American Literature Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
by
Christoph Irmscher
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0029

Introduction

It is not an exaggeration to say that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (b. 1807–d. 1882) was one of the world’s most popular and widely read poets. However, in a spectacular turn of events, he lost much of his reputation and influence during the early half of the 20th century. This was partly due to the modernists’ insistence on complexity and their injunction to “make it new” (Ezra Pound), which did not sit well with Longfellow’s documented conviction that all writing was essentially rewriting. Longfellow’s anti-Romantic poetics, which insisted on a strict separation of personal experience and poetic performance, never comfortably fit customary definitions of “lyrical” poetry. Born in Portland, Maine, in 1807, into a family deeply skeptical of his literary ambitions, Longfellow worked diligently on his career until he made enough money to resign from his position as the Smith Professor of Modern Languages at Harvard University. Although outwardly successful, he experienced considerable tragedy in his private life, notably, the death of his first wife, Mary Potter, from a miscarriage in Rotterdam in 1835, and the death, in a fire, of his second wife, Frances (“Fanny”) Elizabeth Appleton, in 1861. Longfellow’s popularity waned faster than anyone could have imagined at the time of his death in 1882. Charges of plagiarism, leveled against him most prominently by his poetic adversary Edgar Allan Poe, had dogged him even in his lifetime, but under the influence of a new generation of poets who considered popularity with the reading public as the writer’s mark of Cain, they gained new traction. The vicissitudes of Longfellow’s popular reputation are reflected, with some delay, in the shifting history of Longfellow scholarship. The early adulatory biographies paved the way for the first phase of serious Longfellow criticism, in which critics engaged mostly in assiduous source hunting, confirming the poet’s stupendous erudition and, sometimes inadvertently, his alleged lack of literary originality. During the second half of the 20th century, the few scholars who wrote about Longfellow repeated earlier modernist clichés of the bedraggled plagiarist. But in 2004, Charles Calhoun’s biography catalyzed a startling revival within and beyond the walls of academe, challenging many of the critical stereotypes (Calhoun 2004, cited under Biographies). Reviewing Irmscher’s Longfellow Redux (Irmscher, 2006) in January 2007, the Times Literary Supplement declared: “Longfellow lives again!” Since then, in many contributions written mostly by younger scholars, a new Longfellow has emerged: a multiculturalist, a speaker and a reader of many languages, a bold experimenter with poetic form, and an innovative translator. In the view of recent critics, Longfellow embraced a cosmopolitan conception of American literature that offered a serious alternative to the nationalist model defined by Ralph Waldo Emerson and his followers. Longfellow is back roaming the halls of academe, even if his presence still calls forth the occasional attempt at sheepish justification. The rich archival resources related to Longfellow and his family (especially at Harvard’s Houghton Library and the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site) remain underused.

General Overviews

General assessments of Longfellow’s relevance for American literature, and to a lesser degree world literature, revolve around a fairly limited list of topics, ranging from debates about his Americanness (Higginson 1902) to reflections on his relentless accessibility to readers, vigorously applauded by Derbyshire 2000, to, finally, questions about his literary originality, or lack thereof, as posed by Ljungquist 1997. With varying degrees of enthusiasm, Nemerov 1959, Aaron 1988, Fletcher 1991, Gioia 1993, and Burt 2009 have demonstrated that accounts of American literary history cannot afford to do without the Cambridge poet. One of the most promising new developments in Longfellow scholarship is Willis’ 2011 attempt to recover the poet as an ecocritical writer.

  • Aaron, Daniel. “The Legacy of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.” Maine Historical Society Quarterly 27.4 (Spring 1988): 42–66.

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    Wide-ranging, witty reflection, in luminous prose, on the decline of Longfellow’s reputation. However outmoded Longfellow’s “line of goods” might seem to some today, his “continued neglect amounts to a national loss. American literature isn’t all that rich and various that we can afford to discredit or forget so good a poet” (p. 65). Aaron paves the way for a strand in current critical thinking about Longfellow as an audience-oriented, antiromantic, proudly middlebrow poet.

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  • Burt, Stephen. “Poetry Crosses the Ocean.” In A New Literary History of America. Edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors, 187–192. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2009.

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    Short but important essay which juxtaposes Longfellow’s passion for transatlantic literary exchange (Burt calls Evangeline a “hybridized Swedish-American-Canadian” poem) with William Carlos Williams’s desire to create a “distinctively American poetry . . . by looking beyond national and linguistic divisions” (p. 189). Like Longfellow, Williams emphasized the importance of craftsmanship, and like him he was fascinated by oceans and the Spanish-speaking world.

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  • Derbyshire, John. “Longfellow and the Fate of Modern Poetry.” New Criterion 19.4 (December 2000): 12–20.

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    The author thinks that the entire modernist movement, along with communism, was a bad mistake and finds solace in Longfellow’s narrative poetry. Longfellow attained a breadth and durability of appeal that modern poets, for all their writer-in-residence sinecures and Pulitzer Prizes, can only dream of. That said, the author dislikes Longfellow’s prose, specifically, the novella Kavanagh: A Tale, which he deems unreadable, a “sorry piece” (p. 20).

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  • Fletcher, Angus. “Longfellow and Whitman: Two Types of the American Poet.” Raritan 10.4 (Spring 1991): 97–113.

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    Claims that Longfellow’s interest in meter shows the typically American passion for engineering things in a new way. Walt Whitman invented one all-powerful metrical, identifiable voice, whereas Longfellow, in his desire to reinvent Europe for the New World, created dozens of different, competing voices (hence the accusation of “plagiarism”). These poets thus complement each other. American literary history needs them both.

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  • Gioia, Dana. “Longfellow in the Aftermath of Modernism.” In The Columbia History of American Poetry. Edited by Jay Parini, 64–96. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

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    The essay most pivotal to the current revival of critical interest in Longfellow. The author, a practicing poet as well as a former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, laments the “simplified version of nineteenth-century American poetry” (p. 80) that the modernists have passed on to us and excoriates the devaluation of narrative poetry that he sees as the main reason for Longfellow’s exclusion from the canon.

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  • Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1902.

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    The best older book-length introduction to Longfellow. Unlike many biographers, Higginson does take time to comment on Longfellow’s work, in a chapter-length meditation on “Longfellow as a Poet.” Interesting, though critical, chapter on Longfellow’s Dante translations, in which the author expresses a marked preference for Longfellow’s earlier attempts, arguing that they are fresher and more vivid.

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  • Ljungquist, Kent P. “The ‘Little War’ and Longfellow’s Dilemma: New Documents in the Plagiarism Controversy of 1845.” Resources for American Literary Study 23.1 (1997): 28–59.

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    A nuanced look at the accusations of plagiarism that followed Longfellow even before Poe launched his full-scale attack on him in January 1845. Contrary to critical consensus, Longfellow was deeply engaged in the controversy, which touched the core of his poetics.

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  • Nemerov, Howard, intro. Longfellow: The Laurel Poetry Series. New York: Dell, 1959.

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    See pp. 7–27. Although Nemerov, himself an important poet, professes skepticism about Longfellow’s overall talent, he finds an “unyielding perception of reality” in Longfellow’s work that is the hallmark of “good poetry wherever and whenever written” (p. 26). He makes a special case for the importance of Longfellow’s late fragment Michael Angelo, “the equal of the best in nineteenth century poetry” (p. 25).

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  • Willis, Lloyd. Environmental Evasion: The Literary, Critical, and Cultural Politics of ‘Nature’s Nation.’ Albany: State University of New York Press, 2011.

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    An innovative, lucidly written study that assigns a central place to Longfellow in a list of environmentally inclined American writers ranging from James Fenimore Cooper to John Steinbeck and Zora Neale Hurston (b. 1891–d. 1960). Keen on creating a transnational American literature that would base its claims for exceptionality on the uniqueness of the American environment, Longfellow, in Evangeline and Hiawatha, opposed nativist patriotism or definitions of Americanness based on vague abstractions about the American character.

