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The Ultimate Tale of Romance: Romeo and Juliet Meet each Other for the First Time

February 14, 2017

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Happy Valentine’s Day to all lovers. What more beautiful way to think about romance, love, and how you feel about your Valentine. To celebrate love and romance here is the passage from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet when Romeo first casts eyes on Juliet.

It’s at the masquerade party at the Capulet which Romeo has crashed. Across the way he sees young Juliet and immediately is striken with Cupid’s arrow—as is she. He asks the passing server:

ROMEO

[To a Servingman] What lady is that, which doth
enrich the hand
Of yonder knight?

Servant

I know not, sir.

No name, but he stares across the way anyway, and his fiery passion begins its consummation of his heart.

ROMEO

O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear;
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!
So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows,
As yonder lady o’er her fellows shows.
The measure done, I’ll watch her place of stand,
And, touching hers, make blessed my rude hand.
Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight!
For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.

But on the other side of the hall some of the Capulets begin to notice the young Romeo, son of their bitter enemy. Romeo edges closer. They watch as he confronts his newfound love in a way only young lovers have. He touches her hand. She too has been watching him and she feels his hand with similar ardor.

ROMEO

[To JULIET] If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

JULIET

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.

ROMEO

Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

JULIET

Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

ROMEO

O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

JULIET

Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.

ROMEO

Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.
Here Shakespeare gives speech to the young lovers in the form of a sonnet. A sonnet from the master of love sonnets. These are the first words exchanged between the lovers. Romeo is dressed as a pilgrim.

What is it that makes this passage stand out so much from the hurly burly of the party? What makes this speech so special that it is remembered by all as one of the greatest moments in dramatic history?

Look at the basic metaphor employed in the sonnet, and notice how it affects the tone of the relationship flaring into flame between the lovers. And then, ah yes, there’s that famous play on words first with “and palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss” and later with

“Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake./ Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.”

As their palms kiss and as both realize the turmoil within their breasts for this very moment of their lives, so you, lovers young and old, take your beloved and kiss as if for the very first time in your lives. Happy Valentine’s Day.

romeo-and-juliet-kiss

 

Anne Bradstreet’s Valentine to Her Husband

February 13, 2017

Anne Bradstreet’s Valentine to Her Husband

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Anne Bradstreet is the mother of American poetry in English, and it is fitting that for the U.S. and Canada, nations dedicated to women’s rights, within just a few years of the New English settlements Bradstreet would establish herself as more than just a Puritan huswife. For most readers, Bradstreet’s best poems are her short domestic pieces where she considers her husband, her house, her children, and does not attempt to imitate too much the mode of the male English poets of her time and before. In her domestic pieces, whether she writes literally or figuratively, her thought and feeling come across as authentic, not forced or artificial. She does not try to take well-known conceits and push them down into some form, trying to make it fit.

It’s the time of year for lovers to give each other valentines and speak of love for each other. Take a look at Anne Bradstreet’s “To My Dear and Loving Husband” in light of Valentine’s Day (although there is no reason to think Bradstreet actually was thinking of valentines here). I am deliberately placing the poem at the end here. So take a look with me at the first two couplets:

If ever two were one, then surely we.

If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.

If ever wife was happy in a man,

Compare with me, ye women, if you can.

Here Bradstreet first gives us a direct statement about her relationship with her husband on the human level. Then the next two couplets employ figurative language—gold mines, riches of the East, rivers—

I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,

Or all the riches that the East doth hold.

My love is such that rivers cannot quench,

Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.

And then the last two give another direct statement ending the poem on the level of the eternal:

Thy love is such I can no way repay;

The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.

Then while we live, in love let’s so persever,

That when we live no more, we may live ever.

Bradstreet communicates through the simplest of words, generally Anglo-Saxon monosyllabic words.

Now read the whole poem at once. Try reading it out loud if you can.

To My Dear and Loving Husband

Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672)

If ever two were one, then surely we.

If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.

