Anne Bradstreet and her time/Chapter XIII
chances and changes.
WITH the appearance of the little volume and the passing of the flutter of interest and excitement it had aroused, the Andover life subsided into the channel through which, save for one or two breaks, it was destined to run for many years. Until 1653, nothing of note had taken place, but this year brought two events, one full of the proud but quiet satisfaction the Puritan mother felt in a son who had ended his college course with distinction, and come home to renew the associations somewhat broken in his four years absence; the other, a sorrow though hardly an unexpected one. Samuel Bradstreet, who became a physician, living for many years in Boston, which he finally left for the West Indies, was about twenty at the time of his graduation from Harvard, the success of which was very near Anne Bradstreet's heart and the pride of his grandfather, Governor Dudley, who barely lived to see the fruition of his wishes for this first child of his favorite daughter. His death in July, 1653, softened the feeling that seems slowly to have arisen against him in the minds of many who had been his friends, not without reason, though many of them had showed quite as thorough intolerance as he. With increasing years, Dudley's spirit had hardened and embittered against all who ventured to differ from the cast-iron theology his soul loved. Bradstreet and Winthrop had both been a cross to him with the toleration which seemed to him the child of an himself. His intense will had often drawn concessions from Winthrop at which his feelings revolted and he pursued every sort of sectary with a zeal that never flagged. Hutchinson wrote: "He was zealous beyond measure against all sorts of heretics," and Roger Williams said bitterly: "It is known who hindered but never promoted the liberty of other men's consciences."
Between the "vagaries of many sectaries," the persistent and irrepressible outbreaks from Roger Williams, the bewildering and confounding presumption of Anne Hutchinson, who seems to have been the forerunner of other Boston agitations of like nature, Governor Dudley's last days were full of astonishments, not the least being the steady though mild opposition of his son-in-law Bradstreet to all harsh measures. Toleration came to seem to him at last the crowning sin of all the ages, and his last recorded written words are a valiant testimony against it.
There was a curious tendency to rhyme in the gravest of these decorous Fathers; a tendency carefully concealed by some, as in John Winthrop's case, who confined his "dropping into poetry" to the margins of his almanacs. Others were less distrustful, and printed their "painful verses" on broad sheets, for general circulation and opression. Governor Dudley rhymed but once, but in the bald and unequal lines, found in his pocket after death, condensed his views of all who had disagreed from him, as well as the honest, sturdy conviction in which he lived and died. They were written evidently but a short time before his death, and are in the beginning much after the order of his daughter's first poem.
Dim Eyes, deaf Ears, cold Stomach, shew
To the old Puritan, scowling to the last at any shade of difference from the faith to which he would willingly have been a martyr, a "Libertine" included all blasphemous doubters and defiers of current beliefs Quakers — Antinomians and other pestilent people who had already set the Colony by the ears and were soon to accomplish much more in this direction. The verses were at once creed and protest, and are a fair epitome of the Puritan mind in 1650. Other rhymes from other hands had expressed equally compromising opinions. He had survived the anagramatic warning sent to him by an unknown hand in 1645, which still stands on the files of the first Church in Roxbury, and which may have been written by one of his opponents in the General Court.
Ah! old must dye,
Death condoned these offences, and left only the memory of his impartial justice and his deep and earnest piety, and Morton wrote of him, what expressed the feeling even of his enemies: "His love to justice appeared at all times, and in special upon the judgement seat, without respect of persons in judgement, and in his own particular transactions with all men, he was exact and exemplary. His zeal to order appeared in contriving good laws and faithfully executing them upon criminal offenders, heretics and underminers of true religion. He had a piercing judgement to discover the wolf, though clothed with a sheepskin. His love to the people was evident, in serving them in a public capacity many years at his own cost, and that as a nursing father to the churches of Christ. He loved the true Christian religion, and the pure worship of God, and cherished as in his bosom, all godly ministers and Christians. He was exact in the practice of piety, in his person and family, all his life. In a word he lived desired, and died lamented by all good men."
This was stronger language than the majority of his fellow-colonists would have been inclined to use, his differences with Governor Winthrop having embittered many of the latter s friends. Winthrop's persistent gentleness went far toward quieting the feeling against him, which seems to have taken deep root in Dudley's breast, but the jealousy of his authority, and questioning of his judgement, though perhaps natural from the older man, brought about many uncomfortable complications. All the towns about Boston had been ordered to send their quota to aid in finishing the fort built in 1633, but Governor Dudley would not allow any party from Newtown to be made up, nor would he give the reason for such course to Governor Winthrop. There was cause, for Salem and Saugus had failed to pay their share of money, and Dudley's sense of justice would not allow his constituents to do their share till all had paid the amount levied. Remonstrated with, he wrote a most unpleasant letter, a habit of his when offended, refusing to act till the reluctant Salem had paid. This letter, brought to Winthrop by Mr. Hooker, he returned to him at once. The rest of the story may be given in his own words. The record stands in his journal given in the third person, and as impartially as if told of another: "The governour told them it should rest till the court, and withal gave the letter to Mr. Hooker with this speech: I am not willing to keep such an occasion of provocation by me. And soon after he wrote to the deputy (who had before desired to buy a fat hog or two of him, being somewhat short of provisions) to desire him to send for one, (which he would have sent him, if he had known when his occasion had been to have made use of it), and to accept it as a testimony of his good will; and lest he should make any scruple of it, he made Mr. Haynes and Mr. Hooker, (who both sojourned in his house) partakers with him. Upon this the deputy returned this answer: 'Your overcoming yourself hath overcome me. Mr. Haynes, Mr. Hooker, and myself, do most kindly accept your good will, but we desire, without offence, to refuse your offer, and that I may only trade with you for two hogs;' and so very lovingly concluded."