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Editions

With some notable exceptions (the late sonnet “The Cross of Snow” and the dramatic fragment Michael Angelo), Longfellow’s works were published during his lifetime and with his direct participation. Many of his poems saw the light of print in anthologies, gift-book editions, and magazines (such as The Atlantic Monthly) and were then reprinted in collections—usually in a smaller volume titled after one of the poems that were included (such as Voices of the Night) and then in a collected edition. At each stage, there was an opportunity for revisions or changes, by printers, publishers, or the author himself. Such changes would range from adjustments in punctuation to revisions to entire lines (in the case of “Paul Revere’s Ride,” for example). Longfellow 1886, edited by Horace Scudder, incorporates the author’s final revisions (as determined by the editor) as well as bibliographical details and occasionally textual variants; modern editions have followed Scudder’s text. There is no recent critical edition. Widely available trade selections from his works have been edited by Lawrence Buell, J. D. McClatchy, and Horace Gregory (Longfellow 1988; Longfellow 2000; Longfellow 2013). Only McClatchy’s edition contains a longer textual note. Drafts and proof sheets for Longfellow’s major works are in the collections of Harvard’s Houghton Library. Longfellow 1967–1982, an edition of the correspondence by Andrew Hilen, remains indispensable. Some of Longfellow’s manuscripts—notably the important “Lectures on Dante” at Harvard—have recently been digitized and are publicly accessible. Longfellow regularly kept journals from the time of his first European sojourn in 1826 to the year of his death in 1882, a rich resource on 19th-century American culture that remains largely (and embarrassingly!) unpublished today, apart from the bowdlerized or edited early transcriptions of Samuel Longfellow (Longfellow 1891) and Tucker 1994.

  • Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. “Lectures on Dante” Autograph, 1838. MS Am 1340 (106). Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

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    Describes Dante as, first and foremost, a poet (and not a theologian): while the souls of Inferno are like “the falling leaves of Autumn” and the souls of Purgatorio break through “the misty atmosphere” like the rays of the sun, the souls in Paradiso are “precious stones, a light within a light—a voice within a voice,—pulsations of sound and brightness.”

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  • Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. The Writings of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Riverside edition. 11 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1886.

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    The standard edition of most of Longfellow’s writings, edited by Horace Scudder, with critical and bibliographical notes. Longfellow’s early essays for the North American Review and his textbooks for language classes are not included. Reprinted later as “The Craigie Edition” (11 vols.; 1904).

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  • Longfellow, Samuel. Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, with Extracts from His Journals and Correspondence. 3 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1891.

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    Expanded three-volume version of the standard 19th-century biography of Longfellow, written by his brother, the Unitarian minister Samuel (b. 819–d. 1892). First published in two volumes in 1886, supplemented by the separately published Final Memorials of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1887). A heavily expurgated edition of passages from the poet’s journals, omitting references to Longfellow’s darker moments or passages the editor considered salacious. Samuel’s interventions are criticized by Thompson 1938 (see Biographies) and by Hilen in Longfellow 1967–1982, as well as Irmscher 2009 (see Longfellow as Cultural Icon).

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  • Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. The Complete Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Edited by Horace Scudder. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1893.

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    Collects, in one volume, the entire text of his poetry contained in the first six volumes of Longfellow 1886, with useful, condensed headnotes for important poems and a biographical sketch. A table at the end of the volume provides dates for the composition of the poems.

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  • Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. The Letters of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Edited by Andrew Hilen. 6 vols. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1967–1982.

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    Hilen’s indispensable edition of the vast archive of Longfellow’s letters (over 5,000) is especially valuable for the summaries of letters to Longfellow provided in the editor’s copious footnotes (the Longfellow collection at Houghton Library alone has letters from over 6,000 identified correspondents).

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  • Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. Selected Poems. Edited by Lawrence Buell. New York: Penguin, 1988.

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    The editor’s introduction is one of the best modern assessments of Longfellow’s continuing importance for American literature. Buell’s selection includes only poetry and the verse plays—which the editor, perhaps owing to his previous interest in New England literature, regards as unjustifiably neglected—but none of Longfellow’s prose and only two cantos from Hiawatha, which the editor regards as little more than “a pleasant literary-anthropological tour de force” (p. xxix).

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  • Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. Poems and Other Writings. Edited by J. D. McClatchy. New York: Library of America, 2000.

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    Acclaimed edition by a major modern poet, which includes Kavanagh but not the early North American Review essays, Outre-Mer, and Hyperion. Useful, up-to-date chronology and a long textual note.

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  • Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. Evangeline and Selected Tales and Poems. Edited by Horace Gregory. New York: Signet, 2013.

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    Updated edition of a selection first compiled in 1964 by the poet Horace Gregory (b. 1898–d. 1980). Includes Longfellow’s rarely anthologized story “Martin Franc and the Monk of Saint Anthony” and a selection of critical sources, as well as a new preface by Christoph Irmscher that emphasizes Longfellow’s close relationship with his readers and his commitment to playing the role of the “public poet.”

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  • Tucker, Edward L. “References in Longfellow’s Journals (1856–1882) to his Important Literary Works.” In Studies in the American Renaissance 1994. Edited by Joel Myerson, 289–345. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994.

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    Author transcribes (if in slightly emended form) all the references in Longfellow’s journals to his most important creative works between 1856 and 1882.

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Reference Works

A dedicated self-archivist, who would save even the pencils he used to draft his poems, Longfellow left enough clues for the source hunters like Morin 1913, Cameron 1973, and Gale 2003. That said, his well-preserved library of over 10,000 volumes, in as many as fifty different languages, at the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters, has remained largely unexplored. In the absence of a comprehensive, stand-alone bibliography of Longfellow’s published works, other than Livingston 1968, scholars must rely on the extensive Longfellow section in Blanck 1969 and the dates of first publication confirmed for many of the poems in O’Neal and O’Neal 1986.

  • Blanck, Jacob. Bibliography of American Literature (BAL). Vol. 5, Washington Irving to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. By Jacob Blanck, 468–640. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1969.

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    Offers, in six different sections, listings of first and revised, dated as well as undated, editions of Longfellow’s books, sheet music, and publications of Longfellow works contained in volumes by others, with descriptive details and quotations from relevant correspondence with publishers. Also includes collected editions published in Great Britain. For the period of 1880–1889, the author locates at least 159 reprintings of collected works, totaling more than 525,000 volumes, amounting to a “sale of 1,000 volumes per week for the period covered” (p. 542).

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  • Cameron, Kenneth Walter, comp. Longfellow’s Reading in Libraries: The Charging Records of a Learned Poet Interpreted. Hartford, CT: Transcendental Books, 1973.

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    Compilation of books checked out by Longfellow from the Harvard College Library between 1832 and 1867, based on shelf lists, annotated catalogs, and other materials in the Harvard University Archives.

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  • Gale, Robert L. A Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Companion. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2003.

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    Tackles Longfellow’s entire oeuvre, providing separate entries on hundreds of poems and translations, as well as figures of importance in Longfellow’s life (family, friends, colleagues, and rivals). Entries are not entirely unbiased (Charles Sumner was “tactless” and “quarrelsome” [p. 238], while Charley Longfellow was “a spoiled and self-indulgent brat” [p. 142]), and, given the wealth of material, some major mistakes creep in (Fanny Longfellow was never able to “worry” [p. 143] about her son Charley being wounded in the Civil War, because she was already dead).

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  • Gohdes, Clarence. “Longfellow and His Authorized British Publishers.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America (PMLA) 55.4 (December 1940): 1165–1179.

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    Highly useful overview of Longfellow’s dealings with his British publishers, from Richard Bentley to George Routledge, complicated by the absence of proper international copyright provisions and by the proliferation of pirated editions of Longfellow’s works. There was, according to the London Illustrated News in 1869, “no living author who has so many readers In England as Longfellow” (cited by Gohdes, p. 1178). Gohdes also produced a “checklist” of 19-century British Longfellow editions, published the same year in the Bulletin of Bibliography, vols. 16 and 17. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Livingston, Luther S. A Bibliography of the First Editions in Book Form of the Writings of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; Compiled Largely from the Collection Formed by the Late Jacob Chester Chamberlain with Assistance from His Notes and Memoranda. New York: Franklin, 1968.

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    Indispensable reprint of the 1908 bibliography Longfellow first editions. Aims to be more than list by telling “the story of Longfellow’s books” (p. v). Comprehensive, though not complete, and limited to book publications only. Contains an appendix of eight uncollected Longfellow poems, mostly from periodicals.

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  • Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters.

