Young Longfellow (1807-1843)

Young Longfellow (1807-1843)

Young Longfellow (1807-1843)

Young Longfellow (1807-1843)

Excerpt

The white longfellow with the flowing beard--patting little children on their heads as he moved slowly about the shaded walks of Cambridge--has symbolized the poet too long. During the last few decades, curious notions have grown up concerning the personality and accomplishment of this most popular figure in the panorama of New England's Golden Age. Perhaps these notions are rooted in our failure to know and understand the true character behind the familiar and misleading portrait of the elderly gentleman with the halo of snowy hair.

Ever since William Dean Howells tagged him with Björnson's mildly deprecatory words as "the White Mr. Longfellow," the phrase has taken on significance not intended. Accurate as this summary may have been for the later years, it was unfortunate because it ignored the colorful and impetuous personality of the poet in the vigor of his youth and early manhood. And too many of us have perpetuated this error by taking the part for the whole.

Before Howells came to Boston, Longfellow had become firmly established. To a comparative stranger, the poet gave the appearance of having passed triumphantly--and with little effort--over an easy road to fame. By the time Howells grew to know him well, Longfellow had already published his most popular poems. Serene and peaceful in his later years, the poet entertained his friends, old and new, with the gracious charm and lettered hospitality of a retired aristocrat. This dignity was beautifully becoming to one who ruled as a favorite in Boston literary circles-- even if his colored wine glasses, fine coats, and many servants did bother Emerson, who called occasionally. But neither the comparatively ascetic philosopher from Concord nor the enviously ambitious young man from Ohio had known the poet during his years of struggle; had watched the Portland boy who, having set his heart on becoming famous as a poet, had been diverted and delayed by a curious variety of obstacles.

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