Francis Henry Underwood.

The life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; with critical and descriptive sketches of his writings online

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By the Same Author.



JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL.

a Bioijraptjical Sfatdj.

ILLUSTRATED WITH Six HELIOTYPE ENGRAVINGS.
1 vol. Small quarto. $1.50.

Mr. Lowell s Parentage and Family, Birthplace and Surround
ings, Editorial Work, Early Verses, The Anti-Slavery Move
ment, Hosea Biglow, Sir Launfal, Domestic Life, First and
Second Marriages, Satires, Atlantic Monthly, Yankee Humor,
Reconstruction, Commemoration Ode, Prose Essays, Subtility
in Poetry, Personal Traits, etc.

"This sketch of Lowell is a very pleasant one, and full of
interesting things." Boston Advertiser.

" He is conversant with his subject in the successive degrees of
personal familiarity, friendly regard, and admiring sympathy."
Literary W arid.

" A very charming biographical sketch. ... A very instruc
tive and delightful introduction to writings which cannot be too
well or too largely known. He has written no panegyric of his
hero, but a book which even David Masson might admire."
Quebec Chronicle.

JAMES R. OSGOOD & CO.




V/. Jo^c^Lt^-

Xo r



THE LIFE



OF



HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW



WITH CRITICAL AND DESCRIPTIVE SKETCHES
OP HIS WRITINGS



BY



FRANCIS H. UNDERWOOD



Hfagtratrt



BOSTON
B. B. RUSSELL, 57 CORNHILL

1882



KAIH LIBRARY



Copyright, 1882,
BY FRANCIS H. UNDERWOOD.



All rights reserved.



UNIVERSITY PRESS:
JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE.







A



A



PREFACE.



As it is known that the family of the de
ceased poet intend to publish a full account
of his life, including 1 his correspondence,
which must be extensive and valuable, it is
proper that a brief statement should be made
as to the origin and status of this Biographi
cal Sketch.

While Mr. Longfellow was in his usual
health, somewhat more than a year ago, he
kindly undertook the task of looking over
my Sketch of James Russell Lowell. I had
asked him to do this friendly service for me,
and for Mr. Lowell, who could not be con
veniently consulted. I have still the proof-
sheets with annotations in his well-known
hand. He praised the work ; and, with the
simple frankness of Priscilla in his Puri-

118



vi PREFACE.

tan romance, he intimated that he would be
pleased to have one written of himself in a
similar spirit. Up to that time I had not in
tended to undertake such a labor ; his works
were so many, and his fame so widely dif
fused, that I felt a sincere diffidence in ap
proaching the subject. But, encouraged by
his approbation, I began collecting materials,
and making such studies as I could of his
separate works. Being engaged in business
to which I have been, and still ain, bound to
devote the most of my time, the work pro
ceeded slowly. I did not imagine that the end
was near, and supposed I should still have
time to carry out my plans with care. Only
a fortnight before his death I spent an even
ing in his library, and submitted to him my
notes and data ; I intended to go again
within a few days, but soon learned that he
was seriously ill. His death soon followed.

Having spent nearly all my spare time for
a year in preparation, it appeared proper to
complete the work as soon as it could be



PREFACE. vii

done. Under these circumstances there has
been less time to give completeness and
finish than I could have desired.

It should be added, that I resided in Cam
bridge from 1854 to 1859, and enjoyed the
friendship and often the invaluable converse
of Longfellow and Lowell ; and, as I was the
projector of the Atlantic Monthly, and had
been the means of gathering the eminent
literary men who made it renowned, I was
for the first two years a constant attendant
at the monthly dinners hereinafter men
tioned, and so came to have a personal knowl
edge of .the great writers of our State and
time. And I have felt that it was something
very like a duty for me to put on paper, be
fore age should overtake me, my early im
pressions of that remarkable group of men,
now sadly broken.

