The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth
LONGFELLOW, Henry Wadsworth, an American poet, born in Portland, Me., Feb. 27, 1807. He is the son of Stephen Longfellow, an eminent lawyer in that city. At the age of 14 he entered Bowdoin college, where he graduated in 1825. During his academic course he composed several of the best known of his earlier poems, among them the “Hymn of the Moravian Nuns,” “The Spirit of Poetry,” “Woods in Winter,” and “Sunrise on the Hills.” After leaving college he entered the office of his father for the purpose of studying law; but in 1826 he accepted an offer of the professorship of modern languages and literature in Bowdoin college, with the privilege of devoting some time to preliminary foreign study, and early in the year sailed for Europe. He remained abroad till 1829, studying successively in France, Spain, Italy, and Germany, and afterward discharged the duties of his professorship for five years. During this time he contributed to the “North American Review,” and published his translation of the Coplas de Manrique and his “Outre-Mer.” His shorter poems were already numerous at this period, though as yet no collection of them had been made. In 1835, on the resignation of Mr. George Ticknor, he was appointed professor of modern languages and belles-lettres in Harvard university; and before entering actively upon the duties of the office he again visited Europe, returning in 1836. He then assumed the professorship, which he held for 17 years, during which not only his official but his literary labors were remarkably uninterrupted and fruitful. The summer of 1842 was passed at Boppard on the Rhine. In 1854 he resigned, but continued to reside at Cambridge, in the house formerly occupied by Washington. In 1868-'9 he revisited Europe, and was everywhere the recipient of marked honors, especially in England, where his works are perhaps more universally known and read than those of any other American author. During this journey the degree of D. C. L. was conferred upon him by Oxford university. He had already received the degree of LL. D. from Harvard in 1859, and that of D. C. L. from Cambridge, England, in 1868, besides a great number of academic and literary honors from nearly all the leading institutions of America. Mr. Longfellow's works are as follows, not including in the list the many forms and sometimes the slightly different titles under which collections of his poems have been published: “Coplas de Manrique,” a translation (Boston, 1833); “Outre-Mer, a Pilgrimage beyond the Sea” (1835); “Hyperion” (1839); “Voices of the Night, and other Poems” (1839); “Ballads and other Poems” (1841); “Poems on Slavery” (1842); “The Spanish Student” (1843); “Poets and Poetry of Europe,” a collection with criticism (1845); “The Belfry of Bruges, and other Poems” (1846); “Evangeline” (1847); “Kavanagh, a Tale” (1849); “Seaside and Fireside” (1850); “The Golden Legend” (1851); “The Song of Hiawatha” (1855); “The Courtship of Miles Standish” (1858); “Tales of a Wayside Inn” (1863); “Flower-de-Luce” (1867); “The New England Tragedies” (1868); “The Divine Tragedy” (1872); and a collection of his later poems under the title of “Aftermath” (1874). “The Golden Legend,” “The New England Tragedies,” and “ The Divine Tragedy” have recently been united in a volume under the title “Christus.” One of the most remarkable works of his later years has been his translation of Dante's Divina Commedia into English verse (3 vols., 1867-70). — As a translator, Mr. Longfellow is singularly happy in transfusing not only the ideas but the spirit of his originals into apt and expressive diction; as a critic, whether commenting on character or literature, he is the genial interpreter rather than the censorious judge; and as a poet, he appeals to the universal affections of humanity, and expresses with the most delicate beauty thoughts which find sympathy in all minds. Averse to everything harsh, bitter, disdainful, or repellent, there is no element in his poetry to call forth an ungracious or discordant emotion. It is always tolerant and human, kindled by wide sympathies, and with a tender sense of every variety of human condition. He combines in a rare degree the sentiment of the artist with the practical instincts of the man of the world. His thoughts are uniformly lucid and transparent, and never clouded by fanciful verbiage or obscurity. The clearness, simplicity, and force of his leading conceptions leave the impression of unity even on his longest poems. However vivid his imagery, it never seduces the attention from his main idea. Without attempting to represent the depths of passion, in his own sphere of feeling he is a genuine master, and the purity, sweetness, and refinement with which he delineates the affections of the heart, make him the most welcome of visitants at the fireside. Though not destitute of the creative faculty, the best expression of his imagination is perhaps to be found in the subtile essence of beauty which pervades his writings, and seems to form the natural atmosphere of his mind. Many of his poems have been translated into several languages. His latest poem, “The Hanging of the Crane,” was published toward the end of 1874.