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    Longfellow’s residence from 1837 to his death in 1882, now administered by the National Park Service. A former loyalist mansion, the house at 105 Brattle Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which also served as Washington’s temporary headquarters in 1775 and 1776, was left virtually unchanged and today boasts an extensive research archive of almost a million items representing over 300 years of American cultural history, as reflected in the lives of the Longfellow, Appleton, Wadsworth, and Dana families, as well as 2,000 artworks and a library of 14,000 volumes, most of which were once owned by Longfellow.

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  • Morin, Paul. Les sources de l’oeuvre de Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Larose, 1913.

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    Doctoral dissertation by the Canadian scholar and poet Paul Morin d’Equilly (b. 1889–d. 1963). An exhaustive cataloguing of sources used throughout Longfellow’s entire work, from “American” influences (including Native American lore), to Northern European, Mediterranean, “Oriental” (including biblical) references. Argues that Longfellow was no plagiarist but merely profited from the labor of his predecessors.

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  • O’Neal, David L. and Mary T. O’Neal. “A Descriptive Catalogue of the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Collection.” In The Parkman Dexter Howe Library. Part 3. Edited by Sidney Ives, v–100. Gainesville: Florida, 1986.

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    One of the many author catalogues of the massive collection of Howe, who specialized in New England. Contains many ephemeral first printings of Longfellow poems, association copies (e.g., a copy of Voices of the Night with an autograph inscription to Zilpah Longfellow, the poet’s mother), manuscripts (among them the fair copy of “The Occultation of Orion”), and sheet music. The collection sports a set of the extremely rare large-paper edition of Longfellow’s poems issued in 1860 and Mark Twain’s copy of Longfellow’s The Golden Legend with marginal notes (including the unforgettable “I like Satan,” scribbled next to lines spoken by Lucifer).

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  • Rust, Richard Dilworth. “Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.” In Fifteen American Authors before 1900: Bibliographical Essays on Research and Criticism. Rev. ed. Edited by Earl N. Harbert and Robert A. Rees, 357–378. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984.

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    First published in 1971. Mainly useful as an overview of Longfellow criticism up to the early 1970s. Strives to move beyond the then still prevalent lukewarm or downright negative assessments of Longfellow as conventional or “a very sad poet” (p. 370) by historians of American literature such as Marcus Cunliffe or Hyatt Waggoner. Ironically, Rust’s account, marred by occasional errors (Annie Fields was James Fields’s wife, not his daughter, and she was far from “naïve”), ends in similar diffidence: “while Longfellow does not absorb our attention, he still remains of interest” (p. 378).

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Biographies

Since Fields 1897, biographers of Longfellow have had to grapple with the challenge of his extreme reluctance to speak about his inner life, a reticence that is regularly mistaken for mediocrity or the absence of true feeling by the less favorably inclined, as in Gorman 1967 and Arvin 1963. The first wave of biographies, such as Longfellow 1891 (originally 1886; cited under Editions) and Kennedy 1882, delve delightedly into popular anecdotes about the poet and highlighted his pedigree (grandson of a state senator on his father’s side and of a Revolutionary War general on his mother’s) or celebrated him as the first true representative of the “literary life” in America (see Higginson 1902, cited under General Overviews). Those works gave way to ecstatic demolition jobs from the earlier part of the 20th century, such as Gorman 1967, and occasional attempts to rehabilitate him as either darker or more inspirational than hitherto assumed, as in Thompson 1938 and Wagenknecht 1966. The more recent biographical work of Calhoun 2004, Irmscher 2008, and Irmscher 2009 (cited under Longfellow as Cultural Icon) stresses Longfellow’s cultural importance, his clever management of his poetic reputation as well as of his finances (see Charvat 1968), and his commitment to his role as a mediator between different languages and national literatures.

  • Arvin, Newton. Longfellow: His Life and Work. Boston: Little, Brown, 1963.

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    Arvin’s last book, written as a therapeutic exercise after a scandal forced him to resign from Smith College. Less a straightforward biography than a loosely chronological survey of Longfellow’s work, colored by a basic uncertainty about whether Longfellow is worth all that critical attention. The author portrays Longfellow as the poet of acceptance, rather than rebellion. Too afraid to abandon himself to the “evidence of his sensibilities” (p. 67), he clung to neat, moralizing lessons for the masses.

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  • Calhoun, Charles C. Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life. Boston: Beacon, 2004.

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    The standard modern biography of Longfellow. Calhoun revises earlier accounts, especially of the circumstances of his wife Fanny’s death and daughter Annie’s possible involvement in that and Longfellow’s friendship with Charles Sumner (b. 1811–d. 1874) (a friendship that Calhoun describes as more intimate than previous accounts have led us to believe) and focuses on Longfellow as a “multicultural” poet.

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  • Charvat, William. “Longfellow” and “Longfellow’s Income from His Writings, 1842–1852.” The Profession of Authorship in America, 1800–1870: The Papers of William Charvat. Edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli, 106–154, 155–166. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1968.

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    Discussion of Longfellow’s literary professionalism, based on extensive study of his account books and royalties received. Shows that Longfellow’s narrative writings—including prose like Hyperion and Kavanagh, as well as long poems like Hiawatha—were the main source of his income. Longfellow, despite being married to one of the richest women in Massachusetts, “worked for every cent he got” (p. 164).

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  • Fields, Annie. “Longfellow: 1807–1882.” In Authors and Friends. 6th ed. By Annie Fields, 3–64. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1897.

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    A perceptive essay by the critic, poet, and famous Boston hostess who knew Longfellow better than most—suffused with the author’s admiration for him but nevertheless full of insights about the contradictions that shaped his character and his work.

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  • Gorman, Herbert Sherman. A Victorian American, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat, 1967.

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    Extraordinarily hostile biography first published in 1926. According to Gorman, Longfellow was the last remnant of an unpleasant and anachronistic Eurocentrism. He never felt “the pangs of his own mental feebleness” as a writer (p. 231) and composed his poems at a polished library table.

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  • Irmscher, Christoph. Longfellow Redux. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2008.

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    Revised paperback edition of the 2006 original edition. The first critical biography of Longfellow’s entire body of work and the first book-length study of his work in several decades, with a special focus on Longfellow’s intense connection with his audience, as documented in his correspondence, and his work as a translator and editor. The author’s argument is based on extensive archival research, including Longfellow’s unpublished journals and letters from fans.

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  • Kennedy, William Sloane. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Biography, Anecdote, Letters, Criticism. Cambridge, UK: Moses King, 1882.

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    Hastened into print within months after the poet’s death and delightfully disorganized, this biography is a goldmine of anecdotes. The author, an aspiring journalist who later became an Italianophile like Longfellow, admits that his book is a “huckleberry pie, containing a great many huckleberries and no batter” (p. 7, quoting Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.).

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  • Thompson, Lawrance. Young Longfellow. New York: Macmillan, 1938.

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    Follows Longfellow’s life up to age twenty-six, with his engagement to Fanny Appleton. Keen on resurrecting a “beardless” Longfellow, Thompson reinvents the poet in the semi-Byronic mode, emphasizing the losses and “storm and stresses” that rocked his life as a young man. Drawing on original sources, Thompson argues against Samuel Longfellow’s emasculated version of Longfellow and skims the early poetry for hints of darker undercurrents.

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  • Wagenknecht, Edward. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Portrait of an American Humanist. New York: Oxford University Press, 1966.

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    Revised version of Wagenknecht’s earlier Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: A Full-Length Portrait (New York: Longman’s, Green, 1955). Relying on archival research, Wagenknecht offers a series of sketches that seek to portray Longfellow as he appeared to the public, to friends and family, and finally to himself. Driven by his intense dislike of Thompson’s depiction of Longfellow’s windswept early years, the author emphasizes the “devotional,” religious Longfellow.

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Longfellow and His Family

Much of Longfellow’s fame during his lifetime rested on his well-publicized commitment to his family, promoted not only in countless magazine pieces about visits to the poet’s home in Cambridge but by pieces such as “The Children’s Hour” (1860), which documented the unconditional love and support Longfellow extended to his children, including his unconventional, wayward, world-traveling oldest son “Charley” (Longfellow 1922, Longfellow 1955, Longfellow 1998, Guth 2004, Korzenik 2007). Published journals and letters by contemporaries (relatives, friends, and admirers) have helped complete the picture of a man who keenly felt his obligations as a son, husband, father, and poet of the people (Butler 1988, Longfellow 1955, Crowninshield 1956).

