1855 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anne Bradstreet

Sarah Josepha Hale, Woman's Record; or, Sketches of all Distinguished Women (1852; 1855) 219-20.



ANNE BRADSTREET, daughter of Thomas Dudley, governor of Massachusetts from 1634 to 1650, and wife of Simon Bradstreet, is entitled to remembrance as the author of the first volume of poetry published in America. Her work was dedicated to her father, and published in 1642. The title is, "Several Poems, compiled with great variety of wit and learning, full of delight; wherein especially is contained a complete discourse and description of the four elements, constitutions, ages of man, seasons of the year, together with an exact epitome of the three first monarchies, viz: the Assyrian, Persian, Grecian, and Roman Commonwealth, from the beginning to the end of their last king, with divers other pleasant and serious poems. By a Gentlewoman of New England." She received for her poetical talents the title of the Tenth Muse, and the most distinguished men of the day were her friends, and the admirers of her genius. When we examine the poetry of that period, and see the miserable attempts at rhyme, made by the male writers, we must believe Mrs. Bradstreet was "as learned as her coadjutors, and vastly more poetical." The preface to the third edition, printed in 1658, thus sketches her character: "It is the work of a woman honoured and esteemed where she lives for her gracious demeanour, her eminent parts, for her pious conversation, her courteous disposition, her exact diligence in her place, and discreet management of her family occasions; and more so, these poems are the fruits of a few hours curtailed from her sleep, and other refreshments."

When Mrs. Bradstreet wrote her poems, she could have had no models, save Chaucer and Spenser. Milton had not become known as a writer when her work was published, and Shakspeare was not read by the Puritans of New England. On the whole, we think Anne Bradstreet fairly entitled to the place assigned her by one of her biographers, "at the head of the American poets of that time." She died in 1672, aged sixty. Mrs. Bradstreet was mother of eight children, whom she trained with great discretion.