Cambridge Sketches
by Frank Preston Stearns

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It has been estimated that there were four hundred poets in England in the time of Shakespeare, and in the century during which Dante lived Europe fairly swarmed with poets, many of them of high excellence. Frederick II. of Germany and Richard I. of England were both good poets, and were as proud of their verses as they were of their military exploits. Frederick II. may be said to have founded the vernacular in which Dante wrote; and Longfellow rendered into English a poem of Richard’s which he composed during his cruel imprisonment in Austria. A knight who could not compose a song and sing it to the guitar was as rare as a modern gentleman of fashion who cannot play golf. When James Russell Lowell resigned the chair of poetry at Harvard no one could be found who could exactly fill his place, and it was much the same at Oxford after Matthew Arnold retired.

The difference between then and now would seem to reside in the fact, that poetry is more easily remembered than prose. From the time of Homer until long after the invention of printing, not only were ballad-singers and harpers in good demand, but the recital of poetry was also a favorite means of livelihood to indigent scholars and others, who wandered about like the minstrels. The “article,” as Tom Moore called it, was in active request. Poetry was recited in the camp of Alexander, in the Roman baths, in the castles on the Rhine, and English hostelries. Now it is replaced by novel-reading, and there are few who know how much pleasure can be derived on a winter’s evening by impromptu poetic recitations. If a popular interest in poetry should revive again, I have no doubt that hundreds of poets would spring up, as it were, out of the ground and fill the air with their pleasant harmonies. The editor of the Atlantic informed Professor Child that he had a whole barrelful of poetry in his house, much of it excellent, but that there was no use he could make of it.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was as irrepressible a rhymer as John Watts himself, and fortunately he had a father who recognized the value of his talent and assisted him in a judicious manner, instead of placing obstacles in his way, as the father of Watts is supposed to have done. The account that Rev. Samuel Longfellow has given us of the youth of his brother is highly instructive, and ought to be of service to all young men who fancy they are destined by nature for a poetic career. He tells us how Henry published his first poem in the Portland Gazette, and how his boyish exultation was dashed with cold water the same evening by Judge ——, who said of it in his presence: “Stiff, remarkably stiff, and all the figures are borrowed.”

The “Fight at Lovell’s Pond” would not have been a remarkable poem for a youth of nineteen, but it showed very good promise for the age at which it was written. Few boys at that age can write anything that will hang together as a poem. Young Longfellow was a better poet at thirteen than his father’s friend, the Judge, was a critic. His verses were by no means stiff, but on the contrary showed indications of that natural grace and facility of expression for which he became afterwards distinguished. As for the originality of his comparisons it is doubtful also if the Judge could have proved his point on that question. They were original to Henry, if to nobody else.

Fortunately for Henry he was also a fine scholar. The following year saw him enter as a Freshman at Bowdoin College, which was equal to entering Harvard at the age of fifteen. Look out for the youngest members of a college class! They may not distinguish themselves at the university, but they are the ones who, if they live, outstrip all others. But Longfellow did distinguish himself. In his Junior year he composed seventeen poems which were published, then and afterwards, in the United States Literary Gazette, where his name appeared beside that of William Cullen Bryant. This was quite exceptional in the history of American literature, and as the editor of the Literary Gazette stated it: “A young tree which puts forth so many blossoms is likely to bear good fruits.”

With the close of his college course came the important question of Longfellow’s future occupation. His father, with good practical judgment, foresaw that poetry alone would not serve to make his son self-supporting and independent; but the boy hated to give this up for a more prosaic employment. While the discussion was going on between them, the authorities of Bowdoin solved the problem for them both by offering young Longfellow a professorship of modern languages on condition that he would spend two years in Europe preparing himself for the position. He had graduated fourth in his class.

Does not this prove the advantage of good scholarship? Was the rank list inverted in Longfellow’s case? I think not. He had lived a virtuous and industrious life, not studying for rank or honor, but because he enjoyed doing what was right and fit for a young man to do; and now the reward had come to him, like the sun breaking through the clouds which seemed to obscure his future prospects. Still, there was a hard road before him. It is very pleasant to travel rapidly through foreign countries, seeing the best that is in them and to return home with a multitude of fresh impressions; but living and working a long time in another country seems too much like exile. The loneliness of the situation becomes a weary burden, and it is dangerous from its very loneliness. Many have died or lost their health under such conditions (in fact Longfellow came near losing his life from Roman fever), and he wrote from Paris: “Here one can keep evil at a distance as well as elsewhere, though, to be sure, temptations are multiplied a thousand-fold if he is willing to enter into them.” A young man’s first experience in London or Paris is a dangerous sense of freedom; for all the customary restraints of his daily life have been removed.

