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- Anne Bradstreet and Her Time - 3/59 -


learned, that is, of the few, and among these, with the exception of Colet and More, or of the pedants who revived a Pagan worship in the gardens of the Florentine Academy, their direct influence was purely intellectual. But the language of the Hebrew, the idiom of the Hellenistic Greek, lent themselves with a curious felicity to the purposes of translation. As a mere literary monument the English version of the Bible remains the noblest example of the English tongue, while its perpetual use made it from the instant of its appearance, the standard of our language.

"One must dwell upon this fact persistently, before it will become possible to understand aright either the people or the literature of the time. With generations the influence has weakened, though the best in English speech has its source in one fountain. But the Englishman of that day wove his Bible into daily speech, as we weave Shakespeare or Milton or our favorite author of a later day. It was neither affectation nor hypocrisy but an instinctive use that made the curious mosaic of Biblical words and phrases which colored English talk two hundred years ago. The mass of picturesque allusion and illustration which we borrow from a thousand books, our fathers were forced to borrow from one; and the borrowing was the easier and the more natural, that the range of the Hebrew literature fitted it for the expression of every phase of feeling. When Spencer poured forth his warmest love-notes in the 'Epithalamion,' he adopted the very words of the Psalmist, as he bade the gates open for the entrance of his bride. When Cromwell saw the mists break over the hills of Dunbar, he hailed the sun-burst with the cry of David: 'Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered. Like as the smoke vanisheth so shalt thou drive them away!' Even to common minds this familiarity with grand poetic imagery in prophet and apocalypse, gave a loftiness and ardor of expression that with all its tendency to exaggeration and bombast we may prefer to the slip-shod vulgarisms of today."

Children caught the influence, and even baby talk was half scriptural, so that there need be no surprise in finding Anne Bradstreet's earliest recollections couched in the phrases of psalms learned by heart as soon as she could speak, and used, no doubt, half unconsciously. Translate her sentences into the thought of to-day, and it is evident, that aside from the morbid conscientiousness produced by her training, that she was the victim of moods arising from constant ill-health. Her constitution seems to have been fragile in the extreme, and there is no question but that in her case as in that of many another child born into the perplexed and troubled time, the constant anxiety of both parents, uncertain what a day might bring forth, impressed itself on the baby soul. There was English fortitude and courage, the endurance born of faith, and the higher evolution from English obstinacy, but there was for all of them, deep self-distrust and abasement; a sense of worthlessness that intensified with each generation; and a perpetual, unhealthy questioning of every thought and motive. The progress was slow but certain, rising first among the more sensitive natures of women, whose lives held too little action to drive away the mists, and whose motto was always, "look in and not out"--an utter reversal of the teaching of to-day. The children of that generation lost something that had been the portion of their fathers. The Elizabethan age had been one of immense animal life and vigor, and of intense capacity for enjoyment, and, deny it as one might, the effect lingered and had gone far toward forming character. The early Nonconformist still shared in many worldly pleasures, and had found no occasion to condense thought upon points in Calvinism, or to think of himself as a refugee from home and country.

The cloud at first no bigger than a man's hand, was not dreaded, and life in Nonconformist homes went on with as much real enjoyment as if their ownership were never to be questioned. Serious and sad, as certain phases come to be, it is certain that home life developed as suddenly as general intelligence. The changes in belief in turn affected character. "There was a sudden loss of the passion, the caprice, the subtle and tender play of feeling, the breath of sympathy, the quick pulse of delight, which had marked the age of Elizabeth; but on the other hand life gained in moral grandeur, in a sense of the dignity of manhood, in orderliness and equable force. The larger geniality of the age that had passed away was replaced by an intense tenderness within the narrower circle of the home. Home, as we now conceive it, was the creation of the Puritan. Wife and child rose from mere dependants on the will of husband or father, as husband or father saw in them saints like himself, souls hallowed by the touch of a divine spirit and called with a divine calling like his own. The sense of spiritual fellowship gave a new tenderness and refinement to the common family affections."

The same influence had touched Thomas Dudley, and Dorothy Dudley could have written of him as Lucy Hutchinson did of her husband: "He was as kind a father, as dear a brother, as good a master, as faithful a friend as the world had." In a time when, for the Cavalier element, license still ruled and lawless passion was glorified by every play writer, the Puritan demanded a different standard, and lived a life of manly purity in strange contrast to the grossness of the time. Of Hutchinson and Dudley and thousands of their contemporaries the same record held good: "Neither in youth nor riper years could the most fair or enticing woman draw him into unnecessary familiarity or dalliance. Wise and virtuous women he loved, and delighted in all pure and holy and unblameable conversation with them, but so as never to excite scandal or temptation. Scurrilous discourse even among men he abhorred; and though he sometimes took pleasure in wit and mirth, yet that which was mixed with impurity he never could endure."

