- William Bradford’s Books: Of Plimmoth Plantation and the Printed Word
After knowing William Bradford's Of Plimmoth Plantation for so long, readers may be surprised that Douglas Anderson has discovered new insights about it or that these arrive by ordinary routes: close reading, historical contextualization, textual criticism, and comparative analysis. Yet in William Bradford's Books Anderson nevertheless presents a new Bradford, one whose text carefully positioned itself within a complex web of rhetorical and textual practices, audiences, and situations. Although he draws on scholarship that will be familiar to readers of Libraries & Culture (e.g., studies by [End Page 570] Lisa Jardine, Anthony Grafton, and Roger Chartier), Anderson's chief goal is not to advance our understanding of the role of libraries or even print culture in colonial America. Rather, he shows how one man used extant reading methods and historiographical practices to "peece" together an influential chronicle of New England'searliest years.
Anderson's format provides an early sign of his book's strengths and weaknesses. Roughly tracking the chronology of Bradford's text (rather than following the logic of his own argument), Anderson provides a kind of detailed play-by-play analysis and contextualization of Bradford's work, beginning with a discussion of Bradford's title page design and concluding with Bradford's final chapter.
In his "Introduction: The Operations of Print" Anderson elaborates the importance of printing for the Plymouth settlers and the ongoing transnational Protestant Reformation. Chapter 1, "Words and Wind," discusses the conventions of early modern historiography and Protestant textual explication as exemplified by such figures as Jean Bodin and William Perkins. In his most valuable discussion for both students of library history and students of Bradford Andersondescribes Perkins's practice of collating "places"—aligning related biblical passages in parallel columns, "allowing widely separated passages to serve as commentaries on one another" (52). Bradford uses this sort of collation, Anderson shows, throughout his text, both in its organization of materials and in Bradford's strategic use of the blank verso surface of each leaf in his book. This technique enables Bradford to make meaning out of seemingly disparate events or to provide commentary upon his own history, forming a "pattern of intratextual reference that binds the history together" (65).
Chapter 2, "Such Neighbors and Brethren as We Are," discusses Edward Winslow's Good Newes from New-England (1624) and the 1622 Relation or Journall of the beginning and proceedings of the English Plantation setled at Plimoth, arguing that Bradford's history "relies on, rather than supersedes or simply repeats," these companion texts. Anderson's third chapter, "Artificial Persons," focuses on the correspondence Bradford included in his history. Bradford, argues Anderson, "clearly appreciated the ability of the letter to function as an artificial person in the pages of the history" (129).
"Here is the Miserablest Time," chapter 4, considers a series of troubling events appearing in the latter half of Bradford's text, including financial problems and criminal trials in Plymouth. Chapter 5, "Controller of Stories," suggests the ways in which Bradford uses his library and, in particular, Francesco Guicciardini's account of the 1494 French invasion of Italy to "thematically expand" his own account of circumstances in New England. In particular, Anderson argues, "letters, formal proclamations, and legal documents repeatedly offer Bradford dramatic evidence of the complicated interlacing of New England affairs with the menacing climate of European politics" (219). Anderson concludes by revising scholars' sense that Bradford ended his history in a kind of despair. Instead, he shows how Bradford's text celebrates the colony's growth.
Like the Renaissance and early modern preachers he discusses, Anderson is dedicated to "opening" Bradford's text rather than fitting it into an incisive interpretation of his own. The main weakness of this approach is that a reader is often well into a chapter before he or she can discern what Anderson's point or even focus shall be—a confusion made all the more frustrating by the depth and...