Anne Bradstreet and her time/Chapter XVI
home and abroad.
IN the midst of all this agitation and confusion Anne Bradstreet pursued her quiet way, more disposed to comment on the misdoings of the Persians or Romans than on anything nearer home, though some lines in her "Dialogue between Old England and New," indicate that she followed the course of every event with an anxious and intelligent interest. In 1657, her oldest son had left for England, where he remained until 1661, and she wrote then some verses more to be commended for their motherly feeling than for any charm of expression:
Upon my Son Samuel his goeing for England,
Novem. 6, 1957
Thou mighty God of Sea and Land,
Preserve O Lord, from stormes and wrack,
There were others of much the same order on his return, in 1661, but her feelings centered then on the anxieties and dangers of the course which had been resolved upon. The enemies of the Colony were busy in London, and the King was strongly inclined to take very decisive measures for its humiliation. Explanations must be made by some one who had had personal experience in every case now used against them, and after long and troubled consultation the Colonial Government reluctantly decided to send two Commissioners to England, selecting John Norton and Simon Bradstreet as best capable of meeting the emergency.
There was personal peril as well as political anxiety. The King constitutionally listened to the first comer rather than the second, and had already sided with the Quakers. To Norton it seemed a willful putting of his head into the lion's jaws, and he hesitated, and debated, and at last, from pure nervousness fell violently ill. The ship which was to carry them waited, and finally as it seemed impossible for him to rally his forces, began unlading the provisions sent on board. The disgusted Government officers prepared explanatory letters, and were on the point of sending them when Mr. Norton came to his senses, and announced that the Lord had "encouraged and strengthened his heart," and he went decorously on board.
The mission, though pronounced by some Quaker historians a failure, was in reality after many delays and more hard words a tolerable success. The King was still too uncertain of his own position to quarrel with as powerful a set of friends as the Massachusetts Colony were now disposed to prove themselves, and the Commissioners returned home, bearing a renewal of the charter, though the letters held other matters less satisfactory to the Puritan temper. The King required an oath of allegiance from all, and that "all laws and ordinances . . . contrary or derogative to his authority and government should be annulled and repealed."
Toleration was made obligatory, and one clause out raged every Puritan susceptibility; that in which it was ordered that, "in the election of the Governor or Assistants, there should be only consideration of the wisdom and integrity of the persons to be chosen, and not of any faction with reference to their opinion or profession."
Governor Dudley's shade must have looked with amazed dismay and wrath upon this egg, which could hardly fail to "a Toleration hatch," filled with every evil his verses had prophesied, and there were many of the same mind. But popular dissatisfaction in time died away, as no ill results came from the new methods, which were ignored as often as possible, and the working of which could not be very effectually watched in England. Simon Bradstreet, though censured by many, pursued his quiet way, thankful to be safely at home again with his head in its proper place, and his wife rejoiced over him in various poems which celebrated the letters he wrote, and every detail of his coming and going.
The summer of 1666 brought one of the sharpest trials her life had ever known, the destruction of her house by fire taking place in July. Each change of location to one of her tenacious affections and deep love of home, had been a sharp wrench, and she required long familiarity to reconcile her to new conditions. Though the first and greatest change from England to America would seem to have rendered all others trivial and not to be regarded, she had shrank from each as it came, submitting by force of will, but unreconciled till years had past. In Andover she had allowed herself to take firm root, certain that from this point she would never be dislodged, and the house had gradually become filled not only with treasured articles of furniture and adornments, but with the associations to which she always clung. There were family portraits and heir looms brought from the old home in Lincolnshire; a library of nearly eight hundred volumes, many of them rare editions difficult to replace, as well as her own special books and papers.