Mrs. Stowe says of her beautiful character, “Eva St. Clair,” that all bad influences rolled off from her like dew from a cabbage leaf, and it was the same with Longfellow throughout. He lived in France, Spain, Italy, and Germany, and then returned to Portland, the same true American as when he left there, without foreign ways or modes of thinking, and with no more than the slight aroma of a foreign air upon him. Longfellow and his whole family were natural cosmopolitans. There was nothing of the proverbial Yankee in their composition.

Whittier was a Quaker by creed, but he was also much of a Yankee in style and manner. Emerson looked like a Yankee, and possessed the cool Yankee shrewdness. Lowell’s “Biglow Papers” testified to the fundamental Yankee; but the Longfellows were endowed with a peculiar refinement and purity which seemed to distinguish them as much in Cambridge or London as it did in Portland, where there has always been a rather superior sort of society. It was like French refinement without being Gallic. No wonder that a famous poet should emanate from such a family.

What we notice especially in the Longfellow Letters during this European sojourn is the admonition of Henry’s father, that German literature was more important than Italian,—and the poet was always largely influenced by this afterwards; that Henry did not find Paris particularly attractive, and on the whole preferred the Spanish character to the French on account of its deeper under-currents; that he did not seem to realize the danger that menaced him from Spanish brigands, in spite of the black crosses by the roadside; and that he was not vividly impressed by the famous works of art in the Louvre gallery. He only notices that one of Correggio’s figures resembles a young lady in Portland.

Longfellow would seem to have been always the same in regard to his appreciation of art. When he was in Italy, in 1869, he visited all the picture galleries and evidently enjoyed doing so; but it was easy to see that his brother, Rev. Samuel Longfellow, felt a much livelier interest in the subject than he did; and injured frescos or mutilated statues, like the Torso of the Belvidere, were objects of aversion to him. Poets and musical composers see more with their ears than they do with their eyes.

The single work of art that attracted him strongly at this time was a statue of Venus, by Canova, which he compares to the Venus de’ Medici, and his brother Samuel remarks that he was always more attracted by sculpture than painting. Canova was a genius very similar to Longfellow himself, as nearly as an Italian could be made to match an American, and he was then at the height of his reputation.

In 1829 Longfellow returned to Portland and was immediately chosen a professor at Bowdoin College, where he remained for the next seven years. When, in 1836, Professor Ticknor retired from his position as instructor of modern languages at Harvard, his place was offered to Longfellow and accepted. This brought him into the literary centre of New England, and one of the first acquaintances he made there was Charles Sumner, who was lecturing before the Harvard Law-School.

The friendship between these two great men commenced at once and only ceased at Sumner’s death in 1874, when Longfellow wrote one of the finest of his shorter poems in tribute to Sumner’s memory. It was as poetic a friendship as that between Emerson and Carlyle; but whereas Emerson and Carlyle had differences of opinion, Sumner and Longfellow were always of one mind. When Sumner made his Fanueil Hall speech against the fugitive slave law, which was simply fighting revolution with revolution, and Harvard College and the whole of Cambridge turned against him, Longfellow stood firm; and it may be suspected that he had many an unpleasant discussion with his aristocratic acquaintances on this point. It was considered bad enough to support Garrison, but supporting Sumner was a great deal worse, for Sumner was an orator who wielded a power only inferior to Webster. Fortunately for Longfellow, his connection with the university ceased not long after Sumner’s election to the Senate; and the unpleasantness of his position may have been the leading cause of his retirement.

Sumner was the best friend Longfellow had, and perhaps the best that he could have had. There was Emerson, of course, and Longfellow was always on friendly terms with him; but Emerson had a habit of catechising his companions which some of them did not altogether like; and this may have been the case with Longfellow, for they never became very intimate. Sumner, on the contrary, had always a large stock of information to dispense, not only concerning American affairs but those of other nations, in which Longfellow never lost his interest. More important to him even than this is the fact that Sumner’s statements were always to be trusted. It may be surmised that it was not so much similarity of opinion as the purity of their motives that brought the poet and statesman together.

