Anne Bradstreet and her time/Chapter II
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Chapter II. Upheavals
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THOUGH the long engagement which Mr. Ruskin demands as a necessity in lessening some of the present complications of the marriage question may not have been the fortune of Simon and Anne Bradstreet, it is certain that few couples have ever had better opportunity for real knowledge of one another's peculiarities and habits of thought. Circumstances placed them under the same roof for years before marriage, and it would have been impossible to preserve any illusions, while every weakness as well as every virtue had fullest opportunity for disclosure. There is no hint of other suitors, nor detail of the wooing, but the portrait of Governor Bradstreet, still to be seen in the Senate Chamber of the Massachusetts State House, shows a face that even in middle life, the time at which the portrait was painted, held an ardor, that at twenty-five must have made him irresistible. It is the head of Cavalier rather than Roundhead the full though delicately curved lips and every line in the noble face showing an eager, passionate, pleasure-loving temperament. But the broad, benignant forehead, the clear, dark eyes, the firm, well-cut nose, hold strength as well as sweetness, and prepare one for the reputation which the old Colonial records give him. The high breeding, the atmosphere of the whole figure, comes from a marvellously well-balanced nature, as well as from birth and training. There is a sense of the keenest life and vigor, both mental and physical, and despite the Puritan garb, does not hide the man of whom his wife might have written with Mrs. Hutchinson: "To sum up, therefore, all that can be said of his outward frame and disposition, we must truly conclude that it was a very handsome and well-furnished lodging prepared for the reception of that prince who, in the administration of all excellent virtues, reigned there a while, till he was called back to the palace of the universal emperor."
Simon Bradstreet's father, "born of a wealthy family in Suffolk, was one of the first fellows of Emanuel College, and highly esteemed by persons distinguished for learning." In 1603 he was minister at Horbling in Lincolnshire, but was never anything but a nonconformist to the Church of England. Here in 1603 Simon Bradstreet was born, and until fourteen years old was educated in the grammar school of that place, till the death of his father made some change necessary. John Cotton was the mutual friend of both Dudley and the elder Bradstreet, and Dudley's interest in the son may have arisen from this fact. However this may be, he was taken at fifteen into the Earl of Lincoln's household, and trained to the duties of a steward by Dudley himself. Anne being then a child of nine years old, and probably looking up to him with the devotion that was shared by her older brother, then eleven and always the friend and ally of the future governor.
His capacity was so marked that Dr. Preston, another family friend and a noted Nonconformist, interested himself in his further education, and succeeded in entering him at Emanuel College, Cambridge, in the position of governor to the young Lord Rich, son of the Earl of Warwick. For some reason the young nobleman failed to come to college and Bradstreet's time was devoted to a brother of the Earl of Lincoln, who evidently shared the love of idleness and dissipation that had marked his grandfather's career. It was all pleasant and all eminently unprofitable, Bradstreet wrote in later years, but he accomplished sufficient study to secure his bachelor's degree in 1620. Four years later, while holding the position of steward to the Earl of Lincoln, given him by Dudley on the temporary removal to Boston, that of Master of Arts was bestowed upon him, making it plain that his love of study had continued. With the recall of Dudley, he became steward to the countess of Warwick, which position he held at the time of his marriage in 1628.
It was in this year that Anne, just before her marriage recorded, when the affliction had passed: "About 16, the Lord layde his hand sore upon me and smott me with the small-pox." It is curious that the woman whose life in many points most resembles her own — Mrs. Lucy Hutchinson — should have had precisely the same experience, writing of herself in the "Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson": "That day that the friends on both sides met to conclude the marriage, she fell sick of the small-pox, which was in many ways a great trial upon him. First, her life was in almost desperate hazard, and then the disease, for the present, made her the most deformed person that could be seen, for a great while after she recovered; yet he was nothing troubled at it, but married her as soon as she was able to quit the chamber, when the priest and all that saw her were affrighted to look on her; but God recompensed his justice and constancy by restoring her, though she was longer than ordinary before she recovered to be as well as before."