  • Butler, Joyce. “The Longfellows: Another Portland Family.” Maine Historical Society Quarterly 27.4 (Spring 1988): 20–41.

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    Includes important biographical information, especially about Longfellow’s parents.

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  • Crowninshield, Clara. The Diary of Clara Crowninshield: A European Tour with Longfellow, 1835–1836. Edited by Andrew Hilen. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1956.

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    Memorable account of the journey to Europe undertaken by Clara Crowninshield (b. 1811–d. 1907) with Longfellow and his wife Mary Potter Lo ngfellow, whose death in Rotterdam—the result of a miscarriage—the author records in moving detail. The exact nature of Crowninshield’s relationship with Longfellow can no longer be determined, but her name shows up in his address books as late as the 1870s.

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  • Guth, Christine M. E. Longfellow’s Tattoos. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004.

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    Drawing on her extensive familiarity with the largely untapped visual archives of the Longfellow National Historic Site, the author situates “Charley” Longfellow’s years in Japan within the larger context of US “orientalism.” Longfellow père was proud of his son’s extensive travels, and Charley’s Japanese interests bore fruit in his father’s works, notably “Kéramos” (1878).

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  • Korzenik, Diana. “‘That Is Best Which Lieth Nearest’: Longfellow Family Art, 1804–1924.” New England Quarterly 80.3 (September 2007): 491–501.

    DOI: 10.1162/tneq.2007.80.3.491Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Review essay about a 2007 exhibit in Portland, Maine. The Longfellows were art makers as well as art keepers. They annotated and dated hundreds of their children’s art works, a tradition of “social drawing” that became obsolete with the advent of “professional painting” (ironically, the profession embraced by Longfellow’s son Ernest Wadsworth Longfellow). Offers details about Longfellow’s art training. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Longfellow, Charles Appleton. Twenty Months in Japan, 1871–1873. Edited by Christine Wallace Laidlaw. Cambridge, MA: Friends of the Longfellow House, 1998.

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    Indispensable for understanding the complicated father-son dynamic that is at the heart of “Charley’s” insatiable desire for travel. Lively letters present a memorable portrait of Japan during the Meiji period and shed new light on a member of the Longfellow household whose helter-skelter grammar and haphazard spelling had become a running family joke.

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  • Longfellow, Ernest Wadsworth. Random Memories. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1922.

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    An amusing, quirky, readable account by Longfellow’s conservative son “Erny,” a painter of some talent but not, as he points out with characteristic self-irony, “genius.” In his preface, Ernest self-deprecatingly notes that greatness skips a generation. Memorable sketches of Longfellow’s friends but also of the poet himself, whose cautiousness Ernest captures in the memorable bon mot that his father always believed it “wisest not to do a thing” (p. 28).

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  • Longfellow, Fanny Appleton. Mrs. Longfellow: Selected Letters and Journals of Fanny Appleton Longfellow (1817–1861). Edited by Edward Wagenknecht. New York: Longmans, Green, 1955.

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    In the absence of a full-length biography and a more comprehensive selection of her letters and journals, Wagenknecht’s selection is the best introduction to the brilliant woman Longfellow married in 1843.

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Longfellow and Friendship

Longfellow’s extraordinary gift for friendship manifested itself in the unconditional support he extended to colleagues and friends such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Sumner, noted in Harwell 1966, Sumner 1990, and Blue 1995. Longfellow’s gregariousness influenced his writing, too: he deeply believed in collaboration. For example, the many corrections, in the hands of Charles Sumner, Cornelius Felton, and Charles Folsom, on the proof sheets for Evangeline reveal to what extent he relied on the opinions and good taste of his friends, as do the edits made in the autograph translation of the Divine Comedy after the weekly meetings of the Dante Club at Longfellow’s house, as described by Howells 1968 and fictionalized in Pearl 2004. See also Irmscher 2008, cited under Biographies “Longfellow as Cultural Icon” section of this bibliography.

  • Blue, Frederick J. “The Poet and the Reformer: Longfellow, Sumner, and the Bonds of Male Friendship, 1837–1874.” Journal of the Early Republic 15.2 (1995): 273–297.

    DOI: 10.2307/3123910Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Affectionate, detailed portrait of the thirty-seven-year-long friendship between two temperamentally different men, “the intense and austere reformer-politician Sumner and the relaxed and gentle poet Longfellow” (p. 297), based on published excerpts from Longfellow’s journals. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Harwell, Richard. Hawthorne and Longfellow: A Guide to an Exhibit. Brunswick, ME: Bowdoin College, 1966.

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    Uses the extensive range of artifacts owned by Longfellow’s and Hawthorne’s alma mater, from the copy of Horace owned by Longfellow while a student at Bowdoin and Hawthorne’s edition of The Vicar of Wakefield to some of the last letters written by Hawthorne and Longfellow to detail the complicated relationship of the former Bowdoin College classmates.

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  • Howells, William Dean. Literary Friends and Acquaintance: A Personal Retrospect of American Authorship. Edited by David F. Hiatt and Edwin H. Cady. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1968.

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    Critical edition of Howells’s autobiography, first published in 1900. Touchingly portrays the author’s relationship with Longfellow during the last decade of the poet’s life and offers an inside view of what transpired during the Dante Club meetings at Longfellow’s Brattle Street house.

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  • Pearl, Matthew. The Dante Club. New York: Random House, 2004.

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    The poet of Craigie House is the central character in this enormously successful mystery novel centered on Longfellow’s Dante translation, the circle of friends who met at Craigie House to comment on Longfellow’s drafts, and a series of crimes in Cambridge that seem to be based on the Inferno.

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  • Sumner, Charles. The Selected Letters of Charles Sumner. Edited by Beverly Wilson Palmer. 2 vols. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1990.

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    Sumner’s letters—passionate, unrestrained, urgent, uncompromising—represent the other side of the most intense and important friendship in Longfellow’s life.

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Longfellow as Cultural Icon

For most of his career and the decades after his death, the reception of Longfellow’s work was deeply connected to his steadily growing status as a celebrity poet. According to Irmscher 2009, he received thousands of letters from fans, including letters from children (see Pearl 2012) and more than 13,000 requests for autographs. As Gartner 2000 and Booth 2007 emphasize, Longfellow in his work made good use of his celebrity, or the myths that circulated about his personal life, if always in carefully generalized terms. Cameron 1978 demonstrates the sheer breadth of contemporary responses, laudatory and critical, to Longfellow’s poetry, while the lasting, not entirely salutary cultural impact of the Longfellow myth is illustrated by Sorby 2005.

  • Booth, Alison. “Author Country: Longfellow, the Brontës, and Anglophone Homes and Haunts.” Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net 48 (2007).

    DOI: 10.7202/017438arSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Struck by “how much our canons depend on practices associated with pilgrimage” [p. 1], Booth employs comparisons with the Brontës to show how Longfellow’s poetic practice helped create “Longfellow Country,” now inhabited by the phantom of Longfellow’s past reputation. Longfellow familiarized an entire nation with the ghosts of his own past and made migration and pilgrimage the primary themes of his work.

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  • Cameron, Kenneth Walter, comp. Longfellow among His Contemporaries: A Harvest of Estimates, Insights, and Anecdotes from the Victorian Literary World. Hartford, CT: Transcendental Books, 1978.

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    A massive collection of contemporary reviews, articles, reflections, and caustic comments (Thomas Powell on Evangeline: “The hexameter is the grave of poetry,” p. 27), all reproduced in facsimile and drawn from an international assembly of contributors. According to the editor, “Longfellow in his day received more estimable and valid criticism than any New England contemporary except Emerson” (“Preface,” n.p.). One of the volume’s best features is the extensive index, with subheadings such as “there are bad lines in everything he wrote” or “read only the favorable reviews of his works” (pp. 414, 413).

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  • Gartner, Matthew. “Longfellow’s Place: The Poet and Poetry of Craigie House.” New England Quarterly 73.1 (2000): 32–57.

    DOI: 10.2307/366744Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A new look at Longfellow’s career that focuses on the centrality of his domestic life (including the house in which he lived) to his success and identifies “weariness” as one of the central themes of his poetry. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Irmscher, Christoph. Public Poet, Private Man: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at 200. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2009.

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    Tells the story of Longfellow’s life and reputation through the objects associated with him, from an early school report to the pencils he used. Chapters cover Longfellow’s early years in Maine and Cambridge; his travels; his devotion to family and friends; his emergence as a “public poet”; the relationships he cultivated with his readers; his work as a translator; and his advocacy of “Weltliteratur” (world literature).

