CHAPTER XXXIII. HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.
Wherever the English language is spoken, the name of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has become a household word, and there is scarcely a library, however humble, but can boast a well-worn volume of his tender songs,—songs that
"Have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer."
He was born in the city of Portland, Maine, on the 27th of February, 1807, and was the son of the Hon. Stephen Longfellow, a distinguished lawyer of that city. The house in which he was born was a square wooden structure, built many years before, and large and roomy. It stood upon the outskirts of the town, on the edge of the sea, and was separated from the water only by a wide street. From its windows the dreamy boy, who grew up within its walls, could look out upon the dark, mysterious ocean, and, lying awake in his little bed in the long winter nights, he could listen to its sorrowful roar as it broke heavily upon the shore. That he was keenly alive to the fascination of such close intimacy with the ocean, we have abundant proof in his writings.
He was carefully educated in the best schools of the city, and at the age of fourteen entered Bowdoin College, at Brunswick, where he graduated in his nineteenth year. He was an industrious student, and stood high in his classes. He gave brilliant promise of his future eminence as a poet in several productions written during his college days, which were published in a Boston journal called the "United States Literary Gazette." Among these were the "Hymn of the Moravian Nuns," "The Spirit of Poetry," "Woods in Winter," and "Sunrise on the Hills."
Upon leaving college he entered his father's office, in Portland, with the half-formed design of studying law, which he never carried into execution, as more congenial employment soon presented itself to him. In 1826 he was appointed Professor of Modern Languages and Literature at Bowdoin College, with the privilege of passing several years abroad for observation and study. He accepted the appointment with unaffected delight, and promptly went abroad. He passed his first year in France, studying the language and literature of that country, and the next in Spain, engaged in similar pursuits. Italy claimed his third year, and Germany his fourth. He traveled extensively, and made many pleasant acquaintances among the most gifted men and women of the Old World. Returning home toward the close of 1829, he entered upon the active duties of his professorship, and for five years held this position, winning considerable distinction by his academic labors.
During his professorship our poet married, and the years that followed were very happy and very quiet. The life he led at Bowdoin was peaceful, and in a measure retired, giving him ample opportunity for study and for laying the sure foundation of his future fame. During this period of his life he contributed articles to the "North American Review," and extended his acquaintance gradually among the literary men of New England. He was fond of recalling the experiences of his life abroad, and being unwilling that they should be lost from his memory, determined to transmit them to paper before they faded quite away. These sketches he finally concluded to give to the public, under the title of "Outre Mer; or, Sketches from Beyond Sea." They appeared originally in numbers, and were published by Samuel Colman, of Portland. They were well received, and brought Professor Longfellow into notice in New England. Soon afterward he published a translation of the ode upon "Coplas de Manrique," by his son, Don Jose Manrique, which won him additional credit. His fugitive poems had become very popular, and had made his name familiar to his countrymen, but as yet he had not collected them in book form.
In 1835, on the resignation of Mr. George Ticknor, he was appointed Professor of Modern Languages and Belles Lettres in Harvard College, and accepted the position. Before entering upon his duties, however, he resolved to devote two years more to foreign travel and improvement, and accordingly sailed for Europe the second time. Before leaving America, however, he committed the publication of "Outre Mer" to the Harpers, of New York, who issued it complete in two volumes in 1835. Its popularity was very decided. Soon after reaching Europe, Mr. Longfellow was visited with a sad bereavement in the loss of his wife, who died at Rotterdam. He devoted this European visit to the northern part of the continent, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, and Holland, and to England, and spent some time in Paris. Returning in the autumn of 1836, he entered upon his duties at Harvard, and made his home in Cambridge. He continued his contributions to the "North American Review," and a number of fugitive pieces flowed from his pen into print.
In the summer of 1837 he went to live in the house which has ever since been his home. This is the old Craigie House, in Cambridge, famous in our history as having been the headquarters of Washington during the siege of Boston. It had been built by Colonel John Vassal about the middle of the last century, and had finally passed into the hands of Andrew Craigie, "Apothecary General to the Northern Provincial Army" of the infant Republic. Craigie had ruined himself by his lavish hospitality, and his widow, a stately old lady, and worthy in every respect of a better fate, had been reduced to the necessity of letting rooms and parting with the greater portion of the lands which had belonged to the mansion. Mr. Longfellow had been attracted to the house not only by its winning and home-like appearance, but by its historical associations. Mrs. Craigie had decided at the time to let no more rooms, but the young professor's gentle, winning manner conquered her determination, and she not only received him into the old mansion, but installed him in the south-east corner room in the second story, which had been used by Washington as his bed-chamber.
