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LONGFELLOW'S NEW POEM,
THE COURTSHIP OF MILES STANDISH.*
Sitting one day by the fireside (wet 'twas: fifteenth of October!)
Sad is the fate of Reviewers! What pamphlets and books they must
Sapless and dreary; to own when they've ended "All's barren." Poor
Histories, lying, cribbed wholesale; Biographies crude and ill-chosen;
Magazines, not worth their powder and shot; Blue-books crammed with
Charges, Replies, and Apologies, Statements, Proposals, Memorials;
Tough are all these for digestion, alas! but far worse to experience
Not such exactly is this of "Miles Standish, his Courtship," but truly
We that are Giants, behoves us, to use not our strength like to Giants.
Longfellow's poem, which is strictly narrative, plunges at once into its subject, showing us the Puritan Captain, Miles Standish, "Clad in doublet and hose, and boots of Cordovan leather," striding to and fro with a martial air in his simple and primitive dwelling at Plymouth, across the Atlantic. His secretary, John Alden, who is considerably of the milksop order, is writing letters, to be sent home by the May
*The Courtship of Miles Standish, and other Poems. Longfellow. Author's Protective Edition. Kent & Co.
By Henry Wadsworth London. Pp. 135.
flower, the vessel which had brought the Pilgrims to the colony. These letters, fortunately, we are not called to read; they are full of praises of the heroine, Priscilla.
"Letters written by Alden, and full of the name of Priscilla,
Full of the name and the fame of the Puritan maiden Priscilla."-P. 7.
We have nothing to say against her fame, but we object to her name -Priscilla Mullins. [See Preface, page v, for this fact.] She naturally inclines to change it, does prim Priscilla. Alden is prettier, she thinks; even Standish could not be uglier than Mullins. Folks call her "Siller," for brevity: much loved in America. Miles Standish continues pacing the room, he is perturbed in spirit; perhaps he is fidgetted by what Longfellow thrice mentions, "the hurrying pen of the stripling;" and if so he is excusable, for we are told that
Every sentence began or closed with the name of Priscilla,
Till the treacherous pen to which he confided the secret
Strove to betray it by singing and shouting the name of Priscilla."—P. 9.
Let the reader try and realize the annoyance, but, indeed, the poet assists him to do so. Miles cannot stand it any longer. He has been trying divers interruptions of the scribe, praising the old weapons with which he fought in the Flemish Morasses, and particularly rejoicing in their conservation, inasmuch as he polishes them himself, saying, very truly
"That is because I have done it myself, and not left it to others; Serve yourself, would you be well served, is an excellent adage."
Then too he praises his howitzer, mounted on the church-roof, which makes him a little vane, though considered to be a great bore. He defies the Indians, and declares in two of those richly-musical lines wherein this poet of late excels :
"Let them come if they like, be it Sagamore, Sachem, or Pow-wow, Aspinet, Samoset, Corbitant, Squanto, or Tokamahamon!'"-P. 4.
We are not personally acquainted with these euphoniously-named gentlemen; but have no doubt they were pleasant companions in the back-woods. There is a good heart in the brave old captain of the twelve soldiers, and he is worth a multitude of the sleek John Aldens. There is quiet beauty in the following:
'Long at the window he stood, and wistfully gazed on the landscape,
Better to hide from the Indian scouts the graves of our people,
John Alden never heeds him, absorbed in the occupation of ringing changes on the name of Priscilla Mullins. Miles Standish takes down Cæsar's Commentaries, giving it, with deliberation, the preference over the Hebrew Wars and Bariffe's Artillery Guide, and, after attempting to read, despite the scurry of the quill-driver, indulges in warm praise of the Roman Julius for his ambition, frequent marriages, and ability to do things for himself, when wishing them to be well done, instead of leaving them for others. John Alden lets him talk, and keeps up the Mullin's melody. Then, at last, Miles Standish closes his book with a bang-and no wonder! saying, "When you have finished your work, I have something important to tell you." Sleek John Alden replies that he is "always ready to listen,—always ready to hear whatever pertains to Miles Standish." We are told that the Captain's answers are "embarrassed, and culling his phrases;" we think, considering what a transparent falsehood John Alden has told, this is only natural. But "they who will to Cupar, maun to Cupar," and the often warned Captain declares his own affection for Priscilla Mullins, and asks his hearer to go and plead for him in elegant phrases:
"You, who are bred as a scholar, can say it in elegant language.