The Sketch of Lowell has been published ;
but it will be enlarged as soon as opportunity
offers. The Sketch of Longfellow is here
with presented. Similar sketches of Whit-



viii PREFACE.

tier, Holmes, and Emerson will follow as
speedily as circumstances allow.

Thanks are due to many persons for valu
able aid. I must mention the services of
Peter Thacher, Esq., William Winter, the
poet, Charles Lanman, author and artist, H.
W. Bryant, Librarian of the Maine Histori
cal Society, Professor Charles Eliot Norton,
Wm. P. P. Longfellow, Esq., nephew of the
poet ; and I must especially thank the fam
ily of the poet for the loan of Mr. Lanrnan s
picture and the historic inkstands, and for
furnishing the manuscript lines of which a
fac-simile has been made.

FKAKCIS H. UNDERWOOD.

BOSTON, April 27, 1882.



CONTENTS.



PAGE

INTRODUCTORY

THE LONGFELLOW FAMILY

PORTLAND

BOYHOOD AND YOUTH 43

WOOING THE MUSES 53

A YOUNG PROFESSOR 60

STUDIES ABROAD 66

THE HARVARD PROFESSOR 75

SUCCESS 88

ANTISLAVERY POEMS 95

His SECOND MARRIAGE 102

POETS AND POETRY OF EUROPE Ill

THE BELFRY OF BRUGES 113

CRITICISM 117

EVANGELINE 137

KAVANAGH l^ 8

AGASSIZ 149



X CONTENTS.

PAGE

THE SEASIDE AND THE FIRESIDE 157

THE GOLDEN LEGEND 163

HIAWATHA 166

THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY 182

THE COURTSHIP OF MILES STANDISH 188

NAHANT 193

A TRAGEDY 199

THE WAYSIDE INN 202

HAWTHORNE 210

FLOWER-DE-LUCE 213

CHRISTUS, A MYSTERY 215

THE HANGING OF THE CRANE 220

MORITURI SALUTAMUS 222

KRAMOS 225

POEMS OF PLACES 227

A BOOK OF SONNETS 229

AN ESTIMATE 231

TRANSLATION OF DANTE 243

ULTIMA THULE 246

SEVENTY-FIFTH BIRTHDAY 249

PERSONAL TRAITS 252

LAST HOURS 268



CONTENTS. xi
APPENDIX.

PAGE

I. FROM THE PROCEEDINGS OF THE MAINE HISTOR
ICAL SOCIETY ON THE OCCASION OF LONGFEL
LOW S SEVENTY-FIFTH BIRTHDAY .... 273

II. GENEALOGIES 307

III. LONGFELLOW. BY WILLIAM WINTER . . . . 311

IV. CORRESPONDENCE WITH CHARLES LANMAN . . 314
V. MR. LONGFELLOW S EARLY POEMS 319

VI. A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF LONGFELLOW . . . . 344



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.



PORTRAIT OF LONGFELLOW (on Steel) . . . Frontispiece

THE HOUSE BUILT BY WM. LONGFELLOW IN BYFIELD
(FORMERLY PART OF NEWBURY), IN 1678. From
a Picture painted by Charles Laninan, in the Pos
session of Mr. Longfellow s Family 15

THE STEPHENSON HOUSE IN PORTLAND, IN WHICH
THE POET WAS BORN. From a Photograph . . 25

THE WADSWORTH-LONGFELLOW HOUSE IN PORT
LAND. From a Photograph 35

THE HOUSE OF GENERAL WADSWORTH IN HIRAM.
From a Photograph 45

THE VASSALL-CllAIGIE-LoNGFELLOW HOUSE IN CAM
BRIDGE. From a Picture by H. J. Fenn, in the
Possession of James R. Osgood, Esq 79



xiv LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.

VIEW or THE LONGFELLOW HOUSE FROM THE LAWN,
ON THE NORTH SIDE. From, a Photograph . . 107

THE OLD CLOCK ON THE STAIRS . . . . . . 116

SMALL PICTURES OF TWO FAMOUS INKSTANDS.