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  • Pearl, Sydelle. Dear Mr. Longfellow: Letters to and from the Children’s Poet. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2012.

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    Capitalizing on Longfellow’s own well-documented fondness for children, the author tells the story of the last two years of Longfellow’s life through the (unpublished) letters he received from his youngest and often surprisingly entitled fans and the encouraging notes he sent them in return (“I do not think there are many girls your age who can write as well,” p. 160). ntended for younger readers, Pearl’s book reproduces several exemplary letters in full.

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  • Sorby, Angela. Childhood, Performance, and the Place of American Poetry, 1865–1917. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire Press, 2005.

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    Sees Longfellow (along with other producers of child-oriented poems such as John Greenleaf Whittier, James Whitcomb Riley, and Eugene Field) as participating in a massive pedagogical project that turned schoolrooms all over the nation into training camps for citizenship and helped infantilize American culture. Longfellow’s ubiquity, paired with his legendary accessibility, established him as an aspirational model of American white, middle-class virtue.

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Longfellow and Sentimentality

“Did you not feel so likewise?” Longfellow asked his friend, publisher James Fields, when he sent him “Hawthorne,” a poem recording the sadness he felt as he witnessed Nathaniel Hawthorne’s funeral on 23 May 1864 (see Irmscher 2009, cited under Longfellow as Cultural Icon section of this bibliography). Longfellow’s question sums up his view of sentimentality, a topic of perennial interest to critics (recent examples include Haralson 1996; Gruesz 1999: and Kete 1999). Does “feeling likewise,” so unabashedly encouraged by so many of Longfellow’s poems, stifle independent thinking, generating hordes of compliant fans (the “dumb cattle” mentioned in Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life” [1839])? Or does it in fact help engender critical response, calling for the kind of action Longfellow’s Poems on Slavery (1842) seem to propose? See also Irmscher 2010, cited under Individual Poems.

  • Gruesz, Kirsten Silva. “Feeling for the Fireside: Longfellow, Lynch, and the Topography of Poetic Power.” In Sentimental Men: Masculinity and the Politics of Affect in American Culture. Edited by Mary Chapman and Glenn Hendler, 43–63. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

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    Suggests that Longfellow’s sentimentality provided him with “a kind of sanctuary from domesticity” (p. 47), subversively located within domesticity itself. Comparing Longfellow’s “carefully managed poetic-erotic continence” (p. 55) with reworkings of some of his central ideas in the poems of Anne Charlotte Lynch, Gruesz demonstrates Longfellow’s reliance on the idealized library as the space within the familial household from which he can continue to wield control over his readers.

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  • Haralson, Eric L. “Mars in Petticoats: Longfellow and Sentimental Masculinity.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 51.3 (1996): 327–355.

    DOI: 10.2307/2934014Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Groundbreaking study that attributes the decline of Longfellow’s reputation to new and less inclusive or “feminine” models of masculinity that emerged in the latter half of the 19th century. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Kete, Mary Louise. Sentimental Collaboration: Mourning and Middle-Class Identity in Nineteenth-Century America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.

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    Argues that Longfellow, Lydia Sigourney (b. 1791–d. 1865), and others used the language of sentimentality to initiate an exchange of sympathies between authors and readers and to alleviate contemporary anxieties about what it meant to be American.

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Influences

Throughout his life, Longfellow was interested in poetry written around the world, a topic he approached, through the metaphor of pottery, in his late poem “Kéramos.” New awareness of the transnational—or, perhaps more aptly, the international Longfellow—and the extent to which he was influenced by his reading in Latin (Pritchard 1932), German (Shookman 2010), Spanish (Whitman 1927), Portuguese (Johnson 1965), and Latin American (Jaksić 2007), and Scandinavian literature (Hilen 1947) have significantly modified the stereotypical image of Longfellow as a simple-minded purveyor of literary comfort food for the masses.

  • Hilen, Andrew. Longfellow and Scandinavia: A Study of the Poet’s Relationship with the Northern Languages and Literature. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1947.

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    Discusses Longfellow’s travels in Sweden and Denmark, his interest in Scandinavian languages and writers from Esaias Tegnér (b. 1782–d. 1846) to Hans Christian Andersen (whose influence Hilen downplays). Includes a transcription of a journal Longfellow kept during his travels in 1835 and a list of Longfellow’s extensive “Scandinavian Library.” Ends with an unwarranted apology for Longfellow’s “shallowness.”

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  • Jaksić, Iván. The Hispanic World and American Intellectual Life, 1820–1880. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

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    Describes Longfellow’s deep engagement with Hispanic culture. Jaksić explains Longfellow’s dealings with the Cambridge cluster of experts on hispanidad—Francis Sales (b. 1777–d. 1854), George Ticknor (b. 1791–d. 1871), Willliam H. Prescott (b. 1796–d. 1859), James Russell Lowell (b. 1819–d. 1891)— and discusses his readers, admirers, and translators in Spain and Latin American countries, as well as the travelers and exiles who regularly sought him out, including Dom Pedro II (b. 1825–d. 1891, the Emperor of Brazil, and the writer Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (b. 1811–d. 1888), later president of Argentina.

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  • Johnson, Harvey L. “Longfellow and Portuguese Language and Literature.” Comparative Literature 17 (1965): 225–233.

    DOI: 10.2307/1769825Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Claims that Longfellow was interested in, and well-informed about, Portuguese literature and that his own poetry, lucid and flexible, has proven easy to turn into Portuguese, a process aided by the “Latin-like warmth” that emanates from his work, which the author says Mediterranean cultures have found particularly attractive. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Pritchard, John Paul. “The Horatian Influence upon Longfellow.” American Literature 4.1 (March 1932): 22–38.

    DOI: 10.2307/2919522Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that even if Longfellow did not quote Horace frequently, the classical poet was constantly on his mind and molded his writing, most specifically in Longfellow’s notion that the function of literature lay not in creation, but in insight. This belief corresponds to Horace’s opinion that the originality of a literary work rests not on the subject of a text but the treatment of that subject by the author. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Shookman, Ellis. “Lays of the Land: Germany in Longfellow’s Poems of Places.” Angermion 3 (2010): 97–116.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110222715.2.97Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contends that critics have misunderstood the structure of Longfellow’s thirty-one-volume tribute to the importance of place in poetry. The two volumes devoted to Germany do not merely offer a touristic sampling of places in alphabetical order but also criticize German nationalism. It remains unclear if similar strategies can be traced in the other twenty-nine volumes of the series. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Whitman, Iris Lilian. Longfellow and Spain. New York: Institudos de las Españas en los Estados Unidos, 1927.

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    Useful compendium that details Longfellow’s relations with Spain, including his travels, his teaching of Spanish and Spanish literature at Harvard, his reading (especially of Don Quixote), his translations, and finally the works (such as the early verse play The Spanish Student [1842/43]) that were inspired by his knowledge of Spanish culture.

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Hyperion (1839)

Considered “a thing of shreds and patches” by Fanny Appleton, the woman he was courting for nine years, Hyperion, published anonymously in 1839 and the author’s only full-length novel, proved to be a source of steady income over the years (Armstrong 1998; see also Fanny Appleton Longfellow in Longfellow 1955, cited in the section on Longfellow and His Family, p. 58). Scholars such as Stowe 1995 and Shookman 2009 have emphasized Longfellow’s debt to German Romanticism, but they have only begun to recognize the work’s almost postmodern self-reflexiveness: mixing genres, autobiographical concerns, and the results of his extensive reading with samples of his work as a translator, Longfellow involves the reader in a complex and open-ended transnational narrative, which is skeptical of any kind of writing that is too deeply invested in self-expression (Gartner 2000).

  • Armstrong, Carol. “Photographed and Described: Traveling in the Footsteps of Francis Frith.” In Armstrong, Scenes from a Library: Reading the Photograph in the Book, 1843–1875. By Carol Armstrong, 277–360. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998.

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    The second part of Armstrong’s chapter (“In the footsteps of Paul Flemming,” pp. 332-360) deals with the 1865 reincarnation of Longfellow’s Hyperion in a new deluxe American edition accompanied by the photographs of travel photographer Francis Frith (b. 1822–d. 1890): the first American literary volume to be published with original silver albumen photographs. Frith had retraced Longfellow’s travels in 1864.