Such as you read in your books of the pleadings and wooings of lovers,
The critical taste and friendly confidence of brave old Miles have played him false; it would have been better if he had held to his favourite maxim, that if a thing is desired to be well done, it must be done by himself and not left to others. It is an awkward matter when men like Miles Standish pay undeserved compliments, and leave an Alden to propose for them to the heiress of the Mullins. John's puritanism is not much deeper than a few scriptural forms of speech; even his joining the Pilgrim Fathers appears to have been for one of the Pilgrim's daughters, as we learn in his disappointment,
"Was it for this I have followed the flying feet and the shadow Over the wintry sea, to the desolate shores of New England?'"'
And Priscilla is not much better, for she tells him that she was thinking of him as she sat singing and spinning, whilst
"Open wide on her lap lay the well-worn Psalm-book of Ainsworth, Printed in Amsterdam;"
And he is, as might be expected in him,
"Awkward and dumb with delight, that a thought of him had been mingled Thus in the sacred Psalm."
Oh, Priscilla! And yet we must not be harsh with her when she speaks, as they
"Talked of the birds and the beautiful Springtime,
Talked of their friends at home and the May-Flower that sailed on the
'I have been thinking all day,' said gently the Puritan maiden,
Dreaming all night, and thinking all day, of the hedgerows of Eng-
They are in blossom now, and the country is all like a garden;
Going about as of old, and stopping to gossip together,
And, at the end of the street, the village Church with the ivy
Sleek ambassador Alden blurts out the
"Proffer of marriage,
Made by a good man and true, Miles Standish, the Captain of Plymouth."
And the inevitable result is that P. M. is offended, and the Captain's chance imperiled, she asking why Standish does not come to woo her himself?
"Then John Alden began explaining and smoothing the matter,
Well, never mind her answer, it is too lengthy to quote entire, but she proves herself to be a Very Strong Minded Woman, powerfully entrenched in Bloomerism and other Transatlanticisms. She is somewhat vinegary and peppery, is Priscilla. Poor Standish, he would have had a bargain of her. But John Alden waxes eloquent in the prosecution of the Courtship of Miles: tells how the Captain was
"A gentleman born, could trace his pedigree plainly
This, with friendly allusions to the hasty temper, obstinacy, sternness, pigmy stature and other amiable weaknesses of Standish, settles the prospects of his rival Miles. "Call you this backing your friend? A plague upon such backing," said the honester John, Jack Falstaff. And what is the result? What might be expected :— "Archly the maiden smiled, and, with eyes over-running with laughter (!!) Said, in a tremulous voice, 'Why don't you speak for yourself, John?'"
This is tolerably plain, and Alden thinks so, for he quits her instantly, and being really uncomfortable, actually apostrophises the East wind. When it comes to doing this, matters begin to look serious. It does not agree with him, however, and he exclaims,— concerning Priscilla's leap-year proposal on his own affection for her, "It is a temptation of Satan," which she, luckily, does not overhear.
"Battered and blackened and worn by all the storms of the winter,
P. 37. Alden continues uncomfortable in mind, with remembrances of Standish stalking about his room after returning from Council, with mutterings and murmurs :
"Sometimes it seemed a prayer, and sometimes it sounded like swearing.
What, indeed? Brave old Miles Standish.
"Then he extinguished the light, and threw himself down on his pallet, Dressed as he was, and ready to start at the break of the morning, Covered himself with the cloak he had worn in his campaign in Flanders;
Slept as a soldier sleeps in his bivouac ready for action.
But with the dawn he arose; in the twilight Alden beheld him
Put on his corslet of steel, and all the rest of his armour,
Buckle about his waist his trusty blade of Damascus,
Take from the corner his musket, and so stride out of the chamber."
Thus had the old warrior gone forth to battle, it might be to death. Of secretary Alden we are farther told :