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Their pastor accompanied them from Leyden to Delfthaven, where he watched them embark for England. As lack of funds prevented the majority of his congregation from leaving Holland at that time, it was deemed best for Pastor Robinson to remain with them. He died in 1625, before he could complete his plans to join the Pilgrims. From England, they started out in the two vessels, the Speedwell and the Mayflower, but the Speedwell proving unseaworthy, both ships were obliged to return, and as many passengers as possible accommodated themselves to the Mayflower. Finally, on September 6, 1620, the Pilgrims set sail for America. The privations suffered during the three months' voyage so undermined their health that many of them were unable to withstand the hard conditions of that first winter. Their charter designated the mouth of the Hudson river for the settlement, but adverse winds drove them farther north and they anchored off what is now Provincetown, on Cape Cod.
Before landing, the Pilgrims drew up a solemn agreement in the form of a Compact, which gave them authority to “enact, constitute and frame" the laws, and institute the offices of the colony. Among the forty-one signers of this Compact were Brewster, Carver, Bradford, Standish, and Mullins. On the same day as the signing, John Carver was appointed Governor for the ensuing year. A searching party explored the neighboring coast and, having found a spring of pure water, decided to locate the settlement near it. Here the Pilgrims built their homes, and erected a fort that served the double purpose of fort and church.
During this first winter, which fortunately was less severe than is usual along that coast, they were able to eke out their supplies with fish, game, and hardy winter plants. Nevertheless, they lost one-half their number from disease and hardship. The entries in Bradford's Journal show what their sufferings must have been. When spring came, they improved their homes and planted seeds, so that the next cold weather found them prepared.
In 1621 the Fortune brought thirty-five new settlers, and in 1623 about sixty arrived in the Anne and the Little James. This increase revived the spirits of the colonists, and in a few years they not only had freed themselves from their debt to the London merchants, but had established so thriving a trade in furs and fish as to assure the prosperity of the settlement. In 1691 the colony was incorporated with the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
THE CHARACTERS IN THE POEM The characters in the poem are found in the old chronicles, but in many instances a brief statement has been enlarged by the poet and transformed into an interesting incident. The lives of the Puritans were tempered by a stern discipline; yet despite the harshness of the Puritan character, Longfellow has invested the people of his poem with a tenderness and loyalty that have endeared them to posterity.
Priscilla came to this country with her father (William Mullins), her mother, brother, and a man-servant. Of this group Priscilla was the only one who survived the first winter. After her marriage, she and John Alden settled in Duxbury, where their eleven children were surrounded by the greater conveniences and comforts made possible in the later years by the industry and progressive spirit of the colonists.
The records of Miles Standish are brief. He was born in Lancashire, England, about 1584; the exact date is uncertain. It is thought that he belonged to one of the great families of England; he certainly believed himself defrauded of vast estates. In his last will, he bequeathed these estates to his oldest son, Alexander. As he was not a Puritan, his reason for joining the Pilgrims is unknown; it may have been admiration for their upright lives, or love of adventure, or perhaps discouragement at the loss of his inheritance. Believing that in Plymouth his children could not have all the benefits of country life, Miles Standish founded the town of Duxbury, near enough to Plymouth to keep him in touch with the interests of that village. His career was that of a useful citizen, and his death, in 1656, meant the loss to the colony of one who had not only guided their councils but had been dear to their hearts.
When the Mayflower put in at Southampton for victuals, John Alden, a cooper, then about twenty-one years old, decided to embark with the Pilgrims. A young man of vigor and refinement, he made a valuable addition to the little band. He took an active part in the civil affairs of the colony, and for over fifty years occupied the position of magistrate. He died at the age of eighty-eight. Many of his numerous decendants live near the old home.
HISTORY OF THE POEM The facts forming the basis of the poem are true to history except as to time, the incidents of about three years being crowded into a period short enough to stimulate interest. Moreover, Longfellow has preferred to rearrange the chronological sequences in a manner to enhance the dramatic effect.
Much of the material is taken from Holmes's Annals of America, Young's Chronicles of the Pilgrims, and Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantation.
Tenderness and humor were not predominant traits of Puritan character, but in such wholesome natures as those selected by Longfellow for his subjects, the sternly controlled native sweetness has been allowed some freedom, and appears all the more attractive for its grim setting.
The poem is distinctly American in feeling and has engendered greater interest in the early American settlements and deeper love for the Old Colony than would a series of volumes labeled History of New England.
FIGURES OF SPEECH To express his thoughts in a clearer, more vigorous, or more beautiful way, the poet frequently uses figures of speech. Let us study some of the figures of speech in The Courtship.
Simile. — In this figure, two unlike things are compared. By the comparison the meaning is made clearer. The word like or the word as is the one usually employed to denote the comparison.
This he said with a smile, that danced in his eyes, as
moment. How readily we see the glancing brightness of the smiling look that came into his eyes.
Trying to smile, yet feeling his heart stand still in his
lightning Be careful to find the exact comparison. It is not the heart and the lightning that are compared. John Alden's heart stops beating when he hears the words of Miles Standish, just as a clock stops in a house that is stricken by lightning.
Over him rushed, like a wind that is keen and cold and
woe of his errand; The swiftly passing thought of the bitterness of his errand is compared to a keen, cold wind.
Metaphor. — Metaphors are somewhat like similes, but in
a metaphor the term of likeness (e. g., like or as) is not expressed. The metaphor is more forceful than the simile.
He is a little chimney, and heated hot in a moment. If the poet had written “He is like a little chimney, which is heated hot in a moment,” the simile would have been less forceful than the metaphor.
Only one of them old, the hill that was nearest to heaven,
... the Mayflowers ... Children lost in the woods ...' Personification; Apostrophe. — In attributing to an inanimate object the qualities or actions of a person, we use a figure of speech called personification. This figure is often combined with apostrophe; that is, the thing personified is addressed.
Float, o hand of cloud, and vanish away in the ether!
Either your warning or menace, or any omen of evil! John Alden speaks to the cloud as if it were a person capable of hearing and understanding him.
THE METER OF THE POEM What is it that makes poetry different from prose? Not the rhyme, because all poetry does not rhyme; The Courtship of Miles Standish does not rhyme.
Rhythm; Meter. — Select two lines of prose and read them aloud. Now read aloud two lines of The Courtship. Notice the difference. In poetry some of the syllables are accented, and the accents come at regular intervals. This alternation of accented and unaccented syllables is called rhythm. When the rhythm of poetry is measured into feet, lines, and stanzas, it is called meter. It is the meter of poetry which distinguishes it from prose.