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English soldiers fighting in the Dutch armies until Holland was free. Among these soldiers was Captain Miles Standish. He was originally from Lancashire, England, where his family had established two homes, Standish Hall and Duxbury Park, owing to religious differences in which one branch became Protestant while the other remained Catholic. Miles Standish was presumed to be of the Protestant branch of Duxbury Park from the fact of his throwing in his lot with the Pilgrims, and later naming his estate in the New World, Duxbury. He was thought to be heir to certain family properties of which he had been deprived, and hence to be seeking his fortune in the war in Holland.
While there, he fell in with the Pilgrims, and having taken a great liking to them, resolved to join them when they decided to sail for America. Although he was not of their church, they welcomed him to their ranks, for they felt that they would very much need a man of his sort in their new settlement. He went in the Mayflower, accompanied by his wife Rose, who died in those first terrible months. He had probably reached middle-age.
John Alden was among those from England who joined the Holland Pilgrims at Southampton, and was said to be a cooper. He was a much younger man. Longfellow calls him a “stripling," and in the poem (line 20) he is said to be the youngest man who came in the Mayflower. He was very different from Miles
Standish, being a student, while the other was a soldier.
There is reason to think that Priscilla Mullins was of Huguenot extraction, her people probably being refugees in England after the Massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572. The name was perhaps anglicized from Molines, or possibly Moulins. Lines 269 to 275 imply that she was familiar with English life and scenery, but she does not speak of Holland. Hence it is clear that Longfellow does not place her among the Leyden Pilgrims. He hints that there was an acquaintance between her and John Alden before they sailed from England, and that John Alden followed her over the ocean, whither she was accompanied by her father, mother, and brother. This is not likely, as in that case the attachment between them would have been so apparent to the people about them that Miles Standish would never have thought of wooing her. John Alden formed a close friendship with Miles Standish on the voyage over, but it is more than likely that the feeling of both men for Priscilla was kindled after the founding of Plymouth. The poet has utilized the little that is known about her to describe her with such tender grace that she has served ever since as the ideal of New England maidenhood.
Like “Evangeline," the greatest of Longfellow's poems, "The Courtship of Miles Standish” is written in dactylic hexameter the same metre in which are
written the great poems of the world, the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey" of Homer, and the k Æneid” of Vergil. The line is divided into six feet, and each foot, except the last, contains one accented syllable followed by two unaccented ones a syllable in English meaning any combination of letters pronounced with one effort of the voice. The last foot contains an accented syllable followed by an unaccented one. Such a line is marked in this way:
Luulluul Luul Luul Luullul each of these divisions being a foot and the accent falling always upon the first syllable of the foot.
The following line 13 from the poem is an example of a perfect line of this sort :lu Luu z
luu Lu Writ-ing with | dil-i-gent | speed at a ta-ble of pine by the
win-dow. In scanning such a line, that is, in reading it metri. cally or according to the metre, it is plain that in words of more than one syllable the accent must fall upon the syllable on which it would properly fall in prose. If it happens otherwise, it is evident that the scanning is incorrect. But in every poem of this kind, the two unaccented syllables may be replaced by a syllable having almost the same stress of the voice as the accented one. If this were not allowed, such a poem
would be very monotonous. But this substitution, occurring now in one foot and now in another, gives an agreeable variety. As in the following: Yon-der there on the ) híll by the |
tře | hííl by the | séa lies | búr-ied Rose Stan-dish, I Beau-ti-tul Róse of love that bloómed for me by the
Scanning is intended to help one to appreciate the melody and rhythm of a poem. It has another practical use, however. Through the accent in scanning, one is often helped in the pronunciation of a difficult word. For instance, in line 9 occurs the word “ Arabic,” which is often mispronounced. By scanning the line thus:Curved æt the point and in- /-scríbed with its | mýs-ti-cal Luu
sen-tence, the correct pronunciation is easily seen.
A like service is rendered in the case of the last word of line 28, which is an unfamiliar one. By scanning the line: Fired point-|-blánk at my heart by ă | span-ish | áf-cam
lu bu--ce-ro, one sees at once how to pronounce it.
The pupil should not be allowed to pass over any word of even doubtful meaning without looking it up in the dictionary. All such words have been purposely omitted from the notes in order to give the pupil this practice with the dictionary. He should gain the power to select readily, from several definitions of a word, the particular one required by the text. For instance, in line 303 Occurs the word “yard.” It has three definitions: a measure, a plot of ground which is enclosed, and a part of a vessel. It is important that he should gain some ease in telling quickly which one the sense demands.
If the pupil has gone far enough in his study of rhetoric to distinguish figures, he will find this poem, “ The Courtship of Miles Standish," a very good one in which to apply his knowledge. But the main emphasis can be, it seems to me, most profitably laid upon his work with the Bible and the dictionary. When he has finished the poem, he ought to have a very fair knowledge of how to use both these books, even if he has had no previous practice of the kind.