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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Emigration of the Pilgrim Fathers
By Edward Everett (1794–1865)
 
From the Oration at Plymouth, December 22d, 1824

IT is sad indeed to reflect on the disasters which this little band of Pilgrims encountered. Sad to see a portion of them the prey of unrelenting cupidity, treacherously embarked in an unseaworthy ship, which they are soon obliged to abandon, and crowd themselves into one vessel; one hundred persons, besides the ship’s company, in a vessel of one hundred and sixty tons. One is touched at the story of the long, cold, and weary autumnal passage; of the landing on the inhospitable rocks at this dismal season, where they are deserted before long by the ship which had brought them, and which seemed their only hold upon the world of fellow-men,—a prey to the elements and to want, and fearfully ignorant of the numbers, the power, and the temper of the savage tribes that filled the unexplored continent upon whose verge they had ventured. But all this wrought together for good. These trials of wandering and exile, of the ocean, the winter, the wilderness, and the savage foe, were the final assurance of success. It was these that put far away from our fathers’ cause all patrician softness, all hereditary claims to pre-eminence. No effeminate nobility crowded into the dark and austere ranks of the Pilgrims. No Carr nor Villiers desired to lead on the ill-provided band of despised Puritans. No well-endowed clergy were on the alert to quit their cathedrals and set up a pompous hierarchy in the frozen wilderness. No craving governors were anxious to be sent over to our cheerless El Dorados of ice and of snow. No; they could not say they had encouraged, patronized, or helped the Pilgrims. They could not afterwards fairly pretend to reap where they had not strewn; and as our fathers reared this broad and solid fabric with pains and watchfulness, unaided, barely tolerated, it did not fall when the arm which had never supported was raised to destroy.  1
  Methinks I see it now, that one solitary, adventurous vessel, the Mayflower of a forlorn hope, freighted with the prospects of a future State, and bound across the unknown sea. I behold it pursuing, with a thousand misgivings, the uncertain, the tedious voyage. Suns rise and set, and weeks and months pass, and winter surprises them on the deep, but brings them not the sight of the wished-for shore. I see them now scantily supplied with provisions, crowded almost to suffocation in their ill-stored prison, delayed by calms, pursuing a circuitous route; and now driven in fury before the raging tempest, on the high and giddy waves. The awful voice of the storm howls through the rigging. The laboring masts seem straining from their base; the dismal sound of the pumps is heard; the ship leaps as it were madly from billow to billow; the ocean breaks, and settles with engulfing floods over the floating deck, and beats with deadening weight against the staggered vessel. I see them, escaped from these perils, pursuing their all but desperate undertaking, and landed at last, after five months’ passage, on the ice-clad rocks of Plymouth,—weak and weary from the voyage, poorly armed, scantily provisioned, depending on the charity of their shipmaster for a draught of beer on board, drinking nothing but water on shore, without shelter, without means, surrounded by hostile tribes. Shut now the volume of history, and tell me, on any principle of human probability, what shall be the fate of this handful of adventurers? Tell me, man of military science, in how many months were they all swept off by the thirty savage tribes enumerated within the early limits of New England? Tell me, politician, how long did this shadow of a colony, on which your conventions and treaties had not smiled, languish on the distant coast? Student of history, compare for me the baffled projects, the deserted settlements, the abandoned adventures of other times, and find the parallel of this. Was it the winter’s storm, beating upon the houseless heads of women and children; was it hard labor and spare meals; was it disease, was it the tomahawk, was it the deep malady of a blighted hope, a ruined enterprise, and a broken heart, aching in its last moments at the recollection of the loved and left beyond the sea: was it some, or all of these united, that hurried this forsaken company to their melancholy fate? And is it possible that neither of these causes, that not all combined, were able to blast this bud of hope? Is it possible that from a beginning so feeble, so frail, so worthy not so much of admiration as of pity, there has gone forth a progress so steady, a growth so wonderful, a reality so important, a promise yet to be fulfilled so glorious?  2
 
 
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