As soon as Sumner returned from Washington, in spring or summer, he would go out to call on Longfellow; and it was a pleasant sight to see them walking together on a June evening beneath the overarching elms of historic Brattle Street. They were a pair of majestic-looking men; and though Longfellow was nearly a head shorter than Sumner, his broad shoulders gave him an appearance of strength, as his capacious head and strong, finely cut features evidently denoted an exceptional intellect. He wore his hair poetically long, almost to his coat collar; and yet there was not the slightest air of the Bohemian about him. They seemed to be oblivious of everything except their conversation; and if this could have been recorded it might prove to be as interesting as the poetry of the one and the orations of the other. They were evidently talking on great subjects, and the earnestness on Sumner’s face was reflected on Longfellow’s as in a mirror.

Hawthorne was a classmate of Longfellow, and in the biography of the latter there are a number of letters from one to the other which are always friendly,—but never more than that on Hawthorne’s side,—with one exception, where he thanks Longfellow for a complimentary review of “Twice-Told Tales” in the North American. At that time the North American was considered an authority which could make or unmake an author’s reputation; and Longfellow may be said to have opened the door for Hawthorne into the great world. Hawthorne’s friendship for President Pierce proved an advantage to him financially, but it also became a barrier between him and the other literary men of his time. Of course he believed what his friend Pierce told him concerning public affairs, and when he found that his other friends had not the same faith in Pierce’s veracity he became more strongly a partisan of the pro- slavery cause on that account. Longfellow frankly admitted that he did not understand Hawthorne, and he did not believe that anyone at Bowdoin College understood him. He was the most secretive man that he ever knew; but so far as genius was concerned, he believed that Hawthorne would outlive every other writer of his time. He had the will of a great conqueror.

Goethe has been called the pampered child of genius, of fortune, and the muse; but if Goethe had greater celebrity he never enjoyed half the worldly prosperity of Longfellow. While Emerson was earning a hard livelihood by lecturing in the West, and Whittier was dwelling in a country farm-house, Longfellow occupied one of the most desirable residences in or about Boston, and had all the means at his command that a modest man could wish for. The Craigie House was, and still remains, the finest residence in Cambridge,—"formerly the head-quarters of Washington, and afterwards of the Muses.” Good architecture never becomes antiquated, and the Craigie House is not only spacious within, but dignified without.

One could best realize Longfellow’s opulence by walking through his library adjacent to the eastern piazza, and gazing at the magnificent editions of foreign authors which had been presented to him by his friends and admirers; especially the fine set of Chateaubriand’s works, in all respects worthy of a royal collection. There is no ornament in a house that testifies to the quality of the owner like a handsome library.

Byron would seem to have been the only other poet that has enjoyed such prosperity, although Bryant, as editor of a popular newspaper, may have approached it closely; but a city house, with windows on only two sides, is not like a handsome suburban residence. Longfellow could look across the Cambridge marshes and see the sunsets reflected in the water of the Charles River.

Here he lived from 1843, when he married Miss Appleton, a daughter of one of the wealthiest merchant-bankers of Boston, until his death by pneumonia in March, 1882. The situation seemed suited to him, and he always remained a true poet and devoted to the muses:

  Integer vitae scelerisque purus.

He did not believe in a luxurious life except so far as luxury added to refinement, and everything in the way of fashionable show was very distasteful to him. His brother Samuel once said, “I cannot imagine anything more disagreeable than to ride in a public procession;” and the two men were more alike than brothers often are. We notice in the poet’s diary that he abstains from going to a certain dinner in Boston for fear of being called upon to make a speech. Craigie House gave Longfellow the opportunity in which he most delighted,—of entertaining his friends and distinguished foreign guests in a handsome manner; but conventional dinner parties, with their fourteen plates half surrounded by wine- glasses, were not often seen there. He much preferred a smaller number of guests with the larger freedom of discourse which accompanies a select gathering. Many such occasions are referred to in his diary,—as if he did not wish to forget them.

