Monday, March 21, 2016

Meditation on Anne Bradstreet's Letter to Her Son

     Anne Bradstreet’s letter to her son, entitled For My Deare Son, Simon Bradstreet is from the
manuscript called Meditations Divine and Morall. It was written on March 20th, 1664. It came
from the Houghton Library at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It seems to be
written in a leather bound book. Something especially intriguing about this particular document
is that it has the name “Jane Bradstreet”, the date 1849, and it also the words “of the fourth 
generation from the author” on the cover page.

     Jane Bradstreet was most likely a descendant of Anne, according to this information, and she
was probably in possession of this document before Harvard University found it. There were also
three other signatures on the cover page, that looked like “B. Edwards” and “Jiah Eliot”, and
“Harris” written upside down, with long lines before and underneath them. I chose to analyze
this document because I initially wanted to know more about Anne’s personal relationship with
her children. When I found this document I was especially intrigued by the cover page.
     The letter itself reads;

      “Parents perpetuate their lives in their posterity and their manners; in their imitation 
children do naturally rather follow the failings than the virtues of their predecessors, but I am 
persuaded better things of you. You once desired me to leave something for you in writing that 
you might look upon, when you should see me no more; I could think of nothing more fit for you 
nor of more ease to myself than these short meditations following. Such as they are, I bequeath 
to you; small legacies are accepted by true friends, much more by dutiful children. I have 
avoided encroaching upon others’ conceptions because I would leave you nothing but mine own, 
though in value they fall short of all in this kind; yet I presume they will be better prized by you 
for the author’s sake. The Lord bless you with grace here and crown you with glory hereafter, 
that I may meet you with rejoicing at that great day of appearing, which is the continual prayer 
        your affectionate mother, 
 March 20, 1664” (Hensley 271).      A.B. 

     In this letter to her son, Bradstreet is saying that children carry the faults of their parents. At
the same the time, she means to say that she expects more than that of her favorite son, and that
she hopes he will learn from her mistakes and take the faults as lessons. This letter was meant to
be a precursor to the seventy-seven meditations that she wrote that followed it. She wanted to
leave something for her son to remember her by, and she thought that words would be the most
suitable option. She did not want to infringe on other people’s ideas or opinions because she
wanted hers to be the only ones that she left behind for her son. She leaves him with a prayer at
the end of the letter.

     During this time period, we are seeing the transition from old English to modern English.
There was an influx of new words, as well the Great Vowel Shift, which was a language change
that affected the long vowels of English through the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries. The
original document and its translation exemplify this is many ways. Reading the original piece, it
is easy to notice some strange spellings of certain words, such as “myne” and “owne”.

          A woman named Ann Stanford wrote a critical essay called “Anne Bradstreet as a
Meditative Writer”. She discusses how all Christians and Puritans alike turned to “meditation, or
contemplation” (Stanford 89) for serenity. 1664 was the year she began writing her prose in the
mediation form. Her son, Simon, believed that she wrote in this fashion until she died. She wrote
her most famous poem in this style in the 1650’s or 1660’s, naming it “Contemplations”. It is
thought to be “the first important meditative poem written in America” (Stanford 89).

     In the seventeenth century, the words contemplation and mediation were used synonymously.
For Puritans in this time, such as Anne Bradstreet, these words meant severe inquiry and
reflecting on religious subjects, rather than how Catholics interpreted them, as recognized and
divine practices. Bradstreet was not exceptionally well-read on the subject of meditation “as a
method of spiritual exercise” (Stanford 92) but she was completely mindful of it as a holistic

     This meditative theme is seen in this letter. Bradstreet uses the words “divine” and “morall”
as a way of showing that she has recognized and agreed to the disciplines of God. She simply
wanted to pass down her meditations to her children so they could have something to think about
her by.

     In a critical essay by Elizabeth Wade White called The Tenth Muse - A Tercentenary
Appraisal of Anne Bradstreet, it is said that Bradstreet had some unpublished material that was
released in 1867 by John Harvard Ellis. There were autobiographical entries of prose, Religious
Experiences and Occasional Pieces, Meditations Divine and Morall, and scattered short personal
pieces. There are seventy-seven Meditations, all for her son Simon, written as moral statements
and are meant to be familiar and easily relatable.

     In an essay entitled Mistress Anne Bradstreet by Samuel Eliot Morison, there were two things
in particular that stood out as prevalent to Simon and Anne’s relationship. “Simon, Jr., who was
at Harvard when she wrote, was her favorite son:

 One to the Academy flew
 To chat among that learned crew
 Ambition moves still in his breast
 That he might chant above the rest” (Morison 49).

     Nepotism comes into play greatly in this passage. Although it is somewhat of a bold
statement for Morison to say that Simon was Bradstreet’s favorite son, it is evident through the
amount of letter writing that she did for him. It is easy to understand that Simon inherited the
love that Bradstreet felt for education. In this same essay, it is said that Simon wrote in his diary
on September 16th, 1672 and says “My ever honoured and most dear Mother was translated to
Heaven” (Morison 54). It is evident that he was keeping record of his thoughts and experiences.

     Although I could not find any information whatsoever on Jane Bradstreet, I can only
speculate that she was a distant relative of Anne and somehow got a hold of this very important
document. I also could not find any information on B. Edwards, Jiah Eliot, or Harris.

     Although this document was challenging to work with, it is exceptionally important. These
meditations are the first of their kind. Bradstreet was experimenting with a more difficult and
less structured type of writing towards the middle and end of her life. She was testing her luck at
something new. She had a lot of influence from the Bible, Psalms, and Proverbs. Her works and
that of the Bible are both meant to present a moral truth in a short poetic sermon, not only for the
author, but for the audience so they might benefit from it. These meditations were initially meant
to be left behind for her son, however, now that everyone has access to them, it is extraordinary
that we are able to read them and see the development that her works went through during her
experimental and transformational life.

Works Cited 

Bradstreet, Anne. Harvard University- Houghton Library/ Meditations Divine and Morall:  Manuscript-1664-1672? MS Am 1007.1. Stevens Memorial Library Deposit, Houghton  Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Bradstreet, Anne, Jeannine Hensley, and Adrienne Cecile Rich. "For My Deare Son, Simon Bradstreet."  The Works of Anne Bradstreet. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap of Harvard  UP, 1967. N. pag. Print.

Bradstreet, Anne, and Josephine Ketcham Piercy. "For My Deare Son, Simon Bradstreet." The  Tenth Muse (1650) And, from the Manuscripts: Meditations Divine and Morall,  Together with Letters and Occasional Pieces. Gainesville, FL: Scholars' Facsimiles &  Reprints, 1965. N. pag. Print.

Cowell, Pattie, and Ann Stanford. "Anne Bradstreet as a Meditative Writer." Critical Essays on  Anne  Bradstreet. Boston, MA: G.K. Hall, 1983. N. pag. Print.

Menzer, Melinda J. "What Is the Great Vowel Shift?" What Is the Great Vowel Shift? N.p.,  2000. Web. 13 Nov. 2014.

Piercy, Josephine Ketcham. "The Prose Writer." Anne Bradstreet. New York: Twayne, 1965. N.  pag. Print.

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