Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
|Born: ||February 27, 1807 |
Portland, Maine, United States
|Died: ||March 24, 1882 |
|Occupation(s): ||Poet |
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (February 27, 1807 – March 24, 1882) was an American poet among whose works were Paul Revere's Ride, A Psalm of Life, The Song of Hiawatha and Evangeline. He also wrote the first American translation of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy and was one of the five members of the group known as the Fireside Poets. Born in Maine, Longfellow lived for most of his life in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a brick house once occupied during the American Revolution by General George Washington and his staff.
Early life and education
Longfellow was born in 1807 to Stephen and Zilpah (Wadsworth) Longfellow in Portland, Maine, and grew up in what is now known as the Wadsworth-Longfellow House. His father was a lawyer, and his maternal grandfather, Peleg Wadsworth Sr., was a general in the American Revolutionary War. He was descended from the Longfellow family that came to America in 1676 from Yorkshire, England and from Priscilla and John Alden on his father's side 
Longfellow was enrolled in a "dame school" at the age of only three, and by age six, when he entered the Portland Academy, he was able to read and write quite well. He remained at the Portland Academy until the age of fourteen and entered Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine in 1822. At Bowdoin, he met Nathaniel Hawthorne, who became his lifelong friend.
First European tour and professorship at Bowdoin
After graduating in 1825, he was offered a professorship at Bowdoin College with the condition that he first spend some time in Europe for further language study He toured Europe between 1826 and 1829, and upon returning went on to become the first professor of modern languages at Bowdoin, as well as a part-time librarian . During his years at the college, he wrote textbooks in French, Italian, and Spanish and a travel book, Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea . In 1831, he married Mary Storer Potter of Portland.
Second European tour and professorship at Harvard
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
In 1834, Longfellow was offered the Smith Professorship of French and Spanish at Harvard with the stipulation that he spend a year or so in Europe to perfect his German. Tragically, his young wife died during the trip in Rotterdam after suffering a miscarriage in 1835.
When he returned to the United States in 1836, Longfellow took up the professorship at Harvard University. He settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he remained for the rest of his life, although he spent summers at his home in Nahant. He began publishing his poetry, including "Voices of the Night" in 1839 and "Ballads and Other Poems", which included his famous poem "The Village Blacksmith", in 1841.
Marriage to Frances "Fanny" Appleton
Fanny Appleton Longfellow
Longfellow began courting Frances "Fanny" Appleton, the daughter of a wealthy Boston Industrialist, Nathan Appleton. During the courtship, he frequently walked from Harvard to her home in Boston, crossing the Charles river via the West Boston Bridge. That bridge was subsequently demolished and replaced in 1906 by a new bridge, which was eventually renamed as the Longfellow Bridge. After seven years, Fanny finally agreed to marriage and they were wed in 1843. Nathan Appleton bought the Craigie House, overlooking the Charles River as a wedding present to the pair.
His love for Fanny is evident in the following lines from Longfellow's only love-poem, the sonnet "The Evening Star," which he wrote in October, 1845: "O my beloved, my sweet Hesperus! My morning and my evening star of love!"
Longfellow retired from Harvard in 1854, devoting himself entirely to writing. He was awarded an honorary doctorate of Laws from Harvard in 1859.
The death of Frances
Longfellow was a devoted husband and father with a keen feeling for the pleasures of home. But his marriages ended in sadness and tragedy.
On a hot July day, while sealing her daughter's curls in an envelope, Fanny's light summer dress caught fire. Longfellow attempted to extinguish the flames, badly burning himself. Fanny died the next day, on July 10, 1861. Longfellow was devastated by her death and never fully recovered. The strength of his grief is still evident in these lines from a sonnet, "The Cross of Snow" (1879) which he wrote eighteen years later to commemorate her death:
- Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
- These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
- And seasons, changeless since the day she died.
The death of Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow died on March 24, 1882.
He is buried with both of his wives at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1884 he was the first American poet for whom a commemorative sculpted bust was placed in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey in London.
His work was immensely popular during his time and is still today although some modern critics consider him too sentimental. His poetry is based on familiar and easily understood themes with simple, clear, and flowing language. His poetry created an audience in America and contributed to creating American mythology.
Longfellow's poem "Christmas Bells" is the basis for the Christmas carol "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."
Longfellow's home in Cambridge, the Longfellow National Historic Site, is a U.S. National Historic Site, National Historic Landmark, and on the National Register of Historic Places. A ⅔-scale replica was built in Minneapolis, Minnesota at Minnehaha Park in 1906 and once served as a centerpiece for a local zoo.
Noted minister, writer and abolitionist Edward Everett Hale founded organizations called the Harry Wadsworth Clubs.
Quotations and manuscript
And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door (...)
| | The Village Blacksmith
(manuscript page 1)
- "ships that pass in the night"
- "Love is sunshine, hate is shadow, life is checkered shade and sunshine."
- "It takes less time to do a thing right than explain why you did it wrong."
- "A torn jacket is soon mended; but hard words bruise the heart of a child."
- " The grave is but a covered bridge Leading from light to light, through a brief darkness!"
- "Give what you have to somebody, it may be better than you think."
A number of schools are named after him, e.g., California, Minnesota, Montana, and Philadelphia.
- "America's Longfellow" An Essay by Matthew Gartner, 2002. National Park Service - Longfellow House. http://home.nps.gov/long/historyculture/upload/Gartner%20Essay.pdf
- Poems and Other Writings, J.D. McClatchy, ed. ( New York: The Library of America, 2000) ISBN 1-883011-85-X
- Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. "The Poetical Works of Longfellow" Houghton Mifflin. 1975
- ^ Longfellow birthplace
- ^ [Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - A Maine Historical Society Web Site - Wadsworth-Longfellow Genealogy - http://www.hwlongfellow.org/family_genealogy.shtml]
- ^ [Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. "The Poetical Works of Longfellow" Houghton Mifflin. 1975 p. xx]
- ^ [Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. "The Poetical Works of Longfellow" Houghton Mifflin. 1975 p. xx - xxi]
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