1829 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anne Bradstreet

Samuel Kettell, in Specimens of American Poetry (1829) 1:xx-xxii.



The earliest poet of New England, however, was ANNE BRADSTREET, the wife of Simon Bradstreet, Governor of the Massachusetts colony, and daughter of Thomas Dudley, also Governor. She was born in 1612, probably at Northampton or Boston in England. She was married to Mr. Bradstreet at the age of sixteen, and came the next year, 1630, with her husband to this country. The preface to the second edition of her poems published after her death, declares the volume to be "the work of a woman honored and esteemed, where she lives, for her gracious demeanor, her eminent parts, her pious conversation, her courteous disposition, her exact diligence in her place, and discreet managing of her family occasions; and more than so these poems are the fruit but of some few hours, curtailed from her sleep and other refreshments." She died September 16th, 1672. One of the pieces in her volume bears the date of 1632, Aetatis suae 19.

Her writings gained her great celebrity among her contemporaries. Cotton Mather is warm in her praise and declares that "her poems, divers times printed, have afforded a grateful entertainment unto the ingenious, and a monument for her memory beyond the stateliest marbles." The learned and excellent John Norton of Ipswich calls her the "mirror of her age and glory of her sex." He wrote a funeral eulogy in which he did not scruple to pun upon her name according to the fashion of the time.

Her breast was a brave pallace, a broad street,
Where all heroic, ample thoughts did meet,
Where nature such a tenement had tane
That other souls to hers dwelt in a lane.

Many others wrote verses in her commendation, and it is much to their credit that they so justly appreciated her talents; for we must come down to a late period in the literary annals of the country before we find her equal, although her productions are not without the marks of the barbarous taste of the age. Her first essays in polite composition had but an untoward guidance from the authors most esteemed at that time. The models they presented were not adapted to promote either good taste or excellence of any sort, in writing. Du Bartas was the favorite poet of the day, and his conceits seem to have been, in particular, the admiration of our author. She appears also to have caught something of his spirit.

The contents of her volume are a poem upon the Four Elements, upon the Four Humors in Man's Constitution, upon the Four Ages of Man, and the Four Seasons of the Year. In these we are presented with personifications of Fire, Air, Earth and Water; Choler, Blood, Melancholy and Phlegm; and Childhood, Youth, Middle Age and Old Age, each of whom comes forward with an address in which its peculiar excellences are set forth. Then follows a versified history of the Four Monarchies of the World, and some shorter pieces, one of which, for its great merit, we shall extract; it shows Mrs. Bradstreet to have possessed genuine poetical feeling. This poem is entitled Contemplation.