Women's Literature in the 16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries
WOMEN'S LITERATURE IN THE 16TH, 17TH, AND 18TH CENTURIES
FAYE VOWELL (ESSAY DATE WINTER 1976)
SOURCE: Vowell, Faye. "A Commentary on 'The Journal of Sarah Kemble Knight'." The Emporia State Research Studies 24, no. 3 (winter 1976): 44-52.
In the following essay, Vowell praises Knight's narrative as "fresh," "delightful," and "humorous."
The Journal of Sarah Kemble Knight is one of those delightful, almost forgotten, pieces of American literature which one occasionally encounters. The journal itself recounts a trip made by horseback between Boston and New York, with an intermediate stop in New Haven, in the year 1704. But the account is lifted out of the ordinary by the fact that the journey was made by a thirty-eight year old woman. A middle class American woman capable and assertive in her own right, Sarah Kemble Knight contradicts the stereotypes of the delicate female, and the shy, sheltered housewife. She is not only a successful business-woman, but also the mediator in settling her niece's estate, on the pretext of which she makes her journey. Brave, despite her assertions to the contrary, Knight is a truly remarkable woman whose sometime pose of helpless female is belied by her adventurous actions. Madame Knight uses her awareness of the power of words effectively to make a statement about life in colonial New England. Besides its use as an historical document, The Journal lays claim to further consideration by its skillful use of personae, its humor, and its vivid backwoods dialect.
ON THE SUBJECT OF…
MERCY OTIS WARREN (1728-1814)
Warren was a foremost patriot during the revolutionary period and one of the United States' first women of letters. A prominent pamphleteer and historian, she is remembered for her anti-Loyalist dramas, which helped to stir patriotic fervor at a crucial time in American history. Critics value her History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution: Interspersed with Biographical and Moral Observations (1805), one of the first accounts of the revolutionary war, as an astute analysis and vivid firsthand description of the era. Critics also assert that her History stands as a testimonial to its author, who ventured with confidence and success into areas outside the proscribed realm of women of her time. In the 1950s and 1960s, commentary on the History focused on such issues as Warren's application of morality to history and the philosophical background of her works, and there has been a particular emphasis on the latent feminist philosophy expressed in the History in criticism published since the 1970s.
Through the History, and her other works, which included the essay Observations on the New Constitution and on the Federal Convention by a Columbian Patriot, Sic Transit Gloria Americana (1788), Warren was an outspoken champion of independence and Republican democracy at a time when few women were involved in politics. Many of the nation's leaders, including John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson, were personal friends who respected her opinions and sought her advice, and Warren is counted among them as one of the most eloquent and independent thinkers in the early history of the United States. Her correspondence with John Adams was published in the 1878 collection The Correspondence of John Adams and Mercy Warren.
Previous critics have given The Journal, at best, only a passing reference,1 and most begin their studies of American humor and its accompanying distinctive idiom with A. B. Longstreet and other Southwestern humorists. Yet an examination of Madame Knight's journal will reveal it to be a closer progenitor of Southwestern humor than Byrd's Histories of the Dividing Line, to which it is sometimes compared. In fact, Madame Knight's journal occupies an intermediate point between the works of Byrd and Longstreet in terms of its use of persona, language, and kind of humor. Though Byrd and Knight were contemporary, Byrd is very much the aristocrat striving to impress an absent English audience. Even the audience of his peers, to whom the Secret History was directed, operates under these basic assumptions. Thus, Byrd's persona describes the incompetence of the North Carolina surveyors and lazy North Carolina colonials from a superior moral vantage point. The final form of the History detaches the persona almost totally from the action, and the entire story is told in his words, without the intrusion of the "vulgar common speech." In Georgia Scenes, Longstreet also uses the framing device of a gentleman narrator, yet he consciously allows his other characters to speak in the vernacular. In addition, the attitude of his narrator toward the lower class is not as derogatory as that of Byrd.
Knight's Journal falls somewhere in between and even points the way to later developments. Though the narrator feels definitely superior to many of the people she encounters, she is not at all detached from the action. Neither is she of the nobility. In fact, she is refreshingly middle-class, as revealed in her language and that of the other characters. The Journal itself chronicles a journey made to conclude a business deal, and Knight subscribes to the American business ethic in several places. However, she does have certain literary pretensions in common with the upper class, and at times breaks out in passable occasional verse, as well as less literary rhyme. Though her journal reveals a certain English influence, its debt is less than that of Byrd. Rather, the liveliness of her humor and language, with its sprinkling of anecdotes, is clearly related to later American humorists. The most distinguishing facet of her language is perhaps that its humor is not used to make palatable sadism and violence, as Kenneth Lynn suggests is the purpose of Southwestern humorists in Mark Twain and Southwestern Humor. Knight's humor is more in the comedy of manners tradition, directed against herself and others, toward some universal human failing. However, to understand the humor and language of Madame Knight's work, one must look at the journal as a whole and at the different personae she creates.
The historical Madame Knight was known as a teacher, recorder of public documents, and a successful businesswoman. Yet when her journal was first published in 1825, the editor assumed it to be fiction.2 The journal itself shows evidence of careful rewriting, obviously from the daily diary, which Knight mentions frequently. There is also a definite indication that the journal was written for an audience, through such "casual" statements as that of an invitation to dine with Governor Winthrop: "I stayed a day here Longer than I intended by the Commands of the Honerable Governor Winthrop to stay and take a supper with him whose wonderful civility I may not omitt."3 Functioning in some ways as a guidebook, the journal also contains such diverse elements as detailed descriptions of the towns of New York and New Haven and points in between, a thumb-nail sketch of people and customs in both the towns and the country, a recounting of the horrors of travels, and successful business deals. What better way to express these various subjects than through several personae, or one persona with different voices for use at different times? This is what Knight has done, using four main roles or voices for her persona: the frightened female traveller, the curious recorder of facts, the acute businesswoman, and the superior, and at times sarcastic, commentator.
Knight refers to herself occasionally as a "fearful female travailler" and in the first part of the journal dwells on her fears of the dark night and crossing swift rivers:
The Canoo was very small and shallow, so that when we were in she seem'd redy to take in water, which greatly terrified mee, and caused me to be very circumspect, sitting with my hands fast on each side, my eyes stedy, not daring so much as to lodg my tongue a hair's breadth more on the side of my mouth than tother, nor so much as think on Lott's wife.…
Sometimes seing my self drowning, otherwhile drowned, and at the best like a holy Sister Just come out of a Spiritual Bath in dripping garments.
She pretends to be repeatedly frightened by her guide with stories of coming dangers, yet her fear is almost always undercut with humorous allusion, as well as by the confident tone in other places. For instance, Madame Knight, though thirty-eight years old in an age when life expectancy was not much greater, sets off on a journey on October 2 at three in the afternoon, hardly a time of the year or the day to expect easy travelling. She chooses to journey on after dark to reach a self-appointed goal. Subsequent timorousness on her part seems a bow to convention, especially when far greater danger of being lost in a snowstorm later confronts her and she betrays no fear at all. She simultaneously assumes the pose of gentlewoman accepted by society, and deflates it through the vigor of her actions. She is no helpless, sheltered lady; rather she is a new breed of American woman, equally capable of caring for himself and of posing as a "fearful female" when it furthers her purpose.
This conventional guise also gives her the opportunity to compose some verses to "Fair Cynthia" and to speak in rather elevated language that seems out of place when contrasted with the other voices. "Now was the Glorious Luminary, with his swift Coursers arrived at his Stage, leaving poor me with the rest of this part of the lower world in darkness …" (p. 11). But here, again, Knight is only manipulating an accepted poetic pose, while her actions burlesque it. When at the end of her journey she desires "sincearly to adore [her] Great Benefactor for thus graciously carrying forth and returning in safety his unworthy handmaid" (p. 72), the reader again senses an acquiescence to literary tradition in the style and imagery. Thus, the guise of "fearful female travailler," with equal emphasis on the fearful and the female, is useful when Knight is being consciously literary and is quite undercut when contrasted with the other voices.
The voice to which it is most directly antithetical is the many-faceted one of the businesswoman or woman of affairs. Knight chooses what time and with whom she will travel, bargaining with her guide for a good price. Further, though she has gone to settle the inheritance of a relation, she snaps up a chance to make a profit on a quick deal herself:
Mr. Burroughs went with me to Vendue where I bought about 100 Rheem of paper wch was retaken in a flyboat from Holland and sold very Reasonably here—some ten some Eight shillings per Rheem by the Lott wch was ten Rheem in a Lott.
At times, Knight foreshadows the modern American business ethic in her standard of morality: correct conduct in business matters overrides other concerns, even religion. In a comment about the people of New York she says, "They are not strict in keeping the Sabbath as in Boston and other places where I had bin, But seem to deal with great exactness as farr as I see or Deall with" (p. 54). And like a good business woman she refuses to be deflected from her purpose, no matter what the inconvenience (p. 67). This sense of purpose and dispatch becomes more noticeable toward the latter part of the journal. Days become condensed and less attention is given to humorous detail. It is as if, nearing the end of her business, Knight wishes to wrap things up and get them out of the way.
Knight's third guise as the curious recorder of facts is quite compatible with that of the business-woman; in each she takes a practical view of the world around her, carefully observing and recording all relevant details. The persona of recorder of facts is most dominant after the arrival in New Haven, since from this point the focus of the journal seems to change. Heretofore, the narrative has focused on the hardships of the journey and the oddities of the rural people encountered; now, more attention is given to manners and customs in an urban setting, the first evidence of which is Knight's description of New Haven. Anxious that neither she nor the reader misses a detail, she discusses law, religion, customs such as Lecture days—Election Day, Training Day, marriage customs, food, the Indian question, and merchant practices. Moreover, like a good logician, she states first the good points, then the bad. The tone throughout is informative and casual. At no time does the reader wonder about Knight's opinion of these things, for she repeatedly interjects her comments with humorous asides and anecdotes.
This thorough, opinionated inquisitiveness is apparent in her description of New York. There, she even notes the architectural details of the houses in comparison with those in Boston. On the return trip from New York, she comments on many of the small villages, which she had ignored before. No vestige of the "fearful female travailler" remains as she assesses the scene before her. "This is a very pretty place, well compact, and good handsome houses, Clean, good and passable Rodes, and situated on a Navigable River, abundance of land well fined and Cleerd all along as wee passed" (p. 59). Thus, the latter part of the journal becomes a very factual travel book or guide book to that part of the country, though it is still leavened with humor.
The final, probably most delightful, voice is that of a superior, sarcastic commentator who comments on and participates in the action. The most pervasive and, thus, most fully developed, this voice binds the others together with the characteristic humor and viewpoint of a sophisticated city woman, passing judgment on country bumpkins. An instance of this observation is seen from the very beginning when she characterizes some tavern drinkers as "being tyed by the Lipps to a pewter engine" and slyly describes the figure of the guide as "a Globe on a Gate post." Perhaps it is Knight's very human annoyance with apparent stupidity that so appeals to the reader. For example, she expresses this annoyance in pithy terms when a dull-witted country wench is slow to give her food and lodging at a tavern:
Miss star'd awhile, drew a chair, bid me sitt, And then run upstairs and putts on two or three Rings, (or else I had not seen them before,) and returning, sett herself just before me, showing the way to Reding, that I might see her Ornaments, perhaps to gain the more respect. But her Granam's new Rung sow, had it appeared, would have affected me as much.
In language at once vivid and concrete, Knight deflates the girl's attempt to impress her; her use of the "sow" comparison is especially insulting because it is directed from one woman to another. But to fully understand the effect of this voice one must also examine the type of humor and the idiom used to create it. This passage demonstrates one of the ways humor surfaces in the Journal and agrees with Kenneth Lynn's description of frontier humor, "the humor [is] the vernacular and the vernacular [is] the humor."4 In using this persona to tell numerous anecdotes and relate the incidents of the journey, the author reveals her awareness of the power of words and her ability to manipulate them.
Knight's vivid description of the way merchants do business in Connecticut makes the reader feel he is present at the scene. Her language is graphic, if not too flattering, and the words the country bumpkins speak reinforce and complete the picture. Yet one is also aware of the regional tension in her portrayal, critical of both classes of people from Connecticut:
Being at a merchants house, in comes a tall country fellow, with his alfogeos full of tobacco; for they seldom Loose their Cudd, but keeping Chewing and Spitting as long as they'r eyes are open,…At last, like the creature Balaam Rode on, he opened his mouth and said: have You any Ribenin for Hatbads to sell I pray?… Bumpkin Simpers, cryes its confounded Gay I vow.
The bumpkin's female counterpart does not fare much better. Knight's tendency to make names descriptive is apparent in the characterization of "Jone Tawdry" who "curtsees" fifty times before she speaks and then speaks in an awed, ignorant tone: "Law you … its right Gent, do You, take it, tis dreadful pretty" (p. 43). These portraits, together with those of the other rustic Knight encounters, create the figure of the typical New England bumpkin, the ancestor of the archetypal Yankee.5 Yet Knight is also quick to point out that they only lack education, "for these people have as Large a portion of mother witt, and sometimes a Larger, than those who have bin brought up in citties" (p. 43). Cohen and Dillingham's description of Southwestern humor well applies to this situation:
When the narrator abandoned his gentlemanly pose and made the characters themselves speak, he was laying the foundation for a new style in American writing. Rich in similes, metaphors, and in exaggerations, this backwoods language is characterized by concreteness, freshness and color.6
Knight's narrator, rather than her characters, most forcefully exhibits this kind of concrete, fresh language. In addition, she clearly points the way to this treatment of humor through her manipulation of dialect, long before Longstreet, who is more popularly seen as the originator.
Along with the creation of comic stereotypes and usage of common speech, Knight uses certain words and images which comment on the prejudices and concerns of her time. Religion is often a tool used to produce the mocking, humorous tone so pervasive in the journal. The Quakers are twice an object of derision. Once, describing a locquacious hostess, Knight says, "I began to fear I was got among the Quaking tribe, beleeving not a Limber tong'd sister among them could out do Madm. Hostes" (p. 3). She speaks of the hostess "catechis'ing" John for going with her, and doubts the truth of her "Call" to fulfill this mission.
In her later description of the towns, Knight invariably comments on the church and on how the inhabitants keep the Sabbath. The villagers of Fairfield receive her special attention. She notes they are "litigious" and do not agree with their minister. "They have aboundance of sheep, whose very Dung brings them great gain, with part of which they pay their Parsons sallery. And they Grudg that, prefering their Dung before their minister" (p. 63). As a kind of divine retribution, she notes they get their comeuppance; they were "once Bitt by a sharper who had them a night and sheared them all before morning." Here, the stereotype of the thrifty Yankee who makes use of everything rises to the surface, as Knight illustrates the popular moral that scoundrels tend to get what they deserve.
Knight is also quite free in her allusions to the devil, who is not the same object of awe and terror as early Pilgrims imagined him. In an extended rather labored metaphor, she compares a bad innkeeper to Satan, thus rendering them both ridiculous. "I questioned whether we ought to go to the Devil to be helpt out of affliction. However, like the rest of Deluded souls that post to ye Infernal dinn, Wee made all posible speed to this Devil's Habitation" (p. 20). In these casual references to religion and her uses of religious metaphor, Knight typifies the attitude of the common New Englander, of whose carelessness or laxness one is not too aware when reading only the religious treatises of the time.
Another interesting detail revealed through Knight's use of language is the New Englander's prejudice toward the English, the Negro, and the Indian. Understandably perhaps, all connected with the Indian is deplorable to her, and the very word Indian becomes pejorative. Poor food is described as "Indian fare," a poverty stricken back-woodsman is described as "an Indian-like animal [who] … makes an Awkerd Scratch with his Indian shoo" (p. 25). Indian customs are disparaged and the English censured for emulating them in their practice of divorce. The Black also comes in for his share of indictment, and, again, the English are tainted by an association with them.
… too Indulgent (especially ye farmers) to their slaves: sufering too great familiarity from them, permitting ym to set at Table and eat with them (as they say to save time,) and into the dish goes the black hoof as freely as the white hand.
