In 1650 a major publishing event occurred: the appearance of the first book of poetry by a resident of the North American continent. While her family and neighbours in Puritan New England were hacking a living from the forest and fighting disease and famine, Anne Bradstreet found time to compose the collection subsequently known as The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America. It was published without her permission in London, where it had been smuggled by her brother-in-law – as a surprise for her – and became a best-seller. Anne did not choose the title, which made reference to her as an addition to the nine existing muses (Greek goddesses covering remits such as dance, tragedy, comedy, poetry, etc.) It was tacked onto the poems by her publishers.
A number of real women have been put forward as ‘the tenth muse’. They have included Sappho, the French poet Antoinette de la Garde Deshoulières, the French novelist Madeleine de Scudéry, Queen Christina of Sweden, the Spanish poet and writer Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, and the English writer and dramatist Hannah More. Interestingly, all of these post-Sappho tenth muses (apart from Hannah More – 1745-1833) lived in the seventeenth century, as did Anne Bradstreet. It seems that the soubriquet was a piece of seventeenth-century publishers’ hype. It is unlikely that any of the women themselves actually chose it. Anne Bradstreet in particular certainly did not: as a Puritan wife and mother she would have been quite disturbed to find herself in the company of Sappho.
Bradstreet, Anne: Poems (introduction by Robert Hutchinson, 1969)
Piercy, Josephine K: Anne Bradstreet (1965)
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