He was the finest host and story-teller in the country. His genial courtesy was simply another expression of that mental grace which made his reputation as a poet, and his manner of reciting an incident, otherwise trivial, would give it the same additional quality as in his verses on Springfield Arsenal and the crooked Songo River, which without Longfellow would be little or nothing. Then his fund of information was what might be expected from a man who had lived in all the countries of western Europe.

He had humble and unfortunate friends whom he seemed to think as much of as though they were distinguished. He recognized fine traits of character, perhaps real greatness of character, in out-of-the-way places,—men whose chief happiness was their acquaintance with Longfellow. It was something much better than charity; and Professor Child spoke of it on the day of Emerson’s funeral as the finest flower in the poet’s wreath.

Longfellow was one of the kindest friends that the Hungarian exiles found when they came to Boston in 1852. Longfellow helped Kossuth, subscribed to Kalapka’s riding-school, and entertained a number of them at his house. Afterwards, when one of the exiles set up a business in Hungarian wines, Longfellow made a large purchase of him, which he spoke of twenty years later with much satisfaction. He liked Tokay, and also the white wine of Capri, which he regretted could not be obtained in America.

Those who supposed that Longfellow was easily imposed upon made a great mistake. He had the reputation among his publishers of understanding business affairs better than any author in New England; but he was almost too kind-hearted. Somewhere about 1859 a photographer made an excellent picture of his daughters—indeed, it was a charming group—and the man begged Mr. Longfellow for permission to sell copies of it as it would be of great advantage to him. Longfellow complied and the consequence was that in 1860 one could hardly open a photograph album anywhere without finding Longfellow’s daughters in it. Then a vulgar story originated that the youngest daughter had only one arm, because her left arm was hidden behind her sister. It is to be hoped that Longfellow never heard of this, for if he did it must have caused him a good deal of pain, in return for his kindness; but that is what one gets. Fortunately the photographs have long since faded out.

Much in the same line was his interest in the children of the poor. A ragged urchin seemed to attract him much more than one that was nicely dressed. Perhaps they seemed more poetic to him, and he could see more deeply into the joys and sorrows of their lives.

Where the Episcopal Theological School now stands on Brattle Street there was formerly a sort of tenement-house; and one day, as we were taking a stroll before dinner, we noticed three small boys with dirty faces standing at the corner of the building; and just then one of them cried out: “Oh, see; here he comes!” And immediately Longfellow appeared leaving the gate of Craigie House. We passed him before he reached the children, but on looking back we saw that he had stopped to speak with them. They evidently knew him very well.

It is remarkable how the impression should have been circulated that Longfellow was not much of a pedestrian. On the contrary, there was no one who was seen more frequently on the streets of Cambridge. He walked with a springy step and a very slight swing of the shoulders, which showed that he enjoyed it. He may not have walked such long distances as Hawthorne, or so rapidly as Dickens, but he was a good walker.

His sister, Mrs. Greenleaf, built a memorial chapel in North Cambridge for the Episcopal society there, and from this Longfellow formed the habit of walking in that direction by way of the Botanic Garden. Somewhere in the cross streets he became acquainted with two children, the son and daughter of a small shop-keeper. They, of course, told their mother about their white-haired acquaintance, and with the fate of Charlie Ross before her eyes, their mother warned them to keep out of his way. He might be a tramp, and tramps were dangerous!

However, it was not long before the children met their white-haired friend again, and the boy asked him: “Are you a tramp? Mother thinks you’re a tramp, and she wants to know what your name is.” It may be presumed that Mr. Longfellow laughed heartily at this misconception, but he said: “I think I may call myself a tramp. I tramp a good deal; but you may tell your mother that my name is Henry W. Longfellow.” He afterwards called on the mother in order to explain himself, and to congratulate her on having such fine children.

When the Saturday Club, popularly known as the Atlantic Club, was organized, one of the first subjects of discussion that came up was the question of autographs. Emerson said that was the way in which he obtained his postage stamps; but Longfellow confessed that he had given away a large number of them. And so it continued to the end. “Why should I not do it,” he would say, “if it gives them pleasure?” Emerson looked on such matters from the stoical point of view as an encouragement to vanity; but he would have been more politic to have gratified his curious, or sentimental admirers; for every autograph he gave would have made a purchaser for his publishers.