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  • Gartner, Matthew. “Becoming Longfellow: Work, Manhood, and Poetry.” American Literature 72.1 (2000): 59–86.

    DOI: 10.1215/00029831-72-1-59Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Shows how his cautious father’s prodding and a family history of honorable service influenced the “incipient paternalism” of Longfellow’s poetry, while his insistence on the importance of “labor” and artisanal pride in the products of his poetic work connected him with the struggles of the middle class. In the hero of Hyperion, Longfellow displays his anxieties about the profession of the “man of letters.” Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Shookman, Ellis. “The Role of References to German Literature in Longfellow’s Hyperion.” Angermion 2 (2009): 111–126.

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    Claims that references to German literature in Longfellow’s Hyperion have been poorly understood. The “richer” reading promised by the author turns into a chronological listing of well-known sources as they help define the protagonist’s psychological makeup.

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  • Stowe, William W. “The Heidenmauer and Hyperion: Uses of Central Europe in Cooper and Longfellow.” In Images of Central Europe in Travelogues and Fiction by North American Writers. Edited by Waldemar Zacharasiewicz, 51–59. Tübingen, Germany: Stauffenburg, 1995.

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    Compares Longfellow’s novel with James Fenimore Cooper’s European novel, The Heidenmauer (1832). While Cooper set his novel in 16th-century Germany to offer a critique of Jacksonian America, Longfellow wanted to elevate American culture by infusing it with a European aesthetic sensibility.

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Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie (1847)

Once the most widely popular American poem of all time and subsequently ridiculed by 20th-century critics (see Seelye 1984), Evangeline has enjoyed renewed critical attention not only for featuring a woman as an epic hero (McFarland 2010) but also for its celebration of traditions outside the American mainstream, as explored by Frank and Maas 2005, Gruesz 2002, and Higgins 2009. Longfellow chose a non-native, Catholic exile to embody the “constancy” of women and at the end placed his dead lovers, all but ignored by Protestant America, in a small cemetery at the heart of the City of Brotherly Love, a reminder to the republic of the dissident foundational stories that, according to Longfellow, say more about a desirable American national identity than the officially approved stories (Blair 2007; Blair 2011). Youmans 2008 addresses Longfellow’s innovative handling of meter in Evangeline.

  • Blair, Kirstie. “‘Thousands of Throbbing Hearts’: Sentimentality and Community in Popular Victorian Poetry; Longfellow’s Evangeline and Tennyson’s Enoch Arden.” In Special issue: Rethinking Victorian Sentimentality. Edited by Nicola Bown. 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century 4 (Spring 2007).

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    Shows how Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Longfellow, the most popular poets of their time, set up their protagonists in ways to demonstrate how personal feeling is transformed into public, shared sentiment. Both poets, however, ask “tricky questions” about the political feasibility of such views of community, appearing to be much less optimistic than clichéd definitions of sentimentality would lead us to expect.

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  • Blair, Kirstie. “Accents Disconsolate: Longfellow’s Evangeline and Antebellum Politics.” Literature in the Early American Republic 3 (2011): 81–112.

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    The most sustained attempt to resituate Evangeline within the political discourse of the time in which it was written. Using the page proofs of Evangeline at Houghton Library, the author argues that the pacifist Longfellow supplies a “subtle and significant commentary” on the role played by displaced peoples in the formation of American identity. He deliberately sets the poem’s anti-imperialist message against the background of the Mexican-American War.

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  • Frank, Armin Paul, and Christel-Maria Maas. Transnational Longfellow: A Project of American National Poetry. Interamericana 5. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2005.

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    The authors, German scholars engaged in “interliterary” studies, argue that Longfellow acquired his role as a mediator between nations and national cultures during his stays in Germany and due to the influence of the Schlegel brothers. Extensive treatment of Longfellow’s “correlative texts” (i.e., sources) in Evangeline and Tales of a Wayside Inn.

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  • Gruesz, Kirsten Silva. Ambassadors of Culture: The Transamerican Origins of Latino Writing. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.

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    Trend-setting book identifying the workings of a vast trans-American network of Spanish-language cultural activities during the 19th century, in which Longfellow’s Evangeline, or Evangelina (translated a dozen times into Spanish), played an important role, offering Latino-American writers a suitably “deracinated” model for nation building.

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  • Hawthorne, Manning, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana. The Origin and Development of Longfellow’s Evangeline. Portland, Maine: Anthoensen, 1947.

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    Exhaustive account of the sources and genesis of Longfellow’s poem, jointly written by Hawthorne’s and Longfellow’s grandsons (oddly fitting, given Hawthorne’s documented role in providing the inspiration for Evangeline). Also published separately as “The Origin of Longfellow’s Evangeline.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 41 (1947): 165–203.

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  • Higgins, Andrew C. “Evangeline’s Mission: Anti-Catholicism, Nativism, and Unitarianism in Longfellow’s Evangeline.” Religion and the Arts 13.4 (2009): 547–568.

    DOI: 10.1163/107992609X12524941450163Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Important essay that reads Evangeline as deeply involved in the struggles between Protestantism and Catholicism in antebellum America. The ending of the poem has Longfellow advocate for an ideal, ecumenical Christian community, the religious equivalent of the anti-nativist cosmopolitanism Longfellow espouses on a political level. Although Evangeline became the patron saint of Acadian nationalism, she is at heart a Harvard Unitarian. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • McFarland, Ronald. The Long Life of Evangeline: A History of Longfellow’s Poem in Print, in Adaptation, and in Popular Culture. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010.

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    Extensive coverage of the poem’s afterlife, which stresses its historical context, especially the expanding numbers of Irish immigrants and the beginning of coeducation in college. Looks at Evangeline’s appearances in textbooks, in book illustrations, on stage, and on the silver screen, but neglects the many translations, a key element of the poem’s legacy. The author’s own reading of Evangeline is heavily indebted to Joseph Campbell’s myth analysis.

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  • Seelye, John. “Attic Shape: Dusting Off Evangeline.” Virginia Quarterly Review 60.1 (Winter 1984): 21–44.

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    Recommends that we move past the poem’s “droning” hexameters and appreciate the “retreat from the world of affairs to poetry and dreams” (p. 40) that Longfellow offers the reader. Longfellow was a “maudlin poet,” not a poète maudit. Admits that there are “white silences” in Longfellow’s poem and that the “Harvard Hamlet” was not oblivious to slavery and the war, though neither touched the pastoral core of the poem.

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  • Youmans, Gilbert. “Longfellow’s Long Line.” In Formal Approaches to Poetry: Recent Developments in Metrics. Edited by N. Elan Dresher and Nila Friedberg, 135–147. Berlin: DeGruyter, 2008.

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    Fun essay on Longfellow’s prosody, which not only points out that Longfellow’s own name could be a foot in a dactylic hexameter (two trochees followed by a dactyl) but also successfully dispels the myth that the English language is ill suited to that meter. Deals with multiple variations of Longfellow’s hexameter in examples drawn from Evangeline and The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858).

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The Song of Hiawatha (1855)

Long considered an embarrassing anthropological armchair fantasy, an imperialist justification of genocide veiled as poetry, Longfellow’s epic has risen in recent scholarly estimation, if for widely diverging reasons. Scholars now see it as chiefly concerned with legitimizing the role of poetry of the kind Longfellow writes (a simple, transparent language responding to the concerns of the nation the way Hiawatha’s picture writing supplies a language to his tribe; see Jackson 1998) or they emphasize its continuing cultural productivity, as in Coen 1982. Tichi 1971, Ferguson 1978, Aaron 1992, and Roylance 2007 highlight the poem’s political intent, while Trachtenberg 2004 focuses on its insistent bilingualism—the way it makes an Anglophone reader trip over the unfamiliar Ojibwe words—and on the part it has played in the story of ethnicity in the United States. The time is ripe for a rediscovery of the delights of Hiawatha, hidden under the surface of the poem’s stubborn antiquarianism (Jarman 2005).

  • Aaron, Daniel. “Introduction.” In The Song of Hiawatha. By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, vii. London: J. M. Dent, 1992.

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    One of the best essays on Hiawatha. Admits that the poem has been gathering “dust in the museum of popular culture” (p. xviii). Looking at Longfellow’s drafts for the poem, Aaron evokes the considerable craftsmanship, metrical facility, and “Mendelsohnian charm” (p xiv) as well as the potential political relevance of the poem.