COLERIDGE S 258

CRABBE S 259

A CORNER OF LONGFELLOW S STUDY 261

FACSIMILE or LONGFELLOW S HANDWRITING. The
Original kindly furnished by his Family . . . . 263



HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW



HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW.

A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.



A FRUITFUL literary life which has extended
over fifty years is necessarily an object of re
spectful interest and admiration. The labors
of most writers fall within the limits of a
generation, a third of a century; their cre
ative power seldom outlasts the ideas and
fashions among which they have grown up.
In fifty years there is time for a poet to have
seen, in his early days the decline of an old
school, in his manhood the rise and triumph of
a new one, and in his age the signs of change
and the dim forms of coming ideals in art.

Longfellow s first poems were written al
most sixty years ago. Robert Southey was
then the English Laureate, who as a poet is



2 HENRY WADS WORTH LONGFELLOW.

now wholly neglected and almost forgotten.
Keats, Shelley, and Byron had only recently
passed away; Scott, Wordsworth, Moore,
Coleridge, Campbell, Hood, Landor, and
Leigli Hunt were still living ; Tennyson and
Browning Avere soon to appear; and these,
with their immediate predecessors, were to
make the nineteenth century hardly less illus
trious than the Elizabethan age.

It had been settled that rhymed argument
or eloquence, such as prevailed in, the eigh
teenth century, however compact, witty, and
musical, is not necessarily poetry. Pope
might still be called a poet, but his germi
nating 1 influence had ceased. The formal

o

heroics were obsolete, except that, like other
departing fashions, they lingered in provin
cial districts. Poetry in England was occu
pied with noble themes, and had become
once more thought etherealized.

The attention of the British is rarely
turned upon their colonies, except as fields
for trade, and as places for bettering the for-



A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH. 3

tunes of younger sons. Their calm conceit
of superiority has long been remarked ; and
one may be sure that the writers of the
United States are in no danger of being
spoiled by English flattery.

Fifty years a,go the British had heard of
Dr. Franklin ; they had read the Declaration
of Independence (at least their statesmen
had) ; Washington Irving with his Sketch
Book had made a pleasant ripple in London
society; theologians had heard of Jonathan
Edwards ; and that was about all. Some
few persons, curious in the literary annals
of an obscure people, may have read the
" Thanatopsis in the North American Re
view ; but the notion of the existence of
American literature, especially of American
poetry, would have caused a derisive roar
from Aberdeen to Portsmouth. 1

And the literature of the United States

1 If the reader desires to see specimens of mingled ignorance
and prejudice, he will find them in the articles upon American
literature in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.



4 HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW.

fifty years ago, it must be confessed, exist
ed largely in promise. Irving was favora
bly known on both shores of the Atlantic.
Cooper had written "The Spy," and was
famous. Joseph Rodman Drake s " Culprit
Fay," a pleasing performance for a youth,
was thought to be a happy portent. Fitz-
Greene Halleck, Eobert C. Sands, and Gu-
lian C. Verplanck were in the flush of youth
and hope. Bryant had made a noble begin
ning, and the elevated thought and sure
movement of his verse prognosticated higher
renown. Emerson, the most original of Eng
lish-speaking men in this century, was preach
ing at the North End of Boston. So far as the
public knew, there was no hint of his poetry
or of the great Essays yet. Prescott was
reading and meditating for his brilliant histo
ries. Bancroft was then a politician, and had
not entered upon his great work. Dr. Palfrey
was discoursing upon the Old Testament at
the Theological School of Cambridge. Wil
lis, born in the same year with Longfellow,



A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH. 5

was trying his prentice hand in verse, and
was to become for the next twenty years the
most popular, as he was the most versatile,
of the light-armed corps of writers. Dana,
after a few tantalizing successes, became

" Involved in a paulo-post-future of song."

