Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807–82, American poet, b. Portland, Maine, grad. Bowdoin College, 1825. He wrote some of the most popular poems in American literature, in which he created a new body of romantic American legends. Descended from an established New England family, after college he spent the next three years in Europe, preparing himself for a professorship of modern languages at Bowdoin, where he taught from 1829 to 1835. After the death of his young wife in 1835, Longfellow traveled again to Europe, where he met Frances Appleton, who was to become his second wife after a long courtship. She was the model for the heroine of his prose romance, Hyperion (1839). From 1836 to 1854, Longfellow was professor of modern languages at Harvard, and during these years he became one of an intellectual triumvirate that included Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Russell Lowell. Although a sympathetic and ethical person, Longfellow was uninvolved in the compelling religious and social issues of his time; he did, however, display interest in the abolitionist cause. He achieved great fame with long narrative poems such as Evangeline (1847), The Song of Hiawatha (1855), The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858), and Tales of a Wayside Inn (1863), which included "Paul Revere's Ride." In all of these works he used unusual, "antique" rhythms to weave myths of the American past. His best-known shorter poems include "The Village Blacksmith," "Excelsior," "The Wreck of the Hesperus," "A Psalm of Life," and "A Cross of Snow." Although he was highly praised and successful in his lifetime, Longfellow's literary reputation has declined in the 20th cent. His unorthodox meters, while contributing to the unique effects of his poems, have been much parodied, and many critics have viewed harshly his simple, sentimental, often moralizing verse. Longfellow made a poetic translation of Dante's Divine Comedy (1867), for which he wrote a sequence of six outstanding sonnets. After his death, he was the first American whose bust was placed in the Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey.

See his letters (ed. by A. Hilen, 4 vol., 1967–72); biographies by his brother, Samuel (3 vol., 1891; repr. 1969), T. W. Higginson (1902, repr. 1973), and N. Arvin (1963); studies by C. B. Williams (1964) and E. C. Wagenknecht (1986).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

A Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Companion
Robert L. Gale.
Greenwood Press, 2003
FREE! The Complete Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Houghton, Mifflin, 1883
Longfellow: His Life and Work
Newton Arvin.
Little, Brown and Company, 1963
FREE! Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Thomas Wentworth Higginson.
Houghton Mifflin, 1902
American Classics Reconsidered: A Christian Appraisal
Harold C. Gardiner.
Scribner, 1958
Librarian’s tip: "Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807-1882: Poet of the Feeling Heart" begins on p. 146
Return to the Fountains: Some Classical Sources of American Criticism
John Paul Pritchard.
Duke University Press, 1942
Librarian’s tip: "Henry Wadsworth Longfellow" begins on p. 79
Literary Pioneers: Early American Explorers of European Culture
Orie William Long.
Harvard University Press, 1935
Librarian’s tip: "Henry Wadsworth Longfellow" begins on p. 159
American Literature in Nineteenth-Century England
Clarence Gohdes.
Columbia University Press, 1944
Librarian’s tip: Chap. IV "Longfellow"
FREE! Poets of America
Edmund Clarence Stedman.
Houghton, Mifflin, 1892 (11th edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. VI "Henry Wadsworth Longfellow"
Young Longfellow (1807-1843)
Lawrance Thompson.
The Macmillan Company, 1938
The Literature of the American People: An Historical and Critical Survey
Arthur Hobson Quinn.
Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1951
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow begins on p. 323
Professor Longfellow of Harvard
Carl L. Johnson.
University of Oregon, 1944
FREE! Tales of a Wayside Inn
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Ticknor and Fields, 1863
FREE! Divine Tragedy
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
J. R. Osgood and Company, 1871
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