Saints and Strangers
$3.75 By REYNAL AND HITCHCOCK
IF IT is hard to find anything startlingly new concerning the genesis, budding, and fruition of the Plymouth Colony in Saints and Strangers, it is equally hard to recall a single book, suitable for the general reader rather than for the student, which gives the famous old story in such sweeping detail.
This book begins with the politico-religious turmoils of sixteenthand seventeenth-century England and ends with one of the fruits of those turmoils — Plymouth Colony and its founders. The intervening steps, rich in detail, are thoroughly covered from Leyden to the Gurnet: life in the refugee colony in Holland; the voyages of the Mayflower; doctrinal disputes; forays by and against the Indians; trading ventures; the night-club atmosphere of Morton’s Ma-re Mount.
The book is well documented, basing much of the Plymouth scenes on Bradford’s Of Plimouth Plantation and the so-called Mourt’s Relation, although these are by no means the author’s only sources. Mr. Willison is open to frequent criticism in the matter of interpretation, for although he seems to look benevolently on the Pilgrims (and can distinguish them from Puritans), he will allow Plymouth individuals few virtues. Myles Standish comes in, for example, for a fearful going-over. On the other hand, shady folk like Oldham, Morton, and Lyford are generally given a fine break. This is, as I say, only interpretation, but the general tone may cause raised eyebrows.
I have a quarrel with the publishers, however. In the blurb, the reader is promised a look at the Pilgrims as they really were; for the author, say the publishers, has destroyed a myth too long engendered that the Pilgrims were withal “a drab, stern folk — dedicated to prudery. . . . The reader will find himself living among lusty English men and women.” Alas, you will not hear boogie-woogie on hautboy or sackbut on the Plymouth sands. The actual people, the weakest part of this work, snivel every bit as piously as in the grayest legend. They are far worse, in this respect, in Mr. Willison’s treatment than in the contemporary pages of William Bradford.
On the credit side, there are fine descriptive tables of the people concerned, the offices they held, and so on, as well as a good bibliography. The notes, properly bound in the back of the book, are stimulating by themselves, but in a number of instances they do not seem to fit the text to which they refer.