Sprague had recited his fine Shakespeare
and Centennial Odes, and settled back in
to his comfortable and honorable banker s
chair. John Pierpont had admirers ; so had
John Neal and Mrs. Sigourney. Edgar A.
Poe was just becoming known ; his first
verses were published in 1829. The literary
world, and Longfellow in particular, were to
hear much of him in the following twenty
years. Hawthorne, who was Longfellow s
college classmate, published his first volume
later, in 1837, and was truly, as he him
self said, " the obscurest man of letters in
America."

On the whole, we may say that the works
which have a reasonable chance to live,



6 HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW.

written previous to Longfellow s beginning-,
are very few, and they are not in the de
partment of poetry. The loyalty and zeal
of Dr. Griswold, and the exhaustive labors
of the brothers Duyckinck, have preserved
for us a mass of details which are copious
materials for literary history, but of which
very little can be considered as belonging
to our national literature. For oblivion has
already settled down upon the greater part
of the names and the works held in honor
fifty years ago; and to look back upon
Griswold s " Poets and Poetry of America"
is like taking a distant view of Mount Au
burn Cemetery by moonlight.

The public taste half a century ago was
unformed. The public taste is far from in
fallible now ; but the elders know that there
has been a wide-spread change. It is seen
in many apparently trivial things. The pop
ular poetry fifty years ago was matched by
the cheap and gaudy colored lithographs,
and by the plaster images of Italian pedlers,



A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH. 1

both of which forms of "art" were as per
vasive as the colors of the national flag.
There was no literary standard. The aver
age editor thought more of the " scream of
the American eagle " than of any canon of
taste. There were no canons of taste or
laws of criticism. Any sentiment in a mu
sical flow of words, with sparkles of high-
colored adjectives, was a poem. And as for
poets capable of such verses, in the slang
of the frontiers l< the woods were full of
them."

Few editors and fewer readers were liber
ally educated. In the public schools the
reading was largely from eighteenth-century
authors, while the notions of rhetoric and
criticism were derived from Blair or Lord
Kaimes, pedants who never knew the idioms
of English. So, between old-fashioned pro
fessors who taught what was gone by, and
the fluent, self-confident apostles of jingle and
glitter (whose field was in milliners maga
zines and red-morocco annuals), the student,



8 HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW.

if there were one, had no secure middle
ground.

It would require the space of a volume
to show the influences which have been at
work since 1830 to build up our literature,
or rather to lay a foundation for it, and to
connect it with our social and political life.
The period is that of our greatest expan
sion in population, wealth, and power, of
the greatest improvements in the arts, of the
greatest diffusion of intelligence, arid the one
in which the bulk of American literature has
been produced. All benign influences have
acted in concert. To a public like that of
1830 the best productions of our day would
have been enigmatical or ridiculous. The
education of that public, so far as it has
gone, has been an enormous work, for which
every moral as well as material force has
been employed. Schoolmasters, engineers,
preachers, reformers, philosophers, inventors,
printers, these with the editors and au
thors have been slowly raising the level of



A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.

thought and achievement, building, as it
were, under a whole people a foundation
like that of Persepolis, on which the rising
structure of our letters and art is to stand.
Every new era brings new powers and ad
vantages ; but it is hardly possible that there
will ever be a time in which the vast work
of our century will be eclipsed.

It must be considered a good fortune for
Longfellow to have been born at a period
when national prosperity was fairly begun, to
have grown with his country s growth, to
have reached maturity when its literature
was for the first time reckoned as a power,
and to have attained to serene old age at
a time when the whole reunited republic
regarded him with honor and pride. The
public life of no other American author
has covered such a span ; the period of no
other has so many fortunate incidents; the
fame of no other is so universal among all
classes of men.