Harmony did not always prevail in the Saturday Club, for politics was the all-embracing subject in those days and its members represented every shade of political opinion. Emerson, Longfellow, and Lowell were strongly anti-slavery, but they differed in regard to methods. Lowell was what was then called a Seward man, and differed with Emerson in regard to John Brown, and with Longfellow in regard to Sumner. Holmes was still more conservative; and Agassiz was a McClellan Democrat. William Hunt, the painter, believed that the war was caused by the ambition of the leading politicians in the North and South. Longfellow had the advantage of more direct information than the others, and enjoyed the continued successes of the Republican party.

In the spring of 1866 a number of Southerners came to Boston to borrow funds in order to rehabilitate their plantations, and were introduced at the Union League Club. Finding themselves there in a congenial element they made speeches strongly tinged with secession doctrines. Sumner, of course, could not let this pass without making some protest against it, and for this he was hissed. The incident was everywhere talked of, and came under discussion at the next meeting of the Saturday Club. Otto Dresel, a German pianist, who had small reason for being there, said, “It was not Mr. Sumner’s politics but his bad manners that were hissed." Longfellow set his glass down with emphasis, and replied: “If good manners could not say it, thank heaven bad manners did;” and Lowell supported this with some pretty severe criticism of the Union League Club. In justice to the Union League Club, however, it ought to be said that there was applause as well as hisses for Sumner.

Longfellow had a leonine face, but it was that of a very mild lion; one that had never learned the use of teeth and claws. Yet those who knew him felt that he could roar on occasion, if occasion required it. Once at Longfellow’s own table the conversation chanced upon Goethe, and a gentleman present remarked that Goethe was in the habit of drinking three bottles of hock a day. “Who said he did?” inquired the poet. “It is in Lewes’s biography,” said the gentleman. “I do not believe it,” replied Longfellow, “unless,” he added with a laugh, “they were very small bottles.” A few days afterwards Prof. William James remarked in regard to this incident that the story was quite incredible.

In his youth Longfellow seems to have taken to guns and fishing-rods more regularly than some boys do, but pity for his small victims soon induced him to relinquish the sport. His eldest son, Charles, also took to guns very naturally, and in spite of a severe wound which he received from the explosion of a badly loaded piece, he finally became one of the most expert pigeon-shooters in the State. At the intercession of his father, who considered the game too cruel, he afterwards relinquished this for target-shooting, in which he succeeded equally well. I was talking one day with him on this subject and remarked that I had recently shot two crows with my rifle. “What did you do it for?” interposed his father, in a deprecatory tone. So I explained to him that crows were outside of the pale of the law; that they not only were a pest to the farmers but destroyed the eggs and young of singing birds,—in fact, they were bold, black robbers, whose livery betokened their evil deeds. This evidently interested him, and he finally said with a laugh: “If that is the case, we will give you and Charlie a commission to exterminate them.”

There was a story that when young Nicholas Longworth came to Harvard College in the autumn of 1862 and called on Mr. Longfellow, who had been entertained at his father’s house in Cincinnati, the poet said to him: “It is worth that makes the man; the want of it the fellow“ —a compliment that almost dumfounded his young acquaintance. It is certain that Longfellow addressed a poem to Mrs. Longworth which will be found in the collection of his minor poems, and in which he speaks of her as—

  “The Queen of the West in her garden dressed,
  By the banks of the beautiful river.”

In the midst of this unrivalled prosperity, this distinction of genius, and public and private honor, on the ninth of July, 1861, there came one of the most harrowing tragedies that has ever befallen a man’s domestic life. Longfellow was widowed for the second time, and five children were left without a mother. It seemed as if Providence had set a limit beyond which human happiness could not pass. It was after this calamity that Longfellow undertook his metrical translation of Dante’s “Divina Commedia,” a much more difficult and laborious work than writing original poetry. As his brother said, “He required an absorbing occupation to prevent him from thinking of the past.”

