ALUMNI OF BOWDOIN COLLEGE,
JULY 12, 1882.
BY KEV. DANIEL E. GOODWIN, D. D., LL. D.
STKPHKN BKKRY, PKINTKK.
ALUMNI OF BOWDOIN COLLEGE,
JULY 12, 1882.
BY REV. DANIEL K. GOODWIN, D. D., LL. D.
STEPHEN BERRY, PRINTER.
BOWDOIN COLLEGE, August 1, 1882.
DANIEL R. GOODWIN, D. D., LL. D.
My Dear Sir : The Trustees and Overseers of Bowdoin College, at their
last session, desired me to express to you their grateful recognition of your
kindness in giving the memorial address on Longfellow, and their high ap
preciation of the manner in which you portrayed his character and genius.
Desiring to preserve so valuable a memorial of so beloved a graduate and
Professor of the College, they respectfully request a copy of the address for
With highest esteem, your friend and servant,
JOSHUA L. CHAMBERLAIN.
PRINCETON, MASS., August 3, 1882,
MY DEAR PRESIDENT :
I very cheerfully comply with the request of the Trustees and Overseers
of Bowdoin College, which you have so kindly communicated. I am willing
that the address should be published, not because it will do anything what
ever towards perpetuating the memory of Longfellow in that respect just
the converse is true but because it may tend to perpetuate the memory of
his connection with Bowdoin College.
With sentiments of the highest regard,
Very sincerely yours,
D. R. GOODWIN.
Gen. JOSHUA L. CHAMBERLAIN, LL. D., ETC.,
President of Bowdoin College.
A MEMORIAL ADDRESS.
JULY 12, 1882.
Seven years ago, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in the name
of his semi-centennial class, and with his own gentle voice, ad
dressed to his Alma Mater his immortal Morituri Salutamus
his beautiful Swan Song ; whose idea was an inspiration and
whose words a benediction. Now, his voice is changed to an
echo, and his beloved presence to a sacred memory; and we
come, in the name of his Alma Mater, to utter to him our feeble
vale, vale, mayister, poeta noster, vale. But our XaiQS changes
to XaiQwusv, our vale becomes an exultemus, while we speak.
At this hour it is pride and exultation that are uppermost in
our hearts ; the sadness and the sorrow are suppressed. We
triumph more than we weep.
When the Spartan mother received the lifeless body of her
son brought home upon his shield, and heard the story of his
deeds of valor and of duty for the defence and the glory of his
native city, and every tongue around her was loud in his praise,
the exulting pride of the mother s as well as of the patriot s
heart must have quite overwhelmed her maternal grief. For
what higher end could she have borne her son ?
4 HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.
Our beautiful city of Portland has much to be proud of.
What city ever had more ? Besides giving to the world, through
Bowdoin College, her Henry Boynton Smith, foremost among
American scholars and thinkers, she has also given, and also
through Bowdoin College, her Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
the noblest, the sweetest, the purest, the most beloved of modern
poets. And now, as he passes away amidst the loving admira
tion of all the world, she may be -justly proud, while all her
spreading elms wave to him their fond adieus. Seven cities of
Greece are said to have contended for the honor of being the
birthplace of Homer. The greatest cities in America would be
glad to have any show of evidence on their side in contending
for Longfellow ; but the day will never come when his birth
place shall be forgotten. Cambridge, the residence of his later
years and the place of his death, makes haste to honor him
with statues and tributes of affectionate remembrance. Port
land is moved by no jealousy, but rather looks on, with added
pleasure, while she says : " He is my son, arid I rejoice in your
recognition of his greatness."
The State of Maine is proud that Longfellow was a native
of her soil, one whom she sent forth from her " rock-bound
coast " to enrich, to teach and bless the world. America is
proud that he was her own poet. The English tongue, and all
who speak it, are proud to claim him as theirs. Humanity is
proud to claim the man and the poet for herself. Bowdoin
College is proud in the pride of all the rest ; she rejoices in
the honor of having given to the world one who is the glory of
his city, the glory of his State, the glory of his country, the
glory of all English-speaking peoples, the glory and the flower
of human civilization. Her whispering pines breathe the notes
of exultation ; her simple academic halls grow grand with the
pride of his great memory ; her trustees and her overseers, her
faculty and her students, her alumni and her friends, feel the
consciousness of a new inspiration, a sense of added dignity, an
in-breathing of cheerful energy, of hope and confidence and
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW. 5
bold endeavor, as they look at their own Longfellow, and re
member his words :
<c Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time
" Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o er life s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again."
