Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Life Well Lived: "Puritanical" Marriage

Oh, that we had more "puritanical" marriages. No, not the cold social and civic alliances attributed to the Puritans by nineteenth century novelists, but the real, passionate, earthy marriages of the real, passionate, earthy Puritans. They were not perfect, far from it. They did not live in a golden age, but we can learn much from them--and we should.

Hear historian Edmund Morgan:

"When God presented Eve to Adam, he 'Solemnized the First Marriage that ever was' and in so doing gave his sanction to marriage itself. Therefore, the Puritans said, with an eye on the Catholics, those who 'speak reproachfully of it do both impeach God’s Wisdom and Truth.' The Puritans refused to regard marriage as a sacrament, but they also abjured the ideal of celibacy as a condition purer and holier than marriage. God was of another mind than those who believe in 'the Excellency of Virginity.'"

"The Puritan wife of New England occupied a relatively enviable position by comparison, say, with the wife of early Rome or of the Middle Ages or even of contemporary England; for her husband's authority was strictly limited. He could not lawfully strike her, nor could he command her to do anything contrary to the laws of God, laws which were explicitly defined in the civil codes. In one respect she was almost his equal, for she had 'joint interest in governing the rest of the family.'"

"As a matter of fact the Puritans were a much earthier lot than their modern critics have imagined. It is well to remember that they belonged to the age in which they lived and not to the more squeamish decades of the nineteenth or twentieth centuries. Seaborn Cotton, son of New England’s leading divine, while a student at Harvard College, started a notebook in which he copied some of the more explicit passages from Elizabethan and Cavalier love poems. When he later became minister of the church in Hampton, New Hampshire, he saw no incongruity in using the same copybook to take notes of church meetings."

Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Family: Religion and Domestic Relations in Seventeenth-Century New England.

Hear seventeenth century Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet:

To My Dear and Loving Husband

If ever two were one then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife were happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor aught but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay,
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let's so perservere
That when we live no more, we may live ever.

A Letter to Her Husband

My head, my heart, mine eyes, my life, nay more,
My joy, my magazine, of earthly store,
If two be one, as surely thou and I,
How stayest thou there, whilst I at Ipswich lie?
So many steps, head from the heart to sever,
If but a neck, soon should we be together.
I, like the Earth this season, mourn in black,
My Sun is gone so far in's zodiac,
Whom whilst I 'joyed, nor storms, nor frost I felt,
His warmth such fridged colds did cause to melt.
My chilled limbs now numbed lie forlorn;
Return; return, sweet Sol, from Capricorn;
In this dead time, alas, what can I more
Than view those fruits which through thy heart I bore?
Which sweet contentment yield me for a space,
True living pictures of their father's face.
O strange effect! now thou art southward gone,
I weary grow the tedious day so long;
But when thou northward to me shalt return,
I wish my Sun may never set, but burn
Within the Cancer of my glowing breast,
The welcome house of him my dearest guest.
Where ever, ever stay, and go not thence,
Till nature's sad decree shall call thee hence;
Flesh of thy flesh, bone of thy bone,
I here, thou there, yet both but one.

Your Marriage?

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