Anne Bradstreet and her time/Chapter IV

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THERE are travellers who insist that, as they near American shores in May or early June, the smell of corn-blossom is on the wind, miles out at sea, a delicate, distinct, penetrating odor, as thoroughly American as the clearness of the sky and the pure, fine quality in the air. The wild grape, growing as profusely to-day on the Cape as two hundred years ago, is even more powerful, the subtle, delicious fragrance making itself felt as soon as one approaches land. The "fine, fresh smell like a garden," which Winthrop notes more than once, came to them on every breeze from the blossoming land. Every charm of the short New England summer waited for them. They had not, like the first comers to that coast to disembark in the midst of ice and snow, but green hills sloped down to the sea, and wild strawberries were growing almost at high-tide mark. The profusion of flowers and berries had rejoiced Higginson in the previous year, their men rowing at once to "Ten Pound Island," and bringing back, he writes: "ripe strawberries and gooseberries and sweet single roses. Thus God was merciful to us in giving us a taste and smell of the sweet fruit, as an earnest of his bountiful goodness to welcome us at our first arrival."

But no fairness of Nature could undo the sad impression of the first hour in the little colony at Salem, where the Arbella landed, three days before her companions reached there. Their own cares would have seemed heavy enough, but the winter had been a terrible one, and Dudley wrote later in his letter to the Countess of Lincoln: "We found the Colony in a sad and unexpected condition, above eighty of them being dead the winter before; and many of those alive, weak and sick; all the corn and bread amongst them all, hardly sufficient to feed them a fortnight, insomuch that the remainder of a hundred and eighty servants we had the two years before sent over, coming to us for victuals to sustain them, we found ourselves wholly unable to feed them, by reason that the provisions shipped for them were taken out of the ship they were put in, and they who were trusted to ship them in another, failed us and left them behind; whereupon necessity enforced us, to our extreme loss, to give them all liberty, who had cost us about £16 or £20 a person, furnishing and sending over."

Salem holding only discouragement, they left it, exploring the Charles and the Mystic Rivers, and finally joining the settlement at Charlestown, to which Francis Higginson had gone the previous year, and which proved to be in nearly as desperate case as Salem. The Charlestown records as given in Young's "Chronicles of Massachusetts," tell the story of the first days of attempt at organization. The goods had all been unshipped at Salem and were not brought to Charlestown until July. In the meantime, "The Governor and several of the Patentees dwelt in the great house which was last year built in this town by Mr. Graves and the rest of their servants. The multitude set up cottages, booths and tents about the Town Hill. They had long passage; some of the ships were seventeen, some eighteen weeks a coming. Many people arrived sick of the scurvy, which also increased much after their arrival, for want of houses, and by reason of wet lodging in their cottages, etc. Other distempers also prevailed; and although [the] people were generally very loving and pitiful, yet the sickness did so prevail, that the whole were not able to tend the sick as they should be tended; upon which many perished and died, and were buried about the Town Hill."

Saddest of all among these deaths must have been that of the Lady Arbella, of whom Mather in a later day, wrote: "She came from a paradise of plenty and pleasure, in the family of a noble earldom, into a wilderness of wants, and took New England in her way to heaven." There had been doubt as to the expediency of her coming, but with the wife of another explorer she had said: "Whithersoever your fatal destiny shall drive you, either by the waves of the great ocean, or by the manifold and horrible dangers of the land, I will surely bear you company. There can no peril chance to me so terrible, nor any kind of death so cruel, that shall not be much easier for me to abide, than to live so far separate from you."

Weakened by the long voyage and its perpetual hardships, and dismayed, if may be at the sadness and privations of what they had hoped might hold immediate comfort, she could not rally, and Anne Bradstreet's first experience of New England was over the grave, in which they laid one of the closest links to childhood and that England both had loved alike.

Within a month, Winthrop wrote in his journal: "September 30. About two in the morning, Mr. Isaac Johnson died; his wife, the lady Arbella, of the house of Lincoln, being dead about one month before. He was a holy man and wise, and died in sweet peace, leaving some part of his substance to the Colony."

"He tried
To live without her, liked it not and died."

Still another tragedy had saddened them all, though in the press of overwhelming business, Winthrop wrote only: "Friday, July 2. My son Henry Winthrop drowned at Salem," and there is no other mention of himself till July 16, when he wrote the first letter to his wife from America.

