Professor Longfellow of Harvard

Professor Longfellow of Harvard

Professor Longfellow of Harvard

Professor Longfellow of Harvard

Excerpt

The greater part of this account of Longfellow as Smith Professor consists of personal letters or official documents. They were written over a period of approximately twenty years. They bear upon incidents and events both in the life of Longfellow and in the history of Harvard. Longfellow was twenty-seven in 1834 when he received President Quincy's first letter. He was forty-seven in 1854 when he resigned. He came to Harvard esteemed as a scholar. He left his post famous as a poet.

Harvard, likewise, was in a state of transition during these years. Liberal forces, advocating reforms in courses of study and greater freedom in student conduct, had made advances since the election of President Kirkland in 1810. The provincial college was gradually becoming a national university. Progress, however, was intermittent, and doomed to many reverses. A thoroughly liberal policy was adopted and enforced only under President Eliot, elected in 1869. Longfellow's years as Smith Professor are in almost the exact center of this time of change, and his letters reflect interestingly many phases of this transitional period.

Longfellow had, from boyhood, been greatly interested in poetry. He had written some forty poems before going abroad in 1826 to prepare himself for a professorship of modern languages at Bowdoin College. None of them had raised him above the level of the scores of rhymesters whose hollow verses filled the popular gift books and graced the corners of daily newspapers. After three years of study, travel, and observation abroad, however, he was able to set up new standards of achievement for himself. These standards and the principles of a dolce stil nuovo are touched upon by Longfellow in a review of an edition of Sir Philip Sidney The Defence of Poesy. (The review was published in the North American Review, vol. XXXIV, Jan. 1832, pp. 56 ff.) Apparently, before coming to Harvard, Longfellow had decided to abandon certain conventions then current in American poetry. The period of literary productiveness in which he illustrated his new ideas and achieved immediate fame began, however, in 1837, shortly after he assumed the duties of Smith Professor. In the fourteen years that followed, he wrote and published ten volumes comprising poetry, prose, and drama. Until 1852, his inspiration never halted for any appreciable length of time.

The double burden of writing and teaching was sometimes heavy. Writing was Longfellow's primary interest, and he frequently com-

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