Tuesday, April 17, 2012

For National Poetry Month: Anne Bradstreet's Tenth Muse

Anne Bradstreet, The Tenth Muse (1650).
In honor of National Poetry Month, we are featuring one of the Clements Library's great treasures, The Tenth Muse by Anne Bradstreet. Printed in 1650 in London, it is noteworthy as the first book of poetry published by an American.

Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) and her husband Simon immigrated to America in 1630. In 1647, her brother-in-law John Woodbridge took her manuscript poems to England to be published under the title The Tenth Muse, Lately Sprung Up in America, by a "Gentlewoman in those parts." In the preface, he explained that the publication was supposedly done without her knowledge, and that she took no time from her family obligations to write the poems. The book also included praise from other prominent men regarding her virtue and piety, to defend her from any accusations of impropriety as a woman author. In the Prologue, Anne Bradstreet comments on her critics:
"I am obnoxious to each carping tongue,
Who sayes, my hand a needle better fits,
A Poets Pen, all scorne, I should thus wrong;
For such despight they cast on female wits:
If what I doe prove well, it wo'nt advance,
They'l say its stolne, or else, it was by chance."
In 1912, William L. Clements purchased 140 books from the book dealer Lathrop C. Harper, his first major acquisition of rare Americana. Among them, Anne Bradstreet's Tenth Muse was the single most expensive volume. This book is listed as No. 15 in One Hundred and One Treasures from the Collections of the William L. Clements Library (Ann Arbor, 1998).

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