The loss was a heavy one to the colony as well as the father, for Henry Winthrop, though but twenty-two, had already had experience as a pioneer, having gone out to Barbadoes at eighteen, and became one of the earliest planters in that island. Ardent, energetic, and with his fathers deep tenderness for all who depended on him, he was one who could least be spared. "A sprightly and hopeful young gentleman he was," says Hubbard, and another chronicle gives more minute details. "The very day on which he went on shore in New England, he and the principal officers of the ship, walking out to a place now called by the Salemites, Northfield, to view the Indian wigwams, they saw on the other side of the river a small canoe. He would have had one of the company swim over and fetch it, rather than walk several miles on foot, it being very hot weather; but none of the party could swim but himself; and so he plunged in, and, as he was swimming over, was taken with the cramp a few roods from the shore and drowned."

The father's letter is filled with an anguish of pity for the mother and the young wife, whose health, like that of the elder Mrs. Winthrop, had made the journey impossible for both.

"I am so overpressed with business, as I have no time for these or other mine own private occasions. I only write now that thou mayest know, that yet I live and am mindful of thee in all my affairs. The larger discourse of all things thou shalt receive from my brother Downing, which I must send by some of the last ships. We have met with many sad and discomfortable things as thou shalt hear after; and the Lord's hand hath been heavy upon myself in some very near to me. My son Henry! My son Henry! Ah, poor child! Yet it grieves me much more for my dear daughter. The Lord strengthen and comfort her heart to bear this cross patiently. I know thou wilt not be wanting to her in this distress."

Not one of the little colony was wanting in tender offices in these early days when a common suffering made them "very pitiful one to another," and as the absolutely essential business was disposed of they hastened to organize the church where free worship should make amends for all the long sorrow of its search.

A portion of the people from the Arbella had remained in Salem, but on Friday, July 30th, 1630, Winthrop, Dudley, Johnson and Wilson entered into a church covenant, which was signed two days after by Increase Nowell and four others—Sharpe, Bradstreet, Gager and Colborne.

It is most probable that Anne Bradstreet had been temporarily separated from her husband, as Johnson in his "Wonder-working Providence," writes, that after the arrival at Salem, "the lady Arrabella and some other godly women aboad at Salem, but their husbands continued at Charles Town, both for the settling the Civill Government and gathering another Church of Christ." The delay was a short one, for her name stands thirteenth on the list. Charlestown, however, held hardly more promise of quiet life than Salem. The water supply was, curiously enough, on a peninsula which later gave excellent water, only "a brackish spring in the sands by the water side . . . which could not supply half the necessities of the multitude, at which time the death of so many was concluded to be much the more occasioned by this want of good water."

Heat was another evil to the constitutions which knew only the equable English temperature, and could not face either the intense sun, or the sudden changes of the most erratic climate the earth knows. In the search for running-water, the colonists scattered, moving from point to point, "the Governor, the Deputy-Governor and all the assistants except Mr. Nowell going across the river to Boston at the invitation of Mr. Blaxton, who had until then been its only white inhabitant."

Even the best supplied among them were but scantily provided with provisions. It was too late for planting, and the colony already established was too wasted and weakened by sickness to have cared for crops in the planting season. In the long voyage "there was miserable damage and spoil of provisions by sea, and divers came not so well provided as they would, upon a report, whilst they were in England, that now there was enough in New England." Even this small store was made smaller by the folly of several who exchanged food for beaver skins, and, the Council suddenly finding that famine was imminent "hired and despatched away Mr. William Pearce with his ship of about two hundred tons, for Ireland to buy more, and in the mean time went on with their work of settling."

The last month of the year had come before they could decide where the fortified town, made necessary by Indian hostilities, should be located. The Governor's house had been partly framed at Charlestown, but with the removal to Boston it was taken down, and finally Cambridge was settled upon as the most desirable point, and their first winter was spent there. Here for the first time it was possible for Anne Bradstreet to unpack their household belongings, and seek to create some semblance of the forsaken home. But even for the Dudleys, among the richest members of the party there was a privation which shows how sharply it must have fared with the poorer portion, and Dudley wrote, nine months after their arrival, that he "thought fit to commit to memory our present condition, and what hath befallen us since our arrival here; which I will do shortly, after my usual manner, and must do rudely, having yet no table, nor other room to write in than by the fireside upon my knee, in this sharp winter; to which my family must have leave to resort, though they break good manners, and make me many times forget what I would say, and say what I would not."

