“The breaking waves dashed high”: The life and afterlife of Felicia Hemans’ ‘The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers in New England’ (1825)

Felicia Hemans was an English poet and literary celebrity whose immense popularity rivalled any writer of the early nineteenth-century, even Lord Byron. Born in Liverpool, her family life was disrupted by the Napoleonic Wars, but her father’s wealth as a wine merchant provided Hemans with a good education at home. Her exceptional talent was noted by a tutor who lamented her gender meant she could not be ‘borne away to the highest honours at college!’.[1] Her first volume of verse Poems (1808), published when Hemans was just 15 from poetry written during her childhood, gained her early notoriety and was to be the first of 24 volumes she would publish in her lifetime. Later, she would find lasting fame on both sides of the Atlantic for her poem ‘The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers in New England’ (1825).

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“The Return of the Mayflower”

By 1916 the entry of the United States into the First World War was considered a vital step in securing an Allied victory against Germany. However, for the first two years of the war diplomacy between Britain and America had been marked by uncertainty. Woodrow Wilson had publicly declared America’s policy of neutrality shortly after the outbreak of hostilities between the European powers. In early 1915 Wilson explained America’s policy, ‘The basis of neutrality, gentlemen, is not indifference; it is not self-interest. The basis of neutrality is sympathy for mankind. It is fairness, it is good will at bottom. It is impartiality of spirit and of judgement.’ American public opinion from 1914-1916 also strongly favoured neutrality. Britain’s diplomatic efforts were therefore focused on finding a way to break this impasse and convince a reluctant United States help end the deadlock on the Western Front.

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