This intolerant attitude toward those who differ from her in class or race is probably a clue to an understanding of one of the several anecdotes Knight tells:
A negro Slave belonging to a man in ye Town, stole a hogs head from his master, and gave or sold it to an Indian, native of the place. The Indian sold it in the neighbourhood, and so the theft was found out. Thereupon the Heathen was seized, and carried to the Justices House to be Examined. But his worship (it seems) was gone into the feild, with a Brother in office, to gather in his Pompions. Whither the malefactor is hurried, And Complaint made, and satisfaction in the name of Justice demanded. Their Worships cann't proceed in form without a Bench: whereupon they Order one to be Imediately erected, which, for want of fitter materials, they made with pompions—which being finished, down setts their Worships, and the Malefactor call'd, and by the Senior Justice Interrogated after the following manner. You Indian why did You steal from this Man? You sho'dn't do so—it's a Grandy wicked thing to steal. Hol't Hol't cryes Justice Junr Brother, You speak negro to him. I'le ask him. You sirrah, why did You steal this man's Hoggshead? Hoggshead? (replys the Indian,) me no stomany. No? says his Worship; and pulling off his hatt, Patted his own head with his hands, sais, Tatapa—You Tatapa—you; all one this. Hoggshead all one this. Hah! says Netop, now me stomany that. Whereupon the Company fell into a great fitt of Laughter, even to Roreing. Silence is comanded, but to no effect: for they continued perfectly Shouting. Nay, sais his worship, in an angry tone, if it be so, take mee off the Bench.
This anecdote is interesting for several reasons. On the surface, it is a naive and rather crude joke, yet with closer scrutiny, it becomes something else. It reveals prejudice against the Indian and Black, but also a refreshing ridicule of authority. The participants are an Indian, a Negro, and two white Judges. The Negro and Indian are the stock dishonest, sly characters. Surprisingly, they are presented in a better light than the judges and could even be said to triumph in this joke. The two judges are out in the field gathering pumpkins when they are called upon to render a decision. Yet, like the two generals in Catch-22 who know they have no authority without their badge of office, they build a bench of pumpkins. Like typical lawyers, each has his own idea of how to proceed, and each only succeeds in making himself a laughingstock. In comparison with the lowest members of society, these justices are made to seem even more ridiculous.
The effect of this joke is totally dependent on word play, emphasizing, again, Knight's manipulation of language. The Indian does not know the meaning of "Hoggshead," and the pantomime of the judge make him believe that the judge is referring to his own head as a Hoggshead (perhaps the first pig joke in our history). Yet there is a nice discrimination between types of language, also. The first judge is interrogating the Indian incorrectly because he is "speaking Negro" to him, "it's a Grandy wicked thing to steal." The junior judge thinks he will succeed by speaking what he considers to be Indian to him. Since he has to pantomime part of the action, his opinion of the Indian's mentality is quite low. "Tatapa—You, Tatapa—you; all one this. Hoggshead all one this." The justice reacts the way one would to a foreigner and tries to make him understand by loudly repeating the words, which in this case sound like bad TV Indian dialogue. Perhaps this comic stereotype is also older than heretofore imagined.
Thus, humor for Sarah Kemble Knight becomes a vehicle to express her view of reality. Language is the medium to convey the humor, and she effectively experiments with language, with the use of the vernacular, to portray her view of life in colonial New England. Unconsciously or consciously, she reveals an attitude toward religion and toward business which is closer to that of Ben Franklin than that of the Mathers; her language reveals the sectionalism already surfacing in New England, especially in her criticism of the Connecticut colony. Furthermore, in her use of anecdote and concrete language she lays a foundation for the stereotypical Yankee and creates a persona with four distinct voices.
The Journal of Sarah Kemble Knight is not great literature, yet it is worthy of more consideration than it has been given in American literary history. Its social considerations are just as important as its historical ones. The Journal gives an insight into the life of a colonial woman who defies stereotype. She is cultured enough to be aware of society's genteel expectations of woman and of English poetic traditions, while she is practical and American enough to reject them when they do not suit her. She also reveals of independence of women in America, both in the realm of finance and of adventure. She is, indeed, a representative of the "liberated woman," in a time and place where we expect no liberation.
- Walter Blair, Native American Humor (San Francisco: Chandler Publishing Co., 1960), p. 4, states, "By contrast two rare frivolous souls of colonial times, Sara Kemble Knight and William Byrd, in their treatment of typical details, foreshadowed American humor." See also Willard Thorp, American Humorists (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1964), p. 5.
- A very good article for bibliographical information is Alan Margolies, "The Editing and Publication of 'The Journal of Madame Knight,'" Bibliographical Society of America Papers, 58 (1964), 25-32.
- George Parker Winship, The Journal of Madame Knight (New York: Peter Smith, 1935), p. 68. All subsequent references will be to this text.
- Kenneth S. Lynn. Mark Twain and Southwestern Humor (Boston, Toronto: Little, Brown & Co., 1959), p. 31.
- For discussions of the Yankee figure in early American literature see Constance Rourke, American Humor: A Study of National Character (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1931), pp. 12, 14; Jennette Tandy, Crackerbox Philosophers in American Humor and Satire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1925), p. 2; and Walter Blair, pp. 8, 9.
- Hennig Cohen and William B. Dillingham, Humor of the Old Southwest (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin Co., 1964), p. xvii.
ELAINE HOBBY (ESSAY DATE 1989)
SOURCE: Hobby, Elaine. "Religious Poetry, Meditations and Conversion Narratives." In Virtue of Necessity: English Women's Writing 1649-88, pp. 54-75. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1989.
In the following essay, Hobby examines the writings of several women who described their experiences of religious conversion.
While radical sectaries were out in the streets pamphleteering, proclaiming the social implications of the belief that each person had an individual relationship with God, other women were engaged in its more private anatomising, analysing and recording the development of their spiritual well-being. Such texts fall into two main groups. First, there are three books of poetry and meditations, the authors of which are clearly well to the right of Quakers and Baptists. Second, there is a series of spiritual autobiographies composed by members of Independent congregations, mostly in London. What all these writings have in common is the fact that their authors faithfully promote highly restrictive ideologies about women's duties and necessary passivity, while at the same time finding ways to justify their own unfeminine activities.
My bounded spirits, bounded be in thee,
For bounded by no other can they be. (Eliza's Babes, p. 36)
For a woman to write for publication at all in the seventeenth century was to challenge the limits of acceptable feminine behaviour. Between 1652 and 1656, three women published books of religious poetry and meditations, all of them finding ways within their work of making such activity possible. In their texts they construct models of a writing, female Christian who is supposed to be acceptable to the reading public. The ideal female author who appears in these texts is able to enter the public world free from male prefaces, but nonetheless is restricted by the characteristics of this ideal. All these texts, to a lesser or greater extent, are didactic, creating for writer and reader an image of desirable femininity which can embrace the identity of poet.
Much of Eliza's Babes, 1652, was produced abroad, possibly at the court of Elizabeth of Bohemia, after the anonymous author had fled England during the 1640s. Her references to the civil war ('To the King, writ, 1644', p. 23) make it clear that she was a royalist who had hoped for some compromise between king and parliament in the mid-1640s. Once in exile, however, she rejoiced in the unexpected delights found in forced exclusion from her country, and in 'To the Queen of Bohemia' celebrates the fact that her exile had made it possible for her 'To see that queen, so much admir'd' (p. 23).
Many of the defeated royalists, of course, had to find some way of making failure and withdrawal from the world palatable. In Eliza's Babes, however, we also find an exploration of the specifically female advantages of abandoning the world. The Eliza persona that the poems create demonstrates the freedoms available for women who retire from the public domain and immerse themselves in religious devotions. Not only can women dismiss concerns of state; they can also, to some extent, retire from the family structures which compose it.
The title page of Eliza's Babes announces that the author 'only desires to advance the glory of God, and not her own'. This reiterates the point that Eliza makes several times in introductory remarks: the normally reprehensible act of publishing her works is acceptable, even necessary, because of her duty to God. Publishing is a Christian act, she argues, because Christ died a 'public death', compelling her 'to return him public thanks, for such infinite and public favours' (sig. A3). This action should be emulated by all true believers, and not criticised in her.
And if any shall say 'Others may be as thankful as thee, though they talk not so much of it'; let them know that if they did rightly apprehend the infinite mercies of God to them, they could not be silent: and if they do not think the mercies of God worth public thanks, I do.
Like her more radical sectary sisters, she uses the idea that women should be the most lowly of creatures to argue that, therefore, they are least able to resist being used by God to his greater glory.
And now I dare not say 'I am an ignorant woman, and unfit to write', for if thou will declare thy goodness and thy mercy by weak and contemptible means, who can resist thy will.
Although inhabiting this passive role restricts her subject matter—in one of her poems she exhorts 'Lord let no line be writ by me, / That excludes, or includes not, thee'—it also frees her from fear of human disapproval. Her opening poem exults in this licence.
I glory in the word of God,
To praise it I accord.
With joy I will declare abroad,
The goodness of the Lord.
All you that goodness do disdain,
Go; read not here:
And if you do; I tell you plain,
I do not care.
For why? above your reach my soul is placed, And your odd words shall not my mind distaste.
Eliza has committed herself to Christ—'He is my spouse', she assures God (p. 21)—and her description of herself as Christ's wife is a highly developed image, drawing on the language and concepts of courtly love poetry. In 'The Flight', for instance, she reworks the conventional notion of a lover dying from grief at his (usually) beloved's death.
Eliza for, ask now not here,
She's gone to heaven, to meet her peer.
For since her Lord, on earth was dead,
What tarry here? she'd not, she said.
And to the heavens, she took her flight,
That she might be still in his sight;
And so to us she bid adieu,
But proved herself a lover true. (p. 11)
As 'a lover true' she delights in praising her beloved, 'his fair sweet lovely face' and 'his pleasing eyes [that] do dart / Their arrows which do pierce my heart' (pp. 24-5).
When it comes to earthly love, however, she asks God to harden her heart 'as hard as steel' (p. 2): 'Great God, thou only worth desiring art, / And none but thee, then must possess my heart' (p. 12). The comparison between earthly love and divine affection, made repeatedly in the poems' use of love poetry conventions, is clear and consistent. As God's spouse she has peace and freedom. Repeatedly and wittily she dismissed the claims of men to possess her as a limitation, even a slavery.
Since you me ask, why born was I?
I'll tell you; 'twas to heaven to fly,
Not here to live a slavish life,
By being to the world a wife. (p. 31)
If we turn to her poem 'What I Love', we find that what might at first glance be anticipated as a heartfelt declaration of love for some man, in fact mocks the very idea of her deigning to feel affection for any man.
Give me a soul, give me a spirit,
That flies from earth, heaven to inherit.
But those that grovel here below,
What! I love them? I'll not do so. (p. 36)
The product of this marriage with God is her book of poems, her 'babes'. Her first use of the term 'babes' to describe her work serves to emphasise her purported passivity in its production. Addressing other women as 'my sisters', she urges them
Look on these babes as none of mine,
For they were but brought forth by me;
But look on them, as they are divine,
Proceeding from Divinity. (sig. Av)
Publishing her writings, even though she claims divine sanction, was as great a risk to her modest reputation as sexual irregularities would have been. Defining herself on the title page as a 'virgin', and stressing the modesty of her entry into the public domain with these 'babes', she adds: 'I am not ashamed of their birth; for before I knew it, the Prince of eternal glory had affianced me to himself; and that is my glory' (sig. A2). These offspring, the result of an 'irregular union' with God, are a blessing to their 'mother' which makes them far preferable to children of flesh and blood born in wedlock, since 'they immortalise the name' (p. 42; children of the flesh, of course, would only immortalise a husband's name). Addressing 'a Lady that bragged of her children', Eliza delights in the joy and holiness of her own 'babes'.
If thou hast cause to joy in thine,
I have cause too to joy in mine.
Thine did proceed from sinful race,
Mine from the heavenly dew of grace.
Thine at their birth did pain thee bring,
When mine are born, I sit and sing.
Thine doth delight in nought but sin,
My babes' work is, to praise heaven's King.
Thine bring both sorrow, pain and fear,
Mine banish from me dreadful care. (pp. 54-5)
Some of the later poems in Eliza's Babes describe the unavoidability of marriage, and work out a pattern whereby the poet can maintain her autonomy within it. Dutiful to her God and to the male hierarchy of the family, she finds herself 'given away' despite her own gift of her heart to God. The only solace offered in 'The Gift' is to continue to follow God's bidding.
My Lord, hast thou given me away?
Did I on earth, for a gift stay?
Hath he by prayer of thee gained me,
Who was so strictly knit to thee?
To thee I only gave my heart,
Wouldst thou my Lord from that gift part?
I know thou wouldst deliver me
To none, but one beloved by thee.
But Lord my heart thou dost not give,
Though here on earth, while I do live
My body here he may retain,
My heart in heaven, with thee must reign.
Then as thy gift let him think me,
Since I a donage am from thee.
And let him know thou hast my heart,
He only hath my earthly part.
It was my glory I was free,
And subject here to none but thee,
And still that glory I shall hold
If thou my spirit dost enfold.
It is my bliss, I here serve thee,
'Tis my great joy; thou lovest me. (p. 42)
This fate, however, is exemplary. Making the married Eliza representative of women's rightful role in wedlock, the poet explains 'Not a husband, though never so excelling in goodness to us, must detain our desires from heaven' (p. 45). Even though the new spouse is kind—'with him I have no annoy' (p. 45)—this is unimportant in comparison with the spiritual freedom that a relationship with God gives her. Representative of all women, Eliza draws out the lesson that true religion frees the female sex from dependence on male approval or concern.
For should our husband's love fixed be
Upon some others, not on thee
Heaven's Prince will never thee forsake,
But still his darling will thee make.
And should he of thee careless be,
Heaven's Prince, He will more careful be.
He from the earth will raise thy heart,
That thou content mayst act that part.
Being married is merely playing a necessary role; her true identity is defined in relation to God.
Producing her 'babes', the fruit of her union with God, Eliza reflects that God must have 'something here remarkable for me to do, before I leave the earth' (p. 102). The relationship between woman and God that the poems represent and define makes her 'capable of as great a dignity as any mortal man'.
Peace! Present now no more to me (to take my spirit from the height of felicity) that I am a creature of a weaker sex, a woman. For my God! If I must live after the example of thy blessed apostle, I must live by faith, and faith makes things to come, as present; and thou hast said by thy servant, that we shall be like thy blessed Son: then thou wilt make all thy people like kings and priests. Kings are men, and men are kings; and souls have no sex. The hidden man of the heart makes us capable of being kings; for I have heard it is that within makes the man. Then are we by election capable of as great a dignity as any mortal man.
It is through withdrawal from the world and in obedience solely to God, these 'virgin's offerings' demonstrate, that women can attain a measure of self-definition and control.
An Collins's Divine Songs and Meditacions appeared in 1653. The book, which is almost entirely in verse, is highly experimental in stanza form, and it is possible that some of the songs, at least, were intended to be set to music and performed. In the introductory address 'To the Reader', Collins explains that she has found writing 'so amiable, as that it inflamed my faculties, to put forth themselves in a practice so pleasing'. Writing is described, in other words, as a delightful and empowering activity for the author. Choice of subject-matter, however, was not free. She had found no satisfaction, she asserts, in writing 'profane history'. It was only when committing herself to the exposition of 'divine truth' that she found contentment. Composing poetry on such themes 'reduced my mind to a peaceful temper'. Her 'inflamed faculties', therefore, were at the same time 'peaceful'. The Songs and Meditacions proceed to promote tranquillity and contentment as qualities of the highest value, both for the state and for the individual. The author is portrayed in her poetry as a pattern for the reader, a Christian woman who has achieved satisfaction by following the rules promoted in the text.
If women's sphere, according to conventional wisdom and dominant practice, extended no further than the boundaries of her home, An Collins is shown as more especially confined within such limits. The long introductory poem 'The Preface' consists of a fascinating fusion of personal history, commentary on the contemporary religio-political conflicts and a brief history of Christianity, with a series of statements about the role of the author. Collins describes how her confinement to the house was necessitated by chronic ill-health, inactivity lulling her brain to sleep. Writing has revived her. In 'The Preamble' to her first meditation, she also describes writing as a release from crippling despair and misery.
Amid the ocean of adversity,1
Near whelmed in the waves of sore vexation,
Tormented with the floods of misery,
And almost in the guise of desperation,
Near destitute of comfort, full of woes,
This was her case that did the same compose.
Writing has empowered her, and it is particularly important that she is writing about divine truth. Since her subject matter is righteous, she is protected by a 'sovereign power' from the malice of her enemies who would wish her to remain silent. People have tried to hinder her, 'Yet this cannot prevail to hinder me / From publishing those truths I do intend' ('The Preface').
ON THE SUBJECT OF…
CATHERINE PARR (1512-1548)
The sixth wife of King Henry VIII, Parr was known in her day for her piety and learning as well her immensely popular devotional works. The volume she edited, Prayers or Meditations (1545), was one of the earliest Protestant devotional works, and her spiritual autobiography, The Lamentation or Complaint of a Sinner (1547), was one of the first Protestant confessionals and an especially unusual publication for a woman of her day. A devoted humanist, Parr worked tirelessly to make religious works available to the English reading public, and her works reveal her deep interest in promoting Protestantism and calling for reform. She also was a patron to a number of Reformist thinkers in her court circle and promoted the production of other Protestant religious works.
