Circa, Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672)

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Anne Bradstreet Circa (1612-1672)



A Major Poet. Anne Bradstreets poetry is recognized as one of the greatest literary achievements of seventeenth-century New England and a valuable source of information on the Puritan womans perspectives on her society. Her work remains a tribute to the power of her intellect, the depth of her passion, and her capacity for self-expression.

Early Life. Anne Dudley Bradstreet, like many early Puritans, sacrificed a comfortable life in England to settle in the wilderness of Massachusetts. She was born in Northampton, England, where her father, Thomas Dudley, was a clerk and a member oí the gentry. When she was seven he became steward to Theophilus Clinton, Earl of Lincoln, and moved his family to the earls estate at Sempringham. There she, her older brother, and four younger sisters grew up amid the amenities and refined social life of a great country manor. The earls house was I a center of Puritan learning and activism. Leading ministers of the day often preached and taught in the earls chapel, and many of the Puritan gentry and nobility met there to discuss issues of the day. Anne heard some of the finest preaching in England; read Scripture, theology, philosophy, and literature in the earls extensive library; listened to and participated in discussions on these subjects; and learned to appreciate the art and music of the day. When she was nine she met her future husband, Simon Bradstreet, a recent graduate of Cambridge University, who came to Sempringham as Thomas Dudleys assistant. Anne married Bradstreet in about 1628. At fifteen or sixteen she was rather young to be married by the standards of her time. The couple moved to the estate of the dowager countess of Warwick, where Simon had become steward.

Migration to Massachusetts. Anne and Simon Bradstreet did not remain in the countesss household for long. The religious situation had been worsening dramatically for the Puritans since Charles I had inherited the throne from his father, James I, in 1625. Charles favored Bishop William Laud, who used his influence to exclude Puritans from church offices. Charless efforts to limit the role of Parliament in government, culminating in his suspension of Parliament in 1629, forced the Puritans to recognize that they were losing influence at home. Puritan leaders responded with bold plans to influence England to reform by establishing a Godly Commonwealth in America. In 1630 the Bradstreets and Dudleys embarked for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The harsh climate and rustic surroundings Bradstreet encountered when she arrived in America contrasted starkly with the privileged existence she had known in England. Yet convinced it was the way of God, she submitted to it.

Poet of New England. Anne Bradstreet and her family moved several times in the next twenty years. Her husband assumed a leading role in early Massachusetts society, holding various official posts including service as governor of the colony after her death. Anne devoted herself to domestic life, giving birth to eight children between 1633 and 1652, but she also found time to write. The earliest of her surviving poems dates from 1632, when she was ill and hovering near death while residing in New Towne (later renamed Cambridge), Massachusetts. Three years later the Bradstreets moved to the frontier town of Ipswich, Massachusetts, where they remained for ten years. Here Bradstreet began to write poetry in earnest. Her whole family took great pride in her work, encouraging her to continue writing. In 1645 the Bradstreets moved again, to the inland town of Andover, where Anne continued to find time to write amid a busy schedule of child rearing, domestic work, and entertaining.

The Tenth Muse. In 1647 her brother-in-law John Woodbridge carried to England a manuscript of her poems and prepared it for publication without her knowledge or consent. It appeared anonymously as The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America (1650), gaining her recognition on both sides of the Atlantic as a learned and expressive poet. The poems in this volume display her knowledge of history, philosophy, and current affairs in England and America and include elegies to Elizabeth I and Sir Philip Sidney.

Later Years. Bradstreet continued writing until her death in 1672. After she died her husband collected her corrected versions of the poems in The Tenth Muse and some of her later poems in Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, Full of Delight (1678), the first book by a woman to be published in America. The later poems in this volume are far more candid than her earlier verse about Bradstreets spiritual doubtsand far more personal. Many of these are the poems for which she is most admired by modern readersincluding her poems about her love for her husband and family. While the poems in The Tenth Muse have been called brilliant but imitative and strained, the later poems are the work of a talented, original poet shaping the raw material of her life into art.


Joseph R. McElrath Jr. and Allan P. Robb, The Complete Works of Anne Bradstreet (Boston: Twayne, 1981);

Rosamond Rosenmeier, Anne Bradstreet Revisited (Boston: Twayne, 1991);

Ann Stanford, Anne Bradstreet: The Worldly Puritan (New York: Burt Franklin, 1974).

Anne Dudley Bradstreet

views updated Jun 11 2018

Anne Dudley Bradstreet

Anne Dudley Bradstreet (ca. 1612-1672) was a Puritan poet whose work portrays a deeply felt experience of American colonial life. She was the daughter and wife of Massachusetts governors.

Anne Dudley, born about 1612 probably in Northampton, England, grew up in the cultivated household of the Earl of Lincoln, where her father, Thomas Dudley, was steward. Tutored by her father and availing herself of the extensive library, she was highly educated. Her later work reveals familiarity with Plutarch, Du Bartas, Sir Walter Raleigh, Quarles, Sidney, Spenser, perhaps Shakespeare, and, of course, the Bible. At 16, she writes, she experienced conversion.

Shortly thereafter she married Simon Bradstreet, then 20 years old; orphaned at 14, he had been her father's protégé. He graduated from Emmanuel College and, like the Dudleys, had strong Nonconformist convictions. In 1630 the Bradstreets sailed to America aboard the Arbella with Dudley and the Winthrop company. The Bradstreets lived in Salem, Boston, Cambridge, and Ipswich, and settled finally on a farm in North Andover, Mass.

Bradstreet was a devoted wife and the mother of eight children. Her husband became a judge and legislator, later royal councilor and governor. His duties required that he be away from home frequently. Their wilderness life was hard; Indian attack was a constant threat, and Bradstreet suffered poor health. Yet, she managed to use her experience and religious belief in creating a small but distinguished body of poetry.

In 1647 Bradstreet's brother-in-law, the Reverend John Woodbridge, took some of her poetry to England, where, without her knowledge, he had it published in 1650 under the title The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America…. For the most part the book consists of four long poems, which may actually be considered one long poem, traditional in subject matter and set, rather mechanically, in heroic couplets. "The Four Elements, " "The Four Humours in Man's Constitution, " "The Four Ages of Man, " and "The Four Seasons of the Year" are allegorical pieces, heavily influenced by Joshua Sylvester's translation of Du Bartas's Divine Weeks and Works.

Bradstreet herself added to and corrected her next volume, Several Poems…, published posthumously in Boston in 1678. In this volume she deals more with her New England life, her family and natural surroundings. It includes "Contemplations, " the fine, long reflective poem on death and resurrection in nature, as well as the dramatic poem "The Flesh and the Spirit, " the lively words of "The Author to Her Book, " and moving verses addressed to her husband and children. Her prose "Meditations" and some of her more confessional pieces remained in manuscript until 1867, when John H. Ellis published her complete works.

Most critics consider Bradstreet America's first authentic poet, especially strong in her later work. In her own day she was praised by Cotton Mather in his Magnalia, by Nathaniel Ward, and others.

Further Reading

The Works of Anne Bradstreet was edited by Jeannine Hensley, with an interesting foreword by poet Adrienne Rich (1967). John Berryman, Homage to Mistress Bradstreet (1956), is a moving biographical tribute. Samuel Eliot Morison's chapter on Anne Bradstreet in Builders of the Bay Colony (1930; rev. ed. 1958) is a colorful introduction to her life and work. A readable study of Mrs. Bradstreet's writings is Josephine K. Piercy, Anne Bradstreet (1965). □

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Anne (Dudley) Bradstreet

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