Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Photo courtesy of Noel Collection

The love of learning, the sequestered nooks,
And all the sweet serenity of books.

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "Morituri Salutamus"


Longfellow was born Feb. 27, 1807, in Portland, Maine. His father, Stephen Longfellow, was a Portland lawyer and congressman. His mother Zilpah, was a descendant of John Alden of the Mayflower. Longfellow was fond of reading and at thirteen he wrote his first poem, "The Battle of Lovell's Pond," which appeared in the Portland Gazette.

Educated at Bowdoin College, where one of his classmates was Nathaniel Hawthorne. In preparation for a teaching career he traveled in Europe. Longfellow's translation of Horace earned him a scholarship for further studies. After graduating in 1825 he traveled to Italy, France and Spain from 1826 to 1829, and returned to the United States to work as a professor and librarian in Bodwoin. He translated for his students a French grammar, and edited a collection of French proverbs and a small Spanish reader. He taught modern languages at Bowdoin from 1829-1835. In 1839 he published the romantic novel Hyperion and a collection of poems Voices Of The Night, which became very popular. In 1835 Longfellow began teaching in Harvard. and taught at Harvard University from 1835-1854, taking lodgings at the historic Craigie House,(which would later be his home) where General Washington and his wife had lived. In 1840 he wrote "The Skeleton in Armor" and The Spanish Student, a drama in five acts. He resigned from his post at Harvard in 1854 and the next year published his best-known narrative poem, The Song of Hiawatha, which gained immediate success. He then devoted himself exclusively to writing. Longfellow, a gifted linguist, was appointed to a chair at Harvard as a professor of modern languages before he was thirty. By 1857, when The Atlantic Monthly was founded under the editorship of James Russell Lowell, Longfellow was in the prime of his writing life and one of the most popular and most celebrated poet in the land.

A younger Longfellow
Longfellow's first wife Mary Storer Potter, born May 12, 1812 in Cambridge, was the daughter of Judge Potter of Portland, Maine. Longfellow knew Mary from school days and met her later in Portland during a church service. He lacked the courage to speak with her after following her home; but at age 24, they married on September 14, 1831, and made with her another journey to Europe, where he studied Swedish, Danish, Finnish, and the Dutch language and literature.

On this trip he fell under the influence of German Romanticism. Her poor health contributed to a miscarriage in 1835, and a few weeks later she died at age 22 in Rotterdam. They were married for four years.

Longfellow met Frances Appleton ( his second wife) during his travels through Germany and Switzerland. He again met Frances (nicknamed Fanny), daughter of Nathan Appleton, a prominent Boston merchant, seven years after he returned to Cambridge. They married July 13, 1843 after a long courtship. At this time, Nathan Appleton owned Craigie House and gave Craigie House, which overlooked the Charles River, to Longfellow as a wedding gift. Their home became a meeting place for students, literary and philosophical figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Built in 1759 by John Vassall, occupied by George Washington during the Revolutionary War, and occupied by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his family for almost a century, the House is operated today by the National Park Service.

Tragedy struck in 1861, when his wife, Frannie, died of burns she received when packages of her children's curls, which she and two of her daughters were sealing with matches and wax. Fanny dropped a match onto her dress. Longfellow tried to smother the flames with a rug. He received terrible burns on his hands and face. Shaving became difficult because of the damage to his face from the fire, so he grew a beard. At this time being deeply depressed, Longfellow immersed himself in translating Dante into English .

Longfellow based the heroine in Hyperion, written in 1839, on his wife Fanny. His children also influenced his writing as evidenced in his poem The Children’s Hour. Starting in 1857 with the first issue, The Atlantic Monthly magazine published over fifty of Longfellow's poems. In 1858, Longfellow published The Courtship of Miles Standish, which sold over 15,000 copies during the first week of publication.
Drawing of Fannie Appleton Longfellow
Picture From:Wikipedia

Longfellow received wide public recognition with his initial volume of verse, Voices of the Night (1839), which contained the poem, A Psalm of Life. Subsequent poetic works include Ballads (1841), in which he introduced some of his most famous poetry, including The Wreck of the Hesperus, The Skeleton in Armor, and Excelsior; and three notable long narrative poems on American themes, Evangeline (1847), The Village Blacksmith, The Song of Hiawatha (1855), and The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858). Among his other works are The Seaside and the Fireside (1849); Tales of a Wayside Inn (1863), containing the well-known Paul Revere's Ride; and Ultima Thule (1880).

Longfellow's poetic work is characterized by familiar themes, easily grasped ideas, and clear, simple, melodious language. Most modern critics are not in accord with the high opinion that was generally held of the author by his contemporaries. According to modern standards Longfellow's work is trite and commonplace in idea, didactic (inclined to teach or moralize excessively; moralistic) in style, and lacking in genuine lyric power; his reaction to nature and to the basic emotions of life is considered superficial. Nevertheless, he remains one of the most popular of American poets, primarily for his simplicity in style and theme and for his technical expertise.

Known as the most popular American poet of the 19th century, his works are still cited - or parodied. Among his most remembered works are Evangeline (1847), The Song Of Hiawatha (1855) and The Courtship of Miles Standish(1858).

Longfellow's later poetry reflects his interest in establishing an American mythology. Among his other works are Tales Of A Wayside Inn (1863), a translation of Dante's The Divine Comedy (1865-67) and Christus: A Mystery (1872), a trilogy dealing with Christianity from its beginnings.

Longfellow died in Cambridge, Mass on March 24, 1882. In 1884 a marble bust of Longfellow was placed in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey in London, the first American to be thus honored.


An excellent site to view many of Longfellow's poems:
Famous Poets and Poems

To View more Longfellow photos, family and other interesting items:
Click Here


Some more of his poems includes:
Aftermath, The Arrow and the Song, The Arsenal at Springfield, Autumn Within, Birds Of Passage, The Building of the Ship, The Castle-Builder, Changed, Chaucer, Children, The Children's Hour, The Cross of Snow, The Cumberland , The Day is Done, A Day of Sunshine, Endymion, The Evening Star, The Fire of Drift-wood, Hymn to the Night, The Jewish Cemetery at Newport, Keats, Killed at the Ford, The Lighthouse, Light of Stars, Loss And Gain, Maidenhood, Morituri Salutamus( Poem for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Class of 1825 in Bowdoin College) My Lost Youth, Nature, Nuremberg, The Old Clock on the Stairs, The Reaper and the Flowers, Resignation, Seaweed, Shakespeare, The Skeleton in Armor, Snow-Flakes, The Song of the Silent Land, The Sound Of The Sea, The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls, The Witness


[Poet's Corner Index]


Reference, Research and Source Information

The History Channel
The Literature Network
Longfellow National Historic Site

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