If ever wife was happy in a man,

Compare with me, ye women, if you can.

I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,

Or all the riches that the East doth hold.

My love is such that rivers cannot quench,

Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.

Thy love is such I can no way repay;

The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.

Then while we live, in love let’s so persever,

That when we live no more, we may live ever.

anne-bradstreet-bbe8d02

For Valentine’s: Spenser’s Amoretti Sonnet 75

Here’s a poem fitting for Valentine’s Day coming up and fitting for young lovers everywhere. The poet in love writes his beloved’s name in the sand and at the same time writes it in the heavens (while also writing it down on paper in this poem).

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Edmund Spenser (1552?-1599): Amoretti: Sonnet 75 (1594)

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,

But came the waves and washed it away:

Again I write it with a second hand,

But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.

Vain man, said she, that doest in vain assay,

A mortal thing so to immortalize,

For I myself shall like to this decay,

And eek my name be wiped out likewise.

Not so, (quod I) let baser things devise

To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:

My verse, your virtues rare shall eternize,

And in the heavens write your glorious name.

Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,

Our love shall live, and later life renew.

Unlike other famous sonnet sequences in the English and Italian Renaissance, Edmund Spenser makes sure to create, here and in all of the Amoretti sonnets, more psychological interest in the woman and her nature than in the conflicts of the lover himself who celebrates in these poems his courtship and ultimate marriage to his admired lady. Spenser himself married Elizabeth Boyle and then wrote his famous Epithalamion to celebrate his wedding day itself.

200spenser_amoretti

In Sonnet 75 Spenser presents the common philosophical theme, popular in his day, that claims the poet’s art, or this poem especially, will outlast time and actually will give immortality to the beloved. He’s right so far, anyway. So the poet implicitly likens the beloved to the art of poetry and ultimately to the principle of beauty itself. Thus he confers upon the woman an ideality she herself in line 8 tries to deny.

Now, go back and read this poem again, preferably out loud and think lovers’ thoughts.

Follow The Literary Life blog.

Paul Varner

THE PILGRIMS LAND AND BEGIN CLAIMING THEIR LAND

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It’s time to relax a bit in my grandiose, spacious study and kick back with William Bradford and his book about the Pilgrims. I tried to get a selfie with my study in the background. Ah, I wish. Who am I kidding? I just ran in to a 7-11 beside the road and grabbed some newspapers. It’s raining and the runoff water in the parking lot poured into my shoes. I’m heading home, but alas, not to this study.

Probably the single most famous chapter in William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation is the one where the Pilgrims have landed and now are beginning to make themselves at home: Book I, Chapter X: Showing How They Sought Out a Place of Habitation; and What Befell Them Thereabout.

Historical marker

This section tells of the Pilgrims’ discovery of corn, their first contact with Native Americans, and their attempt to chase some down.

After they arrived at land they decided to send out an exploring party led by Miles Standish to find a proper place for all to first settle down. The very first appearance of the indigenous inhabitants is brief. The small party flees when they first see the Pilgrims. But later, in what Bradford calls “the first encounter,” the Native Americans attack Standish and his men with arrows. No one is hurt. The Pilgrims discover several stores of corn, which they steal. Now, in fairness, they return it six months later with abundance. Nevertheless–.

Back at sea, they had another storm in which they broke their rudder, yet, as Bradford believed, by God’s mercy they survived. Finally, they landed and settled down at Plymouth Harbor on December 16, 1620.

These earlier selections from Of Plymouth Plantation help us visualize the practical and spiritual concerns of the earliest colonials. In trying to find a harbor, another “lusty seaman” on board the shallop reminds the pilot to row “or else they were all cast away.” Bradford’s account reveals the necessity for self-reliance among the first Puritan settlers; only after they reach “the lee of a small island” can they afford to give thanks to God “for His mercies in their manifold deliverances.”

Write your comments in the comment box. And let’s see your comments no matter when you read this blog. None of the ideas I am approaching are time sensitive.