It is fit and right that the first public exercise in this Hall,
after its formal opening to-day, should be in commemoration of
our great poet. This edifice is erected in memory of those who
laid down their lives for their country in her hour of supreme
peril. But, though they died in war, they died for peace ;
though they perished in strife, they perished for union and
harmony and brotherhood ; and in their blood have peace and
union and fraternal concord been cemented anew. To peace
and union, then, these walls are consecrated. May that peace
and union never be disturbed while they stand ; and may they
stand while stand the granite hills from which they were
quarried. Poetry makes all men kin ; she utters the common
voice, she throbs with the common heart of humanity. It is
well, then, that this Memorial Hall, as an emblem of peace,
should be associated not only with the name of our honored
Professor Smyth, who gave for its foundation his indefatigable
efforts and his very life, but now also with the name of our
beloved poet, of whom it is emphatically true that he wrote and
lived and died to use the immortal woftls of one whose great
ness was of another order " with malice towards none, with
charity for all."
To follow the usual style of commemorative discourses, by
entering into statistic details of the parentage and life of Mr.
Longfellow, I feel would be altogether impertinent in this place
and on this occasion. We are at his home, and in the midst of
his own family. Let our discourse be of the man we loved
6 HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.
and of the poet we honor. In these aspects it will do us good
to look at him and to study him, however familiar we may
already have been with his face or with his verse.
Ofttimes we find that great men are bad men the very pests
and scourges of mankind that genius is married with meanness
or with malice and mischief , -with vice or good-for-nothingness,
an imperial intellect with moral weakness or debasement ; in
short, a marvelous development in one direction, with as ex
traordinary deficiencies in others.
" Think how Bacon shined,
The wisest, brightest, meanest of mankind."
Think of the beastly and murderous intoxication of Alexander,,
the cool and savage selfishness of Napoleon, the dissolute and
dare-devil character of Byron, the domestic infelicities of Milton,
the amiable but pitiable weaknesses of Burns. Not so with
Longfellow. To a native genius of the highest order, he united
a simplicity and purity arid nobleness of character that are
rarely equalled. The more we scrutinize, the more we admire ;
and we wonder that we had been so unaware of the treasure
Longfellow was universally beloved. Multitudes loved him
who had never seen his face, but who knew him only in his
hearty and sympathetic, his tender and loving words. Those
who knew him personally, had for him an affection which in
creased with the knowledge and the intimacy.
In his character and in his manners he was cordial, gentle,
genial; ever wishing and contriving to make others happy.
He was always unaffected and unassuming. He showed no
consciousness of his greatness ; he claimed no homage ; he
posed for none ; and yet, when offered, he did not reject it with
the coy humility of self-consciousness, but, with a singular
naivete he seemed to sympathize with those who offered it, and
would quietly receive it simply to give them pleasure. He sub
mitted to the drudgery of giving his autographs by the hundred,
in pure self-forgetfulness, and from a simple desire to confer
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW. 7
upon those who sought them a gratification which, as he used
to say, cost him so little.