Whether disease or treatment held the greater terror, it would be hard to say. Modern medical science has devised many alleviations, and often restores a patient without spot or blemish. But to have lived at all in that day evidenced extraordinary vitality. Cleanliness was unknown, water being looked upon as deadly poison whether taken internally or applied externally. Covered with blankets, every window tightly sealed, and the moaning cry for water answered by a little hot ale or tincture of bitter herbs, nature often gave up the useless struggle and released the tortured and delirious wretch. The means of cure left the constitution irretrievably weakened if not hopelessly ruined, and the approach of the disease was looked upon with affright and regarded usually as a special visitation of the wrath of God. That Anne Dudley so viewed it is evident from the passage in her diary, already quoted; that the Lord "smott" her, was unquestioned, and she cast about in her girlish mind for the shadow of the sin that had brought such judgment, making solemn resolutions, not only against any further indulgence in "Pride and Vanity," but all other offences, deciding that self-abnegation was the only course, and possibly even beginning her convalescence with a feeling that love itself should be put aside, and all her heart be "sett upon God." But Simon Bradstreet waited, like Colonel Hutchinson, only till "she was fit to leave her chamber," and whether "affrighted" or not, the marriage was consummated early in 1628.
Of heavier, stouter frame than Colonel Hutchinson, and of a far more vigorous constitution, the two men had much in common. The forces that moulded and influenced the one, were equally potent with the other. The best that the time had to give entered into both, and though Hutchinson s name and life are better known, it is rather because of the beauty and power with which his story was told, by a wife who worshipped him, than because of actually greater desert. But the first rush of free thought ennobled many men who in the old chains would have lived lives with nothing in them worth noting, and names full of meaning are on every page of the story of the time.
We have seen how the whole ideal of daily life had altered, as the Puritan element gained ground, and the influence affected the thought and life even the speech of their opponents. A writer on English literature remarks: "In one sense, the reign of James is the most religious part of our history; for religion was then fashionable. The forms of state, the king's speeches, the debates in parliament and the current literature, were filled with quotations from Scripture and quaint allusions to sacred things."
Even the soldier studied divinity, and Colonel Hutchinson, after his "fourteen months various exercise of his mind, in the pursuit of his love, being now at rest in the enjoyment of his wife," thought it the most natural thing in the world to make "an entrance upon the study of school divinity, wherein his father was the most eminent scholar of any gentleman in England and had a most choice library. . . . Having therefore gotten into the house with him an excellent scholar in that kind of learning, he for two years made it the whole employment of his time."
Much of such learning Simon Bradstreet had taken in unconsciously in the constant discussions about his father s table, as well as in the university alive to every slightest change in doctrine, where freer but fully as interested talk went on. Puritanism had as yet acquired little of the bitterness and rigor born of persecution, but meant simply emancipated thought, seeking something better than it had known, but still claiming all the good the world held for it. Milton is the ideal Puritan of the time, and something of the influences that surrounded his youth were in the home of every well-born Puritan. Even much farther down in the social scale, a portrait remains of a London house mother, which may stand as that of many, whose sons and daughters passed over at last to the new world, hopeless of any quiet or peace in the old. It is a turner in Eastcheap, Nehemiah Wallington, who writes of his mother: "She was very loving and obedient to her parents, loving and kind to her husband, very tender-hearted to her children, loving all that were godly, much misliking the wicked and profane. She was a pattern of sobriety unto many, very seldom was seen abroad except at church; when others recreated themselves at holidays and other times, she would take her needle-work and say here is my recreation. . . . God had given her a very pregnant wit and an excellent memory. She was very ripe and perfect in all stories of the Bible, likewise in all the stories of the Martyrs, and could readily turn to them; she was also perfect and well seen in the English Chronicles, and in the descents of the King of England. She lived in holy wedlock with her husband twenty years, wanting but four days."
If the influence of the new thought was so potent with a class who in the Tudor days had made up the London mob, and whose signature, on the rare occasions when anybody wanted it, had been a mark, the middle class, including professional men, felt it infinitely more. In the early training with many, as with Milton s father, music was a passion; there was nothing illiberal or narrow. In Milton's case he writes: "My father destined me while yet a little boy to the study of humane letters; which I seized with such eagerness that from the twelth year of my age I scarcely ever went from my lessons to my bed before midnight." "To the Greek, Latin and Hebrew learned at school the scrivener advised him to add Italian and French. Nor were English letters neglected. Spencer gave the earliest turn to the boy's poetic genius. In spite of the war between playwright and precisian, a Puritan youth could still in Milton's days avow his love of the stage, 'if Jonson's learned sock be on, or sweetest Shakspeare Fancy's child, warble his native wood-notes wild and gather from the masques and antique pageantry, of the court revels, hints for his own Comus and Arcades."
