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 Her lines to her husband, though not great poetry, are perhaps the most sincere, and are certainly the most human and touching she ever wrote; and her poem on the rearing of her eight children, while infelicitous in its barnyard metaphor, presents a happy and lovable picture. So lovely and pathetic is the figure of the woman herself, and so remarkable are her achievements in the light of her environment, that one finds it ungracious to speak harshly of her verse. It is rather remarkable that so little purely religious verse was produced in early New England. Quarles, himself a Puritan, was prolific in hymns, divine songs, and paraphrases from the Bible. New England boasted a distinct literary class, not unfamiliar with great religious poetry; but its one biblical paraphrase and its one effort at writing religious song was The Bay Psalm Book. To meet the need for divine songs to sing in the churches, Richard Mather, Thomas Welde, and John Eliot supervised the preparation of a new metrical version of the Psalms. The Bay Psalm Book, as it came to be called, was the first book published on American soil, and passed through twenty-seven editions between 1640 and 1752, when it was superseded by John Barnard's New version of the Psalms of David. It surpasses even Sternhold and Hopkins in uncouthness, and as a monument of bad taste has furnished an easy target for the ridicule of subsequent and less devout generations. It is unfair, however, to take The Bay Psalm Book as an index to the poetic taste of its period, or its subsequent popularity as indicating anything more than its usefulness. It was a makeshift, and they knew it was a poor one; an edition “revised and refined” by John Dunster and Richard Lyon followed in 1647. If these were “refined,” then, as Timothy Dwight remarks, “a modem reader would almost instinctively ask, ‘What were they before?’ ” We still possess in its original crudity the “epic of New England puritanism,” The day of doom; or, a poetical description of the great and last judgment. This was the masterpiece of the Rev. Michael Wigglesworth (1631-1705), who was born in England, but emigrated to America, and graduated from Harvard at the age of twenty. He was a physician as well as a theologian and a poet, amiable and humane in character, and greatly beloved. The most widely read and perhaps
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