Tuesday, November 23, 2010

William Bradford

"What could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and His grace? May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say "Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity."

"(William Bradford is) a forerunner of literature"
Charles F. Richardson

The book "Of Plymouth Colony" is too often misappropriated as a journal, or as an even dryer connotation, as a history book. While it is both of these things, it is also a great deal more. William Bradford's epic work is not only the single most authoritative look into the lives of the pilgrims of Plymouth colony, but one of the earliest forms literary non-fiction. Reading it, it does not read like a journal, not as bland as "today I woke up, brushed my teeth, ate some breakfast, swept the porch..." nor does it carry the sizable weight of a historical text, which often will read as "on the date of September 7th, 1616, the Pilgrims did THIS...". William Bradford breathes such life into this place, and its people. This is not only because he lived there (although that's a big part of it). He also cared about these events and these people, which even still, on its own, doesn't seem to be the mitigating factor in why this work carried so well. Bradford lived these times, had a very real stake in them, and on top of all of that, cared a great deal about the art and craft of writing. This is made even more poignant in knowing that Bradford was a self taught individual, whose family never sent him to university. He did not have the benefit of having been taught the craft, and having his skills honed among his writing peers. On the contrary, William lived a life of relative isolation from the outside world. He was outcasted for his family situation, and then again by his family for his religious views. In this way, Bradford almost lived in a bubble. Yet despite having lived so apart from the rest of society at large, proved himself a talented and capable writer. His passages have not only taught countless generations what it was like to have lived in those days, but they paint such a detailed and specific picture of it, that to this day, these images are firmly implanted in our collective subconscious, and have taken deep roots in our culture. In this way, William Bradford really puts me in mind of Mark Twain, in that he was that generation's equivalent. Twain mustered up all of his literary bravado to write epics like "Old Times on the Mississippi", "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" which do so well to encapsulate the times they represent. In this same way, Bradford captures 27 years worth of life, very vividly depicting not only the life and times, but the drama, and the reason, and the context for this place, this time period, and these people. Wholly authentic. The times and the language have changed, but the heart of the writing remains pure, and makes the passages still highly readable, and relatable to this day.

1 comment:

  1. 30/30 Wow, that's a fascinating and original comparison between Twain and Bradford.