No wonder that in later years he said, in his exquisite verses on the Mountain of the Holy Cross in Colorado, these pathetic words, “On my heart also there is a cross of snow.” In Longfellow’s diary we meet with the names of many books that he read, and these as well as the pertinent comments on them tell much more of his intellectual life than we derive from his letters. “Adam Bede,” which took the world by storm, did not make so much of an impression on him as Hawthorne’s “Marble Faun,” which he read through in a day and calls a wonderful book. Of “Adam Bede” he says: “It is too feminine for a man; too masculine for a woman.” He says of Dickens, after reading “Barnaby Rudge”: “He is always prodigal and ample, but what a set of vagabonds he contrives to introduce us to!" “Barnaby Rudge” is certainly the most bohemian and esoteric of Dickens’s novels. He liked much better Miss Muloch’s “John Halifax,"—a popular book in its time, but not read very much since. He calls Charles Reade a clever and amusing writer. We find nothing concerning Disraeli, Trollope, or Wilkie Collins. Neither do we hear of critical and historical writers like Ruskin, Matthew Arnold, Carlyle, and Froude. He went, however, to call on Carlyle in England, and was greatly impressed by his conversation. The scope of Longfellow’s reading does not compare with that of Emerson or Marian Evans; but the doctors say that “every man of forty knows the food that is good for him,” and this is true mentally as well as physically.

He refers more frequently to Tennyson than to any other writer, and always in a generous, cordial manner. Of the “Idyls of the King” he says that the first and third Idyls could only have come from a great poet, but that the second and fourth are not quite equal to the others.

Once, at his sister’s house, he held out a book in his hand and said: “Here is some of the finest dramatic poetry that I have ever read.” It was Tennyson’s “Queen Mary;” but there were many who would not have agreed with his estimate of it. Rev. Samuel Longfellow considered the statement very doubtful.

In the summer of 1868 Longfellow went to Europe with his family to see what Henry James calls “the best of it.” Rev. Samuel Longfellow and T. G. Appleton accompanied the party, which, with the addition of Ernest Longfellow’s beautiful bride, made a strong impression wherever they were seen. In fact their tour was like a triumphal procession.

Longfellow was everywhere treated with the distinction of a famous poet; and his fine appearance and dignified bearing increased the reputation which had already preceded him. His meeting with Tennyson was considered as important as the visit of the King of Prussia to Napoleon III., and much less dangerous to the peace of Europe. It was talked of from Edinburgh to Rome.

Longfellow, however, hated lionizing in all its forms, and he avoided ceremonious receptions as much as possible. He enjoyed the entertainment of meeting distinguished people, but he evidently preferred to meet them in an unconventional manner, and to have them as much to himself as possible. Princes and savants called on him, but he declined every invitation that might tend to give him publicity.

His facility in the different languages was much marvelled at. While he was in Florence a delegation from the mountain towns of Tuscany waited upon him and he conversed with them in their own dialect, greatly to their surprise and satisfaction.

From a number of incidents in this journey, related by Rev. Samuel Longfellow, the following has a permanent interest:

When the party came to Verona in May, 1869, they found Ruskin elevated on a ladder, from which he was examining the sculpture on a monument. As soon as he heard that the Longfellow party was below, he came down and greeted them very cordially. He was glad that they had stopped at Verona, which was so interesting and so often overlooked; he wanted them to observe the sculptures on the monument,—the softly-flowing draperies which seemed more as if they had been moulded with hands than cut with a chisel. He then spoke in grievous terms of the recent devastation by the floods in Switzerland, which had also caused much damage in the plains of Lombardy. He thought that reservoirs ought to be constructed on the sides of the mountains, which would stay the force of the torrents, and hold the water until it could be made useful. He wished that the Alpine Club would take an interest in the matter. After enjoying so much in Switzerland it would be only fair for them to do something for the benefit of the country. Mr. Appleton then said: “That is a work for government to do;” to which Ruskin replied: “Governments do nothing but fill their pockets, and issue this,"—taking out a handful of Italian paper currency, which was then much below par.

