Home Lite in the Seventeenth Century

THE history of State and Church, Letters and Philosophy, during the first half of the seventeenth century, in a country which was Shakespeare’s England when those years began, and Milton’s England when they ended, has continuously employed the pens of innumerable ready writers, some of whom are known of all men. Unknown of many, even of those from whom better things might be hoped, are the private chronicles of a time peculiarly rich in such memorials. From these, — autobiographies, memoirs, and intimate family correspondence, — Elizabeth Godfrey has most skillfully and happily compiled a delightful volume,1 giving a graphic description of the home life of English people of condition (for they alone left these records) in those momentous years which witnessed the passing of the old order and the stormy beginning of the new. It need hardly be said that to most of the American readers likely to be attracted by the book, that England is the one nearest to them by kindred ties, the England which nurtured the adventurers for Virginia, and the men and women who made New England.

The author naturally begins her survey with the nursery, not so easy a matter to treat as may be supposed, for the child (not yet The Child) was far from being a centre of interest, and even in the letters of affectionate mothers was taken very much for granted. Still, we are given interesting glimpses of baby life and of early education, which began betimes with hornbook and sampler in the years which we should consider infantile. There is no difficulty in following the boy to the public school and later to the university, — he was but a boy when he went there, — and more than one of his sisters has left a description of her education, all very like Anne Murray’s, whose mother “had masters for teaching my sister and me to write, speak French, play on the lute and virginals, and dance, and kept a gentlewoman to teach us all kinds of needlework. ... We were instructed never to neglect to begin and end the day with prayer, and orderly every morning to read the Bible, and ever to keep the church as often as there was occasion to meet there either for prayers or preaching. ” This last scarcely needs to be quoted, for it was an age of intense religious feeling in both parties in the Church, and religious instruction was of paramount importance in all education, public and private. And England was still the musical country it had been in the Queen’s days, —music was a necessary part of the training of boys as well as girls. Says one of the pupils at Merchant Taylors’: “I was well instructed in the Hebrew, Greek and Latin tongues. [My master’s] care was also to encrease my skill in musique, in which I was brought up by daily exercise in it, as in singing and playing upon instruments.” But boyhood and girlhood were soon over. Very youthful marriages were the rule, usually matters of parental arrangement, though the children generally acquiesced readily enough. Occasionally there were those who chose for themselves, like Dorothy Osborne of adorable memory; and of both kinds of union the book gives, we had almost said, modern instances, so full of living, breathing life are the records left, often by women, — many of whom were veritable, and most unconscious, heroines when the days of trial came.

But there was a very real heroism, long before the years of war, which is not noticed here. The author explains that the comparatively small attention given to Puritan life comes only from lack of material. It is to be regretted that the letters of John and Margaret Winthrop, and such other memorials as remain of the family at Groton, do not seem to have fallen in her way. To be sure, these letters give few domestic details, but they show very vividly the spirit which animated one Puritan gentleman’s household, and the high level in thought and life, and the mutual trust and devotion of a husband and wife, who in middle age were self-exiled from the pleasant places that had known them to a painful wilderness. It should be said that Miss Godfrey does not carry the contests of the time into her story of its home life, and she strives bravely to write impartially,—“at least as far as she is able. ” Recognizing this effort, even the reader, who in no wise shares her sentiment regarding “ the murdered king, ” loiters over the book with great content; for throughout it is marked by good taste and sympathetic insight, and informed by the historic sense. The volume is attractive in make-up, and the illustrations are well selected. But though the temptation to use the portrait of the little Arabella Stuart as a frontispiece was doubtless strong, it should have been resisted. Long after the child had ceased to play with her doll, England, including her hapless self, was emphatically under a Tudor.

S. M. F.

  1. Home Life under the Stuarts, 1603-1649. By ELIZABETH GODFREY. New York ; E. P. Dutton & Co.; London: Grant Richards. 1903.