No word of Mistress Dudley's remains to tell the shifts and strivings for comfort in that miserable winter which, mild as it was, had a keenness they were ill prepared to face. Petty miseries and deprivations, the least endurable of all forms of suffering, surrounded them like a cloud of stinging insects, whose attacks, however intolerable at the moment, are forgotten with the passing, and either for this reason, or from deliberate purpose, there is not a line of reference to them in any of Anne Bradstreet's writings. Scarcity of food was the sorest trouble. The Charlestown records show that "people were necessitated to live upon clams and muscles and ground nuts and acorns, and these got with much difficulty in the winter-time. People were very much tried and discouraged, especially when they heard that the Governor himself had the last batch of bread in the oven."

All fared alike so far as possible, the richer and more provident distributing to the poor, and all watching eagerly for the ship sent back in July in anticipation of precisely such a crisis. Six months had passed, when, on the fifth of February, 1631, Mather records that as Winthrop stood at his door giving "the last handful of meal in the barrel unto a poor man distressed by the wolf at the door, at that instant, they spied a ship arrived at the harbor's mouth with provisions for them all." The Fast day just appointed became one of rejoicing, the first formal proclamation for Thanksgiving Day being issued, "by order of the Governour and Council, directed to all the plantations, and though the stores held little reminder of holiday time in Old England, grateful hearts did not stop to weigh differences. In any case the worst was past and early spring brought the hope of substantial comfort, for the town was 'laid out in squares, the streets intersecting each other at right-angles,' and houses were built as rapidly as their small force of carpenters could work. Bradstreet's house was at the corner of 'Brayntree' and Wood Streets, the spot now occupied by the familiar University Book-store of Messrs. Sever and Francis on Harvard Square, his plot of ground being 'aboute one rood,' and Dudley's on a lot of half an acre was but a little distance from them at the corner of the present Dunster and South Streets." Governor Winthrop's decision not to remain here, brought about some sharp correspondence between Dudley and himself, but an amicable settlement followed after a time, and though the frame of his house was removed to Boston, the town grew in spite of its loss, so swiftly that in 1633, Wood wrote of it:

"This is one of the neatest and best compacted Towns in New England, having many fair structures, with many handsome contrived streets. The inhabitants most of them are very rich and well stored with Cattell of all sorts."

Rich as they may have appeared, however, in comparison with many of the settlements about them, sickness and want were still unwelcome guests among them, so that Dudley wrote: "there is not a house where there is not one dead and in some houses many. The natural causes seem to be in the want of warm lodging and good diet, to which Englishmen are habituated at home, and in the sudden increase of heat which they endure that are landed here in summer, the salt meats at sea having prepared their bodies thereto; for those only these two last years died of fevers who landed in June and July; as those of Plymouth, who landed in winter, died of the scurvey, as did our poorer sort, whose houses and bedding kept them not sufficiently warm, nor their diet sufficiently in heart."

Thus far there were small inducements for further emigration. The tide poured in steadily, but only because worse evils were behind than semi-starvation in New England. The fairest and fullest warning was given by Dudley, whose letter holds every strait and struggle of the first year, and who wrote with the intention of counteracting the too rosy statements of Higginson and Graves: "If any come hither to plant for worldly ends that can live well at home, he commits an error, of which he will soon repent him; but if for spiritual, and that no particular obstacle hinder his removal, he may find here what may well content him, viz., materials to build, fuel to burn, ground to plant, seas and rivers to fish in, a pure air to breathe in, good water to drink till wine or beer can be made; which together with the cows, hogs and goats brought hither already, may suffice for food; for as for fowl and venison, they are dainties here as well as in England. For clothes and bedding, they must bring them with them, till time and industry produce them here. In a word, we yet enjoy little to be envied, but endure much to be pitied in the sickness and mortality of our people. And I do the more willingly use this open and plain dealing, lest other men should fall short of their expectations when they means hither, as we to our great prejudice did, by me of letters sent us from hence into England, wherein honest men, out of a desire to draw over others to them, wrote something hyperbolically of many things here. If any godly men, out of religious ends, will come over to help us in the good work we are about, I think they cannot dispose of themselves nor their estates more to God's glory and the furtherance of their own reckoning. But they must not be of the poorer sort yet, for divers years; for we have found by experience that they have hindered, not furthered the work. And for profane and debauched persons, their oversight in coming hither is wondered at, where they shall find nothing to content them."