Let’s start a conversation. Re-blog. Re-tweet. Re-tumble. Follow The Literary Life. The more readers who are posting comments the better.

THE VOYAGE OF THE PILGRIMS AND THE LANDING AT CAPE COD

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(Repeated from November 2015)

I love coffee and I love coffee shops. And, yes, I love Starbucks. Nothing beats a classic grande latte at the Starbucks down the street. You know the one. Everyone has a Starbucks down the street, right? Ok, give me a break. I know it’s all so basic and I’d die if anyone ever accused me of being basic. What’s so great about being a man of class and sophistication is that I can look around this Starbucks and see–let me count them–and see at least five other men dressed exactly like me in khaki pants, Oxford cloth dress shirts with sleeves rolled up, and classic brown penny loafers. ‘Makes me feel at comfortable and, basically, in my element. By the way, what does it mean to be basic again?

Well, I’ll tell you what’s not basic. I’m holding in my hand my copy of William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation. That’s not basic Starbucks reading. So there.

I’ve been trying to make the point that Bradford is the perfect read for November if you live and breathe Great Literature in the U.S. If you are just now clicking in to The Literary Life for the first time, take a moment and scroll down through the last several postings just to get a context for this post.

Let’s look at the famous section about the Pilgrims’ voyage in the Mayflower and their safe landing in Massachusetts in 1620. Bradford tells the story in Book I, Chapter IX: Of Their Voyage and How They Passed the Sea; and of Their Safe Arrival at Cape Cod.

One instance recorded here is that of a “lusty” young sailor who habitually cursed and belittled everybody aboard who was sick, and there were plenty of sick Pilgrims. Look how Bradford tells of his fate: “But it pleased God before they came half seas over, to smite this young man with a grievous disease, of which he died in a desperate manner, and so was himself the first that was thrown overboard.” I always thought that was funny–lots good humor in Bradford. Except, I don’t think our dour author intended us to laugh. Anyway, Bradford continues: “Thus his curses light on his own head, and it was an astonishment to all his fellows for they noted it to be the first hand of God upon him.” He’s smacked down by the providence of God.

In another passage, parallel to the one above, the opposite occurred. God’s providence saved a man from drowning: “but it pleased God that he caught hold of the topsail halyards which hung overboard and ran out at length.”

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They finally arrived in the New World and Bradford notes that their plight was worse than the Apostle Paul’s when he was shipwrecked. They had nothing to sustain them, he writes, “but the Spirit of God and his grace. . . .”

I’m not being fair to Bradford, I know. He really is a great writer and his History of Plymouth Plantation is more than one of the most important of early American documents, and it is far more intriguing as Great Literature than its historical significance. As Aristotle says, literature has more truth than history—or something like that.

But look at its literary style. Look at all the sentences that have much the same rhythm as lines from the Bible? Look at the grand Biblical diction that sets the tone of the writing as solemn, dignified, emotional, and religious. And note the actual Biblical allusions. Particularly the one from Deuteronomy 34 comparing their arrival to the ascent up Mt. Pisgah.

How should we describe Bradford’s concept of how God works in this world? Is this as much an American concept for our country and its history as much as a simple Christian idea? Can you imagine how this concept influenced the later history of the U.S.?

Or notice that in the very first the reference to the indigenous peoples Bradford expects to find that he calls them “savage barbarians” before they even appear. Let’s see if Bradford’s pre-judgment turns out to be warranted?

Write your comments in the comment box. And let’s see your comments no matter when you read this blog. None of the ideas I am approaching are time sensitive.

Let’s start a conversation. Re-blog. Re-tweet. Re-tumble. Follow The Literary Life. The more readers who are posting comments the better.

QUESTIONS WILLIAM BRADFORD NEVER INTENDED US TO ASK ABOUT HIS HISTORY OF THE PLYMOUTH PILGRIMS

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(Repeated from November 2015)

I hope you have joined us as we have been thinking about William Bradford’s classic History of Plymouth Plantation, an appropriate read for November. If you are just now clicking in for the first time, take a moment and scroll down through the last several postings just to get a context for this post.