Everyone has his or her favorite poet or poets, and it is a common practice with young critics to disparage one in order to elevate another. Longfellow was the most popular American poet of his time, but there were others besides Edgar A. Poe who pretended to disdain him. I have met more such critics in Cambridge than in England, Germany, or Italy; and the reason was chiefly a political one. At a distance Longfellow’s politics attracted little attention, but in Cambridge they could not help being felt. In 1862 a strong movement emanated from the Harvard Law-School to defeat Sumner and Andrew, and the lines became drawn pretty sharply. As it happened, the prominent conservatives with one or two exceptions all lived to the east and north of the college grounds, while Longfellow, Lowell, Doctor Francis (who baptized Longfellow’s children), Prof. Asa Gray, and other liberals lived at the west end; and the local division made the contest more acrimonious. The conservatives afterwards felt the bitterness of defeat, and it was many years before they recovered from this. A resident graduate of Harvard, who was accustomed to converse on such subjects as the metaphysics of Hamilton’s quaternions, once said that Longfellow was the paragon of schoolgirls, because he wrote what they would like to so much better than they could. This was contemptible enough; but how can one expect a man who discourses on the metaphysics of Hamilton’s quaternions to appreciate Longfellow’s art, or any art pure and simple. “Evangeline,” which is perhaps the finest of Longfellow’s poems, is not a favorite with youthful readers.

He was greater as a man, perhaps, than as a poet. Future ages will have to determine this; but he was certainly one of the best poets of his time. Professor Hedge, one of our foremost literary critics, spoke of him as the one American poet whose verses sing themselves; and with the exception of Bryant’s “Robert of Lincoln,” and Poe’s “Raven,” and a few other pieces, this may be taken as a judicious statement.

Longfellow’s unconsciousness is charming, even when it seems childlike. As a master of verse he has no English rival since Spenser. The trochaic meter in which “Hiawatha” is written would seem to have been his own invention; [Footnote: At least I can remember no other long poem composed in it.] and is a very agreeable change from the perpetual iambics of Byron and Wordsworth. “Evangeline” is perhaps the most successful instance of Greek and Latin hexameter being grafted on to an English stem. Matthew Arnold considered it too dactylic, but the lightness of its movement personifies the grace of the heroine herself. Lines like Virgil’s

  “Illi inter sese multa vi brachia tollunt
  In numerum, versantque tenaci forcipe massam,”

would not have been suited to the subject.

It has often been said that “Hiawatha” does not represent the red man as he really is, and this is true. Neither does Tennyson represent the knights of King Arthur’s court as they were in the sixth century A.D. They are more like modern English gentlemen, and when we read the German Neibelungen we recognize this difference. Virgil’s Aeneid does not belong to the period of the Trojan war, but this does not prevent the Aeneid from being very fine poetry. The American Indian is not without his poetic side, as is proved by the squaw who knelt down on a flowery Brussels carpet, and smoothing it with her hands, said: “Hahnsome! hahnsome! heaven no hahnsomer!” There is true poetry in this; and so there is in the Indian cradle-song:

  “The poor little bee that lives in the tree;
  The poor little bee that lives in the tree;
  Has but one arrow in his quiver.”

Either of these incidents is sufficient to testify to Longfellow’s “Hiawatha.”

The best poetry is that which forces itself upon our memories, so that it becomes part of our life without the least effort of recollection. Such are Emerson’s “Problem,” Whittier’s “Barbara Frietchie,” and Longfellow’s “Santa Filomena.”

  “Whene’er a noble deed is wrought,
  Whene’er is spoken a noble thought,
  Our hearts in glad surprise
  To higher levels rise.”

Those are fortunate in this life who feel the glad surprise of Longfellow.

“Hiawatha” is equally universal in its application to modern life. The questions of the Indian boy and the replies of his nurse, the good Nikomis, are not confined to the life of the aborigines. Every spirited boy is a Hiawatha, and in one form or another goes through the same experiences that Longfellow has represented with such consummate art in his American epic-idyl.


Preface  •  The Close of the War  •  Francis J. Child  •  Longfellow  •  Lowell  •  Cranch  •  T. G. Appleton  •  The Whip of the Sky  •  Pompeii  •  Doctor Holmes  •  Frank W. Bird, and the Bird Club  •  Sumner  •  Chevalier Howe  •  The War Governor  •  The Colored Regiments  •  Emerson’s Tribute to George L. Stearns  •  Elizur Wright  •  Dr. W. T. G. Morton  •  William T. G. Morton  •  Leaves From a Roman Diary  •  My Last Visit to the Longfellows  •  Centennial Contributions  •  The Emerson Centennial  •  The Hawthorne Centennial  •  Hawthorne and Hamlet

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