This long quotation is given in full to show the fair temper of the man, who as time went on was slightly less in favor than in the beginning. No one questioned his devotion to the cause, or the energy with which he worked for it, but as he grew older he lost some portion of the old urbanity, exchanging it disastrously for traits which would seem to have been the result of increasing narrowness of religious faith rather than part of his real self. Savage writes of him: "a hardness in publick and ridgidity in private life, are too observable in his character, and even an eagerness for pecuniary gain, which might not have been expected in a soldier and statesman." That the impression was general is evident from an epitaph written upon him by Governor Belcher, who may, however, have had some personal encounter with this "rigidity," which was applied to all without fear or favor.

"Here lies Thomas Dudley, that trusty old stud,
A bargain's a bargain and must be made good."

Whatever his tendencies may have been they did not weigh heavily on his family, who delighted in his learning and devoted spirit, and whose affection was strong enough to atone for any criticism from outsiders.

Objectionable as his methods may sometimes have been—sour as his compatriots now and then are said to have found him, "the world it appears, is indebted for much of its progress, to uncomfortable and even grumpy people," and Tyler whose analysis of the Puritan character has never been surpassed, writes of them: "Even some of the best of them, perhaps, would have seemed to us rather pragmatical and disputatious persons, with all the edges and corners of their characters left sharp, with all their opinions very definitely formed, and with their habits of frank utterance quite thoroughly matured. Certainly . . . they do not seem to have been a company of gentle, dreamy and euphemistical saints, with a particular aptitude for martyrdom and an inordinate development of affability."

They argued incessantly, at home and abroad, and "this exacting and tenacious propensity of theirs, was not a little criticized by some who had business connections with them." Very probably Governor Belcher had been worsted in some wordy battle, always decorously conducted, but always persistent, but these minor infelicities did not affect the main purposes of life, and the settlement grew in spite of them; perhaps even, because of them, free speech being, as yet, the privilege of all, though as the answering became in time a little too free, means were taken to insure more discretion.

In the meantime Cambridge grew, and suddenly arose a complaint, which to the modern mind is preposterous. "Want of room" was the cry of every citizen and possibly with justice, as the town had been set within fixed limits and had nearly doubled in size through the addition in August, 1632, of the congregation of the Rev. Thomas Hooker at Chelmsford in the county of Essex, England, who had fallen under Laud's displeasure, and escaped with difficulty, being pursued by the officers of the High Commission from one county to another, and barely eluding them when he took ship for New England.

One would have thought the wilderness at their doors afforded sense of room enough, and that numbers would have been a welcome change, but the complaint was serious enough to warrant their sending out men to Ipswich with a view of settling there. Then for a time the question dropped, much to the satisfaction, no doubt, of Mistress Dudley and her daughter, to whom in 1633, or '34, the date being uncertain, came her first child, the son Samuel, who graduated at Harvard College in 1653, and of whom she wrote long after in the little diary of "Religious Experiences":

"It pleased God to keep me a long time without a child, which was a great greif to me, and cost mee many prayers and tears before I obtained one, and after him gave mee many more of whom I now take the care."

Cambridge still insisting that it had not room enough, the town was enlarged, but having accomplished this, both Dudley and Bradstreet left it for Ipswich, the first suggestion of which had been made in January, 1632, when news came to them that "the French had bought the Scottish plantation near Cape Sable, and that the fort and all the amunition were delivered to them, and that the cardinal, having the managing thereof, had sent many companies already, and preparation was made to send many more the next year, and divers priests and Jesuits among them—called the assistants to Boston, and the ministers and captains, and some other chief men, to advise what was fit to be done for our safety, in regard the French were like to prove ill neighbors, (being Papists)."

Another change was in store for the patient women who followed the path laid open before them, with no thought of opposition, desiring only "room for such life as should in the ende return them heaven for an home that passeth not away," and with the record in Winthrop's journal, came the familiar discussion as to methods, and the decision which speedily followed.

Dudley and Bradstreet as "assistants" both had voice in the conclusions of the meeting, the record of which has just been given, though with no idea, probably, at that time, that their own movements would be affected. It was settled at once that "a plantation and a fort should be begun at Natascott, partly to be some block in an enemy's way (though it could not bar his entrance), and especially to prevent an enemy from taking that passage from us. . . . Also, that a plantation be begun at Agawam (being the best place in the land for tillage and cattle), least an enemy, finding it void should possess and take it from us. The governor's son (being one of the assistants) was to undertake this, and to take no more out of the bay than twelve men; the rest to be supplied, at the coming of the next ships."