Ok, let’s de-center this text a bit. Look off to the sides. Let’s start asking questions William Bradford never intended us to ask.

The History is a narrative about the “dogged struggle [as I said in my last post] of civilization and piety against the savage continent and powers of darkness.” Well, terrific, but who determined that Bradford’s people were forces for civilization and piety while the entire North American continent itself was “savage” and was under the “powers of darkness”? The traditional flip answer has always been “God, that’s who.” This new venture of colonization in New England was going to be a conflict between God’s chosen people and unredeemed Satanic forces.

Bitter Winter

Maybe–maybe. And I hope you stay with me in this blog over the next several weeks as we tackle these questions. But think for a moment. Who were the peoples who were savage and part of the powers of darkness? The answer is obvious. But think of the major historic implications of this attitude that the Pilgrims possess even before they encounter any inhabitants, before they even explore any wilderness.

How did this perception by the white people affect their attitudes toward and treatment of the “savages”? And what happened throughout the history of the next several centuries as a result of deeply instilled belief toward the non-white residents of the original Plymouth Colony? If you are God’s chosen people and you are carrying light into the dark and evil wilderness, inhabited by savages who are creatures of evil, what action does God expect of you towards the wilderness and its inhabitants? These are very disturbing questions and ones that Bradford assumes his readers will never ask.

More disturbingly, think about this question. If we the readers identify with the Pilgrims, what does that say about us? We are supposed to identify with them. These were our forefathers and mothers. We are like them and they were like us. Well, maybe. They are the founding Americans. But can we identify with these Pilgrims and yet still sympathize with what we then must call the “savages”? What would that say about us? Do you believe there are savages in the world? People who merely because of their geographical origins are unredeemable, are unregenerate?

So here from the beginning we see these things: These are God’s chosen people (so they claimed) entering a promised land that is in the hands of Satanic forces. It is up to them to redeem the land and consecrate it for God’s people (who these people assume to be themselves). The natives of the land are children of Satan, unredeemed, unregenerate, who must be either saved or what? Or exterminated. Right?

“Uh, yeah, but but but—that can’t be right. That’s not the way I always heard the Pilgrim story.” Ok, but try reading this old history and others like it knowing what we as Postmoderns know today.

Write your comments in the comment box. And let’s see your comments no matter when you read this blog. None of the ideas I am approaching are time sensitive.

Let’s start a conversation. Re-blog. Re-tweet. Follow The Literary Life. The more readers who are posting comments the better.

One last note. The images I am posting of the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving are cultural and mythical depictions that reinforce traditional history narratives.

THE HISTORY OF PLYMOUTH PLANTATION: HOW WILLIAM BRADFORD WANTED US TO READ HIS THANKSGIVING STORY

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November 15, 2016

(Repeated from November 2015)

I live in West Texas—where we capitalize the W—and here it is November and seven weeks after the first day of fall. As is typical here, the leaves are all brown and are ignominiously just blowing off the few trees we have. No big piles of fall leaves here. No beautiful autumn colors. It is harvest time but the harvest is cotton, not corn and wheat or anything like that. Still, I love it, but it’s a loose relationship based upon an unspoken understanding that West Texas fall can do what it wants and I can do what I want.

Yeah, but what I want is some fall leaves, some frost, and a fire in the fireplace of this the study I can only dream about. Anyway, let me pull down my Classics Club edition of William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation, always a favorite in November, and see what’s special about this book.

Horn of Plenty dbf03e639fc949265716c65b3960905c

Here’s the traditional reading of William Bradford, the reading that has been used to help establish the view of the United States as an exceptional nation founded under special circumstances and established by God much as God established the wandering Israelites in the Promised Land.

