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I. HISTORICAL MATERIAL.
§ 1. An American Poem.
ELEVEN years after the appearance of “ Evangeline," Longfellow again attempted a long narrative poem in the hexameter meter. The result was "The Courtship of Miles Standish," published in 1858. The background is still American, but the poet has passed from the ruined hamlets of French Acadia to the bustling village of Puritan Plymouth. In subject, the transition is from a romance of tragic pathos and gloom to a half-humorous story of love and friendship. "Evangeline" presents scenes of domestic happiness followed by disaster and heart-breaking separation; "The Courtship" pictures the stern struggle between two races, and crowns with gladness two devoted hearts.
In the later poem Longfellow has come nearer home for a subject, and written a lovely idyll based on the simple but strenuous life of his Puritan ancestors. He had previously composed a number of ballads and lyrics dealing with the legends of New England, and tales of the early pioneers possessed a peculiar charm for his imagination. These poems have touched the hearts of his readers as none of his foreign subjects have done, and caused him to be regarded as our most popular and representative poet.
The Courtship" has as its scene, or background, a real and famous chapter in history--the settlement of the Pilgrim Fathers at Plymouth on the coast of Massachusetts. Now,
in order to study the poem thoroughly, we shall first have to make ourselves familiar with the time and place of its setting. We must also know a good deal about the customs, opinions, and character of those quaint old Pilgrims. All this is a matter of history, and the best plan will be to read some of the very same old journals and chronicles which Longfellow read before writing his poem. We may then compare the bare facts of the story with the finished masterpiece which his art has made out of those crude materials. This will be having a glimpse into the poet's workshop, for we may see something of the process by which he changed a rough backwoods story into a charming piece of literature.
One of the first things that we shall notice is that our author has taken a poet's license and made free use of his sources. He has cut out some of the facts and put in others of his own invention; and the parts which he has selected to use, he has changed and rearranged to suit his purpose. He has changed the time and relative position of certain events, developed the more important, and toned down harsh and disagreeable features. He has thus done what all great artists know so well how to do-idealized his subject.
§ 2. The Pilgrims.
We must first know something about the people in the little community of which Priscilla and Alden and Captain Standish formed a part. Who were they, where did they come from, and how did they happen to be living in that little row of eleven log-cabins on the "high and rock-bound coast" of New England?
The Pilgrims came originally from England, where they formed part of the great body of Puritans, who were a plain, pious, industrious people. By the sixteenth century the Established Church of England, which had always been ritTualistic, had also grown exceedingly worldly. It was an age of intolerance, and men persecuted one another for not hold