A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
In the 19th century, history was often retold through poetry. For example, The Courtship of Miles Standish by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow dramatized the early days of the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts when Standish, the commander of the colony’s small militia, asked his friend John Alden to communicate the commander’s love to orphaned beauty Priscilla Mullins, whose family members had died just before or after the landing of the Mayflower. Standish was sure that the bookish Alden could find better words to win the heart of the young lady. Many readers will remember that Priscilla turned the tables and said to the messenger, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?”
I found an illustrated edition of Longfellow’s poem in our collection. The verso says copyright 1903 below dates of 1858, 1886, 1883, and 1888, in that order. The paintings and drawings by Howard Chandler Christy have very hard to read dates by their signatures. One looks like 1923. Maybe it is 1903. It is a handsome book. Even the text has a subtle background design.
I was surprised to find no rhyming, but I am not surprised to find 19th century attitudes toward women and American Indians. I’ll bet this work is not taught in many schools today. It can be studied with an unedited The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Uncle Tom’s Cabin to get an idea of late 19th century views.
Another funny thing is that is more about John and Priscilla than about Standish. Check it out yourself and see what you think.
Review by Rick