Bradford structures his history around annual accounts of the Massachusetts Bay Colony from the Mayflower voyage in 1620 until 1646. The most famous parts, obviously, are the early parts about the first encounters of the Pilgrims in the New World, the stories of the tension surrounding the development of the Mayflower Compact, the brutal first winter in a hostile land during which over half the colony perishes, and the bountiful harvest of 1621 which would have been impossible without the help of the Native American locals led by Massasoit.

From the start Bradford considers “the hideous and desolate wilderness full of wild beasts and wild men,” while in the end he shows us a well-established community with a bright future, a community that serves as a beacon shining light into darkness. Early school pedagogues used to teach Bradford’s History as the first American epic with its theme of dogged struggle of civilization and piety against the savage continent and powers of darkness. Although self-effacing, Bradford has usually been seen as a man of profound goodness and dignity, practicality, compassion, and monumental endurance.

Thus, the traditional interpretation and certainly the intended interpretation by the author. However, this is the postmodern era, and for us today what the author of any given text intended no longer matters—at least not in the way, here, that Bradford thought.

But next time let’s de-center this text a bit. Look off to the sides. Let’s start asking questions William Bradford never intended us to ask.

Leave comments. Re-blog this post and talk about these things as you lead a literary life.

Paul Varner

THE BEGINNINGS: WILLIAM BRADFORD’S HISTORY OF PLYMOUTH PLANTATION

Manuscript williambradford.opptext

November 14, 2016

(Repeat from November 2015)

I’ve started re-reading William Bradford’s foundational Thanksgiving text, History of Plymouth Plantation again after many years. It used to be a yearly ritual for me, but after I started teaching it nearly every semester it lost some of its lustre for me. But now’s another time and another place. Why not go back to this dusty old book that up until recent decades would have been read by every “schoolboy” in public schools.

The thing is, in recent years as I have studied the book formally and as I have taught it to literature majors and to undergraduates, I have come to realize how wrong the traditional readings have been, how most of what we think of regarding the Pilgrims probably is not as clean cut and worthy of Hallmark Cards’ mythologizing.

William-Bradford

A few preliminaries: Plymouth Plantation tells the original story of the Pilgrims. As you may recall, the Plymouth Pilgrims established a colony Scrooby in the Netherlands. They fled England due to religious persecution. Strangely, the Pilgrims’ story occurred during a period in English history when the Puritan branches of the English church were coming to power. Shortly after Bradford’s people left England the country would undergo its civil war that was a religious war in many ways.

What differentiated the Pilgrims from similar religious groups back home was that, unlike the Separatists, for example, the Pilgrims were not willing to try to remain within the Church of England and try to reform it from within. The Pilgrims wanted not merely to separate but to sever ties with the Church. It was Bradford who named the group Pilgrims so as to make the distinction.

When the Pilgrims felt they had outworn their welcome in Scooby they decided to sail for the New World and gained a charter for land in English Virginia. Alas, the Mayflower was blown far off course and they landed in Massachusetts instead.

Thus the beginnings. Let’s look at the book of adventure, signs, and wonders starting next Friday. But just one more note. William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation actually was lost to posterity until the middle of the 19th century. The first chapter had been reprinted often enough but it was not until the manuscript was discovered in the library of the bishop of London and finally published in 1857 that the U.S. recovered one of its chief founding documents. In 1897 it was deposited in the State House in Boston.

THE HISTORY OF PLYMOUTH PLANTATION: HOW WILLIAM BRADFORD WANTED US TO READ HIS THANKSGIVING STORY

ed2f1c7599a9d3c396f47930d60d7dce

November 15, 2016

(Repeated from November 2015)

I live in West Texas—where we capitalize the W—and here it is November and seven weeks after the first day of fall. As is typical here, the leaves are all brown and are ignominiously just blowing off the few trees we have. No big piles of fall leaves here. No beautiful autumn colors. It is harvest time but the harvest is cotton, not corn and wheat or anything like that. Still, I love it, but it’s a loose relationship based upon an unspoken understanding that West Texas fall can do what it wants and I can do what I want.

