The Courtship of Miles Standish_ With Suggestions for Study and Notes
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THE CRANE CLASSICS
COURTSHIP OF MILES STANDISH
HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW
WITH SUGGESTIONS FOR STUDY AND NOTES
P. H. PEARSON, A. M.
Professor of the English Language and Literature In Bethany College
CRANE & COMPANY, PUBLISHERS
By Crane & Company,
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“The Courtship of Miles Standish” deals with asupreme moment in the history of our nation, the momentwhen the harassed and thrice-winnowed little band ofPuritans began to establish themselves and their institutionson these shores. In the belief that the poem willbe better understood and appreciated both as poetry andas history if some of the traits and the struggles of thispeople are called to mind, a few words regarding themwill here be given.
Though the sovereigns of England under whose auspicesthe movement known as the Reformation was carriedthrough, severed connection with the Church of Rome,they did not bring about a thorough reform in matters offaith and church service. Hence there arose in Englandparties holding conflicting views regarding the correctnessand propriety of the practices and ceremonies still invogue. The Established Church still retained much that,in the opinion of the more radical element, should be removed.These differences of opinion exhibited variousdegrees of radicalism and conservatism. Those who wereunwilling to conform to the regulations of the Church ofEngland were styled “Non-conformists,” and, on accountof their efforts in the direction of further purification, theybecame known as “Puritans.” There were still otherswho believed in carrying the reform so far as to separate[Pg 6]the church from the state, and to reach independence inchurch government: these were the “Independents.”
The Established Church was supported by secular authority,so that in all disputes it had on its side the kingand the arm of the law. In many cases it exercised itspower in bitter persecution of those who showed a tendencyto depart from its teachings. The Puritans were, asone historian says, “pursued into their hiding-places withrelentless fury,” so that many individuals sought voluntaryexile, and whole assemblages looked for some place infar countries where they could worship according to conscienceand to the light they found in the Bible.
Such a party of persecuted Puritans chose as leadersone of their ministers, John Robinson, and their rulingelder, William Brewster, and resolved to seek refuge andreligious liberty in Holland. This country was selected onaccount of its friendly attitude towards Calvinism, aview which harmonized with those of the Puritans; andalso on account of the near relations which England asan ally of Holland sustained to this country.
Their first attempt at leaving England (1607) was anticipatedand prevented by the magistrates; but the followingspring they made a second attempt, which was sofar successful that the officers of the crown succeeded onlyin seizing and detaining some helpless women and children.These were, however, later on set at liberty and permittedto embark. At first these Pilgrims, as they came to becalled, settled in Amsterdam, but in 1609 they removed toLeyden, where their number was constantly increased bynew arrivals from England. In Holland, though theygained the confidence and respect of the Dutch, their condition[Pg 7]was not entirely satisfactory. Brought up as tillersof the soil, they could not become entirely reconciled tothe trades and handicrafts which they were now necessitatedto learn. Moreover, they felt that the Dutch languagecould not become a homelike speech to them. Therewas also, deep in their hearts, a devout patriotism, whichfirst led them to think of establishing themselves in someof the colonies under English rule.
The first step, they saw, was to decide on a suitablelocality in the New World. After making such investigationsas they could, they planned to locate in the territorywhich King James granted to the Plymouth Company in1606. But before they were ready to embark, two othergrave problems confronted them, and it took years beforethese were solved.
Would they in the king’s dominions be allowed religiousfreedom and be undisturbed in their worship? Representativesof their congregation visited England for the purposeof trying to get the king’s guarantee to this effect.In presenting their request they stated they were willingto promise “obedience in all things, active if the thingcommanded be not against God’s word, or passive if it be.”They were disappointed of obtaining the pledge theysought; and left with nothing more encouraging or definitethan an assurance that so long as they gave no offensethey should not be disturbed.
The other problem was that of finding the means necessaryfor the enterprise. After lengthy negotiations,during which several propositions were rejected as impracticable,they formed a compact with some Londonmerchants that had become interested in the American[Pg 8]fisheries. These merchants, in return for services to berendered by the Pilgrims, furnished money for the passage,stipulating that all profits were to be “reserved till theend of seven years, when the whole amount, and all landsand fields, were to be divided among the share-holdersaccording to their respective interests.”
The two vessels that had been provided could not carrythe entire congregation, and so it was determined that“the youngest and strongest who freely offered themselves”should leave. Their head and leader was Brewster, thegoverning elder. Robinson, the spiritual elder, it was decided,should follow later with the others if the reportswere favorable.
After solemn fasts and worship, in which they invokedthe blessing of God and commended themselves to hisguidance, the Pilgrims set sail from Holland. Theytouched at Southampton, England, and a fortnight laterstarted westward for the shores of America. The twovessels on which they were embarked were the Speedwell,of sixty tons burden, and the Mayflower, of one hundredand eighty tons. After some distance at sea, the Speedwellwas found to leak, and they were compelled to returnto port at Dartmouth for repairs. After a delay of aweek they were again under way, and once more the captainof the Speedwell signaled distress, claiming that hisvessel was not in a seaworthy condition. This necessitatedtheir return to Plymouth; the Speedwell was abandoned,and such of her passengers as could be accommodated weretransferred to the Mayflower.