There was no word, however, of yielding the disputed point, which was settled for him a few days later. "The court being two days after, ordered, that Newtown should do their work as others had done, and then Salem, &c., should pay for three days at eighteen pence a man."
The records of that time hold instance after instance of the old man's obstinacy and Winthrop's gentle and most patient consideration. To Anne, however, who came in contact only with his milder side, it was an irreparable loss, and she never spoke of him save with grateful and tender remembrance, her elegy on his death, though conventional as the time made her, being full of the sorrow time soothed but never destroyed.
To the Memory of my dear and ever honoured Father,
Thomas Dudley Esq.
Who deceased July 31, 1633, and of his Age, 77.
By duty bound, and not by custome led
For truly his ambition lay above.
Within this Tomb a Patriot lyes
In manners pleasant and severe
Of the nine children, of whom Anne Bradstreet was the most distinguished, the oldest son of his second wife took most important part in the colonial life. Joseph Dudley, who was born in 1647, became "Governor of Massachusetts, Lieutenant-Governor of the Isle of Wight, and first Chief-Justice of New York. He had thirteen children, one of whom, Paul, was also a distinguished man; being Attorney-General and afterward Chief-Justice of Massachusetts, Fellow of the Royal Society, and founder of the Dudleian Lectures at Harvard College." His honors came to him after the sister who prized them most had passed on to the Heaven for which, even when happiest, she daily longed. None of the sons possessed the strong characteristics of the father, but sons and daughters alike seem to have inherited his love of books, as well as of hospitality, and the name for every descendant has always held honor, and often, more than fair ability. The preponderance of ministers in every generation may, also, still gladden the heart of the argumentative ancestor whose dearest pleasure was a protracted tussle with the five points, and their infinitely ramifying branches, aided and encouraged by the good wine and generous cheer he set, with special relish, before all who could meet him on his own ground.
It was fortunate for the daughter that many fresh interests were springing up in her own family, which in 1654, received a new member. One had already been added, in the person of the youngest son John, who had been born in 1652, and was still a baby, and now marriage gave another son, who valued her almost as heartily as her own. Seaborn Cotton, whose name held always a reminder of the stormy days on which his eyes opened, had grown into a decorous youth, a course at Harvard, and an entering of his father's profession, and though the old record holds no details, it is easy to read between the lines, the story that told itself alike to Puritan and Cavalier, and to which Mistress Dorothy listened with a flutter beneath the gray gown that could not disguise the pretty girlish outlines of her dainty figure. Dorothy, as well as the other daughters, had been carefully trained in every housewifely art, and though part of her mother's store of linen bleached in Lincolnshire meadows, may have helped to swell her simple outfit, it is probable that she spun and wove much of it herself. A fulling mill, where the cloth made at home was finished and pressed, had been built very early in the history of the town, and while there were "spinsters" who went from house to house, much of the work was done by mother and daughters. Seaborn Cotton, who must often during his courtship have ridden over from Boston, found Dorothy like the Priscilla she may have known, busy in the graceful fashion of that older time, and —
. . . As he opened the door, he beheld the form of the maiden
Seated beside her wheel, and the carded wool like a snow-drift
Piled at her knee, her white hands feeding the ravenous spindle,
While with her foot on the treadle she guided the wheel in its motion.
Like Priscilla, too, she must have said —
... I knew it was you, when I heard your step in the passage,
For I was thinking of you as I sat there spinning and singing.
Dorothy had in full her mother's power of quiet devotion, and became a model mother, as well as minister's wife, for the parish at Hampton, N. H., where the young pastor began work in 1659, and where after twenty-eight years of such labor as came to all pioneers, she passed on, leaving nine children, whose name is still a familiar one in New England. Though the date of the next daughter's marriage is not quite as certain, it is given by some authorities as having taken place in the previous year, and in any case was within a few months of the same time. Contrary to the usual Puritan rule, which gave to most men from two to four wives, Sarah outlived her first husband, and married again, when a middle-aged but still young-hearted woman.
Marriage inevitably held some suggestion at least of merry-making, but the ceremony had been shorn of all possible resemblance to its English form. The Puritans were in terror lest any Prelatical superstitions or forms should cling to them in faintest degree, and Bradford wrote of the first marriage which took place in the Plymouth Colony: "The first marriage in this place, which, according to the laudable custom of the Low Countries, in which they had lived, was thought most requisite to be performed by the magistrate, as being a civil thing, ... and nowhere found in the Gospel to be laid on the ministers as a part of their office."