Simon Bradstreet's year at Cambridge probably held much the same experience, and if a narrowing faith in time taught him to write it down as "all unprofitable," there is no doubt that it helped to broaden his nature and establish the Catholic-mindedness which in later years, in spite of every influence against it, was one of his distinguishing characteristics. In the meantime he was a delightful companion. Cut off by his principles from much that passed as enjoyment, hating the unbridled licentiousness, the "ornate beastliness," of the Stuart reign, he like others of the same faith took refuge in intellectual pleasures. Like Colonel Hutchinson and this portrait, contrary in all points to the preconceived idea, is a typical one he "could dance admirably well, but neither in youth nor riper years made any practice of it; he had skill in fencing such as became a gentleman; he had great love to music and often diverted himself with a viol, on which he played masterly; he had an exact ear and judgment in other music; he shot excellently in bows and guns, and much used them for his exercise; he had great judgment in paintings, graving, sculpture, and all liberal arts, and had many curiosities of value in all kinds; he took great delight in perspective glasses, and, for his other rarities was not so much affected with the antiquity as the merit of the work; he took much pleasure in improvement of grounds, in planting groves and walks and fruit trees, in opening springs, and making fish-ponds."
All these tastes were almost indispensable to anyone filling the position which, alike, Dudley and Bradstreet held. "Steward" then, had a very different meaning from any associated with it now, and great estates were left practically in the hands of managers while the owners busied themselves in other directions, relying upon the good taste as well as the financial ability of the men who, as a rule, proved more than faithful to the trust.
The first two years of marriage were passed in England, and held the last genuine social life and intellectual development that Anne Bradstreet was to enjoy. The love of learning was not lost in the transition from one country to another, but it took on more and more a theological bias, and embodied itself chiefly in sermons and interminable doctrinal discussions. Even before the marriage, Dudley had decided to join the New England colony, but Simon Bradstreet hesitated and lingered, till forced to a decision by the increasing shadow of persecution. Had they remained in England, there is little doubt that Anne Bradstreet's mind, sensitively alive as it was to every fine influence, would have developed in a far different direction to that which it finally took. The directness and joyous life of the Elizabethan literature had given place to the euphuistic school, and as the Puritans put aside one author after another as "not making for godliness," the strained style, the quirks and conceits of men like Quarles and Withers came to represent the highest type of literary effort. But no author had the influence of Du Bartas, whose poems had been translated by Joshua Sylvester in 1605, under the title of "Du Bartas. His Duuine Weekes and Workes, with a Complete Collection of all the other most delightfull Workes, Translated and Written by yt famous Philomusus, Josvah Sylvester, Gent." He in turn was an imitator; a French euphuist, whose work simply followed and patterned after that of Ronsard, whose popularity for a time had convinced France that no other poet had been before him, and that no successor could approach his power. He chose to study classical models rather than nature or life, and his most formidable poem, merely a beginning of some five or six thousand verses on "the race of French kings, descended from Francion, a child of Hector and a Trojan by birth," ended prematurely on the death of Charles IX, but served as a model for a generation of imitators.
What spell lay in the involved and interminable pages the modern reader cannot decide, but Milton studied them, and affirmed that they had aided in forming his style, and Spenser wrote of him —
"And after thee, (du Bellay) 'gins
Dryden, too, shared the infatuation, and in the Epistle Dedicatory to "The Spanish Friar," wrote: "I remember when I was a boy, I thought inimitable Spenser a mean poet, in comparison of Sylvester's 'Dubartas, and was wrapt into an ecstasy when I read these lines:
"Now when the winter's keener breath began
"I am much deceived if this be not abominable fustian." Van Lann stigmatizes this poem, Le Semaine ou Creation du Monde, as "the marriage-register of science and verse, written by a Gascon Moses, who, to the minuteness of a Walt. Whitman and the unction of a parish-clerk, added an occasional dignity superior to anything attained by the abortive epic of his master."