It was just the home for our poet. Its windows looked out upon one of the loveliest landscapes in New England, with the bright river winding through the broad meadow beyond the house, and the blue Milton Hills dotting the distant background. The bright verdure of New England sparkled on every side, and the stately old elms that stood guard by the house screened it from the prying eyes of the passers on the public road. The whole place was hallowed to its new inmate by the memories of the brave soldiers, wise statesmen, and brilliant ladies who had graced its heroic age, and of which the stately hostess was the last and worthy representative. The old house was as serene and still as the dearest lover of quiet could wish. The mistress lived quite apart from her lodger, and left him to follow the bent of his own fancies; and rare fancies they were, for it was of them that some of his best works were born in this upper chamber. Here he wrote "Hyperion," in 1838 and 1839. Its publication, which was undertaken by John Owen, the University publisher in Cambridge, marked an era in American literature. Every body read the book, and every body talked of it. It was a poem in prose, and none the less the work of a poet because professedly "a romance of travel." The young read it with enthusiasm, and it sent hundreds to follow Paul Flemming's footsteps in the distant Fatherland, where the "romance of travel" became their guidebook. The merchant and the lawyer, the journalist and the mechanic, reading its pages, found that the stern realities of life had not withered up all the romance of their natures, and under its fascinations they became boys again. Even Horace Greeley, that most practical and unimaginative of men, became rapturous over it. It was a great success, and established the poet's fame beyond all question, and since then its popularity has never waned.
In 1840, he published the "Voices of the Night," which he had heard sounding to him in his haunted chamber. This was his first volume, and its popularity was even greater than that of "Hyperion," although some of the poems had appeared before, in the "Knickerbocker Magazine." In 1841, he published his volume of "Ballads, and Other Poems," which but added to his fame, and the next year bade the old house under the elms a temporary adieu, and sailed for Europe, where he passed the summer on the Rhine. On the voyage home, he composed his "Poems on Slavery," and soon after his return wrote "The Spanish Student," a drama, "which smells of the utmost South, and was a strange blossoming for the garden of Thomas Tracy."
In 1843 the stately mistress of the old house died, and Professor Longfellow bought the homestead of Andrew Craigie, with eight acres of land, including the meadow, which sloped down to the pretty river. There have been very few prouder or happier moments in his life than that in which he first felt that the old house under the elms was his. Yet he must have missed the stately old lady who first had admitted him to a place in it, and whom he had grown to love as a dear friend. She seemed so thoroughly a part and parcel of the place, that he must have missed the rustle of her heavy silks along the wide and echoing halls, and have listened some time for the sound of her old-fashioned spinet in the huge drawing-room below, and, entering the room where she was wont to receive her guests, he must have missed her from the old window where she was accustomed to sit, with the open book in her lap, and her eyes fixed on the far-off sky, thinking, no doubt, of the days when in her royal beauty, she moved a queen through the brilliant home of Andrew Craigie. A part of the veneration which he felt for the old house had settled upon its ancient mistress, and the poet doubtless felt that the completeness of the quaint old establishment was broken up when she passed away.
In 1846, Mr. Longfellow published "The Belfry of Bruges, and Other Poems;" in 1847, "Evangeline" (by many considered his greatest work); in 1850, "Seaside and Fireside;" in 1851, "The Golden Legend;" in 1855, "The Song of Hiawatha;" in 1858, "The Courtship of Miles Standish;" in 1863, "The Wayside Inn;" in 1866, "The Flower de Luce;" in 1867, his translation of the "Divina Commedia," in three volumes; and in 1868, "The New England Tragedies." Besides these, he published, in 1845, a work on the "Poets and Poetry of Europe," and in 1849, "Kavanagh," a novel.
Mr. Longfellow continued to discharge his duties in the University for seventeen years, winning fresh laurels every year, and in 1854 resigned his position, and was succeeded in it by Mr. James Russell Lowell. He now devoted himself exclusively to his profession, the income from his writings affording him a handsome maintenance. In 1855. "The Song of Hiawatha" was given to the public, and its appearance may be styled an event in the literary history of the world. It was not only original in the story it told, and in the method of treatment, but the rhythm was new. It was emphatically an American poem, and was received by the people with delight. It met with an immense sale, and greatly increased its author's popularity with his countrymen.
In 1861 a terrible affliction befell the poet in his family. He had married, some years after the death of his first wife, a lady whose many virtues had endeared her to all who knew her. She was standing by the open fire in the sitting-room, one day in the winter of 1861, when her clothing took fire, and before her husband, summoned by her cries, could extinguish the flames, she was terribly burned. Her injuries were internal, and she soon afterwards died.
