Four Parts of the World'), on the four elements, the four humours, the four ages of man, and the four seasons of the year, and an incomplete poem entitled 'The Four Monarchies', later abandoned after 3500 lines when 'My papers fell a prey to th'raging fire' (Works, ed. Hensley, 178) in 1666, make up the major part of the collection. These are ambitious pieces which show considerable reading in natural philosophy, biblical commentary, history, and classical literature. They draw on approved protestant models and exemplars (Spenser, Sidney, Du Bartas, the Ralegh of the History of the World), but the essentially plain manner of Bradstreet's end-stopped lines, closed heroic couplets, and unmodulated iambic metre, attempts none of their rhetorical and metaphorical elaboration. The author's puritan commitment is most evident in the unequivocally parliamentarian sympathies of 'A Dialogue between Old England and New', dated 1642, which attributes the civil war to the countenancing of 'Idolatry' and 'foolish superstitious adoration' by 'mighty men' who further popery (Works, ed. Hensley, 182).

Bradstreet's distinctive achievement, however, rests on her thirty-five short lyrical and meditative poems, dating largely from the 1650s and 1660s. Some of these were first printed in the 1678 edition, others not until 1867 when John Harvard Ellis first printed in his edition texts preserved in the Andover manuscript, a small leather-bound notebook kept by Bradstreet (with entries also in the hand of her son Simon). They are remarkable for the specificity of their domestic occasions, the intimacy of their address, and their unaffected articulation of personal feeling. Many are addressed to Bradstreet's husband, children, and grandchildren and they take up with the everyday: her son's departure for England; the arrival of letters from her absent husband; apprehensions before childbirth; the burning of their house; illness and bereavement. Protestantism had encouraged marital love as a fit poetic subject, and as an ideal it was hymned by Spenser and Milton; but Bradstreet was the first poet in English to publish explicitly marital love lyrics.

There is very little in any of these poems which can be attributed to Bradstreet's American habitation. The scenes depicted derive from Renaissance pastoral and from biblical story, rather than from observation: America is figured as the wilderness of Israel's desert wanderings. 'Contemplations' describes an autumn evening walk by the River Merrimack, but its principal affinities are with the Renaissance emblem and puritan sermon, reading the 'Book of the creatures' as a revelation of the divine will.

Throughout her life Bradstreet suffered recurrent bouts of what she came to call 'my old distemper of weakness and fainting' (Works, ed. Hensley, 257), the occasion of several of her poems. She endured a particularly severe and prolonged period of illness in the first half of 1661. That

No fainting fits shall me assail,Nor grinding pains my body frail

is one of the promises of heaven to which she looks in her last poem, dated 31 August 1669 (ibid., 294). Besides ill health, she mentions among the chastening experiences by which she grew in grace 'losses in estate' (ibid., 242) of which the most severe was the destruction of the Bradstreets' home by fire in 1666, when their collection of over 800 books, a remarkable collection for that date in New England, was burnt. Bradstreet died of consumption at Andover, Massachusetts, on 16 September 1672. Her place of burial is not known.

Bradstreet enjoyed considerable reputation among younger contemporaries such as Edward Phillips, who included her in his chapter in Theatrum poetarum (1675) entitled 'Women among the moderns eminent for poetry' (p. 254), Bathsua Makin, who spoke of her as 'an excellent poet' (p. 20) in her Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of Gentlewomen (1673), and Cotton Mather, who in Magnalia Christi Americana (1702) saluted her poems as 'a Monument for her Memory beyond the Statliest Marbles' (2.17), but then her reputation fell sharply away, with (it seems) no published reference to her thereafter until the early nineteenth century. John Berryman's long poem Homage to Mistress Bradstreet (1956) is evidence of the revival of her reputation in the twentieth century.

Sources

  • The works of Anne Bradstreet, ed. J. Hensley (1967)
  • The complete works of Anne Bradstreet, ed. J. R. McElrath and A. P. Robb (1981)
  • C. Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana, 7 bks in 1 vol. (1702)
  • B. Makin, An essay to revive the antient (sic) education of gentlewomen (1673)
  • E. Phillips, Theatrum poetarum, or, A compleat collection of the poets, especially the most eminent of all ages (1675)
  • G. Adlard, The Sutton-Dudleys of England and the Dudleys of Massachusetts (1862)
  • A. Jones, The life and work of Thomas Dudley, the second governor of Massachusetts (Boston and New York, 1899)
  • J. K. Piercy, Anne Bradstreet (1965)
  • E. W. White, Anne Bradstreet, the tenth muse (1971)
  • R. F. Dolle, Anne Bradstreet: a reference guide (Boston, MA, 1990)
  • R. Rosenmeier, Anne Bradstreet revisited (1991)
  • H. Morton, Chronicles of the pilgrim fathers (1910) [with an introduction by J. Masefield]

Archives

  • Stevens Memorial Library, North Andover, Massachusetts, Andover MSS [on deposit at Harvard U.]