As a child Parr was encouraged to study by her mother, and became a notable scholar, fluent in Latin and capable in Greek and modern languages. When Henry VIII was away in France in 1544, Parr acted as regent in his absence. She was also said to have behaved kindly to his children, the future queens Mary and Elizabeth, encouraging them in their learning. Factions at court were envious of Parr's influence on Henry and sought to destroy her by linking her Protestant leanings with "heretical" religious reformers, and went so far as to accuse her of treason. In 1545 Henry signed a warrant for her imprisonment in the Tower of London, but Parr submitted to the king and did away with his suspicions.
Early in the twentieth century, scholars regarded Parr's writings as being of interest only as historical documents, but later feminist critics have emphasized Parr's effect on women's learning and religious life in the sixteenth century as well as the challenges she faced as a woman expressing her religious experiences.
Firm in the duty to publish her truths, she makes no further apology for commenting on affairs of state. Her task is to give voice to God's truth, which entails a duty to pass on to her contemporaries and to future ages the need for moderation, peace and order. The people are 'wrapped in fangles new', corrupted and confused by ill-doers ('Time past we understood by story'). Committed to the position that radical sectaries are merely producing 'new glosses' on 'old heresies' ('The Preface'), she argues for reestablishment of order and authority in church and state, and 'Another Song Exciting to Spiritual Mirth' proposes abandonment of concern over the outcome of human conflict.
But those that are contented
However things do fall,
Much anguish is prevented,
And they soon freed from all;
They finish all their labours
With much felicity.
If the author and reader become singleminded in the pursuit of wholly spiritual concerns, they will find happiness. Only by refusing rebellion and discord can the true Christian find happiness ('Another Song' "Having restrained discontent").
Quite clearly in such passages, the model Christian woman that the poet represents asserts that conflict and dissension are evils, the work of the devil, and so should be rejected in favour of social order and moderation. While calling for retreat from argument she is also, therefore, promoting a particular (and reactionary) political ideology. Arguing that state politics are unimportant, she makes a political statement, and holds up the contented poet persona as evidence that retirement from worldly concerns brings happiness. She looks to God to provide the only possible unity in the families of a nation torn apart by civil war.
No knot of friendship long can hold
Save that which grace hath tied,
For other causes prove but cold
When their effects are tried.
For God who loveth unity
Doth cause the only union
Which makes them of one family
Of one mind and communion.
This is the cause of home debate,
And much domestic woes,
That one may find his household mates
To be his greatest foes,
That with the wolf the lamb may bide
As free from molestation
As Saints with sinners, who reside
In the same habitation. ('A Song Declaring that a Christian May Find True Love only where True Grace Is')
The championing of withdrawal from the world indeed becomes particularly interesting when applied specifically to the question of family ties: a woman's duty of obedience to her father, and her subsequent absorption within her husband's identity were, after all, supposed to be of paramount importance. The retirement advocated in Divine Songs and Meditacions, therefore, is of particular advantage to women, and is certainly an important factor in the presentation of the poet's contentment. The good Christian of these Songs is not just singleminded, but also single-hearted. Her only spouse (like Eliza's) is Christ. She must withdraw from duties to men, as well as from conflicts of state.
Then let them know, that would enjoy
The firm fruition,
Of his sweet presence, he will stay
With single hearts alone,
Who [but] their former mate,
Do quite exterminate:
With all things that defile.
They that are Christ's truly,
The flesh do crucify
With its affections vile.
The grounds of truth are sought
New principles are wrought
Of grace and holiness,
Which plantings of the heart
Will spring in every part,
And so itself express.
('A Song Expressing Their Happiness who have Communion with Christ')
In this union with Christ, the female poet can justify her writing as proper feminine employment. 'The Preface' describes the Songs as offspring clad in homely dress—fitting products of a virtuous woman. She defends her writing
Now touching that I hasten to express
Concerning these, the offspring of my mind,
Who though they here appear in homely dress
And as they are my works, I do not find
But ranked with others, they may go behind,
Yet for their matter, I suppose they be
Not worthless quite, whilst they with truth agree.
The fruit of this union with Christ is necessarily good.
So sorrow served but as springing rain
To ripen fruits, endowments of the mind,
Who thereby did ability attain
To send forth flowers, of so rare a kind,
Which wither not by force of sun or wind:
Retaining virtue in their operations,
Which are the matter of those meditations.
The overriding assertion of the Songs and Meditacions, indeed, is that the poet, the Christian woman, having suffered greatly in the world from conflict and physical constraints, has found the wisdom to willingly abandon worldly concerns and fence herself into a narrow domain which allows, in practice, greater freedom. The final expression of this is the Songs themselves, 'flowers of so rare a kind, / Which wither not by force of sun or wind'. The most succinct statement of this conclusion appears in 'Another Song' "The winter of my infancy", which traces the poet's suffering and subsequent attainment of peace. The enclosing of her mind by the strictures of contentment and divine truth has brought with it safety, making it possible for her to write undisturbed and thus attain more than most women ever can. The cottage garden of her mind can grow rare fruits indeed.
Yet as a garden is my mind enclosed fast
Being to safety so confined from storm and blast
Apt to produce a fruit most rare,
That is not common with every woman
That fruitful are.
Most women's 'fruitfulness' is shown in their ability to bear sons for their husbands. Her offspring were acquired, the text proclaims, through accepting the need for quiescence and withdrawal from worldly turmoil and family ties in a country split apart by civil war. This alone can bring happiness.
For in our union with the Lord alone
Consists our happiness.
Certainly such who are with Christ at one
He leaves not comfortless. ('A Song Expressing Their Happiness who have
Communion with Christ')
In Divine Songs and Meditacions an apparently conventional restatement of a basic Christian tenet—that God alone is the source of secure joy—becomes a justification for female celibacy and a celebration of women's writing.
Elizabeth Major's Honey on the Rod: Or a comfortable Contemplation for one in Affliction appeared prefaced by a commendatory note by the censor Joseph Caryl in 1656. Caryl recommends the book to the reader as evidence that 'the Lord gives instruction with correction'. The author's own address to her readers is properly self-deprecating, while making the necessary claim that her writings are both godly and useful.
If you please so far to descend, as to cast an eye upon these poor lines presented to you, you may behold in it a little (but a full) hive. I entreat thee not to be offended, if thou find in it more wax than honey, and more dross than either. The honey (the divine part) I commend to thee, and the wax (the mortal part) being clarified from the dross (that is, the faults and failings through weakness) is useful in its place.
That which is good in the book comes from the Lord, she asserts, or from the experience he has seen fit to give her (sig. A4). Since it is godly, her uneasiness about 'making it public' (sig. A6v) has been overcome: 'the subject will be the honour of it' (sig. A7v). Apologising for her 'lowly' achievements, she makes it clear that the book is all her own work (helped by the Lord), and that it is the best she can do. The book is her child.
And now to you, O my friends, I present these poor and undressed lines, being as they came into the world, I not finding any hand to help me to put it into a better dress than what it brought with it … For though I was not ambitious of a beautiful babe, yet I confess I would gladly have had it appear comely; therefore where you find it harsh or uneven, know, it should not have come abroad so, had not my ignorance to find the fault been the cause of it.
As a godly text, Honey on the Rod is didactic. The author warns her reader to understand the 'comfortable contemplation' as exemplary, not just revealing the author's condition but also showing the sinner her/his own true, mortal state.
Come, O come, I beseech you, whoever you are that read these lines, and behold yourselves and me in them, as objects of mortality, like dust before the wind or as stubble before a consuming fire; weak, and not able of ourselves to resist the least assault.
The recurrent simile of Honey on the Rod portrays the author as an erring child or poor scholar, God as the father and teacher. The author and reader together are led through a series of lessons in order to achieve their salvation.
The major part of the book—about three quarters of it—consists of a prose dialogue 'A Comfortable Contemplation for One in Affliction'. The main protagonists are 'Consolation' and 'Soul', who discuss how hope and salvation can be found in the midst of affliction. The soul, cast down and repentant, looks to language and specifically to writing as a way to find relief from despair.
I could wish my tongue were as the pen of a ready writer, if there be hopes of ease by imparting; for my sighs are many, and my heart is heavy. I, I am she that hath seen affliction.
Honey on the Rod, then, acts as the site where affliction is made sense of, and a particular understanding and interpretation of suffering is given to the distressed author and reader. In the author's case, the suffering is not solely the conventional penitence of a believer seeking salvation and escape from the bondage of sin, but a particularly acute pain. Major explains to the reader that God 'was pleased in the prime of my years to take me, as it were, from a palace to a prison, from liberty to bondage, where I have served some apprenticeships' (sig. A4v). This 'prison' is physical confinement brought on by sudden and crippling illness.
No help here is below; alas, I must, I must to prison here: where Lord, thou knowest, some apprenticeships I have close prisoner been: my strength thou were pleased to melt away by secret, unseen ways, leaving me almost as helpless, as when I first entered this vale of tears: and to my debility many other afflictions thy wisdom sees it needful here to add; for scarce doth the day break in upon me, before a new cause of sorrow hath made a breach.
Her weakness and consequent close confinement to the home are presented, however, as having a particular metaphorical significance. She reminds herself repeatedly that her disability is God's judgement on her as a sinner: 'because ye have sinned against the Lord, and have not obeyed his voice, therefore this thing is come upon you' (p. 14). She presents herself to the reader as a particularly clear exemplar of the state of sin; and, as the text proceeds, the sinner saved. Her illness and pain have given her the lesson that Honey on the Rod offers to the reader: we must withdraw from the world, and concern ourselves only with Christ who (like the author) suffered for the sake of our salvation.
The passive, chastened self can be useful, and so the sinner calls on God to humble and break her. In the context of constant references to real physical pain, such passages acquire poignancy. Passivity here is not a metaphorical state advocated by a man with real power and control in the world. It is an inescapable fate, based in female powerlessness and the author's chronic illness, which she is trying to present and interpret in a manner which gives it some purpose and her some stature.
Lord, give an humble heart, that I may yield,
O get the conquest ere thou quit the field:
And melt it, Lord, by mercies, if that won't do,
Break it in pieces, and then make it new.
O frame it to thy will, to thee 'tis known,
And not to me, O Lord, though 'tis mine own.
O bring it to obedience, make't what thou wilt
So thou wilt own it, help ere my soul be spilt. (p. 185)
The self torn apart and remade by God is one who has a right to write, and who can represent the sinner saved. The final section of the book includes several poems which do, quite literally represent (and re-present) the author in this exalted role. These poems use her name, Elizabeth Major, as a frame to lay out her qualities and aspirations, defining and constructing a self that is both saint and sinner, saved by suffering and God's grace. Elizabeth Major the author, as depicted in these verses, is a blessed and exemplary Saint. The most remarkable of these is 'The Author's Prayer'.
The Author's Prayer: O my blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, have mercy on thy poor hand-maid, Elizabeth Major.
The self thus defined and recommended to the reader is one with strictly limited freedoms. She must behave in acceptable, godly ways—something which would not usually involve writing, for a woman, necessitating her introductory justification of the act, and the didactic concern of the book. In order to explore the range of subject-matter relevant to a discussion of sinfulness, she also has to vindicate making reference to things 'that your blushing sex should want confidence to mention' (sig. h3). When writing 'On Immodesty', therefore, she inevitably reprimands women for not being sufficiently chaste and modest.
For England sure doth Sodom pass in sins,
O here's committed unseen, unheard of things
To former ages, by my own sex are done,
Things but to name, would taint a modest tongue:
Therefore myself I'll silence, since tongue nor ear
Of a chaste soul can it describe, nor hear:
For certainly, 'tis scarce unknown to any.
With grief I speak, ill's acted by too many. (p. 175)
She can only make the immodest step of writing and publishing by claiming to silence herself on certain matters, while warning other women against being overbold. Writing allows Major to create and inhabit a contradictory space, where she is both free to write as a sinner saved, and yet still tightly bound by rules of passivity and modesty. She constructs a new self, but a new self broken by suffering and made up only of permissible feminine elements.
'I could not see the need I had of my troubles, nor
the end for which they were sent.'
(Sarah Davy, Heaven Realiz'd, p. 5)
Women's published records of their spiritual lives have roots in the convention of spiritual self-examination recommended by Puritan divines. This practice served in part to replace the earlier Catholic pattern of confession to a priest to obtain absolution: each person had to examine their own soul's health to discover whether s/he would be numbered among the saved. Such a practice was particularly relevant when death seemed imminent, and it is thanks to the desire of the dying to recall evidence that they were included among God's chosen people that accounts survive of the lives of Elizabeth Moore, Mary Simpson2 and Luce Perrot. The writings of all these women were published posthumously by men. None of them appeared as autonomous texts, but were reworked by their male editors to serve their own ends. Elizabeth Moore's Evidences for Heaven, for instance, appears in Calamy's The Godly Man's Ark as part of his argument in favour of patient forebearance. Luce Perrot's Account was divided into short sections, each one followed by far more lengthy interpretations and observations composed by her husband, Robert. In all three cases, the women's names only appear in print to be used to urge modesty and acceptance of duty.
It was not only when confronted by the fear of their own imminent demise, however, that Puritans assessed their chances of salvation. In the early 1650s, compilations of 'conversion experiences' were published by Henry Walker, Vavasor Power, Samuel Petto and John Rogers. These 'confessions', many of which were made by women, are professions of faith made by individuals seeking to join a specific Independent congregation. For an experience to be accepted as a genuine guarantee of salvation, it would have to fall within a specific pattern: otherwise the conversion might be a false one, and the sinner caught in the hypocrisy of a false confidence in their salvation. As Owen Watkins has demonstrated in The Puritan Experience, the conversion narrative rapidly established its own conventions, a particular pattern of false confidence, doubt, and renewed, true confidence coming to be seen as the necessary sequence in achieving genuine salvation, permitting admission to a gathering of Saints. This structure came to be so surely accepted as proof of true deliverance that Elizabeth Moore cited the fact that God had taken her through the same processes as those reported by other converts as evidence of her own Sainthood.3 It was probably the same conviction of the inevitability of a specific pattern that led the editor of Sarah Davy's posthumous Heaven Realiz'd to divide it into sections, the headings of which trace a formal development that bears little relation to the actual content of the text.
The conventions of spiritual autobiography both provided an acceptable reason for women to write about their experiences, and established a framework through which they could order and make sense of disparate elements of their lives. On the whole, however, it was not possible for women themselves to publish their own accounts. These spiritual autobiographies were often published posthumously and they enter the public domain more carefully surrounded by a bevy of masculine praise, exhortation and interpretation than any other body of women's writing in the period. Anne Venn's A Wise Virgins Lamp Burning, for instance, although clearly written with a readership of Christians in mind, was not published until her parents found the manuscript in her closet after her death. It is prefaced by a recommendation from her congregation's minister, Thomas Weld, who hopes it will serve as an example of desirable female behaviour, even if 'to thy knowledge it should not add much'.4
The writings most excused and qualified by male approval include those by Sarah Wight, Jane Turner and Anne Venn. Sarah Wight had first entered the arena of public scrutiny in 1647 when, at the age of fifteen, she had fallen into a trance. She had arisen from this periodically to quote scripture or to converse with some of the crowds who came to observe her. Henry Jessey's bestselling description of this period of her life, The Exceeding Riches of Grace, includes a list of almost thirty ministers and over fifty 'persons of note' who came to visit her.5 She was the ideal model of the divinely inspired woman, humbly submitting to being used as God's tool, and not presuming to speak on the issues of state politics that should lie beyond her scope. Unlike her fellow seer Anna Trapnel, she represented no threat to the civil authorities. It is consistent with this that her only publication should have found its way into print without her prior knowledge. (Perhaps the bookseller, Richard Moone, was hopeful that A Wonderful Pleasant and Profitable Letter Written by Mrs Sarah Wight would sell as well as Jessey's work about her had.) Although her Letter is of prodigious length—about fourteen thousand words—it shows no sign of having been written with any audience in mind other than the friend (minister Robert Bragg?) to whom it is addressed.6 It records the stages of her conversion, and consists mainly of a detailed exposition of Christian doctrine, starting from the premise that 'A Christian's true happiness lies in being emptied of all self, self refined, as well as gross self; and being filled with a full God' (p. 5).
Jane Turner's Choice Experiences portray a woman far less hemmed in by male approbation, who nonetheless needs masculine endorsement for publication of her work. For her, a personal relationship with God engendered not passive submission but a new activity and responsibility for vigilance against backsliding. She explains
In the work of conversion we are passive, I mean as to inward spiritual activity, we can do nothing being dead … But after conversion we are active, and therefore commanded to keep ourselves in the love of God.
Even her description of the 'passivity' of conversion itself is only a conventional acceptance of the tenet that it is God who calls the sinner, and decides who is to be saved. This quiescence does not mean that she should make no initial effort to find the truth. Her third 'Note of Experience' relates how she had read and rejected some unnamed book promoting the new theology. When her Presbyterian minister later preached against the text, however, and talked about it in terms which differed from her recollection of its contents, she went to considerable lengths to acquire another copy of this banned text. Finding that the minister had indeed misrepresented the book was a key element in her decision to change her religious allegiances (pp. 49-53).
It has frequently been noted that the ideas of the sects allowed women some measure of autonomy from their husbands. Quite what this could mean becomes apparent when we examine the writings of the women themselves. Jane Turner's husband, in fact, always enters the text as an afterthought. Only once she has pondered an issue and made her decision does it occur to her to discuss it with him. It is quite in accordance with this sense of separateness that she should have been writing her Choice Experiences without her husband's knowledge, and that his first sight of the book should have been when it was nearly finished (dedicatory epistle).
Jane Turner writes to be useful. Having found reading helpful in her own soul's growth, she wants the record of her experiences to profit others. Despite her disclaimer in her 'word from the author to the reader' that the thought of publication had never occurred to her, the text exhibits many signs that it was written with a public in mind. Details of her narrative are frequently omitted with the observation that it is fitting only to 'hint' at them, and a thorough attempt is made to order the story, referring the reader back and fore to other passages. This care for her work and attention to a reader's needs might even have extended to following it through the press, as more than one of these directions to the reader refers her/him to specific page numbers.
The lengthy prefaces to Choice Experiences, written by John Turner and two ministers, John Spilsbury and John Gardner, indicate the existence of a dispute within their church concerning the role of women. (Spilsbury's congregation were an offshoot of the Jacob group of churches in London. The group's membership ranged from the conservative Henry Jessey, who wrote the account of Sarah Wight's famous trance described above, to the radical Katherine Chidley, who was centrally involved in the pamphleteering by Leveller women in the 1640s.7) Jane Turner complains that her greatest discouragements have come from the Saints even while affirming her belief that 'such brethren only whose gifts are approved of by the church, may exercise their gifts publicly, and no other' (p. 7). She is determined that such approval should be given to her, and cautions her fellows 'to take heed of casting stumbling blocks in each other's way', and to leave the final selection of the Chosen to God (p. 8). It is only with the explicit backing of Spilsbury, and her husband's attesting to her modesty and his 'owning' of her work, that publication can be countenanced. The alternative would be to align herself with the more radical Quakers, whose advocacy of Inner Light she examines, and finally rejects as impermissible, in the course of her experiences (pp. 111-30). Having made her way into print, the conclusion of the text (which might well be the section written after her husband had seen and approved the work) contains a general reflection on the meaning of the concept of 'experience' and her recommendations on specific issues, such as the status of the church's younger members (pp. 193-207). Within the confines of her church, she gained the time to write carefully and at length about weighty matters, and was able to negotiate a route into print.
The pattern of the conversion experience could provide a framework to make sense of various crises in the course of a lifetime, and resulted in widely different reminiscences being written. In the case of these women writers, the experiences of falling in love, marrying and childbearing—events commonly regarded as key stages in female existence—were frequent matters of concern. The unifying factor of conversion allowed such issues to be understood and written about, and justified publication. Sarah Davy's reminiscences centre on the terror produced by her falling in love with a minister, another woman. Susannah Bell uses her text to work out the requirements of wifely duty, and Elizabeth White writes to produce a vision of marriage that discounts the relevance of romantic love. In Hannah Allen's account, finally, the usefulness of the written word itself, and of the conversion narrative framework in particular, are brought into doubt, though finally reaffirmed. Since almost all the texts under discussion here were published post-humously, the writers shared the problem that a third party had to be convinced, through the format of the conversion experience, of the potential interest of publishing a woman's work.8
Sarah Davy's 'precious relics', Heaven Realiz'd, were published by her minister Anthony Palmer, who recommends them as a model to be imitated by 'younger persons (especially young gentle-women)', in the hope that they will help to stem the rise of atheism.9
Davy describes her early life as a period of great loneliness and isolation, during which time her mother and baby brother died and she passed through a crisis of faith. The turning point comes when she meets the person who effects her conversion to an Independent congregation. Her depiction of this, and of her subsequent heartache at being parted from her new-found friend, is in language which conjures up associations of romantic love. Release from misery arrives when she joins the Independent church her friend belonged to. God then addresses her directly, as recorded in one of her meditations.
Did not I first love you? and therefore give you this new commandment, that as I have loved you so you should love one another, with a pure unbounded love … to love one another as I have loved you, or to love thy friend, as thou lovest thyself, most willingly to do that which may be for thy friend's good, although it be to some prejudice to thyself, this is love and by this you shall know that you are my disciples.
This divine command gives licence to love 'although it be to some prejudice to thyself', justifying to Davy and her reader a relationship which is taboo, since the friend who gave her so many 'sweet refreshments' (p. 21) was another woman. This female friend first enters Heaven Realiz'd in a passage which at first avoids assigning gender, dwelling on the religious significance of the encounter.
One day the Lord was pleased by a strange providence to cast me into the company of one that I never saw before, but of a sweet and free disposition, and whose discourse savoured so much of the gospel, that I could not but at that instant bless God for his goodness in that providence. It pleased the Lord to carry out our hearts towards one another at that time, and a little while after, the Lord was pleased to bring us together again for the space of three days, in which time it pleased God by our much discourse together, to establish and confirm me more in the desires I had to join with the people of God in society, and enjoy communion with them according to the way of the gospel. She was of a society of the Congregational way called Independents … Then were our hearts firmly united, and I blessed the Lord from my soul for so glorious and visible an appearance of his love.
Peace, the end of Davy's story, and the beginning of the possibility of writing about it, arrive when, having joined her friend's Independent church, she abandons this forbidden love and marries. She writes no meditations on wedded love.
The other longing that fills Davy's text is the desire to be useful in her life. She learns that this can be achieved by making herself the wholly passive instrument of God's will, and urges him to accept her converted soul: 'make me useful to thee in that way or any way thou shalt be pleased to choose' (p. 29). It is this submission to God's bidding that permits her both to be united with her friend, if only for a while, and to write the meditations which are finally published. By writing about the episode, she is able to make sense of it, and integrate it into an acceptable interpretation of the world. She had begun by puzzling over 'the need I had of my troubles' (p. 5). By accepting the logic of conversion she ends a Saint, a married woman and, once dead, a published author.
Susannah Bell's Legacy of a Dying Mother was also published by her church minister, the Independent Thomas Brooks.10 Bell's account of her experiences was, Brooks tells us, written down by one of her sons as she spoke it on her deathbed. The 'Epistle Dedicatory' by Brooks which prefaces the story in fact fills two thirds of the book (pp. 1-43). He holds Bell up as a model of humility, who faithfully continued to justify the Lord during her suffering. Her acts of charity, earnest desires for the salvation of her friends and family, and loving behaviour to poor miscarrying Christians all gain a mention. She is presented as both virtuous and self-denying, the ideal woman.
The 'conversion experiences' which follow are as much concerned with Bell's conversion to the merits of wifely duty as they are with more mystical matters. She tells how when her husband had first wanted to go to New England she had resisted his will, as she had a small child and was heavily pregnant with another. The Lord reminds her of the command 'Wives submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord', and she submits. She has seen the error of her ways too late, however, and the second child dies. God tells her that this has happened as a punishment for her disobedience. She informs her husband of her decision to accompany him after all, and by the time they set out she is again 'big with child' (pp. 45-7). Most of the rest of the narrative is concerned with her life in New England, while her husband travels back and forth between the two countries. She has become a good wife and Christian, and is soon allowed to join the local church. She sees it as a reward for this godly behaviour that her family are not hurt by an earthquake, and that on their return to England they survive the Plague and the Great Fire (pp. 59-61). The only disturbance to this surface contentment comes during one of her husband's trips back to England. While he is there, war breaks out, and Susannah Bell's neighbours fear that he might have been killed. This, too, she accepts with cheerful resignation, telling them 'If God should take my husband out of the world, I should have a husband in heaven, which was best of all' (pp. 55-6).
The manuscript of Elizabeth White's The Experiences of Gods Gracious Dealing was found after her decease, as Anne Venn's had been, in her closet.11 The reasons she gives for her writing are the same as those of the authors of meditations and conversion experiences: memory of God's goodness will support her in times of darkness, and prevent her forgetting its details. The text will remind her that 'he only hath wrought my works in me, for of myself I am not able to think a good thought, speak a good word, or do a good action' (pp. 21-2).
Her story follows the usual conversion narrative format of progress from ignorance and self-deception through spiritual torment to the acquisition of true confidence in her salvation. The experiences she describes, however, like those that Bell and Davy depict, are problems caused by love and childbearing. Her first crisis of faith occurs immediately before her marriage, the second about fifteen months later when she is expecting the birth of her first child. The wrongdoing which preoccupies her thoughts at both these times is the fact that she had spent so much time in her youth reading 'histories [i.e. romances], and other foolish books'.12
I was a great lover of histories, and other foolish books, and did often spend my sleeping-time in reading of them, and sometimes I should think I did not do well in so doing, but I was so bewitched by them, that I could not forbear; and hearing of a friend of mine, which was esteemed a very holy woman, that did delight in histories, I then concluded it was no sin, and gave myself wholly then to this kind of folly, when I had any spare time, for two or three years. I had sometimes slight thoughts of repentance, but was loath to set about it.
Such reading might seem a venial enough sin, unless we reflect that the subject-matter of these romances which had so obsessed her was a glorification of the joys of love. Perhaps the reality had not matched up to her expectations. Certainly the thought that dominates as her confinement approaches is the fear that she will perish in childbed: 'I was much dejected, having a sense of my approaching danger' (p. 11). After giving birth, she has a vision and then a dream which confirm that she will die. While still convalescing from the birth, she finds release from fear by writing of 'God's Gracious Dealings' with her. As the title page informs the reader, she did then die in childbed, like many of her contemporaries (see Chapter Seven).
The introductory remarks to Hannah Allen's Satan his Methods and Malice Baffled seem to be written by a church minister and direct the reader to the expected interpretation of her story: melancholy is physical in its origins, but the devil can use this 'malady' to his own ends. Hannah Allen's experiences are to be understood as the tale of her overcoming, with God's help, Satan's temptations to despair and self-destruction. This interpretation of her story is remarkable in view of the fact that the problem the narrative centres on is the failure of this religious framework to explain or relieve Hannah Allen's state of mind.
Allen's story begins conventionally enough: she records being raised by religious parents, undergoing early doubts about her salvation, and finding relief and new hope when reading a book by Mr Bolton. After her marriage in 1655 or 1656 at the age of seventeen to a merchant, Hannibal Allen, she joined Edmund Calamy's church (pp. 1-6). Eight years later her husband died on one of his many foreign voyages, and she 'began to fall into a deep melancholy' (p. 7). She turned to the established routines of her religion to lift her depression, seeking evidence that she was one of the saved and could look forward to an eternity of bliss. Attempting to relieve her melancholy, Hannah Allen reread her diary, seeking proof that her writing had served some useful purpose and that her belief in her salvation was not 'hypocrisy'.
Then I would repeat several promises to my condition, and read over my former experiences that I had writ down, as is hereafter expressed, and obligations that I had laid upon myself, in the presence of God, and would say, 'Aunt, I hope I write not these things in hypocrisy, I never intended any eye should see them; but the devil suggesteth dreadful things to me against God, and that I am an hypocrite'.
Despite all the comforts her diary offered, her depression deepened. The Bible, too, failed to assuage her misery: 'When I had seen the Bible, I would say, "Oh that blessed book that I so delighted in once!"' (p. 9). Travelling between friends and relatives, and seeking spiritual counsel, she found no comfort and ceased bothering to keep her record of God's marks of favour to her, and began to despair. As she began to have dreams and visions confirming her doom, and found no relief in writing or in reading the Bible, she forbade her son to read and spurned the written word herself.
Nor could I endure to be present at prayer, or any other part of God's worship, nor to hear the sound of reading, nor the sight of a book or paper; though it were but a letter, or an almanac … I would wish I had never seen book, or learned letter; I would say 'It had been happy for me if I had been born blind'; daily repeating my accustomed language, that I was a cursed reprobate, and the monster of the creation.
(pp. 58, 59)
Throughout the time of her melancholy, which lasted about three years, she made a series of dramatic suicide attempts, smoking a pipeful of spiders (generally believed to be venomous) to poison herself (p. 33); trying to starve herself to death but losing courage (p. 36); cutting her arm so as to bleed to death (p. 44).
She gives no real explanation for the cessation of these efforts at self-destruction, or how her despair lifted. After about three years the melancholy began to leave her, she records,
and then I changed much from my retiredness, and delighted to walk with friends abroad … And this spring it pleased God to provide a very suitable match for me, one Mr Charles Hatt, a widower living in Warwickshire; with whom I live very comfortably, both as to my inward and outward man, my husband being one that truly fears God.
Her religion had provided no explanation for the arrival of her melancholy at her first husband's death, and produced no reason for its leaving her at her remarriage. Nonetheless, with the problem gone the experience could be written about, and an attempt made to fit it into the accepted pattern of false confidence, doubt and new, true knowledge of salvation. The text ends by quoting a series of biblical passages selected to make sense of events in such a framework.
Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the water, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. Isaiah 43.1-2.
Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord: that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy. James, 5.11.
Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. 1 John, 4.4.
With the experience itself removed, the written word can be allowed once again to reinterpret its significance.
These books of religious poetry, meditations and conversion experiences indicate that even such apparently narrow and formulaic genres could be used by women to justify their writing. Also, it is clear that women were able to use the available formats to explore subject-matter that might be taboo, and that they wrote about love, marriage and their relationships with women and men in ways which challenge fundamentally the impressions of female existence that can be gleaned from male texts. The religious poetry, particularly, shows that women were not at all convinced that love and marriage were in their own best interests. Nonetheless, texts had to be publishable, and their female authors found it necessary to negotiate some acceptable way of existing within the constraints of the society in which they lived. The struggle to find a solution provides the dynamic of the texts themselves. Women daring to examine closely the limits of female behaviour are forced in their writing to reaffirm femininity, their texts becoming both an exploration of its constraints and an analysed self-policing which vindicates the fetters of feminine duty. The authorial personae that emerge in the process are model women, held up for admiration and emulation. The contradictions of this position are neatly expressed in Eliza's Babes in a couplet addressed by the author both to her God and to her poetry itself: 'My boundless spirits, bounded be in thee, / For bounded by no other can they be' (p. 36).
- Divine Songs and Meditacions is unpaginated, and many of the poems are entitled simply 'Another Song'. I have therefore referred to such verses by quoting the first line as well as the title. A modern facsimile of part of Collins's book has been printed by the Augustan Reprint Society.
- Mary Simpson's account is published with the sermon preached at her funeral by John Collings, in Faith and Experience. Sermons preached at women's funerals might prove a rich source of forgotten women's writings.
- Edmund Calamy, The Godly Man's Ark, p. 203.
- 'Dedicatory Epistle' by Thomas Weld. In this same year, Weld published a defence of his doctrines, after his refusal to baptise children had led him into trouble with other church officers. The Council of State removed his opponents. For details, see Michael Watts, The Dissenters, Oxford, 1978. Perhaps this incident encouraged Weld to publish Venn's writings and use them to promote his own theological position. She had died four years previously.
- See Dorothy Ludlow, '"Arise and Be Doing": English "Preaching" Women, 1640-1660', unpublished PhD thesis, Indiana University, 1978; Murray Tolmie, The Triumph of the Saints, 1977; Watts, op. cit.
- Ludlow, op. cit., p. 159.
- Tolmie, op. cit.; H. N. Brailsford, The Levellers and the English Revolution, ed. Christopher Hill, 1961.
- According to Owen Watkins, The Puritan Experience: Studies in Spiritual Autobiography, 1972, after 1670 almost all the printed conversion experiences written by men were also posthumous publications.
- The prefatory remarks to Davy's text are signed 'A. P.'. A likely identity for this anonymous Baptist minister is Anthony Palmer of Pinners' Hall, London.
- Brooks, along with Jessey, was one of the supporters of the 1647 Declaration by Congregational Societies in and about London, which 'solemnly repudiated polygamy, and community of property, and … defined liberty exclusively in terms of religious liberty' (Tolmie, op. cit., pp. 170-1).
- Many diary manuscripts were discovered and printed in private editions in the nineteenth century. See, for instance, The Priuate Diarie of Elizabeth, Vicountess Mordaunt.
- See also chapter 3 for a related discussion of Mary Rich.
WILLIAM J. SCHEICK (ESSAY DATE 1998)
SOURCE: Scheick, William J. "Captivity and Liberation." In Authority and Female Authorship in Colonial America, pp. 82-106. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1998.
In the following essay, Scheick analyzes two captivity narratives written by Elizabeth Hanson and Elizabeth Ashbridge.
The instances of logonomic conflict we have reviewed to this point occur in works written by Congregationalist and Presbyterian authors. As my discussion peripherally indicates, these women are by no means perfectly aligned in every aspect of their Reformed beliefs. Mary English and Anne Bradstreet do not share precisely the same cultural heritage or, perhaps, Congregationalist ideas, which were far from monolithic even at the start of the Puritan enterprise in England (Foster 1991). And compared with Bradstreet and English, Esther Edwards Burr reflects a more liberating exposure to both Presbyterian dogma and eighteenth-century thought, while at the same time in some important respects she also seems, in contrast to them, less able to accommodate the validation of secular interests. Nevertheless, whether conservative or liberal, these authors collectively share a Calvinistic reading of existence and a Puritan context for coming to terms with their identity as women. It is not surprising, therefore, that their writings should mutually reflect similar problems in self-expression and aesthetics despite some variation in authorial contexts.
We turn now to two Quaker women—Elizabeth Hanson (1684-1737) and Elizabeth Ash-bridge (1713-55)—to consider whether they were more successful in negotiating the theocratic logonomic system in which they lived. It is reasonable to raise this possibility because in many important respects Quaker women, in comparison to their Congregationalist and Presbyterian peers, enjoyed a greater opportunity for enhancing their self-esteem (Edkins 1980). They found this opportunity within both the theological beliefs and the social structures of the Society of Friends.
Outside the Friends, of course, they were pariahs, as is attested by the well-known history of their persecution in many of the colonies. To their adversaries, Quaker women were whorish vagabonds, polluters of religious faith, and irrational opponents of both civil and ecclesiastical authority (Koehler 1980, 246-53). All of these charges readily converged in the handy suspicion that Quaker women routinely practiced witchcraft (288). Their adversaries often believed, in short, that male and female Quakers alike spoke in Satanic double-talk, not in Pentecostal tongues.
And speak they did, especially women, who found in Quakerism a communal legitimation of their voice. Similar to the early Christians, with whom the Quakers identified (Bowden 1850, 1:30), persecution from without strengthened communal bonding from within, even to the extent of encouraging the formation of a pantheon of Quaker martyrs. Within this community, Quaker women found an identity and voice unlike any offered by other colonial Christian sects. This greater liberation of female identity made Quakerism particularly attractive to women. For some women, it has been suggested (Koehler 1980, 258), Quakerism seems to have cured depression. More generally, however, it appealed to those who desired to breach some of the restraints placed upon their gender by the prevalent social structures of their day.
In fact, as was the case with Mary Fisher and Anne Austin (the first Quakers in the colonies, both jailed on the charge of witchcraft in 1656), Quaker women could serve as preachers, authorized to speak as men. During Oliver Cromwell's Protectorate, an apprehensive House of Commons affirmed that only officially ordained males may preach (Otten 1992, 358), but growing numbers of English Quaker women persisted in the practice and later even defended it in print. Such publications as Margaret Fell's Womens Speaking Justified, Proved and Allowed of by the Scriptures (1666, 1667), Anne Whitehead and Mary Elson's An Epistle for True Love, Unity, and Order in the Church of Christ (1680), and Mary Waite's Epistle from the Women's Yearly Meeting at New York (1688) anticipated the many eighteenth-century defenses of the practice that were to follow, all of which advanced the early case made by George Fox.
Fox, the first major proponent of Quaker beliefs, pointed to scriptural examples of female preachers. He understood Saint Paul's equation of the sexes in Galatians to refer to the quotidian, not only to the afterlife, as we saw Congregation-alist minister Cotton Mather insist in Ornaments for the Daughters of Zion. Fox did acknowledge Saint Paul's comment that "women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak" (1 Cor. 14:34), but unlike Mather, who cited this same passage specifically against female Quakers, Fox unconventionally interpreted the Pauline admonishment to refer only to ignorant women (Sewel 1800, 2:1636), women who had not been illuminated by the Inward Light, "the true Light, which lighteth every man" (John 1:9).
Since female Quakers were, in theory if not always in custom (Berkin 1996, 91-97), thoroughly equal to men, should not their writings transcend the kind of authoritarian dissonance evident in documents by contemporary Congregational and Presbyterian women? Not necessarily, as we shall see in this chapter on Hanson's captivity narrative and Ashbridge's autobiography. Although some features change, especially assumptions pertaining to gender parity, logonomic conflict nonetheless oddly surfaces at critical junctures in both Hanson's oral report and Ashbridge's transcribed account.
Given their view of female evangelizing, the dwindling but still prominent notion that public expression, especially writing, was principally a male province was not likely a significant constituent of the conflictive negotiation of orthodox and personal authority in works by female Quakers as it was for Bradstreet and Burr. We might reasonably surmise, however, that part of what these women tried to surmount—particularly the prevalent colonial view of women as the weaker sex and the Reformed theocratic devaluation of human attachments in general—constituted a kind of authoritarian static within their more "emancipated" contemplation of the Quaker idea of woman.
Elizabeth Hanson's Captivity Narrative
Elizabeth Hanson's God's Mercy Surmounting Man's Cruelty (1728) is today not the most well-known colonial captivity narrative, but it was sufficiently popular before 1800 to go through thirteen editions at home and various reprints abroad (Derounian-Stodola and Levernier 1993, 14). In later editions, of which there also were many, it was variously modified by others for both propagandistic and marketing purposes (VanDerBeets 1984, 16, 25-26). Whereas the American versions bear the initials "E. H.," the English editions are said to have been "taken in substance from her own mouth" by Samuel Bownas, an English Quaker divine. Bownas's actual role is uncertain, however. More certain is the claim of the first American edition to be a transcription of an earlier account written by a friend to whom Hanson told her story. Hanson, by her own admission "not … capable of keeping a journal" (Vaughan and Clark 1981, 244), was one of the many colonial women who could not write in the early eighteenth century.
Although the first American edition claims to "differ … very little from the original copy, but is even almost in her own words" (231), the "almost" insists that the published version is in fact a revision of the amanuensis's written account of the oral report. To be borne in mind, as well, is the eighteenth-century Quaker practice of collective authorship, an editorial procedure that "refines" Quaker works, including John Woolman's journal (Fichtelberg 1989, 77-80), to reflect ideal communal values. (The assumption that Hanson was a Quaker is based not only on Bownas's editorial presence in the English edition but also on her husband's religion and her explicit attack on Puritan clergy [q.v. Vaughan and Clark 1981, 241].) Such cautionary considerations about the fidelity of the text to Hanson's intention are important to remember when basing any argument on her report in its published form.
In spite of these reservations, the first American edition conveys, in narrative terms at least, a sense of overall authenticity. It is not polished in any literary way, a fact that might make the work seem uninspired to latter-day readers. The manner of its expression and design is minimalist, but this very same lack of embellishment and grace imparts a sense of genuineness to the book. Moreover, even if one or more Quaker editors possibly oversaw even the American document, they would in all likelihood not have interfered with Hanson's scriptural allusions, save perhaps to make them accurate. Even the private journals and personal letters of colonial women indicate, we should recall here, an extensive use of biblical allusion, especially the scriptural loci they encountered by way of the pulpit, discussion groups, and books. Accordingly, the biblical allusions in God's Mercy Surmounting Man's Cruelty are altogether likely Hanson's selections. And that they become sites of logonomic conflict similar in effect to those of her Congregationalist female peers further testifies on behalf of their authenticity as her own choices.
After having witnessed the slaying of two of her young children, Elizabeth Hanson, her two teenage daughters, her six-year-old son, and her maid were taken captive in Dover Township in August 1724, and forced to journey to French Canada. During the ordeal of this trek, Hanson's family sustained a series of further divisions. First her eldest daughter Sarah was "carried to another part of the country far distant from" her; then the captors "divided again, taking [her] second daughter [Elizabeth] and servant maid from" her (234-35). Before long, her "daughter and servant were likewise parted" (235). She would have lost the child born to her during this captivity had not tribal women aided her in preventing its starvation.
Hanson and her two remaining children are ransomed by a Frenchman, whose civility surprises her (given traditional English vilification of the French). She is reunited with her husband, who also eventually "recovers" the younger daughter. And she finally witnesses the successfulness of her husband's refusal "to omit anything for [the] redemption" of "his dear daughter Sarah," who is on the verge of being married to a young Native American. However, as Hanson's family is painstakingly nearly reunited, it sustains one more substantial division. While seeking Sarah's liberation, her husband succumbs to an illness "in the wilderness" about "halfway between Albany and Canada" (243).
In short, the redemption of Hanson's family, its restoration to its wholeness prior to its traumatic rupture and subsequent divisions, never occurs. Two small children and a father are dead as a result of these events, and the remaining family members simply can never re-form the unit it once comprised. Hanson's family is, finally, at once reconstructed and fragmented, and this dichotomous condition henceforth defines the curious identity of her "redeemed" family.
Dichotomy likewise characterizes her overall response. On the surface, as the title of her little book indicates, she celebrates God's mercy in these providential events; below the surface, she unofficially registers an elegiac sense of loss akin to Bradstreet's in "Upon the Burning of Our House." The official, ventriloquized voice of praise observes, for example, that "though my own children's loss [of their father] is very great, yet I doubt not but his gain is much more" (243). Here the unauthorized, personal voice of mourning is evaded, consigned to the children (rather than herself) and to the anterior, the seemingly "left behind," portion of her figure of speech. In Hanson's use of antithesis, a neoclassical favorite for balancing one term against the other, proscribed sentiment appears to be prescriptively relinquished through the turn of a phrase. In a significant sense, of course, the ostensibly abandoned first part of this figure of speech (and its sentiment) lingers elegylike in the second part because the rhetorical play of the second part always depends on and points back to the first part for its effect and meaning.
A related interaction of public conviction and private sentiment can be detected more clearly when Hanson says at the end of her narrative that she "supplicat[es] the God and Father of all our mercies to be a father to [her] fatherless children" (243). To implore the Lord of mercy to serve as the father of the children, whom this same Lord mercilessly made fatherless, is an odd sentiment embodied here in a figure of speech (ploce) designed to negotiate Hanson's contrary feelings. The repetition of the word "father," commingling biblical and secular contexts, becomes a logonomic site subtly recording Hanson's resistant elegiac voice beneath the louder and more apparent expression of her acceptance of loss.
Sensitivity to this other voice here and in related instances in Hanson's book is stimulated by an indicative comment immediately preceding her unintentionally bivocal references to father-hood: "I, therefore, desire and pray that the Lord will enable me patiently to submit to His will in all things" (243). Here her own sense of loss is not displaced, not attributed to her children. Here the conscious, official desire to submit counters an illegitimate desire to mourn. Hanson prays for patient acquiescence because by the end of her account she is apparently still unable to let go of the anterior, antithetical portion of her experience and narrative.
Earlier she had admitted her concern about "repining against God under [her] affliction"; at that time she "found it very hard to keep [her] mind as [she] ought under the resignation which is proper to be in under such afflictions and sore trials" (236). And this perfectly natural, if doctrinally illicit, response haunts the end of her tale when she speaks of needing divine empowerment if she is truly to resign herself to divine will. To grieve, after all, is not to submit to this will, for grieving is a form of resistance urged by unsanctioned sentiment. So at the close of her book the word "desire" becomes a site of conflict, a locus of an anxious negotiation of two opposite dispositions: resistant personal sorrow and submissive orthodox acceptance.
Hanson's desire for a sanctioned resignation she has yet to find not only calls attention to the experiential persistence of her grief but also erodes her narrational celebration of emancipation from coerced submission. In effect, her captivity narrative concludes in a mutually constitutive opposition: by praising God for liberating her from a captivity that separated her from her family; and, at the same time, by imploring God for a new captivity that would remove her from liberated, unlicensed feelings. If her family is not restored because all of its "divisions" cannot be temporally undone, if her precaptive state of mind is not restored because all of its dichotomous sentiments cannot be resolved, Hanson's captivity narrative likewise does not come full circle to restore her previous comfortable state of mind because it expresses a divided state of mind. Instead of restoration, in God's Mercy Surmounting Man's Cruelty one mode of bondage gives way to conditions that engender Hanson's earnest ache for another mode of captivity.
In this regard, Hanson's allusion to the Babylonian Captivity conveys more than she likely understood. During their wilderness trek, her daughter Sarah recites Psalm 137:1-3: "By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down, yea we wept when we remembered Zion;…there they that carried us away captives required of us a song" (233). Hope is communicated in this application of Scripture, hope to the effect that like the Jews under Cyrus (the conqueror of Babylon) the Hanson captives (likewise on the verge of "repining against God") will one day be freed from a "strange land" (Ps. 137:4) to return home and restore the temple of their previous confident faith. This is doubtless the analogy Hanson had in mind, although as we have seen at the end of her account, the comfort of both her home and her faith has not been fully recovered.
Indeed, it would seem—despite Hanson's probable ignorance of the detail—that the allusion aptly associates her final failure to escape the locus of her captivity (reinscribed through both an expressed concern with a lingering grief and a desire for a divinely imposed recapture) with those many Jews who never left Babylon after their emancipation. For them, as for the mourning part of Hanson's mind, the former theocratic home rather than the locality of captivity had become the strange land. The difference, of course, is that these Jews stayed voluntarily, whereas Hanson's continuing thralldom to grief in her life is as involuntary as is the persistent echo of Davidian lamentation throughout her narrative.
This issue of volition likewise emerges at a crucial moment of logonomic conflict in the final sentence of Hanson's book: "I have given a short but a true account of some of the remarkable trials and wonderful deliverances which I never purposed to expose but that I hope thereby the merciful kindness and goodness of God may be magnified, and the reader hereof provoked with more care and fear to serve Him in righteousness and humility, and then my designed end and purpose will be answered" (244). There is much here that is conventional, but of special interest is the allusion to Mary's canticle embracing her maternal role, replete with future sorrow, in the birth of Jesus: "My soul doth magnify the Lord" (Luke 1:46). This alignment with Mary, one far more comfortable for Hanson than it is for contemporaneous Congregationalist women, represents her conscious desire; at the same time, however, it peculiarly underscores a key difference between Elizabeth Hanson and Mary. Mary's submission is totally voluntary and achieved, whereas Elizabeth's is coerced and incomplete.
Hanson has not been given a choice as to whether or not she would play a role in a course of events that would result in the demise of her two children and her husband. She has, on the contrary, been given, and is expected to resign herself to, a providential fait accompli. As a result, the allusion to Mary's acquiescence to divine will is bivocal within the dual contexts of Hanson's narrative; it expresses Hanson's wish to conform to a licensed theocratic ideal of humility and voluntary submission, and it also inadvertently intimates another concurrent desire to align with an illicit personal sentiment of grief and its involuntary resistance to any renunciation of temporal loss.
It is, in fact, a curious feature of God's Mercy Surmounting Man's Cruelty that the language Hanson uses to describe her involuntary enslavement crosses over into the language she uses to describe her relationship with the deity. There is nothing typological or deliberate in this association; it is incidental and unwitting, albeit it possibly intimates Hanson's repressed personal sentiment. In response to her situation, Hanson fashions the following statements: "I must go or die. There was no resistance" (Vaughan and Clark 1981, 232); "This was a sore grief to us all. But we must submit" (234); "I dreaded the tragical design of my master" (237). These remarks refer to her Native American captors, but aside from their specific textual emplacement, these remarks are strikingly similar to her sense of both "having no other way but to cast [her] care upon God" and "the overruling power of Him in whose Providence [she] put [her] trust" (239). No wonder that at the end of her narrative she seeks a new form of captivity, seeks to be made "to submit to His will in all things"; for given the danger to the spiritual life of her soul occasioned by rebellious bitter feelings of resistant grief, once again she "must go or die. There was no resistance."
Hanson is doubtless straightforward when she openly declares her "designed end and purpose" as the stimulation of her reader's humble submission (like Mary's) to a God of "merciful deliverance[s]" (239). Nevertheless, the elegiac voice lingering throughout her account, and inadvertently countering the primary theme of God's "merciful kindness and goodness," implies a different "end and purpose." At moments of dichotomizing logonomic conflict, such as the allusion to Mary's voluntary willingness to magnify the Lord through submission, Hanson's bivocality includes another story altogether, a story she can barely articulate. This story concerns not the physical miseries she endured, but specifically the mental "afflictions [that] are not to be set forth in words to the extent of them" (236). They cannot be so "set forth" because the feelings they arouse surpass the capacity of language and, more important, are theocratically prohibited.
This illegitimate other story, as fatherless as Hanson's children, concerns lost sweetness and found bitterness. This underground version of her tale opposes the orthodox moral extracted from such an observation as "None knows what they can undergo till they are tried, for what I had thought in my own family not fit for food would here have been a dainty dish and sweet morsel" (238). The moral analogue for this passage surfaces earlier in Hanson's report when, apropos the captives being given pieces of old beaver skin to eat, she cites Proverbs 27:7: "to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet" (234). Contemplating the demise of her husband, she publicly asserts this sweetness—"his gain is much more"—while she privately husbands "the bitterness of death" (237). Before her captivity, she had not been hungry in either her physical or spiritual life. After her experiences in the wilderness, she indeed has become a hungry soul who laments the loss of her husband and who consequently requires divine force to make her accept "the bitterness of death." For Hanson, if we listen to her faint outlawed voice, the bitterness of dispossession in her life has hardly been translated into a gracious sweetness in her soul, even as the end of her captivity has hardly resulted in the "sweet" restoration of her family life or the "gracious" resolution of her narrative. Hanson may have wished to endorse the words that immediately follow Mary's express choice to magnify the Lord—"He hath filled the hungry with good things" (Luke 1:46)—but certain embedded resistant features of her experience and her story insist otherwise.
Although Hanson is a Quaker, the effects we have reviewed in her book are similar to those in the well-known captivity narrative by Congregationalist Mary Rowlandson (c. 1635-post 1678). Rowlandson's Sovereignty and Goodness of God (1682) likewise evidences an undeclared tension between the experience of woe and its displacement through sanctioned moral representation (Breitwieser 1990, 10; Logan 1993). There are, as well, moments of logonomic conflict, especially when the Bible is cited. Such moments contain unidentified discrepancies between what actually happens and what is quoted by way of explanation. As a result, although Rowlandson (like Hanson) alludes to the Bible in an orthodox manner to analogize her situation, "her complicated use of Scripture reveals both a fear and an anger at a punishing God that must be transformed into an anger at herself, which nonetheless resurfaces as a paradoxically self-abnegating accusation of Him" (Toulouse 1992, 664). And similar to Hanson's manner, this complex effect is apparently not intentional: "The more mechanically Rowlandson acknowledges her submission in orthodox terms, the more she complicates the range of explanation offered to her by such orthodoxy"; "as hard as she might try to conceal it in her Narrative, the text reveals the impasse imposed upon her imagination by her own interrogation of the old models for establishing her sense of value" (669).
Hanson's oral report of her captivity is a work of less imagination than is Rowlandson's written document. Nevertheless, despite different religious orientations and slight editing by other hands, both works are equally rich in documenting certain problems with the authorization of personal sentiment and expression that were frequently experienced by female colonial authors, including Quakers.
Elizabeth Ashbridge's Autobiography
Some Account of the Fore Part of the Life of Elizabeth Ashbridge (written, c. 1753; 1st ed., 1774) is a far more complex Quaker testament than is God's Mercy Surmounting Man's Cruelty. Ashbridge's narrative, which we have only in others' transcriptions, recounts the numerous trials of a young woman who eloped at the age of fourteen and within months found herself widowed, exiled from her family home, and badly prepared to survive either in the world or in her mind. Her education, which had depended "mostly on [her] Mother," had primarily emphasized "the principles of virtue" (Shea 1990, 147); but in the world of economic exchange in which she now had become a bound servant, virtue seemed virtually valueless. Virtue's residual value, moreover, was readily bankruptable, even merely by calumnious words: "I began to think my Credit was gone (for they said many things of me which I blessed God were not True)" (153). Indentured physically and adrift emotionally, teenager Elizabeth is brought to the brink of suicide more than once during her tribulations in New York.
Ashbridge characterizes her experiences collectively as various forms of bondage. This metaphor pertains not only to her "becoming bound" through indentured "Servitude" (151), the abject conditions of which are similarly documented by Elizabeth Sprigs, Ashbridge's southern contemporary. The metaphor of bondage also represents Ashbridge's second marriage, of which she says, "I got released from one cruel Servitude & then not Contented got into another" (153-54). During this marriage, the itinerancy of her new husband was hardly the only "Disagreeable" matter to which she felt she "must submit" (155). Such experiences of servility, however, had an important antecedent, which Ashbridge seems reticent to declare openly but which her memoir associates with her later replications of thralldom: her constraining relationship with her father.
As was typical of early-eighteenth-century colonial daughters, Elizabeth was not free to decide much for herself, including her marriage. She explicitly admits that her courtship with the first young man she would marry was "without [her] Parents' consent," that her impetuous marriage to him was an act of "disobedience," and that her behavior had denied her parents the "right … to have disposed of [her] to their contents" (Shea 1990, 148). When she eloped with her first husband, she in effect dispossessed her parents, particularly her father, of the property of her body. Her act was a violation not only of filial respect but also of economic propriety concerning children, an issue as well in eighteenth-century representations of rape as a confiscation of patriarchal property (Williams 1993). Dispossessed of what was by custom rightfully his, Elizabeth's father "was so displeased," he "would not send for" her and "would do nothing for" her (148). Henceforth she was not only widowed but also orphaned. She was sheltered briefly by relatives and eventually turned loose in the world. Although some time later her father relented and apparently would have met the financial obligations of her indenture, Elizabeth "chose Bondage rather" than to return to his household (153), and she even desperately entertained the possibility of running off with an acting troupe.
Elizabeth presents her "Disobedience in marrying" (153), her tenuous rebellion against her father, as a kind of fall from grace. (The word "disobedience" is virtually a refrain in the first part, as the word "obedience" is in the second part of all versions of her account.) Insubordination serves as a primary determinant of the harrowing experiences that befall her in a harsh world where, subsequent to her postlapsarian expulsion from the security of her family home, widowed virtue can purchase little, if anything, and presumably can be forfeited by mere verbal deceit. As presented in all the versions of her narrative, her life in the world commences with and replicates this self-wounding insurrection against thralldom to her father. As best she is able, accordingly, she resists her inhumane master, who purchased her indenture; her stern father, who eventually relented and would permit her to return on his terms; and her domineering second husband, who "flew into a rage" and "Struck [her] with sore Blows" when she announced her willingness "to obey all his Lawfull Commands but where they Imposed upon [her] Conscience" (165-66). (Anticipating a prevalent custom today in marriage ceremonies, incidentally, Quaker women for some time have not agreed to obey their husbands [Frost 1973, 174].)
Ashbridge's coalescence of her original disobedience and her a posteriori acts of resistance to male authority include a significant revision of her stance toward the orthodox ministry. In her sheltered youth, she had looked upon the clergy as paragons of male empowerment in the world, so much so that she "sometimes wept with Sorrow, that [she] was not a boy [so] that [she] might have" become a minister (Shea 1990, 148). (This sentiment is expressed even more passionately, and hence possibly more authentically, in the variant report that she "sometimes grieved at … not being a boy" [Baym 1994, 602].) While adrift in the world, however, she becomes skeptical toward "that set of men," the "Very Religious" for whom "in [her] youth" she "had a Great Veneration" (152). Later still, she sees "beyond the Men made Ministers," those "Mercenary creatures" more devoted to "the Love of Money" than to "the regard of Souls" (163).
This repudiation of the traditional ministry amounts in effect to Ashbridge's ultimate defiance of male authority, a defiance she crowns by becoming a Quaker preacher. Ashbridge fulfills her youthful fantasy of becoming a minister by way of inversion. Far past the point of wishing she were a male so that she could join the traditional ministry, she now identifies with an unorthodox ministry in which women and men are equally "ordained" solely through their encounter with the Inward Light. And, Ashbridge's account further suggests, these Quaker preachers redeem the establishmentarian Christian ministry by displacing the male mercenary interest of such conformist clergy with a "female" alternative interest in the heretofore dispossessed principles of virtue (of the kind she learned from her mother).
This version of the plot of her autobiography reinforces a recent observation that Ashbridge records "the phenomenon of a woman speaking of her coming to speak" or, in other words, her progression from speechless listening to numerous voices to her proclamation of a "new identity … through the familiar Quaker usage of 'thee'" (Shea 1990, 132-33). But, as we shall observe, a specter-like question haunts this progress toward empowerment of voice, despite an authorizing belief in the Inward Light. This question challenges the "narrative restraint" that has been esteemed as "admirable" (Shea 1968, 37).
In fact, a key point in the loose structure of the autobiography provides an apt place to initiate an investigation of this instability in referential authority.…
At first, the trajectory of Ashbridge's experiences inclines downward. Unable to return home, she becomes a nearly powerless and voiceless indentured servant, a nondescript human whose beliefs (including her religious faith) are so unstable that she becomes despondent and suicidal. At the nadir of this downward turn lies a temptation, "another Snare," which "would Probably have been [her] Ruin." Here she is temporarily "Perswaded" to join a "Play house company then at New York" (153), indeed a temptation given the shared Congregationalist, Presbyterian, and Quaker association of theater productions and players with unchaste behavior and bad reputations, specifically in violation of the seventh commandment (Meserve 1977, 26-27).
The earliest contributors to these Reformed sects apparently did not construct the stage in these terms; in a work revered by these sects and commonly designated as Book of the Martyrs (English version, 1563), for instance, John Foxeassociates "players, printers, [and] preachers" as allies "set up of God, as a triple bulwark" against the antiChrist (Foxe 1965, 6:57). But with the emergence of the new theater, the stage and the Reformed pulpit became antagonists in defining the nature of spirituality (Knapp 1993). By Ashbridge's time, Quakers spoke of the theater as the "floodgate of vice," especially "looseness and immorality," and they consequently influenced eighteenth-century laws against theatrical productions in Pennsylvania (Bowden 1854, 2:287-89).
As a naive teenager, Ashbridge is enticed by the theater, which evidently appealed to a number of other young women, most notably late in the eighteenth century, as a flagrant opportunity to invert the social paradigm of female impotence, invisibility, and silence (Dudden 1994). Ashbridge is attracted by the disingenuous promise that with membership in the troupe she would "Live Like a Lady" (153). Implied in this promise is the notion that the deception of on-stage representation could be transferred to the off-stage world, certainly an appealing proposition for such a luckless child as she was at that time. However, as suggested by the retrospective reference to her predictable "Ruin," many of young Elizabeth's adult contemporaries would have readily detected a shady nuance, an allusion to prostitution, in the euphemistic expression "Live Like a Lady." Ashbridge reads numerous plays in preparation for joining the troupe, but finally she resists this temptation after "Consider[ing] what [her] Father would say" now that he has "forgiven [her] Disobedience in marrying" (Shea 1990, 153).
Eventually Ashbridge remarries, which frees her from her indenture if not altogether from theatrical performances, for she has married a man who is attracted to her for her dancing (154) and who, in a demonstration of his hostility to her Quaker leanings, makes her "the Spectacle & discourse of [his] Company" in a tavern (162). If her marriage binds her in ways similar to her indenture—as she herself claims—it nonetheless results in encounters that collectively form the upward movement of her life. Ashbridge affirms that through the debilitating itinerancy of her husband "God [brought] unforeseen things to Pass, for by [her] going … [she] was brought to [the] Knowledge of [divine] Truth" (158). In terms of the structural scheme of her memoir, that is to say, she finds fulfillment in a new community where, as a Quaker preacher, she displaces corrupt father figures. Instead of participating in the false spectacle of voicing some humanly authored dramatic text and experiencing an illusory freedom under the controlling gaze of male spectators (akin to her later experience in a tavern), she now participates in the genuine drama of voicing a divinely authored providential text. Like other Quaker "Ministers … [likewise] dipt into all States, that thereby they might be able to Speak to all Conditions" (168), Ashbridge reconfigures theatricality so that the pulpit of her adult female ministry inverts/reconverts the stage demarcating the nadir of her youthful experiences.
Such an inversion, or reconversion, is meant to be as heuristic as are the official dichotomies (as opposed to the conflictive sentiments) of Hanson's captivity narrative. And on first encounter the redemptive message of inversion seems as definitively conclusive as Ashbridge apparently intended. On second thought, however, the trope of the stage steadfastly inheres within Ashbridge's implied reconstruction of it as the pulpit, just as mourning persists as a subversive undercurrent within Hanson's use of antithesis when speaking of her acceptance of divine will. (Ashbridge does not explicitly refer to a preacher's platform, which is not a usual feature of Quaker worship; but since the pulpit would likely be mentally imaged by most non-Quaker readers of her day whenever they encountered her references to preaching, it is an implicit contemporary metonymy for all the forums of her own ministry, including her memoir.) Ashbridge's oral and written preaching, like stage performances, are modes of theatricality, spectacles that cannot break free from what they once were culturally aligned with (as John Foxe suggested in 1563) and what they now invert or reconvert. Although in the autobiography the allegedly immoral stage may be superseded by the moral pulpit, the displaced stage persists as a palimpsest beneath this implicit pulpit. And, correspondingly, the practice of assuming and discarding various identities on the stage, including clever transgressions of gender boundaries, informs and latently destabilizes Ashbridge's depiction of her unconventional identity as a female preacher at the end of her memoir. How firm, and how firmly authorized, is such an identity if it is troped, however accidentally, in proscribed theatrical terms?
This is a literary not a religious query. But interestingly the semiotic equivocation suggested by Ashbridge's tacit reinscription of the metaphor of theatricality is also replicated in her management of her more overtly declared subject of disobedience. As we established earlier, Ashbridge coalesces her "fathering" act of disobedience and her subsequent acts of obedience to God through resistance to male authority, acts that collectively result in inversions of stage/pulpit theatricality and male/female ministry. As presented by Ashbridge, then, disobedience is bi-valent. It is, in other words, referentially unstable since it may produce good as well as bad effects. Left unasked, because the answer would become enmeshed in the vexatious issue of authority, is a key question: how is one—especially the second or weaker sex as defined in colonial times—to know when disobedience is appropriate?
This question of authorization is faintly inscribed, if finally unreadable, beneath the equivocal opening of the autobiography. In the very first sentence Ashbridge claims that some of the "uncommon Occurences" in her life were "through disobedience brought upon" herself, while "others … were for [her] Good" (147). Such a comment at once authorizes and deauthorizes disobedience, at least certain instances of disobedience. But which instances? The insubordination she directs at her master, at her second husband, and at mercenary ministers seems sufficiently clear, but it does not mask fully the prior defiance of her father, the oft confessed bad act that somehow leads to Ashbridge's salvation. Nor does the V-like symmetry of her plot—how the disobedience to her human father of the first part leads to her decline outside of her home and how the obedience to the divine father in the second part leads to her ascent to the pulpit—quite disguise the problem.
Indeed, an attempt to fashion from Ashbridge's memoir a moral map, as it were, based on her specific references to disobedience and obedience would result in a substantial confusion of vectoring. Obscured in the shadowy margins of this confusion is the issue of authority concerning how to recognize improper disobedience from proper disobedience, heuristic reproach from homiletic commemoration, especially when assessing one's own life. In this regard, at least, it is more of a mystification of the problem than a clarification to be told, as we previously heard, that "God brings unforeseen things to Pass," that "unforeseen things are brought to Pass, by a Providential hand" (158, 164).
The doctrine of the Inward Light, of interior divine revelation, is the official Quaker repository for negotiating this problem. Nevertheless, the narrative function of proper and improper disobedience in Ashbridge's account, from its ambiguous opening sentence onward, defies conclusive resort to such a closeting doctrinal rationale in this instance. History, moreover, attests to what complications can emerge from antinomian attempts to harken to an inner voice, and Ashbridge's document concurs. This memoir progresses from her youthful "giving way to a foolish passion" when she elopes (148), through inner promptings to hang herself (153), to receiving divine messages "as tho' [she] had heard a Distinct Voice" (167).
In narrative terms, as distinct from religious ones, a Bakhtinian heteroglossia (Holquist 1981, 428) lingers in the memoir, specifically a polyphony of competing inner provocations. In narrative terms, a confessional moment at midpoint in her account suggests the magnitude of this polyphony. There she admits how easy it is for her and others to mistake the voice of "the Subtile Serpent," when as an interior prompter he "hiddenly" interprets "the Texts of Scripture," as if his influence were "a timely Caution from a good Angel" (159). Although Ashbridge plots her story so that her youthful disobedience to her human father is redressed by "the fruits of [her adult] Obedience" to the divine father (167), she cannot repair the implicit confounding of authority that inheres in this very pattern, whereby improper disobedience leads to proper obedience. Contingently negotiating this crisis in authority, in short, Ashbridge's particular application of the disobedience/obedience equation is as "fatherless" as Hanson's particular application of the bitterness/sweetness equation.
The fragility of Ashbridge's construction of a plot in which proscribed disobedience is transformed into prescribed obedience, prohibited stage is transformed into the licensed pulpit, is likewise suggested by an incident reported near the conclusion of her autobiography. At this point she tells of "hearing a Woman relate a book she had read in which it was Asserted that Christ was not the son of God," merely "the Contrivance of men." Immediately "an horrour of Great Darkness fell upon [her], which Continued for three weeks" (167). Ashbridge's response is surprising given the advanced stage of her Quaker beliefs at this juncture. Could this woman's message, temporarily marring the heuristic plot of the narrative, inadvertently suggest a certain ambiguity in the design of Ashbridge's textualized life and theatrical memoir?
Consider that the opposition between this woman and Ashbridge is determined merely by inversion, the very same narrative device of Elizabeth's life and her autobiography as a whole. The two women are like opposite sides of the same coin. If Ashbridge's autobiography represents the assertion of self as authorized by its alignment with divine authority, the reading woman represents the supplanting of divine authority by the assertive self as the sole fashioner of the notion of divinity. Ashbridge's extensive incapacitation upon hearing this woman's views possibly indicates Ashbridge's unconscious acknowledgment of the ambiguity inherent in her personal reliance upon the precarious disobedience-obedience formula.
Such moments, I am inclined to believe, hint at Ashbridge's unwitting anxiety over the issue of authority; the failure of sanctioned obedience to displace altogether illicit disobedience and of the pulpit to displace altogether the stage in the autobiography corresponds to the failure of Ashbridge's attained voice (identity) to displace altogether her initial voicelessness. This observation indeed may seem very strange, especially in light of the trajectory of her life toward the pulpit. A closer consideration of her voice, however, suggests a distinctive complexity in this matter.
When Ashbridge disobeys in the first part of her memoir, she expresses herself through the authority of her passionate feelings for her first husband. But this self-expression, explicitly designated as illegitimate disobedience, is dispossessed of its authority and replaced by divinely inspired self-expression, explicitly designated as legitimate obedience: "[God] would require me to go forth & declare to others what he … had done for my Soul" (160). The latter is, however, a form of ventriloquism, as if on the world stage she were a player delivering lines from a divinely crafted script (Scripture). Her self-expression, in other words, is from her point of view authorized from an inward prompting determined by an outward divine force. In this sense, therefore, her speech is not, or at least not entirely, a form of self-expression. The voicelessness Ashbridge believes has been transformed into identity-giving voice has not at last been fully displaced. When she disqualifies her early personal feelings as unauthorized and credits her new beliefs as authorized, her voice is at once empowered on the basis of external license (God) and disempowered on the basis of internal license (sentiment). As a plot element, the conversion of viocelessness to voice remains, finally, as entangled in ambiguity as is the correspondent and implicated conversion of disobedience into obedience, stage into pulpit, male into female ministry.
This curiously equivocated sense of identity, particularly in terms of an inversion of gender roles, informs another key moment in Ashbridge's narrative. Here she reports one of her dreams, which combines several biblical allusions and provides a remarkable site of logonomic conflict:
I had a Dream, & tho' some make a ridicule of Dreams, yet this seemed a significant one to me & therefore [I] shall mention it. I thought somebody knocked at the Door, by which when I had opened it there stood a Grave woman, holding in her right hand an oil lamp burning, who with a Solid Countenance fixed her Eyes upon me & said—"I am sent to tell thee that If thou'l return to the Lord thy God, who hath Created thee, he will have mercy on thee, & thy Lamp shall not be put out in obscure darkness;" upon which the Light flamed from the Lamp in an extraordinary Manner, & She left me and I awoke.
[Shea 1990, 153]
This passage may be read, as it has been (131), as a prophecy of the narrator's eventual discovery of both "the Quaker Inner Light" and "an achieved identity." Also encoded in this dream, however, are conflictive elements concerning the nature and enablement of this identity.
The dream combines several biblical allusions. The last part of the prophecy echoes a scriptural admonition, that "the lamp of the wicked shall be put out," that "whoso curseth his father or his mother, his lamp shall be put out in obscure darkness" (Prov. 13:9 and 20:20). In terms of the latter passage, Ashbridge's vision evidently reassures her that she has been forgiven for her specific transgression against her parents—another clue, incidentally, to the problematic importance of her primary act of disobedience to the salvational outcome of her life. The dream as well alludes to those New Testament passages promising, for instance, that the followers of Jesus, as "the light of the world[,] … shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12).
Still more prominent in the dream is the scriptural text that advises Christians, "Let … your lights [be] burning" when the "Lord … cometh and knocketh" (Luke 12:35-36). In renderings of this scene—images of which Quakers would not have approved but which Ashbridge may have seen in books or while living abroad, especially among Roman Catholics—Christ holds a lamp in one hand while knocking on a door with the other.
Most interesting in the dream version of this scene is the transmutation of the gender of the light-bearing visitant at the door. This unacknowledged feature is far more significant than the acknowledged dubiety of dreams, the latter factor accommodated by Ashbridge's use of the equivocal word "seemed" in order to justify the inclusion of the vision in her account. The person in the dream is not Jesus or even John, who spoke of himself as a "witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe" (John 1:6). It is a woman with a grave countenance. In one sense, this figure usurps the male savior role, as a prominent colonial cultural feature, but unwittingly it also displaces John and Jesus as well. The figure may represent Ashbridge's attempt to awaken herself from her subjection to suicidal nonidentity as a commodity in a mercenary world controlled by men. Read as a projection of her later ministerial role as an ambassador of Christ, the woman in her dream seems a bold, even heretical, figuring of an achievable autonomous identity.
Beneath this fantasy of self-awakening, however, the woman in the dream derives her dramatic power by appearing in a scene and role given signification by someone prior to herself. In other words, the somber woman (like an actress in a theatrical performance) replays, but does not invent, a role in the dream. Her inversion/transformation of the role cannot break free from its antecedents anymore than can obedience from disobedience, the pulpit from the stage, or female from male ministry throughout Ashbridge's memoir. The grave woman's performance invokes the memory of and draws its own power from another, antecedent, and far more potent one: the image of Christ bearing the light of truth and knocking on our door. So, finally, if on first impression the scene seems an assertion of female selfhood that unwittingly displaces even Jesus, on second impression it is only a satellite reenactment of a biblical depiction. This biblical image inheres as an authorizing palimpsest beneath the more visible meanings of the dream, meanings always dependent on this submerged authority.
The reversal of gender is likewise equivocated in the dream. The female image of self-awakening (self-authorization) is also ultimately authorized from without by a male prototype. That is to say, female transgression (self-motivated disobedience) is also ultimately commissioned by conformity (obedience) to a male model, whether John's or Jesus'.
The logonomic conflict evident in this dream serves as an index to the dilemma Ashbridge faced as an mid-eighteenth-century woman seeking self-definition through personal expression. The paradox informing this dream is a microcosm of the entire pattern of her search for identity, founded on an illegitimate disobedience against her father, that culminates in her obedient arrogation of the male role of ministers and of the power they wield through spoken and written language. In the scheme of her story she tries to transform one thing into its opposite, an act that paradoxically unites and disunites contraries. She tries to warrant obedience to herself by means of obedience to God. But this equation is hardly equal in its parts, for as Ashbridge observes on another occasion, "if it be of God [you] can't over throw it, & if it be of your self it will soon fall" (167). In the dynamic of Ashbridge's implied equation, obedience to God necessarily overdetermines obedience to herself, and so they finally are not at all equitable.
Ashbridge achieves identity and voice, less from an internal authority than from an external authority. This means, despite her mystifying acknowledgment (like Hanson's) that God "Makest every bitter thing Sweet" (170), that to some degree the authority of her voice and identity remains firmly indentured. Ashbridge inadvertently reinscribes indenture in Some Account, just as Hanson reinscribes captivity in God's Mercy Surmounting Man's Cruelty. Their narratives dramatize, finally, an anxious, conflicted, and unresolved negotiation of authorization, expressed through the dynamic interplay of the dichotomous inversions and reconversions composing the mutual "plot" of their lives.
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NORMAN K. RISJORD (ESSAY DATE 2001)
In the following essay, Risjord describes the life and times of Pinckney.
Her words were oiled with affection and even deference, but there was no mistaking her firmness. The gentleman who desired her hand in marriage, she was telling her father, simply wouldn't do. "As I know tis my happiness you consult," she continued, "I must beg the favor of you to pay my thanks to the old gentleman for his generosity and favorable sentiments of me and let him know my thoughts on the affair in such civil terms as you know much better than any I can dictate; and beg leave to say to you that the riches of Peru and Chili if he had them put together could not purchase a sufficient esteem for him to make him my husband." In an age when marriages among the upper orders of society were often diplomatic and commercial alliances arranged by family heads, this was a remarkable statement of independence.
Eliza Lucas could afford to be independent. Her father was absent on military service in the West Indies; for some years she had been managing his South Carolina estates, making a good profit from the export of rice and naval stores. Small wonder that there was a line of suitors at her door. A wife with a business head was a prime asset for any planter. Far from being the giddy belles of the Cavalier myth, women in the colonial South played a vital role in the plantation economy. They managed the household and its servants, superintended the gardens and slaughtering pens that kept the plantation in daily fare, looked to the health of the labor force, and in some cases kept the business ledgers. The brisk self-confidence with which Eliza Lucas mastered all of these tasks bespoke a woman of uncommon wisdom and maturity. She had just turned seventeen.
From the Indies to Carolina
Eliza Lucas had, by the age of seventeen, already touched the three corners of Britain's Atlantic empire. She was born on Antigua in the West Indies, where her father, Lieutenant Colonel George Lucas, was stationed, but spent her youth in England acquiring the education and social graces thought suitable for ladies of her station in society. In 1738 Colonel Lucas moved his family to South Carolina, where he had inherited several plantations from his father. War loomed between Britain and Spain (the War of Jenkins' Ear), and Lucas apparently felt his family would be safer in South Carolina. (They were, as it turned out, due to the efforts of James Oglethorpe, although Eliza had small regard for his military capabilities.)
The family settled on a plantation overlooking Wappoo Creek, some six miles from Charleston by water. Within a year Colonel Lucas returned to Antigua to accept the post of governor, leaving his family in Carolina. Mrs. Lucas was in chronic ill health; George Lucas, Jr., was still in school in England. Management of Wappoo and its twenty slaves fell upon Eliza. In addition, she had to superintend the overseers on two other holdings, one an inland farm that produced tar and timber, the other a 3000-acre rice plantation on the Waccamaw River.
Eliza was happy with the arrangement; she had no desire to return to the Indies. Antigua was a low-lying, featureless island, sandy and dry, dependent on rainfall for fresh water. Its one asset was English Harbor, a deep, nearly landlocked roadstead large enough to accommodate the entire royal navy. Otherwise it was an unrelieved expanse of sugar plantations. South Carolina was also low-lying and level, but its landscape was broken by broad, smooth-flowing rivers and forests of live oak garbed in Spanish moss. "The country abounds with wild fowl," Eliza wrote her brother, "venison and fish, beef, veal, and mutton are here in much greater perfection than in the Islands, tho' not equal to that in England—but their pork exceeds any I ever tasted anywhere."
She also found the people "polite" and "genteel," as well she might, for most were of her own stock. South Carolina, alone among the mainland colonies, was populated principally from the West Indies. The spread of large-scale sugar planting on Jamaica and some of the Spanish islands (Cuba, Puerto Rico) undermined the economies of older, smaller, English islands (Barbados, Antigua, St. Kitts). Unable to compete, planters from these islands moved to the southernmost of the mainland colonies in the 1670s and '80s, taking their slaves with them. Because of this migration, blacks almost from the beginning of the colony outnumbered whites in low-country South Carolina.
Adapting to their new environment, the emigrants developed a flourishing trade in naval stores. The forests of long-leaf pine, which blanketed every well-drained slope in the colony, were nearly limitless sources of tar and pitch, the caulking compounds that kept wooden sailing ships afloat. And, like sugar, naval stores could be efficiently produced by gangs of semiskilled slaves. The profits from the export of naval stores, in turn, provided investment capital for the construction of rice plantations.
Rice, which was not grown in sizable quantities elsewhere in the British colonies, proved an enormously profitable crop. Parliament initially listed it among the "enumerated articles"—which meant that, like Virginia tobacco, it could be shipped only to the mother country—but after a few years, on the special plea of Carolina planters, that restriction was lifted. Able to ship their product directly to Spain, Portugal, and Italy, the planters made more profit than ever.
Wealth and the English gentlemanly ideal fostered the growth of an upper class, much as it had in Virginia, but the West Indian element gave the Carolina gentry a new dimension. There was no trace of a Puritan's conscience in South Carolina, not even a Virginian's spotty remorse. Whenever they could, Carolina planters turned their rice fields over to overseers and took their families into Charleston for a "season" of entertainment. The sprightliest town in America for its size, Charleston possessed both a music hall and a theater; its private clubs offered genteel diversions of every sort. Unlike Virginians, few Carolina planters developed any interest in politics and government. They preferred instead the dance hall and the racetrack.
This then was the environment that Eliza Lucas found so polite and genial. It was a blend of West Indian romance, English social custom, and New World riches—all resting on the sandy but momentarily stable foundation of slave labor. Nevertheless, she brought into this environment the personal work ethic of a Puritan. She arose each day at 5:00 A.M. and pursued a rigorous schedule of daily duties that included studying, supervising household servants, and providing instruction for her sister and some of the slave children. Whenever she had occasion to visit Charleston, she resisted its urbane temptations. She regretted "that giddy gayety and want of reflection which I contracted when in town." She consulted the psychological works of John Locke over and over to determine "if I was the very same self" in the city as when she was hard at work in the country.
The Business of Slaves, Rice, and Indigo
By 1739, South Carolina had not expanded much beyond the original settlements. Life still centered on the two rivers that joined at Charleston "to form the Atlantic ocean" (as Charlestonians would have it)—the Ashley and the Cooper. Both were broad, slow-moving streams, flanked by marshy flatlands ideal for rice culture. The Wappoo, where Eliza Lucas' main plantation was located, was a saltwater creek that connected the Ashley with the Stono River to the southwest of Charleston. Rice fields were laid out along the river and separated from it by a levee. The seed was broadcast over a dry field in the spring. Water was then let into the field through sluicegates. Tides helped back up the river to the level of the gates. In the autumn the field was drained for the harvest, taking advantage of a low tide. In the upper reaches of the rivers, especially on the Cooper (Goose Creek, Saint James Parish), spring floods helped flood the fields.
Rice was profitable, but it had some shortcomings, as Eliza Lucas quickly realized. The amount of land on any one plantation that could be devoted to it was sharply limited, and it required attention only in spring and fall. Slaves could be kept busy at other times of the year clearing land and repairing levees, but such tasks yielded no short-run profit. Carolina planters needed a market crop that could be grown on the uplands away from the river and one whose growth cycle varied from that of rice. The need was widely felt; a number of planters were experimenting with various seeds. George Lucas apparently brought some varieties with him from the West Indies, for as early as July, 1739, Eliza was writing her recently departed father about "the pains I had taken to bring the Indigo, Cotton, Lucern [alfalfa], and Cassada [cassava, a starchy root] to perfection, and had greater hopes from the Indigo—if I could have the seed earlier the next year from the [West] Indies—than any of the rest of the things I had tried."
ON THE SUBJECT OF…
ABIGAIL ADAMS (1744-1818)
That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is a Truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend. Why then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the Lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity. Men of Sense in all Ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your Sex. Regard us then as Beings placed by providence under your protection and in immitation of the Supreem Being make use of that power only for our happiness.
Abigail Adams, in an excerpt of a letter to her husband dated March 31, 1776.
Abigail Smith Adams is best known as the wife of John Adams, the second president of the United States, and as the mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president. The letters she wrote from the early 1760s until the end of her life reveal her efforts to fashion herself as a model woman according to the standards of the day: a capable and faithful wife, an effective household manager, a devoted mother and sister, and a discriminating reader and writer. Adams commented on the salient political issues of her time as well as voicing her concerns about religion, education, and child rearing. She noted details of everyday life, such as styles of dress and manners, and wrote of philosophy, science, and poetry. She appealed to her husband during the Revolutionary War to "remember the ladies" by providing them greater legal protection under the new government, and her correspondents included many of the great men of her time, such as her friend Thomas Jefferson. Abigail Adams's letters provide an invaluable view of the concerns of eighteenth-century women and their participation in a literary sphere that existed independently of the world of print, but was nonetheless culturally significant.
Unlucky weather, stale seeds, and her own inexperience frustrated these early efforts, and Eliza turned her attention to making a profit from the crops she had. The following year she was again writing her father to thank him for sending "West India cucumber seed," and by the return vessel she shipped him two barrels of rice, two of corn, three of peas, some pickled pork, two kegs of oysters, and "one of eggs, by way of experiment, put up in salt." "My scheme," she added, "is to supply my father's [sugar] refining house in Antigua with eggs from Carolina."
Most of her rice, however, was consigned to agents in London, and from them she purchased the goods she needed, everything from a four-wheel chaise to medicine for her chronic headaches. She kept meticulous accounts of every transaction. One day a week, Thursday, was set aside for balancing ledgers, drafting instructions to overseers on the inland plantations, communicating with London, and summarizing her activities for her father. In early 1741 she wrote to a girlfriend in Charleston with evident enthusiasm, "I have planted a large fig orchard, with design to dry them and export them. I have reckoned my expense and the prophets [profits] to arise from those figs, but was I to tell you how great an estate I am to make this way, and how 'tis to be laid out, you would think me far gone in romance. Your good uncle [Charles Pinckney, Eliza's future husband] I know has long thought I have a fertile brain at scheming. I only confirm him in his opinion, but I own I love the vegitable [sic] world extreamly [sic]." By then, too, she had planted a grove of oak trees "for posterity," and her Charleston friends, the Pinckneys, were threatening to come for a visit so they could all sit and watch the oaks grow.
By 1744, indigo culture, for which she had always entertained high hopes, was showing true promise. Indigo was a broad-leafed weed, which produced a blue dye. The color blue, especially in its purple form, was in high demand in Europe because it was associated with royalty—and that perhaps because it was so scarce (red and yellow dyes abound in nature). Its preference for well-drained soils and its growth cycle (early spring to mid-summer) made it, from the planter's point of view, the perfect complement to rice. And the end product, a dry cake of blue, had relatively high value for its bulk and weight. Shipping charges, the difference often between profit and loss, were thus comparatively light, that is, compared to rice, cotton, or tobacco.
It was not an easy plant to grow or refine, however, and that is largely why Eliza Lucas took so long to develop it. Like corn, it does not compete well with other weeds; the soil must be carefully prepared and constantly tended. The leaves had to be cut at just the right moment—if too early the color was poor, if too late the leaves were juiceless. The leaves were placed in vats of water where they fermented and yielded their juice. The juice was then fermented further, while being stirred vigorously with paddles until it thickened. Lime was added to precipitate the dye and the excess water poured off. The precipitate was then dried into cakes and packed for shipment.
While it was fermenting the indigo juice had to be watched night and day, for the timing of each stage was critical. In the West Indies there were professional "indigo makers" who supervised this process. When Eliza produced her first crop in 1741, Governor Lucas sent out one of these experts from the island of Montserrat. To Eliza's dismay, however, the dye he produced was so poor as to be unsalable. The overseer blamed the climate, but Eliza, who had watched the process carefully, tried it herself and succeeded. She grilled the overseer, and he confessed that he had sabotaged the process by using too much lime. Mainland competition, he had come to fear, would ruin his home island. He may also have been uneasy about following the orders of a female.
Poor seed from the West Indies wasted the next two seasons, and it was not until 1744 that Eliza produced a marketable crop. A second overseer, employed by her father, produced seventeen pounds, and Eliza sent six of it to England for trial. Her agent gleefully reported: "I have shown your indigo to one of our most noted brokers …, who tried it against some of the best FRENCH, and in his opinion it is AS GOOD." Parliament, he suggested by way of further encouragement, might be persuaded to subsidize Carolina indigo because the drain on Britain for the purchase of French West Indian indigo amounted to £200,000 a year.
Eliza Lucas needed no such encouragement. Providence and patriotism had already induced her to save most of the 1744 crop for seed. What she herself could not use she gave away "in small quantities to a great number of people." Simultaneously she provoked interest in the crop by publishing the report of her London agent in The South Carolina Gazette. In the following year Eliza made £225 on her indigo shipment to London, and at the end of that harvest a half dozen planters were offering seed of their own for sale in columns of the Gazette. In 1747, parliament, true to form, placed a bounty on British indigo, and the crop became a major source of income until the bounty ended with the American Revolution. In good harvests South Carolina exported as much as a million pounds of blue cake—all the result of Eliza Lucas's love for the vegetable world and eye for profit.
Crops and profits were not her sole interests, despite her determination to be a success in business. To a Charleston friend who could not imagine what there was to do in the country she described her daily routine: "In general I rise at five o'clock in the morning, read till seven—then take a walk in the garden or fields, see that the servants are at their respective business, then to breakfast. The first hour after breakfast is spent in music, the next is constantly employed in recollecting something I have learned, least for the want of practice it should be quite lost, such as French and short hand." One day a week was set aside for business affairs, and she frequently checked on the overseers of her inland plantations. Her spare time in the afternoons was devoted to "little Polly and two black girls, who I teach to read." After dinner she practiced her music again, did needlework until twilight, and spent the evening writing letters. It was a routine not unlike that of the urbane William Byrd—except for the time devoted to the education of slaves.
That project was more than an idle pastime. Her purpose in tutoring the three girls was to make them "school mistresses for the rest of the Negro children," a project so daring that she took the trouble to secure the permission of her father. The sheriff, on the other hand, does not seem to have worried her, as well he might have, for the legislature made it illegal to teach slaves to read after the Stono River uprising of 1739. Perhaps she was given a subtle caution, for there is no further mention of the education project in her letters.
Her lack of reaction to the Stono uprising is itself mute testimony to her relations with her slaves. While the rest of South Carolina writhed in fear throughout 1739 and 1740 (unable even to send troops to Oglethorpe), Eliza Lucas ignored the event. There is not a whisper of it in her correspondence even though it took place a short distance from her plantation. The one mention of slave insurrection in her letters was in 1741 when a local religious fanatic predicted that slaves would destroy the low country "by fire and sword." Even then she was less alarmed at the prospect than amused by the antics of the enthusiast who tried to part the waters of a creek with a wand and, failing, wrote a letter of apology to the speaker of the assembly. Concluded Eliza: "I hope he will be a warning to all pious minds not to reject reason and revelation [i.e., Scripture] and set up in their stead their own wild notions." Hers was the voice of cool-headed Anglicanism, confident in its faith, secure in its environment.
It was, withal, a lonely environment, but she seems to have enjoyed being alone, though she could be garrulous enough in company. She took pains to keep herself intellectually alive. She borrowed books from the Pinckneys; she employed a music master to give her lessons every Monday. She must have devoured the weekly South Carolina Gazette, for she commented freely on politics and war. She had the Carolinian's contempt for Oglethorpe (without realizing that South Carolina's lack of support was the root of his difficulties); she had in general little use for war and warriors. "I wish all men were as great cowards as myself," she declared; "it would make them more peaceably inclined."
When a comet swept across the southern sky in the spring of 1743 she got up early every morning to watch it. A Charleston friend told her that some thought it was a reincarnation of a hero (others thought it heralded the Second Coming) and asked her to describe it. Eliza twitted her friend for being unable to get out of bed in time but described the phenomenon in great detail. And she had to admit that the tail did resemble human dress: "I could not see whether it had petticoats or not, but I am inclined to think by its modest appearance so early in the morning it won't permit every idle gazer to behold its splendor, a favor it will only grant to such as take pains for it—from hence I conclude if I could have discovered any clothing it would have been the female garb. Besides if it is any mortal transformed to this glorious luminary, why not a woman?"
Such warmth and wit must have early captured the attention of Colonel Charles Pinckney. The Pinckneys were acquaintances of George Lucas, and after the governor's departure for Antigua, Elizabeth Pinckney befriended Eliza. Whenever Eliza visited Charleston she stayed with the Pinckneys, and their niece, Mary Bartlett, became her closest friend. Eliza's relationship with Colonel Pinckney was an intellectual one. He lent her books, and her letters to him were extended, if somewhat simple discourses on Locke, Virgil, and the novels of Samuel Richardson.
Elizabeth Pinckney died in January, 1744, and a few weeks later Colonel Pinckney proposed to Eliza. Marriage, except in response to her father's efforts, rarely entered into her correspondence. She was a self-reliant woman with exacting standards. Men she met at Charleston festivities were too often, she found, full of "flashy nonsense." But Charles Pinckney was clearly different. The two were married in May, 1744. She moved to Belmont, the Pinckney plantation on the Cooper River, leaving her own farms in the hands of overseers, and began a new life.
From Carolina to England
Charles Pinckney's father Thomas had come to Carolina in 1692. Both he and his wife, Mary Cotesworth, were from the north country of England and evidently of prominent family. Thomas Pinckney styled himself "Gentleman" whenever he signed his name. He sent his sons to England for education. The eldest inherited his English estate; Charles, the second son, inherited the Carolina properties. Charles attended the Inns of Court, practiced law in South Carolina, and added considerably to his father's fortune. He had served as speaker of the house in the assembly and was a member of the Governor's council. He was forty-five years old when he married Eliza, just about double her age.
Belmont was an imposing brick mansion on a headland that commanded a view down the Cooper River to Charleston, five miles away. Eliza briskly took charge of the household and was soon planting trees. Oaks were her favorite because they had commercial value, but she also set out some magnolias for decoration. She corresponded frequently with a friend of her husband's, Dr. Alexander Garden, a Charleston physician with an interest in botany. Garden sent samples of American plants to the Swedish classifier Carolus Linneaus, who honored him by naming one luscious flower the gardenia. Linneaus, in turn, sent European specimens for trial in America, and Garden often sent them on to Eliza Pinckney. Her arboretum was the marvel of St. James Parish.
In February, 1745, she gave birth to a son, named, with due reverence for his pedigree, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. Childbirth, always dangerous in that age, she sustained with her customary certitude, suffering "no disorder but weakness." Three months later she proudly informed Mary Bartlett that she could see "all his Papa's virtues already dawning in him." A month after that she wrote an English acquaintance to request the purchase of a special toy so her son could "play himself into learning … according to Mr. Locke's method." Her reference evidently was to John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding, one of her husband's books that she had read "over and over." Locke rejected the ancient notion that people were born with "innate ideas." The mind, he said, is a blank tablet (tabula rasa) on which life experience writes. His "method" of education, then, must have been a matter of "learning by doing," an interesting anticipation of some twentieth-century pedagogical techniques. Eliza was delighted with the results. A year later, when her son was 22 months old, she reported that he "prattles very intelligibly," knew the alphabet, and was beginning to spell. What the son thought of all this was not recorded until his later years when he claimed he had been nearly ruined in his youth by being pushed too rapidly in his studies. In the next few years Eliza had two more children, Harriott and Thomas (a third died in infancy).
In between motherhood and household management she managed to wedge time for agricultural experiments. Silkmaking caught her attention in the late 1740s. There had been a number of efforts to make silk in the early days of the colony, but they had been abandoned in the rush to rice. The mulberry trees were still there, however, and Eliza Pinckney had only to procure some well-bred eggs. She also viewed it as a way of employing slaves who could do no other work, which eased her balance sheet. Children gathered the mulberry leaves and fed the worms; the elderly dried the cocoons and "reeled" the silk. No one in the colony could weave silk, apparently, for she took her raw silk with her when she went to England in 1753 and had it made into dresses there. One of these she presented to the Princess of Wales, daughter-in-law of the king.
The occasion for her return to the mother country was the assembly's appointment of Charles Pinckney to represent the colony in London. A secondary motive was the desire, shared by both parents, to give their children an English education. There was still something inferior in the name "colonial."
Luckily for Eliza, a poor sailor, the passage was a swift one, a mere twenty-five days. The south coast ports of Portsmouth and Southampton were ravaged by smallpox, so their vessel sailed up the channel to London. They took a house in Richmond, a short distance up the Thames from London, and put the whole family through inoculation. Eliza renewed old acquaintances and quickly settled into a routine of social visits and sightseeing. They traveled extensively through the midlands and north country (where Charles had lands) and spent the "season" at Bath. They thoroughly enjoyed themselves, but never forgot that they were "exiles," as Eliza put it. She disliked the idleness of the English upper class and especially "the perpetual card playing." Charles, even more restless, had "many yearnings after his native land." In describing to a Carolina friend a visit to the Princess of Wales, in which the princess had dealt quite informally with the Pinckney children, Eliza added: "This, you'll imagine must seem pretty extraordinary to an American." How lightly the phrase "an American" tripped from her pen, yet it revealed much about her developing sense of national identity.
The Pinckneys departed for home in May, 1758, having resided in Britain for five years. They left the two boys in London to finish their schooling and took nine-year-old Harriott home with them. The plantations had suffered much in their absence; overseers, as every planter knew, needed constant oversight. Charles Pinckney plunged into work, but soon contracted malaria. Swamp fever was not usually fatal, but Pinckney was advanced in years and perhaps weakened by the sea journey. He died within three weeks. Eliza resumed the solitary existence she had known before.
Many months later she referred to it as a time when the "lethargy of stupidity" gripped her mind and she functioned barely enough to keep alive. For more than a year after Charles Pinckney's death her letters to friends bled with misery and lament. But time healed and duty pulled her back to life. She had not only her own lands but the vast Pinckney holdings to superintend. There were thousand-acre plantations on both the Ashley and Cooper rivers, five hundred acres on the Savannah River, a sea-island near Beaufort, and an elaborate town house in Charleston. Charles Pinckney had willed all this property to his sons; it was Eliza's duty to preserve and improve it until they came of age.
Belmont, after five years of neglect, had "gone back to woods again." She threw herself into work and soon found that it had its own therapeutic value. With the help of an overseer who was both efficient and honest (because of his rare talents he was in such demand that he could choose his own employer and chose to work only for widows and orphans), Belmont was soon restored to production. By the spring of 1760 Eliza was writing to her London agent that, but for an unforeseen drought she would have produced enough to clear all the Pinckney estate's British debts. And she resumed her tree-planting. By 1761 she had a nursery for magnolia and bay trees. Her experiment with the bay tree is especially interesting, for the leaves of this West Indian tree were used as both a spice and a medicine, and cinnamon was made from the bark. And she had devised a way of packing two-year-old seedlings for shipment to friends in England.
When the day's work was done, her children occupied her thoughts. The two boys, left in vice-ridden London without parental guidance, were a particular worry. She bombarded them with letters full of homiletic advice. Whether it was her concern, or native good sense, or a combination of the two, Charles and Thomas threaded their way through Oxford and the Middle Temple without recorded difficulty. Daughter Harriott was also a source of pride and comfort. At the age of nineteen she married Daniel Horry, a rice planter with large holdings on the Santee River and a comfortable house in Charleston. By that date (1768) Eliza herself had moved into Charleston; she occupied herself through her last active years rebuilding the Horrys' garden.
In 1769 her oldest son returned home (Thomas, five years younger, returned in 1774). After completing his legal studies and being admitted to the bar, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney had journeyed to France for study at the Royal Military College at Caen. It was almost as if he foresaw that there was a new nation being born in America and that it would need soldiers and statesmen. In any case, he returned a flaming patriot, whose fight against the Stamp Act and other parliamentary impositions on the colonies had earned him the sobriquet "The Little Rebel" among Americans in London.
Both Charles and Thomas rose to the rank of general in the American Revolution, and each played a prominent role in the politics of independence. Charles Cotesworth participated in the convention that drafted the federal Constitution, and Thomas, as governor of the state in 1787, submitted the Constitution to the assembly. Each served the Federalist administrations of George Washington and John Adams in a diplomatic capacity during the 1790s, and, at different times, each was a Federalist candidate for vice president. In 1808 Charles Cotesworth Pinckney ran unsuccessfully against James Madison for president.
Eliza spent her last years in the company of her daughter and husband, rotating with the seasons between Charleston and the Santee. When President Washington toured the southern states in 1791, he made a point of stopping at the Horry plantation to visit Eliza Pinckney. An experimental farmer himself, Washington no doubt admired her as much for her agronomy as for her sons. Shortly thereafter she was stricken with cancer, a disease only recently identified and then not in all its forms. In the spring of 1793 she traveled to Philadelphia seeking treatment from a noted cancer specialist. She died there in May, 1793. At her funeral, in St. Peters Anglican Church, President Washington, at his own request, served as one of the pallbearers. In her youth she considered herself a transplanted Englishwoman; in maturity she knew herself to be an American.
Suggestions for Further Reading
Eliza Lucas Pinckney stands in need of a biographer. The only study currently available is by her great granddaughter, Harriet Horry Ravenal, Eliza Pinckney (1896). Pinckney's splendid letters, however, have been published by Elise Pinckney, ed., The Letterbook of Eliza Lucas Pinckney (1972). For the world in which she lived the following studies are recommended: M. Eugene Sir-mans, Colonial South Carolina, A Political History (1966); Clarence L. Ver Steeg, Origins of a Southern Mosaic: Studies of Early Carolina and Georgia (1975); and George C. Rogers, Charleston in the Age of the Pinckneys (1969). Her agricultural experiments are put in context by Joyce E. Chaplin, An Anxious Pursuit: Agricultural Innovation and Modernity in the Lower South, 1730-1815 (1993).