Yeah, but what I want is some fall leaves, some frost, and a fire in the fireplace of this the study I can only dream about. Anyway, let me pull down my Classics Club edition of William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation, always a favorite in November, and see what’s special about this book.

Horn of Plenty dbf03e639fc949265716c65b3960905c

Here’s the traditional reading of William Bradford, the reading that has been used to help establish the view of the United States as an exceptional nation founded under special circumstances and established by God much as God established the wandering Israelites in the Promised Land.

Bradford structures his history around annual accounts of the Massachusetts Bay Colony from the Mayflower voyage in 1620 until 1646. The most famous parts, obviously, are the early parts about the first encounters of the Pilgrims in the New World, the stories of the tension surrounding the development of the Mayflower Compact, the brutal first winter in a hostile land during which over half the colony perishes, and the bountiful harvest of 1621 which would have been impossible without the help of the Native American locals led by Massasoit.

From the start Bradford considers “the hideous and desolate wilderness full of wild beasts and wild men,” while in the end he shows us a well-established community with a bright future, a community that serves as a beacon shining light into darkness. Early school pedagogues used to teach Bradford’s History as the first American epic with its theme of dogged struggle of civilization and piety against the savage continent and powers of darkness. Although self-effacing, Bradford has usually been seen as a man of profound goodness and dignity, practicality, compassion, and monumental endurance.

Thus, the traditional interpretation and certainly the intended interpretation by the author. However, this is the postmodern era, and for us today what the author of any given text intended no longer matters—at least not in the way, here, that Bradford thought.

But next time let’s de-center this text a bit. Look off to the sides. Let’s start asking questions William Bradford never intended us to ask.

Leave comments. Re-blog this post and talk about these things as you lead a literary life.

Paul Varner

THE BEGINNINGS: WILLIAM BRADFORD’S HISTORY OF PLYMOUTH PLANTATION

Manuscript williambradford.opptext

November 14, 2016

(Repeat from November 2015)

I’ve started re-reading William Bradford’s foundational Thanksgiving text, History of Plymouth Plantation again after many years. It used to be a yearly ritual for me, but after I started teaching it nearly every semester it lost some of its lustre for me. But now’s another time and another place. Why not go back to this dusty old book that up until recent decades would have been read by every “schoolboy” in public schools.

The thing is, in recent years as I have studied the book formally and as I have taught it to literature majors and to undergraduates, I have come to realize how wrong the traditional readings have been, how most of what we think of regarding the Pilgrims probably is not as clean cut and worthy of Hallmark Cards’ mythologizing.

William-Bradford

A few preliminaries: Plymouth Plantation tells the original story of the Pilgrims. As you may recall, the Plymouth Pilgrims established a colony Scrooby in the Netherlands. They fled England due to religious persecution. Strangely, the Pilgrims’ story occurred during a period in English history when the Puritan branches of the English church were coming to power. Shortly after Bradford’s people left England the country would undergo its civil war that was a religious war in many ways.

What differentiated the Pilgrims from similar religious groups back home was that, unlike the Separatists, for example, the Pilgrims were not willing to try to remain within the Church of England and try to reform it from within. The Pilgrims wanted not merely to separate but to sever ties with the Church. It was Bradford who named the group Pilgrims so as to make the distinction.

When the Pilgrims felt they had outworn their welcome in Scooby they decided to sail for the New World and gained a charter for land in English Virginia. Alas, the Mayflower was blown far off course and they landed in Massachusetts instead.

Thus the beginnings. Let’s look at the book of adventure, signs, and wonders starting next Friday. But just one more note. William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation actually was lost to posterity until the middle of the 19th century. The first chapter had been reprinted often enough but it was not until the manuscript was discovered in the library of the bishop of London and finally published in 1857 that the U.S. recovered one of its chief founding documents. In 1897 it was deposited in the State House in Boston.

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