For these last there was no hope of renewal. Many of them were the work of her early womanhood; others held the continuation of her Roman Monarchy; small loss to the world at large, but the destruction of a work which had beguiled many hours of the bodily suffering from which she was seldom free. The second edition of her poems, published after her death, held an apology found among her papers, for the uncompleted state of this monarchy, in which she wrote:
To finish what's begun was my intent,
The disaster finds record in the Rev. Simon Bradstreet's diary:
"July 12, 1666. Whilst I was at N. London my father's house at Andover was burnt, where I lost my Books and many of my clothes, to the valieu of 50 or 60 pounds at least; The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken, blessed bee the name of the Lord. Tho: my own losse of books (and papers espec.) was great and my fathers far more being about 800, yet ye Lord was pleased gratiously many wayes to make up ye same to us. It is therefore good to trust in the Lord."
The "newe house" built at once and furnished with the utmost elegance of the time, Simon Bradstreet's prosperity admitting the free expenditure he always loved, could by no means fill the place of the old. She looked about each room with a half-expectation that the familiar articles with which so much of her outward life had been associated, must be in the old places, and patiently as she bore the loss, their absence fretted and saddened her. One of her latest poems holds her sorrow and the resignation she came at last to feel:
In silent night when rest I took,
The fortunes of the new house were hardly happy ones. With the death of his wife Governor Bradstreet left it in possession of a younger son, Captain Dudley Bradstreet, who was one of the most important citizens of Andover, having been "selectman, colonel of militia, and magistrate," while still a young man. His father's broad yet moderate views and his mother's gentle and devoted spirit seem to have united in him, for when the witchcraft delusion was at its height, and even the most honored men and women in the little community were in danger of their lives, he suddenly resolved to grant no more warrants for either apprehension or imprisonment. This was shocking enough to the excited popular mind, but when he added to such offence a plea, which he himself drew up for some of the victims, who, as they admitted, had made confession of witchcraft "by reason of sudden surprisal, when exceedingly astonished and amazed and consternated and affrighted even out of reason," there was no room left for any conviction save that he was under the same spell. Loved as he had been by all the people whom he had served unselfishly for twenty years, the craze which possessed them all, wiped out any memory of the past or any power of common sense in the present, and he fled in the night and for a long time remained in hiding. The delusion ended as suddenly as it had begun, a reaction setting in, and the people doing all in their power to atone for the suspicion and outrage that had caused his flight. Placable and friendly, the old relations were resumed as far as possible, though the shadow had been too heavy an one ever to pass entirely.
Another terror even greater had come before the century ended: An act of treachery had been commited by a citizen of Andover, a Captain Chubb, who had in 1693 been in command of Fort Pemaquid, and having first plied a delegation of Penobscot Indians with liquor, gave orders for their massacre while still in their drunken sleep. In an after attack by French and Indians upon the fort, he surrendered on promise of personal safety, and in time, returned to Andover, disgraced, but abundantly satisfied to have saved his scalp.
The rest of the story is given by Cotton Mather in the Magnalia:
"The winter, (1693) was the severest that ever was in the memory of Man. And yet February must not pass without a stroke upon Pemquid Chub, whom the Government had mercifully permitted after his examination to retire unto his habitation in Andover. As much out of the way as to Andover there came above thirty Indians about the middle of February as if their errand had been for vengeance upon Chub, whom, with his wife they now massacred there." Hutchinson comments gravely: "It is not probable they had any knowledge of the place of his abode, but it caused them greater joy than the taking of many towns. Rapin would have pronounced such an event the immediate judgement of Heaven. Voltaire, that in the place of supposed safety, the man could not avoid his destiny."
The towns mustered hastily, but not before the flames of the burning buildings had arisen at many points, and terrified women and children had been dragged from their beds and in one or two cases murdered at once, though most were reserved as captives. Dudley Bradstreet and his family were of this latter number. The house was broken into and plundered; his kinsman who attempted defence, cut down on the spot, and the same fate might have overtaken all, had not an Indian who had received some special kindness from the colonel, interfered and prevented the butchery. The family were carried some fifty rods from the house and then released and allowed to return, and by this time the soldiers were armed and the party routed. No sense of safety could be felt then, or for many years thereafter, and from terror and other causes, the house was in time forsaken by its natural owners and passed into other hands, though no tenant, even of sixty years standing has had power to secure to it any other title than that which it still holds — "the Bradstreet house."