But he had some subtle, and to the nineteenth century mind, inscrutable charm. Poets studied him and Anne Bradstreet did more than study; she absorbed them, till such originality as had been her portion perished under the weight. In later years she disclaimed the charge of having copied from him, but the infection was too thorough not to remain, and the assimilation had been so perfect that imitation was unconscious. There was everything in the life of Du Bartas to appeal to her imagination as well as her sympathy, and with her minute knowledge of history she relished his detail while reverencing his character. For Du Bartas was a French Puritan, holding the same religious views as Henry IV, before he became King of France, his strong religious nature appealing to every English reader. Born in 1544, of noble parents, and brought up, according to Michaud in the Biographic Universelle, to the profession of arms, he distinguished himself as a soldier and negotiater. Attached to the person of Prince Henry "in the capacity of gentleman in ordinary of his bed chamber, he was successfully employed by him on missions to Denmark, Scotland and England. He was at the battle of Ivry and celebrated in song the victory which he had helped to gain. He died four months after, in July, 1559, at the age of forty-six, in consequence of some wounds which had been badly healed. He passed all the leisure which his duties left him, at his château du Bartas. It was there that he composed his long and numerous poems. . . .
His principal poem, La Semaine, went through more than thirty editions in less than six years, and was translated into Latin, Italian, Spanish, English, German and Dutch."
The influence was an unfortunate one. Nature had already been set aside so thoroughly that, as with Dryden, Spenser was regarded as common-place and even puerile, and the record of real life or thought as no part of a poet s office. Such power of observation as Anne Bradstreet had was discouraged in the beginning, and though later it asserted itself in slight degree, her early work shows no trace of originality, being, as we are soon to see, merely a rhymed paraphrase of her reading. That she wrote verse, not included in any edition of her poems, we know, the earliest date assigned there being 1632, but the time she had dreaded was at hand, and books and study went the way of many other pleasant things.
With the dread must have mingled a certain thrill of hope and expectation common to every thinking man and woman who in that seventeenth century looked to the New World to redress every wrong of the Old, and who watched every movement of the little band that in Holland waited, for light on the doubtful and beclouded future.
The story of the first settlement needs no repetition here. The years in Holland had knit the little band together more strongly and lastingly than proved to be the case with any future company, their minister, John Robinson, having infused his own intense and self-abnegating nature into every one. That the Virginian colonies had suffered incredibly they knew, but it had no power to dissuade them. "We are well weaned," John Robinson wrote, "from the delicate milk of the mother-country, and inured to the difficulties of a strange land; the people are industrious and frugal. We are knit together as a body in a most sacred covenant of the Lord, of the violation whereof we make great conscience, and by virtue whereof, we hold ourselves strictly tied to all care of each other s good and of the whole. It is not with us, as with men whom small things can discourage."
By 1629, the worst difficulties had been overcome, and the struggle for mere existence had ended. The little colony, made up chiefly of hard working men, had passed through every phase of suffering. Sickness and famine had done their worst. The settlers were thoroughly acclimated, and as they prospered, more and more the eyes of Puritan England turned toward them, with a longing for the same freedom. Laud's hand was heavy and growing heavier, and as privileges lessened, and one after another found fine, or pillory, or banishment awaiting every expression of thought, the eagerness grew and intensified. As yet there had been no separation from the Mother Church. It had simply "divided into two great parties, the Prelatical or Hierarchical, headed by Laud, and the Nonconformist or Puritan." For the latter, Calvin had become the sole authority, and even as early as 1603, their preachers made up more than a ninth of the clergy. The points of disagreement increased steadily, each fresh severity from the Prelatical party being met by determined resistance, and a stubborn resolution never to yield an inch of the new convictions. No clearer presentation of the case is to be found anywhere than in Mason's life of Milton, the poet's life being absolutely contemporaneous with the cause, and his own experience came to be that of hundreds. From his childhood he had been set apart for the ministry, but he was as he wrote in later life, with a bitterness he never lost, "Church-outed by the prelates." "Coming to some maturity of years, and perceiving what tyranny had invaded in the Church, that he who would take orders, must subscribe slave, and take an oath withal, which, unless he took with a conscience that would retch, he must either straight perjure or split his faith, I thought it better to prefer a blameless silence before the sacred office of speaking, bought and begun with servitude and forswearing."
