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Bleecker, Ann Eliza Schuyler

BLEECKER, Ann Eliza Schuyler

Born October 1752, New York, New York; died 23 November 1783, Tomhanick, New York

Daughter of Brandt and Margaret Van Wyck Schuyler; married John J. Bleecker, 1769; children: Margaretta Bleecker Faugeres

Encouraged by her wealthy lawyer husband, Ann Eliza Schuyler Bleecker wrote steadily throughout her life, although much of her work was lost in manuscript. The couple settled in the wilderness at Tomhanick, where the sensitive Bleecker was subjected to Indian raids and the general isolation of the frontier. A series of disasters connected with General Burgoyne's invasion in 1777 caused the deaths of her infant daughter, her mother, and her sister in rapid succession. Chronically depressed after these tragedies, she received an additional shock when her husband, active in the militia, was kidnapped by Tories in 1781 and by mere chance was rescued before being taken over the Canadian border. Bleecker's declining physical and mental health was exacerbated by a disillusioning trip to war-ravaged New York after the peace in 1783, and she died in November. Her daughter, Margaretta Faugeres, prepared Bleecker's work for posthumous publication in 1793.

A narrative of sufferings undergone by captives during the French and Indian War, The History of Maria Kittle (1779), is presented as a "true history," but the dramatic dialogue, psychological portraiture, and rounded plot of Bleecker's version are possible only in fiction. Personifications and mythological references contrast strangely with events: "Ceres" presides over fields through which screaming Indians run, killing and tearing off scalps. The tomahawking of the pregnant Comelia, with details of her cleft white forehead, the dead staring of her "fine azure eyes," and the ripping out of her fetus and dashing it to pieces are unusually concrete, if grim, visualizations. Purple passages describe Maria's sorrows as her abductors drag her to their allies in Montreal. The History has the virtue of its genuine and direct testimony of horror, unlike the sentimental and stylized fragment, Story of Henry and Ann.

Bleecker's poetry is derivative from earlier British authors, but purposely so in the neoclassical tradition. Of most value are her nature poems. "To Mr. Bleecker, on his passage to New York" is a long topographical piece in which Fancy takes a water journey down the Hudson, scenes of mountains and animals giving way to the first outcrops of civilization. Bleecker's patriotic panegyric on the Hudson River valley shows great love of the land, the majesty of the natural setting, and the beauty of human life within it. "A Pastoral Dialogue" turns into a hymn to American industry and liberty, which are contrasted with the envy and barbarity of the British and Indians. Idealistic rural scenes of prosperity, static "word paintings" of peasants reliefed against a monumental and fertile landscape, are suddenly ablaze with the terrifyingly dynamic howls and murders of the attacking Indians. Desolation again brings stasis, but it is the unnatural silence of ashes and death. But the moral superiority of the sons of freedom revives their hope of victory.

Not all Bleecker's pastoral poetry is ideological; "Return to Tomhanick" is naturalistic, and "An Evening Prospect" displays a mystic and divine connection with nature, Wordsworthian in feeling if not in form. Poetic natural scenes are ubiquitous in her letters and prose, and her descriptions often evoke the idealistic landscape paintings of Cole or Doughty of the next century's Hudson River School.

The meditative narrative of Bleecker's "Written in the Retreat from Burgoyne" shows an unresigned anguish over her daughter's death, and her "naturally pensive" sensibility influenced her to write a number of elegies and thanatopses. In "A Prospect of Death," death is a raging sea from which "Virtue" (on wings) may rescue her. The charnel-house imagery of "A Thought on Death" gives way to a more personal musing on her own dissolution in "Complaint," "The Storm," "Despondency," and "Recollection."

But the inherent sprightliness of Bleecker's imagination can be seen in many little ironic and satirical poems and passages. The best of these comic pieces is the mock journal in which Susan Ten Eyck's fashionably frivolous day and neglect of her sister's weighty letter is projected in Rape of the Lock style. Bleeker's Letters, the remnants of her prolific correspondence, repeat the themes and motifs of her more formal work in a manner most likely to suit modern taste.

In Bleecker's work, there is a schizophrenic contrast between the idyllic Eden of her imagination, based upon love of nature, culture, intellect, and family, and the savage reality of treachery, war, death, isolation, anomy, and insanity that plagued her life. She could not adjust to the unfairness and incompletion of actual human existence. As a "good" woman of her era, she clung to the bulwarks of Divine Providence and family love for security and identity. These proved to be too feeble to counteract the harshness of fate. The struggle was not only against the outer world of frontier America but against the soul-destroying disillusionment of an inner nature too idealistic to accept sordid and savage reality: "Alas! the wilderness is within," she wails. Her essential intellectual value resides in her biography. We read her work for the fascination of her personality and greater empathetic understanding of the trials undergone by the human and feminine spirit.

Other Works:

The Posthumous Works of Ann Eliza Bleecker (1793).

Bibliography:

Faugeres, M., "Memoirs of Mrs. Ann Eliza Bleecker" in The Post-humous Works of A. E. Bleecker (1793). Griswold, R., The Female Poets of America (1848). Hendrickson, J., "Ann Eliza Bleecker: Her Life and Works" (Master's thesis, Columbia Univ., 1935). Losche, L., The Early American Novel (1907). Munsell, J. The Annals of Albany (1855). Schuyler, G., Colonial New York (1885). Tyler, M., The Literary History of the American Revolution, 1763-1783 (1897).

Reference Works:

Cyclopedia of American Literature (1855). DAB (1929). NAW, 1607-1950 (1971).

—L. W. KOENGETER

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