Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Critical Introduction by W. P. Ker
Lucy Hutchinson (16201681)
[Lucy, daughter of Sir Allen Apsley, lieutenant of the Tower, married (July 1638) Mr. John Hutchinson of Owthorpe in the county of Nottingham. Her Life of Colonel Hutchinson was published first in 1806; there are several later editions. In Mr. C. H. Firths edition there are a number of additional documents. Two theological essays by Mrs. Hutchinson were published in 1817: (1) On the Principles of the Christian Religion (addressed to her daughter); (2) Of Theologie (incomplete: the first part is a clear and orderly discussion of natural theology; the second part, beginning with the pure antediluvian theology, comes down no further than the birth of the giants). Mrs. Hutchinsons MS. translation of Lucretius, in couplets, is in the British Museum.]
IN all Mrs. Hutchinsons writings there is a struggle between two opposite tendenciesone having its source in her natural and ingenuous strength of mind; the other in her education and adopted principles. It would be easy, by making unfair selections from her works, to compose a picture of unamiable virtue and female pedantry. This would be unjust; at the same time, it cannot be denied that she gives the materials for such a description of her character, as well as the complementary evidence, which proves that she was something more than a bookish woman with strict principles. The fragment of her autobiography contains what deserves to be the locus classicus on the topic of early piety:
Play among other children I despised, and when I was forced to entertain such as came to visit me, I tired them with more grave instructions than their mothers, and plucked all their babies to pieces, and kept the children in such awe, that they were glad when I entertained myself with older company; to whom I was very acceptable, and being in the house with many persons that had a great deal of wit, and very profitable serious discourses being frequent at my fathers table and in my mothers drawing-room, I was very attentive to all, and gathered up things that I would utter again, to great admiration of many that took my memory and imitation for wit . I used to exhort my mothers maids much, and to turn their idle discourses to good subjects; but I thought when I had done this on the Lords day, and every day performed my due tasks of reading and praying, that then I was free to anything that was not sin; for I was not at that time convinced of the vanity of conversation which was not scandalously wicked. I thought it no sin to learn or hear witty songs and amorous sonnets or poems, and twenty things of that kind, wherein I was so apt that I became the confidante in all the loves that were managed among my mothers young women; and there was none of them but had many lovers, and some particular friends beloved above the rest.
If this passage is to be treasured as a description of a good child, the last sentence must be abandoned. For an estimate of the character of Mrs. Hutchinson, this last sentence is valuable. It is in this way that she makes it impossible for the reader to regard her as an abstract virtue, or one of the Puritan graces. Her quickness of understanding and her energy preserve her from these extremes of perfection.
Mrs. Hutchinson was not a mere learned woman, though it might be possible to collect out of her two theological essays and her apology for her translation of Lucretius evidence enough to justify such an opinion of her. Her account of her study of Lucretius is a companion piece to the account of her childhood. She has become, she says, convinced of the sin of amusing herself with such vain philosophy, which even at the first I did not employ any serious study in, for I turned it into English in a room where my children practised the several qualities they were taught with their tutors, and I numbered the syllables of my translation by the threads of the canvas I wrought in, and set them down with a pen and ink that stood by me. She goes on to treat her poet with much severity for his and his masters ridiculous, impious, execrable doctrines, the foppish, casual dance of atoms. Her discourse on natural theology is full of references to the heathen poets and philosophers, without much respect for any of them. It is open to any one to describe her as a woman disagreeably and vainly learned, without any appreciation of her classical authors except in so far as they can be used to humiliate the ignorant, and make them uncomfortable. This view, again, would be an unfair one. It is possible to admire the picture of Mrs. Hutchinson taking Lucretius along with her tambour in the childrens schoolroom, and at the same time to recognise that her learning is often better employed than in this translation, and that her liking for pens and ink is justified by the freshness and liveliness of her style.
Mrs. Hutchinsons style is not remarkable for anything except this natural vigour, and this is to be found in her theological essays as well as in the life of her husband. She wrote because she had something to say. The life of her husband is more interesting than her theology, but her theological discourses are in their way equally spontaneous.
The Life of Colonel Hutchinson is not one of the biographies that excel in the art of making small things interesting. But the narrative does not leave hold of particulars. Situations and adventures are often represented in a summary way, but though Mrs. Hutchinson may renounce the picturesque details, she gives the essential parts of the drama. Instances of this may easily be found. The best is the passage that relates how Lamberts troopers, trying to bully Colonel Hutchinson in his own house at Owthorpe, were quieted by suddenly coming upon fifty or sixty men, who happened to be there that day as representatives of three parishes which had quarrelled over a pauper (ii. p. 230). This is not treated as a great narrative author would have given it; but the important things are there, the incident is boldly and clearly recounted.
That part of the Life which refers to Cromwell is less satisfactory. That the colonel saw through him is Mrs. Hutchinsons opinion; but the conversations between Cromwell and Hutchinson, in which Hutchinson rebuked ambition and was answered by serious, lying professions, are not fully reported. This part of the story lay beyond Mrs. Hutchinsons own view, and Cromwell is not seen distinctly in the indirect report of his ambition and dissimulations.