For its first occupants possession was nearly over. The vitality which had carried Anne Bradstreet through longer life than could have been imagined possible, was nearly exhausted.
Constant weakness and pain and occasional attacks of severe illness marked all the later years of her life, which for the last three, was a weariness to herself, and a source of suffering to all who saw her suffer. Certain that it could not last long, she began at one time the little autobiographical diary, found among her papers after death, and containing the only personal details that remained, even these being mere suggestions. All her life she had been subject to sudden attacks of faintness, and even as early as 1656, lay for hours unconscious, remaining in a state: pitiful weakness many days thereafter. One of these attacks found record on a loose paper, added by one of her sons to the manuscript book of "Religious Reflections," and showing with what patience she met the ills for the overcoming of which any physician of the time was powerless, and against which she made a life-long resistance. It was the beginning of a battle which has ever since held its ground in New England, to "enjoy poor health," yet be ready for every emergency, being a state of things on which the average woman rather prides herself, medicine, quack or home-brewed, ranking in importance with the "means of grace."
Submission and Reliance.
Deliverance from a Fitt of Fainting.
Worthy art Thou O Lord of praise!
"August 28, 1656. After much weaknes and sicknes when my spirits were worn out, and many times my faith weak likewise, the Lord was pleased to uphold my drooping heart, and to manifest his Love to me; and this is that which stayes my Soul that this condition that I am in is the best for me, for God doth not afflict willingly, nor take delight in grieving the children of men: he hath no benefitt by my adversity, nor is he the better for my prosperity; but he doth it for my Advantage, and that I may be a Gainer by it. And if he knowes that weaknes and a frail body is the best to make mee a vessell fitt for his use, why should I not bare it, not only willingly but joyfully? The Lord knowes I dare not desire that health that sometimes I have had, least my heart should bee drawn from him, and sett upon the world.
"Now I can wait, looking every day when my Saviour shall call for me. Lord, grant that while I live I may doe that service I am able in this frail Body, and bee in continual expectation of my change, and let me never forget thy great Love to my soul so lately expressed, when I could lye down and bequeath my Soul to thee, and Death seem d no terrible Thing. O, let mee ever see thee, that Art invisible, and I shall not bee unwilling to come, tho: by so rough a messenger."
Through all the long sickness the family life went on unchanged, save in the contracting circle, from which one child and another passed. There was still strength to direct the daily round of household duties, and to listen with quick sympathy to the many who came to her trouble. There was not only the village life with its petty interests, but the larger official one of her husband, in which she shared so far as full knowledge of its details allowed, Simon Bradstreet, like Governor Winthrop, believing strongly in that "inward sight" which made women often clearer judges than men of perplexed and knotty points. Two bits of family life are given in a document still in existence and copied by the New England Historical and Genalogical Register for 1859. To it is appended the full signature of Anne Bradstreet, in a clear, upright hand, of singular distinctness and beauty when compared with much of the penmanship of that period. But one other autograph is in existence. It is evident from the nature of the document, that village life had its infelicities in 1670, quite as fully as to-day, and that a poem might have grown out of it, had daily life been thought worthy of a poem.
"This witnesseth, that wee heard good Sutton say, there was noe horses in his yard that night inMr Bradstreetes mare was killed, & afterwards that there was none that he knew of; but being told by Mr Bradstreete that hee thought hee could hee out some, then hee , yes, now I remembr there was 3 or 4.
"Further, wee testifie the sd. Sutton sd. att yt tyme there was noe dogg there, but his wch was a puppy, & Mr Danes that would not byte.