In 1868, Mr. Longfellow again visited Europe, and remained abroad more than a year. His reception by all classes of the people of the Old World was eminently gratifying to his countrymen. This welcome, so genuine and heartfelt, was due, however, to the genius of the man, and not to his nationality.
He had overstepped the bounds of country, and had made himself the poet of the English-speaking race. A man of vast learning and varied acquirements, thoroughly versed in the ways of the world, he is still as simple and unaffected in thought and ways as when he listened to and wondered at the dashing of the wild waves on the shore in his boyhood's home. A most gifted and accomplished artist, he has been faithful to nature in all things. Earnest and aspiring himself, he has given to his poems the ring of a true manhood. There is nothing bitter, nothing sarcastic in his writings. He views all things with a loving eye, and it is the exquisite tenderness of his sympathy with his fellow-men that has enabled him to find his way so readily to their hearts. Without seeking to represent the intensity of passion, he deals with the fresh, simple emotions of the human soul, and in his simplicity lies his power. He touches a chord that finds an echo in every heart, and his poems have a humanity in them that is irresistible. We admire the "grand old masters," but shrink abashed from their sublime measures. Longfellow is so human, he understands us so well, that we turn instinctively to his simple, tender songs for comfort in sorrow, or for the greater perfection of our happiness.
Perhaps I can not better illustrate the power of his simplicity than by the following quotations:
There is no flock, however watched and tended,
But one dead lamb is there!
There is no fireside, howsoe'er defended,
But has one vacant chair!
The air is full of farewell to the dying,
And mournings for the dead;
The heart of Rachel, for her children crying,
Will not be comforted.
Let us be patient! These severe afflictions
Not from the ground arise,
But oftentimes celestial benedictions
Assume this dark disguise.
We see but dimly through the mists and vapors,
Amid these earthly damps;
What seem to us but sad funereal tapers,
May be heaven's distant lamps.
There is no death! What seems so is transition;
This life of mortal breath
Is but a suburb of the life elysian,
Whose portal we call Death.
She is not dead—the child of our affection—
But gone unto that school
Where she no longer needs our poor protection,
And Christ himself doth rule.
In that great cloister's stillness and seclusion,
By guardian angels led,
Safe from temptation, safe from sin's pollution,
She lives, whom we call dead.
Day after day we think what she is doing
In those bright realms of air;
Year after year, her tender steps pursuing,
Behold her grow more fair.
Thus do we walk with her, and keep unbroken
The bond which nature gives,
Thinking that our remembrance, though unspoken,
May reach her where she lives.
Not as a child shall we again behold her;
For when with raptures wild
In our embraces we again enfold her,
She will not be a child—
But a fair maiden, in her Father's mansion,
Clothed with celestial grace,
And beautiful with all the soul's expansion
Shall we behold her face.
And though at times impetuous with emotion,
And anguish long suppressed,
The swelling heart heaves, moaning like the ocean,
That can not be at rest—
We will be patient, and assuage the feeling
We can not wholly stay;
By silence sanctifying, not concealing,
The grief that must have way.
From THE GOLDEN LEGEND.
Scene.—The Chamber of Gottlieb and Ursula.—Midnight.— Elsie standing by their bedside weeping.
The wind is roaring; the rushing rain
Is loud upon the roof and window-pane,
As if the wild Huntsman of Rodenstein,
Boding evil to me and mine,
Were abroad to-night with his ghostly train!
In the brief lulls of the tempest wild,
The dogs howl in the yard; and hark!
Some one is sobbing in the dark,
Here in the chamber.
It is I.
Elsie! What ails thee, my poor child?
I am disturbed and much distressed,
In thinking our dear Prince must die;
I can not close my eyes, nor rest.
What wouldst thou? In the Power Divine
His healing lies, not in our own;
It is in the hand of God alone.
Nay, He has put it into mine,
And into my heart.
Thy words are wild.
What dost thou mean? my child! my child!
That for our dear Prince Henry's sake
I will myself the offering make,
And give my life to purchase his.
Am I still dreaming, or awake?
Thou speakest carelessly of death,
And yet thou knowest not what it is.
'Tis the cessation of our breath.
Silent and motionless we lie;
And no one knoweth more than this.
I saw our little Gertrude die;
She left off breathing, and no more
I smoothed the pillow beneath her head.
She was more beautiful than before.
Like violets faded were her eyes;
By this we knew that she was dead.
Through the open window looked the skies
Into the chamber where she lay,
And the wind was like the sound of wings,
As if angels came to bear her away.
