Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Additional Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111201237-Longfellow.jpg Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born into a well-to-do family in Portland, Maine, in 1807, a mere thirty years after the American Revolutionary War began. He entered Bowdoin College in Maine at the age of fourteen, and he studied the usual classical curriculum taken from British universities. He graduated from Bowdoin in 1825, having made such an impression upon the faculty there that he was given a fellowship to go to Europe to study the modern languages to prepare himself for an appointment as a professor at Bowdoin. In 1829, he was appointed a professor of modern languages at Bowdoin and remained there for seven years. He was a successful and industrious teacher; he provided materials for his classes because there were no texts in the modern languages at the time. In 1831, Longfellow married Mary Potter, a fellow native of Portland. His success was marred by Mary’s death in 1835. The sunny poems of Longfellow, in fact, often mask private tragedies.

Longfellow’s success at Bowdoin led to an appointment as professor of modern languages at Harvard College, which he began in 1835. Longfellow was writing poems at the same time. There was an obvious conflict between his duties as a professor and the demands of a career as a poet. He published Ballads, and Other Poems in 1841; the first important poem by Longfellow was Evangeline, published in 1847. Suddenly, Longfellow made Americans see that their experience was as fit a subject for...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Longfellow contributed much to American poetry. He showed that Americans had a marvelous and important history. He makes early America into a mythic land: The Indians, the Pilgrims, and the exiles from Nova Scotia are all given a treatment that had previously been reserved for Greek or Roman myth. Longfellow also opened American poetry to a variety of poetic meters and structures. Certain themes recur; Longfellow generally portrays women as submissive and passive. He also suggests that there is progress in the world; the disaster of Evangeline or the dislocation of the Indians cannot drive out the optimism that things are getting better and humankind is becoming more civilized.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the second of eight children, was born into an old and distinguished New England family. Stephen Longfellow, his father, was a prominent lawyer who had served as a representative in Congress and who could count among his ancestors New England patriarchs such as Samuel Sewell. His mother, Zilpah, could trace the Wadsworth name back through a Revolutionary War general to seventeenth century Plymouth Puritans such as John Alden. Schooled at the Portland Academy and Bowdoin College, Longfellow finished his formal education in 1825, graduating in a class that included Nathaniel Hawthorne. From the beginning, he had been expected to carry on the traditions of his two family groups: “You must adopt a profession which will afford you subsistence as well as reputation,” his father had counseled him just before graduation. During his collegiate years, Longfellow had shown so much aptitude for foreign languages that Bowdoin actually offered him a newly established professorship in modern languages. The trustees of the college, however, insisted that their new professor travel to Europe at his own expense to round out his language training.

Accepting the offer, Longfellow toured Europe from 1826 to 1829, dividing his time between France, Spain, Italy, and Germany. By August 11, 1829, he was back at Bowdoin, preparing lecture notes and writing his own grammars and study texts. For the next six years, his scholarly duties at the college and his academic writing in linguistics and literature occupied most of his professional life. He did, however, find time to renew an interest in creative writing. His only book during the stay at Bowdoin, Outre-Mer, was a prose account of his European travels, modeled on Washington Irving’s The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1819-1820). Settling more comfortably into academic life, Longfellow married Mary Storer Potter on...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s father was an influential lawyer, and his mother’s family went back to Priscilla Mullins and John Alden, passengers on the Mayflower. A talented, bookish lad, Longfellow at the age of fifteen entered Bowdoin College, where one of his classmates was Nathaniel Hawthorne. After his graduation he was offered Bowdoin’s newly established professorship of modern languages. Because European study was a preliminary requirement, Longfellow in 1826 began that long and loving dalliance with the treasures of the Old World that was to color all his experience and influence his writing. In 1829 he returned from the first of his four excursions to Europe and began teaching at his alma mater.

In 1834 Harvard University appointed Longfellow to its Smith professorship of French and Spanish. Before beginning his new duties, Longfellow undertook another European tour, this time accompanied by his wife, the fragile Mary Potter of Portland, whom he had married in 1831. Her death in Rotterdam was Longfellow’s first great sorrow. Eight years later he married Frances Appleton, the model for the heroine of the semiautobiographical Hyperion; eighteen years of domestic happiness followed until Frances Longfellow’s death from burns resulting from an accident at home. Five children were born of this marriage, including the three daughters who are featured in “The Children’s Hour.”

Aside from his personal...

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(Poetry for Students)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born on February 27, 1807, in Portland, Maine. His father, Stephen Longfellow, was a member of the Eighteenth...

(The entire section is 472 words.)