Each year of the increasing complications found a larger body enrolled on his side, and with 1629, Simon Bradstreet resigned any hope of life in England, and cast in his fortunes once for all with the projected colony. In dissolving his third Parliament Charles had granted the charter for the Massachusetts Colony, and seizing upon this as a " Providentialcall," the Puritans at once circulated "conclusions" among gentry and traders, and full descriptions of Massachusetts. Already many capitalists deemed encouragement of the emigration an excellent speculation, but the prospective emigrants had no mind to be ruled by a commercial company at home, and at last, after many deliberations, the old company was dissolved; the officers resigned and their places were filled by persons who proposed to emigrate. Two days before this change twelve gentlemen met at Cambridge and "pledged themselves to each other to embark for New England with their families for a permanent residence."
"Provided always, that, before the last of September next, the whole government, together with the patent for the said plantation, be first legally transferred." Dudley's name was one of the twelve, and at another meeting in October he was also present, with John Winthrop, who was shortly chosen governor. A day or two later, Dudley was made assistant governor, and in the early spring of 1630, but a few days before sailing Simon Bradstreet was elected to the same office in the place of Mr. Thomas Goffe. One place of trust after another was filled by the two men, whose history henceforward is that of New England. Dudley being very shortly made "undertaker," that is, to be one of those having "the sole managinge of the joynt stock, wth all things incydent theronto, for the space of 7 years."
Even for the sternest enthusiasts, the departure seemed a banishment, though Winthrop spoke the mind of all when he wrote, "I shall call that my country where I may most glorify God and enjoy the presence of my dearest friends."
For him the dearest were left behind for a time, and in all literature there is no tenderer letter than that in which his last words go to the wife whom he loved with all the strength of his nature, and the parting from whom, was the deepest proof that could have been of his loyalty to the cause he had made his own.
As he wrote the Arbella was riding at anchor at Cowes, waiting for favorable winds. Some of the party had gone on shore, and all longed to end these last hours of waiting which simply prolonged a pain that even the most determined and resolute among them, felt to be almost intolerable. Many messages went back carried by friends who lingered at Cowes for the last look at the vanishing sails, but none better worth record than the words which hold the man's deep and tender soul.
"And now, my sweet soul, I must once again take my last farewell of thee in old England. It goeth very near to my heart to leave thee, but I know to whom I have committed thee, even to Him, who loves thee much better than any husband can; who hath taken account of the hairs of thy head, and puts all thy tears in his bottle; who can, and (if it be for his glory) will, bring us together again with peace and comfort. Oh, how it refresheth my heart to think, that I shall yet again see thy sweet face in the land of the living; that lovely countenance that I have so much delighted in, and beheld with so great content! I have hitherto been so taken up with business, as I could seldom look back to my former happiness; but now when I shall be at some leisure, I shall not avoid the remembrance of thee, nor the grief for thy absence. Thou hast thy share with me, but I hope the course we have agreed upon will be some ease to us both. Mondays and Fridays at five o clock at night we shall meet in spirit till we meet in person. Yet if all these hopes should fail, blessed be our God, that we are assured we shall meet one day, if not as husband and wife, yet in a better condition. Let that stay and comfort thine heart. Neither can the sea drown thy husband, nor enemies destroy, nor any adversity deprive thee of thy husband or children. Therefore I will only take thee now and my sweet children in mine arms, and kiss and embrace you all, and so leave you with God. Farewell, farewell. I bless you all in the name of the Lord Jesus."
"Farewell, dear England!" burst from the little group on that 8th of April, 1630, when at last, a favorable wind bore them out to sea, and Anne Bradstreet's voice had part in that cry of pain and longing, as the shores grew dim and "home faded from their sight. But one comfort or healing, remained for them, in the faith that had been with all from the beginning, one record being for them and the host who preceded and followed their flight. So they left that goodly and pleasant city which had been their resting place; . . . but they knew they were pilgrims and looked not much on those things, but lift up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits."