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13 January, 2012
Anne Bradstreet and Her Time|
by Campbell, Helen
|Grave doubts at times arise in the critical mind as to whether
America has had any famous women. We are reproached with the fact,
that in spite of some two hundred years of existence, we have, as
yet, developed no genius in any degree comparable to that of
George Eliot and George Sand in the present, or a dozen other as
familiar names of the past. One at least of our prominent literary
journals has formulated this reproach, and is even sceptical as to
the probability of any future of this nature for American women.
What the conditions have been which hindered and hampered such
development, will find full place in the story of the one woman
who, in the midst of obstacles that might easily have daunted a
far stouter soul, spoke such words as her limitations allowed.
Anne Bradstreet, as a name standing alone, and represented only by
a volume of moral reflections and the often stilted and unnatural
verse of the period, would perhaps, hardly claim a place in formal
biography. But Anne Bradstreet, the first woman whose work has
come down to us from that troublous Colonial time, and who, if not
the mother, is at least the grandmother of American literature, in
that her direct descendants number some of our most distinguished
men of letters calls for some memorial more honorable than a page
in an Encyclopedia, or even an octavo edition of her works for the
benefit of stray antiquaries here and there. The direct ancestress
of the Danas, of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Wendell Phillips, the
Channings, the Buckminsters and other lesser names, would
naturally inspire some interest if only in an inquiry as to just
what inheritance she handed down, and the story of what she failed
to do because of the time into which she was born, holds equal
meaning with that of what she did do.
I am indebted to Mr. John Harvard Ellis's sumptuous edition of
Anne Bradstreet's works, published in 1867, and containing all her
extant works, for all extracts of either prose or verse, as well
as for many of the facts incorporated in Mr. Ellis's careful
introduction. Miss Bailey's "History of Andover," has proved a
valuable aid, but not more so than "The History of New England,"
by Dr. John Gorham Palfrey, which affords in many points, the most
careful and faithful picture on record of the time, personal
facts, unfortunately, being of the most meager nature. They have
been sought for chiefly, however, in the old records themselves;
musty with age and appallingly diffuse as well as numerous, but
the only source from which the true flavor of a forgotten time can
be extracted. Barren of personal detail as they too often are, the
writer of the present imperfect sketch has found Anne Bradstreet,
in spite of all such deficiencies, a very real and vital person,
and ends her task with the belief which it is hoped that the
reader may share, that among the honorable women not a few whose
lives are to-day our dearest possession, not one claims tenderer
memory than she who died in New England two hundred years ago.
NEW YORK, 1890.