That they were not essential to Cambridge, but absolutely so at this weak point was plain to both Dudley and Bradstreet, who forthwith made ready for the change accomplished in 1634, when at least one other child, Dorothy, had come to Anne Bradstreet. Health, always delicate and always fluctuating, was affected more seriously than usual at this time, no date being given, but the period extending over several years. "After some time, I fell into a lingering sickness like a consumption, together with a lameness, which correction I saw the Lord sent to humble and try me and do me Good: and it was not altogether ineffectual."

Patient soul! There were better days coming, but, self-distrust was, after her affections, her strongest point, and there is small hint of inward poise or calmness till years had passed, though she faced each change with the quiet dauntlessness that was part of her birthright. But the tragedy of their early days in the colony still shadowed her. Evidently no natural voice was allowed to speak in her, and the first poem of which we have record is as destitude of any poetic flavor, as if designed for the Bay Psalm-book. As the first, however, it demands place, if only to show from what she afterward escaped. That she preserved it simply as a record of a mental state, is evident from the fact, that it was never included in any edition of her poems, it having been found among her papers after her death.

Upon a Fit of Sickness, Anno. 1632.

Ætatis suœ, 19.

Twice ten years old not fully told since nature gave me breath,
My race is run, my thread is spun, lo! here is fatal Death.
All men must dye, and so must I, this cannot be revoked,
For Adam's sake, this word God spake, when he so high provoke'd.
Yet live I shall, this life's but small, in place of highest bliss,
Where I shall have all I can crave, no life is like to this.
For what's this life but care and strife? since first we came from womb,
Our strength doth waste, our time doth hast and then we go to th' Tomb.
O Bubble blast, how long can'st last? that always art a breaking,
No sooner blown, but dead and gone ev'n as a word that's speaking,
O whil'st I live this grace me give, I doing good may be,
Then death's arrest I shall count best because it's thy degree.
Bestow much cost, there's nothing lost to make Salvation sure,
O great's the gain, though got with pain, comes by profession pure.
The race is run, the field is won, the victory's mine, I see,
For ever know thou envious foe the foyle belongs to thee.

This is simply very pious and unexceptionable doggerel and no one would admit such fact more quickly than Mistress Anne herself, who laid it away in after days in her drawer, with a smile at the metre and a sigh for the miserable time it chronicled. There were many of them, for among the same papers is a shorter burst of trouble:

Upon Some Distemper of Body.

In anguish of my heart repleat with woes,
And wasting pains, which best my body knows,
In tossing slumbers on my wakeful bed,
Bedrencht with tears that flow from mournful head,
Till nature had exhausted all her store,
Then eyes lay dry disabled to weep more;
And looking up unto his Throne on high,
Who sendeth help to those in misery;

He chas'd away those clouds and let me see,
My Anchor cast i' th' vale with safety,
He eas'd my soul of woe, my flesh of pain,
And brought me to the shore from troubled Main.

The same brooding and saddened spirit is found in some verses of the same period and written probably just before the birth of her third child, the latter part containing a touch of jealous apprehension that has been the portion of many a young mother, and that indicates more of human passion than could be inferred from anything in her first attempt at verse.

All things within this fading world hath end,
Adversity doth still our joys attend;
No tyes so strong, no friends so dear and sweet
But with death's parting blow is sure to meet.
The sentence past is most irrevocable
A common thing, yet oh, inevitable;
How soon, my Dear, death may my steps attend,
How soon 't may be thy Lot to lose thy friend!
We both are ignorant, yet love bids me
These farewell lines to recommend to thee,
That when that knot's untyed that made us one,
I may seem thine, who in effect am none.
And if I see not half my dayes that's due,
What nature would, God grant to yours and you;
The many faults that well you know I have,
Let be interred in my oblivious grave;
If any worth or virtue were in me,
Let that live freshly in thy memory,
And when thou feel'st no grief as I no harms,
Yet love thy dead, who long lay in thine arms:
And when thy loss shall be repaid with gains
Look to my little babes my dear remains,
And if thou love thyself, or loved'st me,
These O protect from step-Dames injury.
And if chance to thine eyes shall bring this verse,
With some sad sighs honor my absent Herse;
And kiss this paper for thy love's dear sake
Who with salt tears this last farewell did take.