Winthrop, three of whose marriages had been in the parish church of his English home, shared the same feeling, and when preparations were made for a great marriage to be solemnized at Boston," wrote: "The bridegroom being of Hingham, Mr. Hubbard's church, he was procured to preach, and came to Boston to that end. But the magistrates hearing of it, sent to him to forbear. We were not willing to bring in the English custom of ministers performing the solemnity of marriage, which sermons at such times might induce; but if any minister were present, and would bestow a word of exhortation, &c., it was permitted."
Fortunately for Dorothy and Sarah Bradstreet, their father was a magistrate, and his clear and gentle eyes the only ones they were obliged to face. Andover couples prefered him to any other and with reason, for while following the appointed method strictly, "giving the covenant unto the parties and also making the prayers proper for the occasion," he had no frowns for innocent enjoyment, and may even have allowed the dancing which was afterward forbidden.
In the beginning, as the largest in the township, his house had probably served as stopping-place for all travellers, where they were entertained merely as a matter of courtesy, though an "inholder" or "taverner" had been appointed and liscenced for Andover in 1648. Only an honored citizen could hold this office, and marriages were often celebrated in their houses, which naturally were enlarged at last to meet all necessities. But the strong liquors of the inn often circulated too freely, and quarrels and the stocks were at times the end of a day which it had been planned should hold all the merriment the Puritan temper would allow. Such misfortunes waited only on the humbler members of the community, who appear to have been sufficiently quarrelsome and excitable to furnish more occupiers of both pillory and stocks, than the religious character of the settlement would seem to admit, and who came to blows on the least provocation, using their fists with genuine English ardor, and submitting to punishment with composure, if only the adversary showed bruises enough for compensation. Wine and beer flowed freely at both the marriages, as they did at every entertainment, but Governor Bradstreet, while having due liking for all good cheer, was personally so abstinent that none would be likely in his presence to forget proper bounds. Ministers and laymen alike drank an amount impossible to these later days, and that if taken now would set them down as hopeless reprobates; but custom sanctioned it, though many had already found that the different climate rendered such indulgence much more hazardous than the less exhilarating one of England.
As the family lessened, the mother seems to have clung even more closely to those that remained, and to have lost herself in work for and with them. Whatever may have been written at this time, appears to have been destroyed, nothing remaining but the poem "Contemplations," which is more truly poetry than any of its more labored predecessors, its descriptive passages holding much of the charm of the lovely landscape through which she moved to the river, flowing still through the Andover meadows.
Some time now past in the Autumnal Tide
I wist not what to wish, yet sure thought I,
Then on a stately oak I cast mine Eye,
Then higher on the glistening Sun I gazed,
Thou as a bridegroom from thy Chamber rushes
Thy swift Annual and diurnal Course,
Art thou so full of glory, that no Eye
Silent alone, where none or saw or heard,
The reader who may be disposed to echo this last line must bear in mind always, that stilted as much of this may seem, it was in the day in which it appeared a more purely natural voice than had been heard at all, and as the poem proceeds it gains both in force and beauty. As usual she reverts to the past for illustrations and falls into a meditation aroused by the sights and sounds about her. The path has led to the meadows not far from the river, where —
I heard the merry grasshopper then sing,
Shall Creatures abject, thus their voices raise?
When present times look back to Ages past,
Sometimes in Eden fair, he seems to be,
Here sits our Grandame in retired place,
Here Cain and Abel came to sacrifice,
There Abel keeps his sheep no ill he thinks,
Who fancyes not his looks now at the Barr,
Who thinks not oft upon the Father's ages.
Our Life compare we with their length of dayes
When I behold the heavens as in their prime,
If winter come and greeness then do fade,
By birth more noble then those creatures all,
Shall I then praise the heavens, the trees, the earth,
Here at last she is released from the didactic. She can look at the sun without feeling it necessary to particularize her knowledge of its
" . . . swift Annual and diurnal Course,
Imagination has been weighted by the innumerable details, more and more essential to the Puritan mind, but now she draws one long free breath, and rises far beyond the petty limit of her usual thought, the italicised lines in what follows holding a music one may seek for in vain in any other verse of the period :
Under the cooling shadow of a stately Elm,
I once that lov'd the shady woods so well,
While on the stealing stream I fixt mine eye,
Nor is't enough that thou alone may'st slide,
Ye fish which in this liquid Region bide,
Look how the wantons frisk to taste the air.
While musing thus with contemplation fed,
O merry Bird (said I) that fears no snares,
The dawning morn with songs thou dost prevent.
Up to this point natural delight in the sights and sounds of a summer's day has had its way, and undoubtedly struck her as far too much enjoyment for any sinful worm of the dust. She proceeds, therefore, to chasten her too exuberant muse, presenting for that sorely-tried damsel's inspection, the portrait of man, as Calvin had taught her to view him.
Man at the best a creature frail and vain,
From some of these he never finds cessation
And yet this sinfull creature, frail and vain,
The Mariner that on smooth waves doth glide,
So he that saileth in this world of pleasure,
O Time the fatal wrack of mortal things,
The Author to her Book.
Thou ill-form'd offspring of my feeble brain,