Friday, April 09, 2010

Michael Wigglesworth's Library

I've just finished entering into LibraryThing the library of Michael Wigglesworth (1631-1705), a minister/physician in Malden, MA and one of America's first bestseller poets. His 224-stanza poem about Judgment Day, The Day of Doom, sold 1,800 copies in less than a year ... and that was in 1662!

An inventory of Wigglesworth's library (which amounts to 91 titles so far) was printed in a short biography of him by John Ward Dean, and Dean ably describes the library as an "eminently practical one, consisting largely of books useful for reference .... It is rich in works upon theology and history; and there is also a good collection of medical books. Of classical literature there is little, and of English belles-lettres nothing. But what will excite most surprise is the dearth of poetry. Not even the poems of Mrs. Bradstreet, the pride of New England; nor of 'Silver-tongued Sylvester,' so much in repute with the Puritans of the preceding age; nor of zealous John Bunyan, a truly fraternal spirit; nor the grand epic of Milton, on such a subject kindred to his own, are there."

Dean also has some interesting comments on libraries in general: "Next to the books which an author composes may be placed those which he read as an index to his mind; and, as a general rule, we may infer that the books he possesses are those which he reads. True, it is not always safe to judge of a man's mental tastes by the contents of his library; for one sometimes comes into the possession, by gift or otherwise, of works in which he has little, if any, interest; but such books are not often sufficiently numerous to affect the character of a library of even moderate dimensions."

Thanks to Houghton's great provenance index I've located a few more Wigglesworth books there - a couple signed by Michael not in the inventory, and several of Michael's books which appear to have passed to his son Edward (as per Michael's will). I suspect, as usual, that others may be lurking out there, and as always will appreciate any leads.