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  • Coen, Rena N. “Longfellow, Hiawatha and Some 19th Century American Painters.” In Papers Presented at the Longfellow Commemorative Conference, April 1–13, 1982. Coordinated by the National Park Service, Longfellow National Historical Site. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1982.

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    Studies the paintings and illustrations that inspired Longfellow as he wrote Hiawatha, as well as the artworks subsequently inspired by his poem, culminating in Thomas Eakins’s great 1874 oil study Hiawatha.

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  • Ferguson, Robert A. “Longfellow’s Political Fears: Civic Authority and the Role of the Artist in Hiawatha and The Courtship of Miles Standish.” American Literature 50.2 (May 1978): 187–215.

    DOI: 10.2307/2925102Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the earliest essays to complicate the long-prevalent portrait of Longfellow the unpolitical poet. Ferguson traces Longfellow’s anxieties about the impending Civil War in his deeply conflicted portrayals of Hiawatha as a prophet limited by accident and circumstance and John Alden paralyzed and “tongue-tied” by Miles Standish’s display of military authority. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Jackson, Virginia. “Longfellow’s Tradition; or, Picture-Writing a Nation.” Modern Language Quarterly 59.4 (1998): 471–496.

    DOI: 10.1215/00267929-59-4-471Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Deems Longfellow a “faux bard.” Taking her cue from Hiawatha’s attempt to teach picture-writing to this tribe, she exposes what she sees as a self-serving authorial strategy in Longfellow, asserting that he meant his poems to be read “as if they were pictures, and as if reading were self-evident, as if their elaborate classical meters were really a transparent language” (p. 472). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Jarman, Mark. “A Poem of Pure Enjoyment.” Hudson Review 57.4 (2005): 693–699.

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    The author, a New Formalist poet himself, provocatively suggests that Hiawatha, banished from the halls of academe, has acquired “fresh non-canonical status” and that we can now read it again “for fun, as we can no longer read “The Song of Myself” (p. 695). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Roylance, Patricia Jane. “Northman and Native Americans: The Politics of Landscape in the Age of Longfellow.” New England Quarterly 80.3 (2007): 435–458.

    DOI: 10.1162/tneq.2007.80.3.435Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sets the paranoia over Longfellow’s alleged plagiarism of the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic compiled by Elias Lönnrot (b. 1802–d. 1884), in the context of spurious assertions of a Viking visit to New England soil. The Vinland controversy influenced the critical reception of Hiawatha just as much as the interest in Longfellow’s appropriation of tribal stories. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Tichi, Cecelia. “Longfellow’s Motives for the Structure of ‘Hiawatha.’” American Literature 42.4 (January 1971): 548–553.

    DOI: 10.2307/2924727Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explains how Longfellow gradually civilized his Indians in Hiawatha to model the conjoining of American and European values that he hoped his own society would accomplish, by unproblematically “grafting” Old World sophistication onto the New World desire for innovation. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Trachtenberg, Alan. Shades of Hiawatha: Staging Indians, Making Americans, 1880–1930. New York: Hill and Wang, 2004.

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    Looks at how white immigrant Americans embraced the myth of the Indian, as watered down in America’s best-known narrative poem, The Song of Hiawatha, in order to make sense of their own ethnic strangeness. Trachtenberg’s numerous case studies range from the popular pageants held, with native participation, in Ojibwe country to the Jewish comedienne Fanny Brice reimagining herself, in one her songs, as a “Yiddishe squaw.”

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Tales of a Wayside in (1863; 1870; 1873)

Longfellow’s attempt to create an American equivalent to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a series of framed tales exchanged by an all-male group of nostalgic travelers during a rainy weekend in a country inn near Boston, has long met with critical skepticism, as in Calin 2003 and Loeffelholz 2008. More recent criticism in Lepore 2011 and Burt 2011 has begun to recognize the subtle connections between the Civil War and the violence that, directly or not, looms behind much of this collection.

  • Burt, Stephen. “Longfellow’s Ambivalence.” In Cambridge Companion to Nineteenth-Century American Poetry. Edited by Kerry C. Larson, 157–171. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL9780521763691Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Best available reading of “The Saga of King Olaf” (1863), a sequence that says both yes and no to the possibility of a new society created out of the brutality of war and slavery. Burt dispels the myth of the “apolitical” Longfellow. Interested in Longfellow’s unusual range of prosodic techniques, the author shows how Longfellow, in the absence of a genuinely American bardic tradition, wished to created a new American version of orality.

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  • Calin, William. “What Tales of a Wayside Inn Tells Us about Chaucer and Longfellow.” In Special issue: Film and Fiction: Reviewing the Middle Ages. Edited by Tom Shippey
 and Martin Arnold. Studies in Medievalism 12 (2003): 197–213.

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    Discusses Tales as a text of “secondary medievalism”: Longfellow imitates the structure but ignores the spirit of Canterbury Tales. Longfellow’s collection was dominated by nostalgia for an unrecoverable past; in adapting Chaucer for the needs of 19th-century Massachusetts, he trivialized his source. The flaws of Longfellow’s collection are his alone; if we find flaws in Chaucer, however, they must be our own.

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  • Lepore, Jill. “How Longfellow Woke the Dead.” American Scholar 80.2 (2011).

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    “Paul Revere’s Ride,” written in 1860 and subsequently used as the opening tale of Wayside Inn, is a poem less about liberty and Paul Revere than about slavery and John Brown, written as Longfellow pondered a speech given by his closest friend, Charles Sumner, on “The Barbarism of Slavery” (1860). The dead to be wakened by Longfellow’s poem are the Northerners indifferent to Southern brutality.

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  • Loeffelholz, Mary. “Anthology Form and the Field of Nineteenth-Century American Poetry: The Civil War Sequences of Lowell, Longfellow, and Whittier.” ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 54.1–4 (2008): 217–240.

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    Contends that Longfellow uses the anthology form to recycle earlier material in a new narrative frame, with a view towards increasing sales. Like Whittier and Lowell, he hoped the genre of the anthology would promote a kind of pseudo-egalitarian poetic discourse that pretends cultural hierarchies do not exist. Available online by subscription.

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Individual Poems

Longfellow’s career as poet from his first published work (“The Battle of Lovell’s Pond,” a lament for colonists slaughtered by yelling savages, published in the Portland Gazette in 1820) to the poem he finished a few weeks before his death in 1882 (“The Bells of San Blas”) is dominated by a work ethic not often found in American literature (Anderson 2003). In discussions of Longfellow’s poetry, “A Psalm of Life,” Longfellow’s most quotable poem (Peck 2003), seems to figure prominently—often an invitation to generalize about Longfellow’s “conventionality” and to neglect any mention of Longfellow’s meticulous poetic craftsmanship. Close readings of individual, less familiar Longfellow poems, however, will guide us to other, less obvious issues in his work, such as his surprisingly anti-patriarchal sensitivity (Wagenknecht 1986); his sustained and reader-friendly reconception of literary sentimentality (Irmscher 2010); his conflicted pacifism (Zimmerman 1967); and, finally, his growing commitment to a cosmopolitan view of literature, which helped him overcome the nativism of his early years (Salska 2006).

  • Anderson, Jill. “‘Be Up and Doing’: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Poetic Labor.” Journal of American Studies 37.1 (April 2003): 1–15.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0021875803006972Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Maintains that Longfellow stresses work for the sake of work itself; what counts for him is not the objects of labor, but the fact that one undertakes it in the first place. Using “The Village Blacksmith” (1842) as her example, Anderson makes the predictable claim that Longfellow wanted to exemplify the pursuit of middle-class manhood, even though he was occasionally doubtful whether or not that goal was achievable. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Irmscher, Christoph. “Longfellow’s Sentimentality.” Soundings 93.3–4 (2010): 249–280.

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    Follows the career of one of Longfellow’s most beloved poems, “Resignation” (1850), an elegy for his deceased young daughter, through multiple reprintings in newspapers and responses in popular culture and argues that previous readings of 19th-century sentimentality have confused the structures of sentimental feeling with its substance. “Feeling likewise” (which is what Longfellow hoped his readers would when reading his poems) did not mean feeling the same. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Peck, Daniel R. “‘Let Us, Then, Be Up and Doing.’” American Notes and Queries (ANQ) 16.3 (Summer 2003): 30–35.