Ah! when I saw and felt these things,
I found it difficult to stay;
I longed to die, as she had died,
And go forth with her, side by side.
The saints are dead, the martyrs dead,
And Mary, and our Lord; and I
Would follow in humility
The way by them illumined.
My child I my child! thou must not die.
Why should I live? Do I not know
The life of woman is full of woe?
Toiling on, and on, and on,
With breaking heart, and tearful eyes,
And silent lips, and in the soul
The secret longings that arise,
Which this world never satisfies!
Some more, some less, but of the whole
Not one quite happy; no, not one!
It is the malediction of Eve!
In place of it, let me receive
The benediction of Mary, then.
Ah, woe is me! Ah, woe is me!
Most wretched am I among men.
Alas! that I should live to see
Thy death, beloved, and to stand
Above thy grave! Ah, woe the day!
Thou wilt not see it. I shall lie
Beneath the flowers of another land;
For at Salerno, far away
Over the mountains, over the sea,
It is appointed me to die!
And it will seem no more to thee
Than if at the village on market day
I should a little longer stay
Than I am used.
Even as thou sayest!
And how my heart beats when thou stayest!
I can not rest until my sight
Is satisfied with seeing thee.
What, then, if thou wert dead?
Of our old eyes thou art the light!
The joy of our old hearts art thou!
And wilt thou die?
Not now! not now!
Christ died for me, and shall not I
Be willing for my Prince to die?
You both are silent; you can not speak.
This said I, at our Saviour's feast,
After confession, to the priest,
And even he made no reply.
Does he not warn us all to seek
The happier, better land on high,
Where flowers immortal never wither;
And could he forbid me to go thither?
In God's own time, my heart's delight!
When He shall call thee, not before!
I heard Him call. When Christ ascended
Triumphantly, from star to star,
He left the gates of heaven ajar.
I had a vision in the night,
And saw Him standing at the door
Of His Father's mansion, vast and splendid,
And beckoning to me from afar.
I can not stay!
She speaks almost
As if it were the Holy Ghost
Spake through her lips and in her stead!
What if this were of God?
Gainsay it dare we not.
The old house under the elms is still the poet's home, and dear, as such, to every lover of poetry. It is a stately building, of the style of more than one hundred years ago, and is a very home-like place in its general appearance. Entering by the main door-way, which is in the center of the house, the visitor finds himself in a wide, old-fashioned hall, with doors opening upon it on either hand.
"The library of the poet is the long north-eastern room upon the lower floor," said a writer seventeen years ago. "It opens upon the garden, which retains still the quaint devices of an antique design, harmonious with the house. The room is surrounded with handsome book-cases, and one stands also between two Corinthian columns at one end, which imparts dignity and richness to the apartment. A little table by the northern window, looking upon the garden, is the usual seat of the poet. A bust or two, the rich carvings of the cases, the spaciousness of the room, a leopard-skin lying upon the floor, and a few shelves of strictly literary curiosities, reveal not only the haunt of the elegant scholar and poet, but the favorite resort of the family circle. But the northern gloom of a New England winter is intolerant of this serene delight, this beautiful domesticity, and urges the inmates to the smaller room in front of the house, communicating with the library, and the study of General Washington. This is still distinctively 'the study,' as the rear room is 'the library,' Books are here, and all the graceful detail of an elegant household, and upon the walls hang crayon portraits of Emerson, Sumner, and Hawthorne.
"Emerging into the hall, the eyes of the enamored visitor fall upon the massive old staircase, with the clock upon the landing. Directly he hears a singing in his mind:
'Somewhat back from the village street,
Stands the old-fashioned country-seat;
Across its antique portico
Tall poplar trees their shadows throw,
And from its station in the hall
An ancient time-piece says to all,
"But he does not see the particular clock of the poem, which stood upon another staircase, in another quaint old mansion,—although the verse belongs truly to all old clocks in all old country-seats, just as the 'Village Blacksmith' and his smithy are not alone the stalwart man and dingy shop under the 'spreading chestnut-tree' which the Professor daily passes on his way to his college duties, but belong wherever a smithy stands. Through the meadows in front flows the placid Charles."
So calmly flows the poet's life. The old house has other charms for him now besides those with which his fancy invested it when he first set foot within its walls, for here have come to him the joys and sorrows of his maturer life, and here, "when the evening lamps are lighted," come to him the memories of the loved and lost, who but wait for him in the better land. Here, too, cluster the memories of those noble achievements in his glorious career which have made him now and for all times the people's poet. Others, as the years go by, will woo us with their lays, but none so winningly and tenderly as this our greatest master. There was but one David in Israel, and when he passed away no other filled his place.