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XV.-HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW.
LIFE AND WORKS.
HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW, the most popular of American poets, was born at Portland, Maine, Feb. 27, 1807. His father, Stephen Longfellow, was well-known jurist, and, like Bryant, he could claim descent from John Alden, the youngest of the Mayflower's Pilgrims. His youthful advantages were exceptional; and at the early age of fourteen the future poet was admitted to Bowdoin College, in Maine, in the same class with Hawthorne, Cheever, and others eminent in later life.
Graduating in 1825, Longfellow entered on the study of law in the office of his father, but was invited, a year later, to return, as professor of modern languages, to the college he had just left as a student. This appointment he accepted, with the privilege of going abroad in order to qualify himself fully for his duties. For three years he traveled extensively in Europe, afterwards teaching at Bowdoin till 1835, when he was appointed professor of modern languages and literature in Harvard University. Again he visited Europe, this time for an absence of two years, and, returning to Cambridge, held his professorship there till 1854.
From the time of his appointment at Harvard till his death, March 24, 1882, Longfellow lived, first as lodger and later as owner, in that stately old Cambridge mansion, so often pictured, and now become a shrine for latter-day pilgrims. In this house Washington had
his headquarters on taking command after Bunker Hill; and here Everett the silver-tongued orator, and Jared Sparks the historian, had dwelt before him.
Longfellow was always a great favorite with the English people. On him alone of all Americans they have conferred the honors of Westminster Abbey, beneath whose “sun-gilt pinnacles” English hands have placed a bust of the poet, a memorial and a tribute from English hearts.
Nearly all Longfellow's prose was written in early days, and it is not voluminous. It is to his poetry that his fame is due.
There are five poems of considerable length : The Spanish Student, a poem in dramatic form; The Song of Hiawatha, a legend of the American Indians; The Courtship of Miles Standish, a tale of the early Massachusetts settlement, in which John Alden, the poet's ancestor, figures conspicuously; The Golden Legend, a poem whose scene is laid in the Middle Ages; and Evangeline, the most celebrated of his longer poems. The two poems Keramos and The Hanging of the Crane were written late in life.
In the great treasury which comprises the remainder of his verse a few of the more familiar
poems are, The Psalm of Life, The Rainy Day, Resignation, The Beleaguered City, Footsteps of Angels, Paul Revere's Ride, The Day is Done, The Two Angels, The Children's Hour, and The Reaper and the Flowers.
Numerous pictures have made us all familiar with the fine features and thoughtful yet tender looks of Longfellow. He was of the middle height; his carriage
was erect and noble, his eye clear and expressive, revealing a great and sympathetic soul, his whole presence impressive and attractive.
The following description by Mr. Winter is pleasing and picturesque:
“His natural dignity and grace, and the beautiful refinement of his countenance, together with his perfect taste in dress, and the exquisite simplicity of his manners, made him the absolute ideal of what a poet should be. His voice, too, was soft, sweet, and musical; and, like his face, it had the innate charm of tranquillity. His eyes were bluish gray, very bright and brave, changeable under the influence of emotion, but mostly grave, attentive, and gentle. The habitual expression of his face may be described as that of serious and tender thoughtfulness.”
In his manner he was simple, unaffected, and gracious. As many of his poems attest, he was a rare lover of children. Indeed, the same genial humanity which illuminated his verse shone through all his dealings with men.
It has been well said of Longfellow, that he delivers “the gospel of good-will, set to music.” He teaches the lesson of endurance, patience, and cheerfulness. He appeals to the universal affections of humanity, and expresses with the most delicate beauty thoughts which find sympathy in all minds. He idealizes real life, beautifies common things, and clothes subtle and delicate thoughts in familiar imagery. .
His artistic sense is exquisite, - so much so that each of his poems is a valuable literary study. He had a
great command of beautiful diction, and equal skill in the structure of his verse. And over all that he wrote there hangs a beautiful ideal light, — the atmosphere of poetry, - which illumines his page as the sunshine does the natural landscape.
LOWELL'S TRIBUTE TO LONGFELLOW.
[Written on Longfellow's seventieth birthday.)
I NEED not praise the sweetness of his song,
With loving breath of all the winds his name
As I muse backward up the checkered years
Some suck up poison from a sorrow's core,
Even as a wind-waved fountain's swaying shade
Surely, if skill in song the shears may stay,
Long days be his, and each as lusty-sweet
1. - FROM MY ARM-CHAIR.
[This poem, deeply interesting to the pupils of our schools, was inscribed by the author “to the children of Cambridge (Mass.), who presented to me, on my seventy-second birthday, Feb. 27, 1879, this chair made from the wood of the Village Blacksmith's tree.” This famous chestnut-tree stood in front of and overshadowed the smithy in Brattle Street, Cambridge, not far from the house in which Longfellow lived and died.]
Am I a king, that I should call my own
This splendid ebon throne ?1
1 ebon throne. In allusion to | “Night, sable goddess, from her ebon line in Young's Night Thoughts,