Friday, October 7, 2011

William and Mary Dyer’s 17th-century bookshelf

1655-Woman Writing a Letter,
by Gerard Terborche

© Christy K. Robinson 
The first settlers of New England were avid readers. On long winter evenings, or rainy summer days, books were treasured for intellectual stimulation and entertainment value.

William and Mary Dyer were very well-educated for their time and social class. In an era when only some people could read, and fewer people could write, their penmanship is strong and clean, without scratch-outs, indicating that they thought carefully and focused on what they were writing. They make reference to the Bible and history. William was well-versed on geography and animal and marine species. Mary was highly-regarded for her intellect.

While we don’t know precisely which books the Dyers read in their youth or adulthood, I’ve listed books that were very likely on their reading list, published before or during their lifetimes (just a representation of hundreds or thousands of books which would have been available at the time). The hyperlinks take you to the online versions—searchable—many of them free downloads.

Book of Martyrs—John Foxe
The Book of Sports—King James
Daemonologie—King James
The Advancement of Learning—Francis Bacon
The English Housewife—Gervase Markham
A new booke of Cookerie—John Murrell
The Queen’s Closet Opened—Queen Henrietta Maria
Wonder working providence of Sions Saviour in New England—Edward Johnson
Religio medici—Sir Thomas Browne 
Newes from America—Captain John Underhill
New England’s Prospect—William Wood
Good Newes from New England—Edward Winslow
The First Planters of New England—John Winthrop
The Pathway to Health—Peter Levens
A Healing Question—Henry Vane
The Compleat Angler—Izaak Walton

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