My Truth is Your Truth in the Puritan Self

In  Reading Autobiography, Smith and Watson explore the ways that “Structuring Modes of Self-Inquiry” affect a text (90). In this, the writers engage with the idea that the use of conventional structures in writing, or of original ones, can be interpreted as statements about the autobiographical Is of a text. While applying this concept to Anne Bradstreet’s Meditations Divine and Moral, an implicit statement emerges. Reading Autobiography mentions the existence of “complex linkages between knowledge of the world/others and self-knowledge” (91-2). This statement is quite illuminating when applied to Bradstreet’s Meditations. She frames her statements of knowledge in a numerical list, with different pieces of worldly and spiritual knowledge being given to her son. Also, in Meditations, she narrates through the use of the word “we.” This inclusive speech, combined with the broadness of her statements, seems to imply that these views (assumingly gained from a life of practical experience and spiritual self-exploration) are applicable to not just her own life, but to her son’s and others’ lives as well. Thus, she views her experiences and knowledge gained from her life as shared wisdom, reminding current readers of an early spiritual worldview. Because her truths are presented as applicable to many, it is becomes implicit that Bradstreet believes in a universal truth, assuming a universal spiritual truth. For her, personal wisdom is equivalent to universal knowledge because there is a common religious truth for all. If everyone is born in total depravity, a search for irresistible grace should lead to relatively same, or at least compatible, realizations. This is best observed in meditation 24, in which Bradstreet writes, “There is no new thing under y Sun there is nothing that can be sayd or done, but either that or something like it, hath been both done and sayd before.” Here, she proposes that there is a limited scope of human existence and experience, fitting nicely with the Calvinist belief in limited atonement. Furthermore, by structuring her insights into a methodical, numerical list, she complements this worldview. It, like human capacity and atonement, is finite. She, and presumably her reading audience, views self-knowledge as representative of all human knowledge, and thus, as a topic appropriate for listing in a way in which pieces of knowledge can be picked and applied in a methodical manner.

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