On the sixth day of September, 1620, the Mayflowerwith one hundred and two passengers besides her crew[Pg 9]started alone. After a voyage of over two months theyhove in sight of the sandy shore of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.Filled with the responsibility of their enterprise,they met in the cabin, drafted and signed the followingsolemn compact before going on shore:
“In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are hereunderwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign,King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France,and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc., having undertaken,for the glory of God and advancement of theChristian faith, and honor of our king and country, a voyageto plant the first colony in the northern part of Virginia,do, by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in thepresence of God and of one another, covenant and combineourselves together into a civil body politic for our betterordering and preservation, and in the furtherance of theends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constituteand frame just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions,and offices, from time to time as shall be thoughtmost meet and convenient for the general good of thecolony; unto which we promise all due submission andobedience.
“In witness whereof, we have hereunto subscribed ournames at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the yearof the reign of our sovereign lord, King James, of England,France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland thefifty-fourth, Anno Domini 1620.”
In order still further to perfect the arrangements forgoverning the colony, they unanimously chose John Carveras their governor for one year.
The season was already far advanced, so that it wasabout the middle of November before they had begun toexplore the coast or to choose a place for the settlement.[Pg 10]As the shallop was found to be in need of repair, CaptainMiles Standish, Bradford and others, determined to explorethe country by land. Their first attempts to “spythe country” were made during exceedingly severe weather.“It snowed and did blow all night, and froze withal.”Nothing of an encouraging nature could be found alongthe beach nor on the fields, which now lay half a footthick with snow. A heap of maize which had been concealedby the Indians was discovered. It was a welcomefind, as it helped to eke out the scanty stores of the Pilgrims.It must be added that, though Miles Standish tookthis, he scrupulously resolved to pay the owners as soonas they could be found; and six months later he found anopportunity to render payment.
On December 8, shortly after their morning prayerswere finished, the party was attacked by a hostile tribe ofthe Nausites, “who knew the English only as kidnappers.”Fortunately, the Indians were driven off without doingany damage to the settlers. The exploring party spentfour weeks in searching for a suitable place. During thistime they suffered greatly from exposure to the rain, snow,and sleet. Sometimes their garments were frozen stifflike coats of mail. It was often difficult or impossible tokindle a fire on the snow-covered fields, where the fuel,whatever they found, was damp and soggy. At one time,in the midst of a violent snow-storm, the rudder of theshallop broke, and also the mast, so that they were inextreme danger of being dashed to pieces among the breakers.It was through these severe exposures that many ofthem contracted the diseases that carried away such a largepart of them during the first winter.
[Pg 11]On December 11th the explorers landed on the historicalspot of Plymouth Rock. The Mayflower, shortlyafterwards, cast anchor in the harbor. The men went onshore, and set to work to build houses and to provideshelter against the winter. Their labor was made arduousby the inclement weather, and by the fact that about one-halfof the settlers were sick, some of them wasting awaywith consumption and lung fever.
As protection against the Indians, who were occasionallyseen hovering near, they formed themselves into amilitary organization, with Miles Standish as captain.Their relations with the Indians were, however, so fairand honest that even these must have observed some singulardifferences between the Pilgrims and earlier traders onthe coast. Early in the spring, Samoset, an Indian, visitedthem with the view evidently of ascertaining whetherthey were disposed to form acquaintance and to establishfriendship with his people. This led to a visit by thepowerful chief Massasoit himself. He was received andentertained by the Pilgrims in a way that inspired his confidence,resulting finally in a sort of defensive alliancebetween the settlers and his tribe. He later on renderedvaluable services, particularly by giving warning of themassacre planned by the Narragansetts against the settlersat Weymouth.
On the fifth of April, 1621, the Mayflower started onher return voyage to England. Notwithstanding the hardshipssuffered by the colonists that first and dreadful winter,not one of them returned. As spring and summercame on, conditions improved. The streams aboundedwith fish and the forests with game. In the autumn they[Pg 12]were again visited by Massasoit, and feasted him andninety of his men. The Narragansetts alone were notfriendly. Their chief, Canonicus, sent over a bundle ofarrows wrapped in the skin of a rattlesnake, thereby avowinghis intentions of war. Bradford sent back the skinstuffed with powder and shot; and it appears that thisprompt acceptance of the challenge made the chief hesitate,for he became willing to sue for peace. This incident,which Longfellow has used, took place in 1622. Anotherincident also used took place the following year. One ofthe London merchants, thinking to increase his profits, sentover sixty unmarried men, who formed a settlement whichthey called Weymouth. These people soon found themselvesin want, and intruded for a considerable time