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IF “popularity” in a poet may be defined as the success and appreciation arising from the faculty of enlisting the sympathies and obtaining the hearty approval of a great number of readers, among all sorts and conditions of men, and denizens of the most various nations and climes, Longfellow is certainly the most popular of the poets of America. One of his biographers has justly observed : “He must have been, among English-speaking people, the most widely read poet, by far, living within the last third of a century. Indeed, save Tennyson, he can have had no even distant rival ; and no doubt the number of Longfellow's readers in America, England, and the English Colonies must have greatly exceeded Tennyson's, and his proportional superiority, in point of translations, and of the foreign readers thereby occurring, will have been even larger.” Thus writes Mr. William Rossetti, who, in his estimate of Longfellow's genius, has certainly not erred on the side of extravagant laudation.
Not that what is generally called popularity is to be accepted as a criterion of an author's merit, poetical and otherwise. Poems have had a success in the way of sale that Dominie Sampson would have declared “ prodigious" — witness the twenty-eight editions of a once much-lauded poem by a late reverend author, and the almost equal success of another work, now only remembered through Lord Macaulay's tremendous article of castigation in the Edinburgh Review; but in Longfellow's case, the unerring judgment of time may be considered as having in a great measure corroborated the verdict of the earlier generation of delighted readers. Some of his chief poems, such as “Evangeline," have stood the test of forty years, and their popularity has not waned. Such enduring success must be based upon foundations of real and exceptional poetic merit.
The qualities of imagination and fancy are preeminently noticeable in Longfellow's works, combined with an unfailing taste and appreciation of the refined aspect of each subject, that prevents his imaginative faculty from running riot, and gives a completeness and proportion to all he writes. He never oversteps the modesty of nature, or makes the judicious grieve by distressing flights of fancy, in what Dr. Johnson would have called “wild exuberance." The author is