Law was resorted to in even small disagreements with a haste and frequency excellent for the profession employed, but going far to intensify the litigious spirit of the day, and tolerant as Simon Bradstreet was in all large matters, his name occurs with unpleasant frequency in these petty village suits. This suit with goodman Sutton was but one of many, almost all of which arose from the trespasses of animals. Fences were few, and though they were viewed at intervals by the "perambulators," and decided to be "very sufficient against all orderly cattle," the swine declined to come under this head, and rooted their way into desirable garden patches to the wrath and confusion of their owners, all persons at last, save innholders, being forbidden to keep more than ten of the obnoxious animals. Horses, also, broke loose at times, and Mr. Bradstreet was not the only one who suffered loss, one of the first tragedies in the little town, being a hand to hand fight, ending in a stabbing of one of the parties, both of whom belonged to good families and were but lightly judged in the trial which followed. They were by no means a peaceful community, and if the full truth be told, a week of colonial life would prove to hold almost as large a proportion of squabbles as any town record of to-day.
The second one gives some difficulties connected with the marriage of Governor Bradstreet's daughter Mercy, which took place Oct. 31, 1672, but not till various high words had passed, and sufficient hard feeling been engendered to compel the preparing of the affidavit, which probably, whatever its effect may have been on the parents, did not touch the happiness of the young pair for whose respective rights they had debated.
"When Mr. Johnathan Wade of Ipswch came first to my house att Andovr in the | yeare 72, to make a motion of marriage betwixt his son Nathaniel and | my daughter Mercy hee freely of himself told mee what he would | give to his soñ vz. one halfe of his Farme att Mistick and one third p't of his | land in England when hee dyed, and that hee should have liberty to make | use of p't of the imp'ved and broken upp ground upon the sd Farme, till | hee could gett some broken upp for himselfe upon his owne p't and likewis | that hee should live in and have the use of halfe the house, and untill he had one | of his owne built upon his p't of the farme. I was willing to accept of his | offer, or at least sd. nothing against it; but p'p'ounded that hee would make | his sd soñ a deede of guift of that third p't of his land in England to enjoy to | him and his heires after his death. This hee was not free to doe, but sd. it was | as sure, for he had soe putt it into his will, that his 3 soñs should have | that in England equally devyded betwixt them, vz. each a 3 p't. I objected | he marry | againe and have other children, wich hee thought a vaine obieccoñ. Much | othr discourse there was about the stocke on the Farme, &c., but remayneing unwilling | to give a deede for that in England, saying he might live to spend it, and often | repeating hee had soe ordered it in his will, as aforesd., wch hee should never altr without | great necessity, or words to that purpose. Soe wee p'ted for that tyme leaveing | that mattr to further consideracoñ. After hee came home hee told sev'all of my | Friends and others as they informed me, that hee had p'ffered to give his soñ Nathaniel bettr then 1000lb | and I would not accept of it. The next tyme hee came to my house, after some | discourse about the premises and p'esining his resolucon as form'ly ingaged, and left it to him to add wt he pleased | towards the building of him a house &c., and soe agreed that the young p'sons might | p'ceede in marriage with both or Consents, wch accordingly they did. | S. Bradstreet."
The Honble Simon Bradstreet Esqr | made Oath to the truth of the above written | Sept. 21th, 1683, before | Samll Nowell, Assist.
"The interlines [as aforesaid], line 19th, and [as they informed me] line 22th, were before | the Oath was made."
The brackets are in the original and were used as quotations marks. Governor Bradstreet's name and all above it are in his handwriting; all below it is in Mr. Nowell's.
Another Mercy Bradstreet, niece of the Mercy whose name figures in the foregoing statement, and the daughter of the oldest son, married Dr. James Oliver, from whom are descended Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes and Wendell Phillips, while Lucy, the daughter of Simon, the second son, became the ancestress of Dr. Channing and of Richard N. Dana, the poet and his distinguished son. Many of the grandchildren died in infancy, and the pages of the second edition of their grandmother's poems are sprinkled with elegies long and short, upon the babies almost as well loved as her own, though none of them have any poetical merit. But her thoughts dwelt chiefly in the world for which she longed, and there are constant reminders of what careless hold she kept upon the life which had come to be simply a burden to be borne with such patience as might be given her.