The Pilgrim and the Bee
Reading Rituals and Book Culture in Early New England
Matthew P. Brown
"A stunning work of scholarship. . . . A crucial text in American book history and American literary history."—Jay Fliegelman, Stanford University
"The Pilgrim and the Bee makes a broad claim about a reading-centered history, reclaiming for this purpose a distinctive body of texts. Brown's analysis marks an important step toward a better history of reading."—David D. Hall, Harvard University
"As befits a book about books as objects, The Pilgrim and the Bee adds aesthetic satisfactions to its intellectual pleasures. I suspect that many readers will relate to this beautifully illustrated book as puritan readers related to the devotional steady sellers, marking up Brown's rich array of examples and his provocative readings, and returning to them for further contemplation like the bee of Brown's apt title."—Journal of American History
"Brown's work genuinely advances the terms of scholarly debate by combining methodological innovation with a metacritical rigor that is as nuanced as it is compelling."—American Literature
"In this book Brown offers sustained, nuanced readings of devotional texts usually relegated to the role of context and provides fresh perspective on more frequently examined genres like jeremiads and elegies. . . . More than simply expanding the early American literary canon with the addition of a few steady sellers, Brown calls attention to the contingencies of the surviving archive and the politics of the canon that emerged from it."—Early American Literature
"The Pilgrim and the Bee is an absorbing work and a real contribution to the study of the material culture of the Puritans and how the religious practices of the community deeply informed their reading."—Rocky Mountain Review
"If you have even a passing interest in seeing what the history of the book looks like when it achieves intellectual maturity, then The Pilgrim and the Bee is certainly worth your time. . . . This important study has implications for a wide range of readers.—Common-place
We conventionally understand the book as a vessel for words, a place where the reader goes to have a private experience with written language. But readers' relationships with books are much more complex. In The Pilgrim and the Bee, Matthew P. Brown examines book culture and the rituals of reading in early New England, ranging across almanacs, commonplace books, wonder tales, funeral elegies, sermon notes, conversion relations, and missionary tracts. What emerges is a new understanding of the book at once as a material good, existing within the economies of buying, selling, giving, and receiving; as an object of reverence and a medium for the performance of reading; and as an organizational system for word, sound, and image.
The product of extensive archival research, The Pilgrim and the Bee brings together the disciplines of book studies and performance theory to reconsider the literary history of early America. Brown focuses on the reader's body, carefully studying reading practices during the first three generations of English settlement, with particular emphasis on the way such practices operated in the social rituals of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Understanding Puritanism as a style of piety predicated on access to texts, he describes a canon of texts (devotional "steady sellers") that, with the Bible, served as conduct literature for pious readers. These devotional manuals were reprinted and read frequently and helped to shape the social identities of gender, race, class, faith, and age. To Brown, seventeenth-century devotional readers are both pilgrims, treating texts as continuous narratives of redemptive journeying, and bees, treating texts as flowers or hives, as spatial objects where information is extracted and deposited discontinuously.
Matthew P. Brown teaches English and is Director of the Center for the Book at the University of Iowa.