Naturally with such standards life grew orderly and methodical. "Plain living and high thinking," took the place of high living and next to no thinking. Heavy drinking was renounced. Sobriety and self-restraint ruled here as in every other act of life, and the division between Cavalier and Nonconformist became daily more and more marked. Persecution had not yet made the gloom and hardness which soon came to be inseparable from the word Puritan, and children were still allowed many enjoyments afterward totally renounced. Milton could write, even after his faith had settled and matured:

"Haste then, nymph, and bring with thee Jest and youthful jollity, Quips and Cranks and wanton Wiles, Nods and becks and wreathed Smiles, Such as hang on Hebe's cheek And love to live in dimple sleek; Sports that wrinkled care derides And Laughter holding both his sides."

Cromwell himself looked on at masques and revels, and Whitelock, a Puritan lawyer and his ambassador to Sweden, left behind him a reputation for stately and magnificent entertaining, which his admirers could never harmonize with his persistent refusal to conform to the custom of drinking healths. In the report of this embassy printed after Whitelock's return and republished some years ago, occurs one of the best illustrations of Puritan social life at that period. "How could you pass over their very long winter nights?" was one of the questions asked by the Protector at the first audience after his return from The embassy.

"I kept my people together," was the reply, "and in action and recreation, by having music in my house, and encouraging that and the exercise of dancing, which held them by the eyes and ears, and gave them diversion without any offence. And I caused the gentlemen to have disputations in Latin, and declamations upon words which I gave them." Cromwell, "Those were very good diversions, and made your house a little academy."

Whitelock, "I thought these recreations better than gaming for money, or going forth to places of debauchery."

Cromwell, "It was much better."

In the Earl of Lincoln's household such amusements would be common, and it was not till many years later, that a narrowing faith made Anne write them down as "the follyes of youth." Through that youth, she had part in every opportunity that the increased respect for women afforded.

Many a Puritan matron shared her husband's studies, or followed her boys in their preparation for Oxford or Cambridge, and Anne Bradstreet's poems and the few prose memorials she left, give full evidence of an unusually broad training, her delicacy of health making her more ready for absorption in study. Shakespeare and Cervantes were still alive at her birth, and she was old enough, with the precocious development of the time, to have known the sense of loss and the general mourning at their death in 1616. It is doubtful if the plays of the elder dramatists were allowed her, though there are hints in her poems of some knowledge of Shakespeare, but by the time girlhood was reached, the feeling against them had increased to a degree hardly comprehensible save in the light of contemporaneous history. The worst spirit of the time was incorporated in the later plays, and the Puritans made no discrimination. The players in turn hated them, and Mrs. Hutchinson wrote: "Every stage and every table, and every puppet- play, belched forth profane scoffs upon them, the drunkards made them their songs, and all fiddlers and mimics learned to abuse them, as finding it the most gameful way of fooling."

If, however, the dramatists were forbidden, there were new and inexhaustible sources of inspiration and enjoyment, in the throng of new books, which the quiet of the reign of James allowed to appear in quick succession. Chapman's magnificent version of Homer was delighting Cavalier and Puritan alike. "Plutarch's Lives," were translated by Sir Thomas North and his book was "a household book for the whole of the seventeenth century." Montaigne's Essays had been "done into English" by John Florio, and to some of them at least Thomas Dudley was not likely to take exception. Poets and players had, however, come to be classed together and with some reason, both alike antagonizing the Puritan, but the poets of the reign of James were far more simple and natural in style than those of the age of Elizabeth, and thus, more likely to be read in Puritan families. Their numbers may be gauged by their present classification into "pastoral, satirical, theological, metaphysical and humorous," but only two of them were in entire sympathy with the Puritan spirit, or could be read without serious shock to belief and scruples.

For the sake of her own future work, deeper drinking at these springs was essential, and in rejecting them, Anne Dudley lost the influence that must have moulded her own verse into much more agreeable form for the reader of to-day, though it would probably have weakened her power in her own day. The poets she knew best hindered rather than helped development. Wither and Quarles, both deeply Calvinistic, the former becoming afterward one of Cromwell's major-generals, were popular not only then but long afterward, and Quarles' "Emblems", which appeared in 1635, found their way to New England and helped to make sad thought still more


Anne Bradstreet and Her Time - 3/59

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