American Literature in Nineteenth-Century England

By Clarence Gohdes | Go to book overview

IV. LONGFELLOW

"If there were only the name of Longfellow to plead against a war between his country and ours, we should abhor the man who would lift up his voice in its favour"--Introductory Notice in The Song of Hiawatha, published in London, 1855, by Knight and Son.

IF THE WALLS of the preceding chapters may be said to bulge and creak with the burden of their broad topics the same will prove to be true even of the present discussion, in which the field is narrowed to the reception in England of a single American author. Longfellow, the writer chosen for the purpose of illustration, attracted during his lifetime a number of readers throughout the world unequalled by any poet of his day, and the history of his popularity in the British Isles alone is a vast epic with a thousand and one episodes. When Franklin D. Roosevelt recently included a poetical quotation in a communication addressed to the Prime Minister of Great Britain he selected a passage from Longfellow "The Building of the Ship," a poem which thousands of Britons have been familiar with from their youth and which they have heard sung in cantatas written by at least three Victorian composers. The President's choice was a good one, too, as coming from one naval enthusiast to another, for in 1869, twenty years after they were first published, the Chief Constructor of the British Navy declared the verses to be the "finest poem on shipbuilding that ever was, or probably ever will be, written."1 Even today there must be in England ten thousand persons who can reel off from memory a dozen lines of Longfellow to every score who can name the title of one work by Arthur Clough, the poet whom Churchill quoted in reply to our President.2

The evidences of Longfellow's popularity in days gone by are not hard to find. His friends who visited England during the middle

____________________
1
Samuel Longfellow, Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 3 vols., Boston and New York [ 1891], III, 135. (Hereinafter cited as Life.)
2
Clough Bothie, it may be of interest to note, was "directly prompted by a reading of Longfellow Evangeline" ( The Letters of Matthew Arnold to Arthur Hugh Clough, ed. Howard F. Lowry, London and New York, 1932, p. 91).

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American Literature in Nineteenth-Century England
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Introduction: the British Attitude 1
  • I. the Booktrade 14
  • Ii. the Periodicals 47
  • Iii. Humor 71
  • Iv. Longfellow 99
  • V. of Critics and Influence 127
  • Appendix 151
  • Index 181
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