The chief honors in American letters thus



10 HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW.

far have been gained by poets. In history,
science, and criticism, with a few brilliant
exceptions, we have produced little to be
compared with the works of Englishmen.
The influences of great universities and the
cultivation and inherited tastes of the lead
ing classes (such as exist in England) are
almost wholly wanting in America. The
power of such a literary centre as London
is almost solar. There is no such gravita
tion in our western hemisphere. At the first
thought it might appear that poets, whose
genius is inborn, do not need the stimu
lus of learned society, and are not aided
by breathing a literary atmosphere. But
though the poet s original impulse comes
from the Creator, and that which is vital in
his verse is due to no teaching, yet his taste,
his skill and mastery, are largely affected
by his surroundings, and, unless he is a man
of self-centred power, by the public sym
pathy, or the want of it.

Poets of the first order are so rare that they



A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH. 11

cannot be reckoned in any Buckle s system of
averages. England has produced two, Shake
speare and Milton. Poets of the second order,
such as Chaucer, Spenser, Byron, Coleridge,
Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, and Dryden, are
more evenly distributed among the genera
tions. Leaving Robert Browning out of the
account (for the present), we find among liv
ing English poets only one pre-eminent, the
Laureate Tennyson. It is probably no more
than just to assign his rank as being the first
since Milton. At the same time there are
living in America Emerson, Lowell, Holmes,
and Whittier ; and these, with Longfellow
and Bryant, lately deceased, appear to edu
cated Americans superior severally in genius
and in accomplishment to any living Eng
lish poet, save Tennyson. 1

1 This is a plain statement of an indubitable truth ; and in
view of the invincible ignorance of British reviewers and cyclo-
pedists it appears necessary for an American writer once in a
while to publish concisely his articles of belief. We are Eng
lish in blood, not aliens, and English literature and thought
are ours. " If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle
us, do we not laugh ?"



12 HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW.
THE LONGFELLOW FAMILY.

The old town of Newbury, in the north
eastern part of Massachusetts, has an inter
esting history. It was the birthplace of an
unusual number of intellectual and eminent
men. So many poets, jurists, preachers,
mathematicians and college professors have
sprung from the primitive stock, that the list
of "freemen" embraces the names of the
best known families in the Commonwealth. 1
Among them are Gushing, Dana, Emerson,
Felton, Gould, Greenleaf, Hale, Jackson,
Lunt, Longfellow, Lowell, Noyes, Pierce,
Sewall, Story, Whipple, Whittier, and Woods.
Each generation appears also to have had a
full share of the intellectual training which
was possible at the time. No less than 308
graduates of Harvard College (from 1642 to
1845) were born in Newbury. Considering
the early poverty, the trials attending the

1 See Joshua Coffin s unique and excellent History of New
bury.



A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH. 13

settlement of a new country, and the hostil
ities with Indians, French, and the mother
country, this is a remarkable record.

William Longfellow, who was born in
1651, and probably in Hosforth, near Leeds,
in Yorkshire, came to this country in 1676,
settled in Newbury, and, in November, 1678,
married Ann Sewall, sister of the well-known
Chief Justice. The commonly accepted ac
count is that he came from Hampshire ; but
this is evidently an error. Samuel Sewall,
writing to his brother Stephen, at Bishop-
Stoke, Hampshire, October 24, 1680, says:

" Bro. Longfellow s Father, Will m Longfellow
lives at Hosforth, near Leeds in Yorkshire. Tell
him Bro. has a son W m a fine likely child, a very
good piece of Land, & greatly wants a little stock
to manage it." l

It is known that the father was alive in
August, 1687, but probably died in the
autumn, as the son went to England in No-

1 N. E. Hist, and Genealog. Register, Vol. XXIV. No. 2,
April, 1870.



14 HENRY WADS WORTH LONGFELLOW.

vember or December of that year to get his
patrimony.