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    Revisits the 1758 edition of Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard Improved, a source for “Let us now be up and doing” from Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life.” The author deplores Longfellow’s celebration of work for work’s sake, which is indicative of the new ethos of the Industrial Revolution, but helps instill false consciousness in the masses (though it is left unclear if Longfellow, deemed “apolitical” by the author, knew that he was doing that). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Salska, Agnieszka. “From National to Supranational Conception of Literature: The Case of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.” American Transcendental Quarterly 20.4 (December 2006).

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    Reads Longfellow’s late sonnet sequence on Dante as evidence of what the author calls Longfellow’s “supranational stance,” a universalism and cosmopolitanism that supersedes the nationalism of his earlier years and takes its inspiration from the “erudite intertextuality” of Dante’s Divina Commedia. Late in his career, Longfellow became somewhat of a “patrician elitist,” comparable to the older T. S. Eliot. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Wagenknecht, Edward. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: His Poetry and Prose. New York: Ungar, 1986.

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    The prolific Wagenknecht, who died in 2004 at the age of 104, offers a summary of his lifelong preoccupation with a poet whose sensibilities closely matched his own and pays tribute to him as someone who was “as alive to place as the most sensitive cat that ever lived” (p. 96). The best one-stop place for readings covering the range of Longfellow’s work. Contains a useful chapter on Longfellow’s verse dramas.

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  • Zimmerman, Michael. “War and Peace: Longfellow’s ‘The Occultation of Orion.’” American Literature 28.4 (1967): 540–546.

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    Finds in “The Occultation of Orion” (1845), a strangely premonitory poem written on the eve of the Mexican War, signs of a Longfellow not familiar to critics: although peace has vanquished war, we remain uncertain that it has triumphed.

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Longfellow and Translation

Longfellow’s lifelong commitment to literary translation began with his first published book of poetry, the first American en face edition of a literary work in translation, Jorge Manrique’s Coplas (1833), featuring the Spanish original and Longfellow’s English version side by side (Scharnhorst 1983). Longfellow’s linguistic and pedagogical skills had already manifested themselves in a series of textbooks and anthologies, beginning with Elements of French Grammar and Manuel des Proverbes Dramatiques (both published in 1830) and culminating in an Italian grammar written in French, Syllabus de la grammaire italienne (1833). Recognition of Longfellow’s monumental achievements as a literary translator, involving half a dozen of languages and different national and even regional traditions (Irmscher 2003; Irmscher 2005), has long suffered from extensive and frequently negative attention to his masterwork, the first complete American translation of Dante’s Divina Commedia (Dante Alighieri 2003). Earlier critics enjoyed pointing out what they regarded as the flaws and infelicities of Longfellow’s choices as a Dante translator (Scharnhorst 1983). These alleged errors are now recognized as a deliberate attempt to “foreignize” Dante’s original and to bring out its strange beauty rather than domesticating it for easy consumption by American readers. Ironically, a novel (about the provocation of translating a Catholic author in 19th-century Protestant New England; see Pearl 2004, as cited under Longfellow and Friendship) has reinvigorated critical interest in Longfellow’s translation: as a foil for his own poetic concerns (Irmscher 2010); as an event in the history of book publishing (Nordell 2010); or as the fitting expression of Longfellow’s transnationalism (Eckel 2010, Van Angelen 2010).

  • Dante Alighieri. Inferno. Translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and edited by Matthew Pearl. New York: The Modern Library, 2003.

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    A reprint of Longfellow’s 1867 translation of Dante’s Inferno, which has influenced many later translators, whether they acknowledge it or not. Edited and prefaced by Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club (Pearl 2004, cited under Longfellow and Friendship), and introduced by Lino Pertile.

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  • Eckel, Leslie E. “Longfellow’s Dantean Imagination and the Volume of the World.” In Special issue: Longfellow and Dante. Edited by Giuseppe Mazzotta and Arielle Saiber. Dante Studies 128 (2010): 149–161.

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    Insists on the importance of Goethe and Dante for Longfellow’s “nation-based cosmopolitanism.” Like his model Dante, Longfellow in his translation assembles and transforms the voices that animate world literary traditions.

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  • Irmscher, Christoph. “Mediterranean Metamorphoses: ‘Enrico Longfello’s’ Contribution to Multilingual American Literature.” In America and the Mediterranean: AISNA, Associazione Italiana di Studi Nord-Americani, Proceedings of the Sixteenth Biennial International Conference, Genova, November 8–11, 2001. Edited by Massimo Bacigalupo and Pierangelo Castagneto, 23–42. Turin, Italy: Otto Editore, 2003.

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    Describes what the author sees as a watershed event in Longfellow’s development toward multilingualism: his encounter, in 1828, with Toni Toscan, a Venetian gondolier who once worked for Lord Byron. Includes Toscan’s poetry, along with Longfellow’s translations and critical commentary. Also describes Longfellow’s scholarly interest in Italian dialects and regional linguistic diversity.

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  • Irmscher, Christoph. “Pearly Light: Genoa in the Nineteenth-Century American Imagination.” In Da Ulisse A . . .: La città e il mare; Dalla Liguria al mondo. Edited by Giorgetta Ravalli, 285–302. Pisa: Edizioni ETS, 2005.

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    Compares Longfellow’s interest in Genovese vernacular poetry with the treatment of the city in the work of travel writer and forgotten novelist Virginia Wales Johnson, author of Genoa the Superb (1892). For both writers, Genoa, usually mentioned only in passing by American travelers, has local as well as more universal significance. Detailed discussion of Longfellow’s translations from the Genoese dialect.

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  • Irmscher, Christoph. “Reading for Our Delight.” In Special issue: Longfellow and Dante. Edited by Giuseppe Mazzotta and Arielle Saiber. Dante Studies 128 (2010): 45–64.

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    Looks at the Francesca da Rimini episode in Dante’s Inferno and argues that Longfellow found in this erotic tale a provocative model for his own sentimentalist conception of “absorptive” reading. Francesca is the proof that poetry does make things happen. Accompanied by images from the Longfellow collections at Harvard and the Longfellow House-–George Washington’s Headquarters National Site in Cambridge.

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  • Mazzotta, Giuseppe, and Arielle Saiber, eds. Special issue: Longfellow and Dante. Dante Studies 128 (2010).

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    Several essays extol the expansive definition of “Weltliteratur” embraced by the dantista Longfellow. See separate listings in this section (see specifically Eckel 2010; Irmscher 2010). Also contains an updated version of Chesley Matthews’s catalogue of Longfellow’s Dante Collection and an unpublished essay on “Longfellow and Dante” by Longfellow’s grandson Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana, which chronicles Longfellow’s lifelong, daily engagement with Dante, the subject also of Kathleen Verduin’s introductory essay.

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  • Nordell, Joan. “Search for the Ten Privately Printed Copies of Longfellow’s Translation of the Divine Comedy in ‘Commemorazione del secentesimo anniversario della nascita di Dante Alighieri.’” In Special issue: Longfellow and Dante. Edited by Giuseppe Mazzotta and Arielle Saiber. Dante Studies 128 (2010): 71–101.

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    Tracks the fate of the ten original copies of the Divine Comedy printed for the sexcentenary of Dante’s birth.

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  • Scharnhorst, Gary. “Longfellow as a Translator.” Translation Review 12 (1983): 23–27.

    DOI: 10.1080/07374836.1983.10523308Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sets the tone for much subsequent scholarship, though it misses the mark in its assessment of Longfellow’s goals. The author argues that, in his early translations from Scandinavian and Romance languages, Longfellow prized accuracy and fidelity no less than elegance and grace. In his later work on the Divina Commedia, however, Longfellow became obsessed with literalness, producing a flawed and metrically awkward translation, which is reflective of his alleged inadequacies as a poet. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Van Angelen, Kevin. “Longfellow and the New England Dante Tradition.” In Special issue: Longfellow and Dante. Edited by Giuseppe Mazzotta and Arielle Saiber. Dante Studies 128 (2010): 181–189.

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    This superb short essay shows how Longfellow’s reading of the Divina Commedia as a “transatlantic” literary masterwork significantly diverged from previous Unitarian understandings of Dante. Limited by nationalistic concerns, those earlier American critics nevertheless—by seeking to define themselves against Europe—created the institutional environment in which Longfellow could develop his own views.

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