1827 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anne Bradstreet

Anonymous, in "Early American Poetry" American Quarterly Review [Philadelphia] 2 (December 1827) 494-95.



The volume of poems, written by Mrs. Anne Bradstreet, was dedicated by her to her father, in a copy of verses, dated March 20, 1642. It is, therefore, undoubtedly, the first attempt made in the country to obtain the poetic laurel. Her father, Thomas Dudley, also wrote rhymes, though he was not a poet by profession; but the verses for his epitaph, found, after his death, in his pocket, do very little credit to his temper or his taste. They are alike harsh and intolerant. They say, too, the old man was somewhat greedy of gain, and Governor Belcher wrote, as an epitaph for him,

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

Yet he was distinguished for his uprightness and his valour.

Anne was married at the age of sixteen, and came with her husband, Bradstreet, to America. Of her private character, we find but scanty records. In a preface. to her poems, it is declared, that the volume "is the work of a woman honoured and esteemed, where she lives, for her gracious demeanour, her eminent parts, her pious conversation, her courteous disposition, her exact diligence in her place, and discreet managing of her family occasions: and more so, these poems are but the fruit of some few hours, curtailed from her sleep and other refreshments." — And the excellent John Norton, whose praise belongs to the state as well as to the church, writes of her in lines that may serve as a specimen of his own poetry

Her breast was a brave palace, a broad street,
Where all heroick, ample thoughts did meet,
Where nature such a tenement had ta'en,
That other souls, to hers, dwelt in a lane.

The title-page of the volume is almost a table of contents — "Several Poems, compiled with great variety of wit and learning, full of delight; wherein especially is contained, a compleat 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." And this gentlewoman was the wife of the worshipful Simon Bradstreet, Esq. The precise time of her death we do not find in print; from an old manuscript, we learn, that she died September 16, 1672. Her husband survived her many years.

From the topics treated of in this volume, the general character of it is apparent. By constitutions, the four temperaments are in fact intended, and they are described with tolerable accuracy. There is some good description in the several poems, especially in the account of the four seasons; and generally, the versification is not unharmonious. The historical poetry is little else than a chronological table turned into rhyme.