The residence of William Longfellow was
in the Byfield parish of Newbury. "The
location of the house is unsurpassed. It is
situated on a sightly eminence at the very
head of tide water on the river Parker, the
sparkle of whose waters, as they go tumbling
over the falls, adds a picturesqueness to the
natural beauty of the scenery that lies spread

on either hand Nature was lavish

here, and young Longfellow, appreciating it
all, erected the house to which he took his
young bride. It still stands, though two cen
turies and more have passed since its oaken
frame was put together. It has not been oc
cupied for twenty odd years, and of course is
in a dilapidated condition. The large chim
ney was taken down years ago, to the
poet s great regret, " and a part of the house
itself has been removed." 1 The picture of

1 Letter of Horace F. Longfellow to the Brunswick Tele
graph, March 10, 1882.




THE HOUSE AT NEWBURY.



A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH. 17

the house and surroundings was painted by
Charles Lanman, and presented to the poet,
by whose favor it was copied.

As ensign of the Newbury company, the
first American Longfellow had a part in the
disastrous expedition against Quebec under
command of Sir William Phipps. The force,
consisting of 2,200 soldiers, set sail in thirty-
two vessels from Boston, August 9, 1690.
The attempt to capture the stronghold failed,
and the expedition was abandoned. On the
return voyage a violent storm in the Gulf
of St. Lawrence scattered the fleet, and one
of the vessels, containing the Newbury com
pany, was wrecked on the island of Anti-
costi. William Longfellow and nine others
were drowned. 1

Stephen Longfellow, son of the first settler
William, was born in 1685. He was the " vil
lage blacksmith " and ensign in the militia of
the town. He married Abigail Thompson,
daughter of a clergyman in Marshfield ; and

1 Sewall s Diary, Nov. 21, 1690, Vol. I. p. 335.



18 HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW.

the position of an " elder" in a theocracy like
the Massachusetts Colony was a strong guar
anty for the respectability of his son-in-law.
His fifth son, Stephen, was born at the old
homestead, February 7, 1723, and was gradu
ated at Harvard College in 1742. He lived
for a short time at York, and in 1745 was in
vited to Portland (then a part of Falmouth)
to take charge of the grammar school. 1 A
curious item is preserved as to his salary. It
was fixed by the town at 50 for the first
year, besides 185. 6d. tuition to be paid by
each scholar. The second year his salary
was raised to 200. The records of the time
attest that he was probably one of the most
widely known and respected citizens of the
District of Maine. For nearly thirty years
he held office, as clerk of the town and par
ish, Register of Probate, and Clerk of the
Judicial Court. His handwriting was fair
and regular, and his habits of mind method
ical and clerkly. This peculiarity of beauti-

1 This appears in the Diary of Rev. Thomas Smith.



A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH. 19

fill penmanship has continued in the family
to this day. Tradition has it that he was
a bright and entertaining companion, noted
for sallies of wit and for inexhaustible good
humor. A note in the diary of the Eev.
Thomas Smith records the fact that Long
fellow once accompanied him to an ordi
nation, and was so lively (in spite of the
solemnity of the occasion) that, says the
good parson, " I fear we somewhat passed
the bounds of decorum."

This clerical Longfellow married Tabitha
Bragdon, of York, in 1749. A son was born
in 1750, August 3, and was duly christened
Stephen. At the age of twenty-three this
Stephen was married to Patience Young of
York. He lived at Gorham (whither also his
father came afterwards), and was a siirveyor
by profession. He held many public offices,
and was Judge of the Common Pleas from
1797 to 1811. Persons still living remember
him as he drove into Portland " in an old
square-topped chaise." " He was a fine-look-



20 HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW.

ing gentleman, with the bearing of the old
school, erect, portly, rather taller than the
average, with a strongly marked face, and his
hair tied behind in a club with a black rib
bon. To the close of his life he wore the old
style of dress, knee breeches, a long waist
coat, and white top-boots. He was a man of
sterling qualities of mind and heart, ster
ling integrity, and sound common sense." l

Falmouth, an important place on account of
its noble harbor, was bombarded by a Brit
ish fleet under command of Captain Henry
Mowatt, October 18,1775. This was in re
turn for the indignity of an arrest endured


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Online LibraryFrancis Henry UnderwoodThe life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; with critical and descriptive sketches of his writings → online text (page 1 of 15)