He was kind and helpful, ever ready to encourage and assist
youthful aspirations and endeavors. He would throw himself
entirely into the case of the ambitious and struggling youth,
forgetful of all the time and pains it cost him ; and, when there
was good promise, would continue his kindly aid and interest
Probably no person ever lived who more scrupulously and
thoroughly fulfilled the precept : Speak evil of no man. He
would never make or even assent to a disparaging remark. He
was quick to detect what was, or even might be, good ; and for
the rest he was silent. Especially was this the case in refer
ence to contemporary poets or even to those wl^o would be
poets. When some severe strictures were made in his pres
ence on the rugged and unkept realism, the wild contortions
and senseless jargon of Lanier s centennial ode, he quietly said :
" I suppose he has his ideal, and, from his point of view, his
ode may have its merits." His " Wapentake " to Tennyson
shows how heartily he could recognize the genius and greatness
of a brother poet, without the faintest undertone of envy or
rivalry. He had no rivals. He knew not any. If Tennyson
had reciprocated the generous courtesy, it would have been
much to his honor. He may have done so, but it has not fallen
under my notice. When Longfellow was asked which of Brown
ing s poems he liked best, his reply is said to have been : " That
which I understand best " ; and perhaps this comes nearest to
a sharp criticism of anything he ever uttered. For what was
good and beautiful in every body and in every thing, his scent
was keen ; no bee had ever a sharper discernment or a nicer
He was distinguished for a singular and unfailing love of
children and of child-life. At three-score years and ten he en
tered into their thoughts, and hopes and sympathies, as if he
were yet a child of twelve years old. In return, the children
8 HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.
mingled their love for him with their veneration. Since his
death, thousands and myriads of children in the schools, from
onejsnd of the land to the other, have united in grateful acts of
homage to his memory. No man ever called forth such an ex
pression of affectionate regard and almost of worship from the
hearts of so many children before. How beautiful the celebra
tion of his birthday, by the Cambridge schools, from year to
year ! How touching the incident of their presentation, on his
seventy-second birthday, of a chair made from the wood of the
Village Blacksmith s chestnut tree! And how beautiful his
verses of acknowledgment " from the Arm-Chair " :
"And thus, dear children, have ye made for me
This day a jubilee,
And to my more than three-score years and ten
Brought back my youth again.
Only your love and your remembrance could
Give life to this dead wood,
And make these branches, leafless now so long,
Blossom again in song."
And then his little song to " Children," closing with :
" Ye are better than all the ballads
That were ever sung or said ;
For ye are living poems,
And all the rest are dead."
And the exquisite home and child feeling of "The Hanging
of the Crane " ; a picture so minutely distinct and lifelike that
we think it must have been drawn from and for his own fire
side, until we reach the end, and find that it was not, or else
was something more.
Longfellow s mind had a soft, pervading tinge, or rather, a
prevailing undertone of sadness, a serene seriousness: which
betrayed his real depth, for it was the result of a profound and
poetic sentiment of the dark mystery, the insoluble enigma of
human life and destiny. But, what was most striking, this was
interpenetrated and illumined with a constant, buoyant cheer
fulness, which worked itself out through all, rose above all,
HENEY W. LONGFELLOW. 9
" overflowed and passed over." His -cheerfulness was a peren
nial fountain. Nothing in his works is more remarkable than
the hopeful, cheery tone which runs through them. Under all
circumstances and for all parties he has an encouraging, an
imating, inspiring word. His sadness and cheerfulness merged
in a spirit of manly earnestness.
He was a person of deep as well as broad religious sensibili
ties and sympathies. He was ever ready to appreciate what
was excellent and to overlook what was deficient in the religious
systems or characters of others. To him the devout pomp of
the Romanist s worship, and the simple, unadorned piety of the
Quaker, were alike beautiful. He never wrote or said a word
derogatory to the Christian religion in any of its forms.
Dogmatic truth did not, it is true, stand before his mind as a
finished statue ; this may sometimes become only a form of
idolatry ; but neither did his religious ideas remain a permanent
solution of mingled truth and falsehood, which is really no
religion at all. In his mind the truth was crystallized, radiating
the prismatic colors under the light of the poetic spirit, illu
mined sometimes, we may suppose, by a diviner spirit still.
He reverently acknowledged Jesus in the simple words, " My
Saviour." And one is not surprised to hear that persons in
distant regions, who had never heard the sound of his voice,
have traced their first deep religious impressions to passages
in his poems. Those poems certainly have stimulated and
strengthened the highest and purest emotions and purposes in
multitudes of minds ; and it is pleasant to think that they will
continue so to_ do for ages to come. We might think it had
been better that he should have made an open profession of
religion in your church or mine, and perhaps it would have
been ; but if he had the spirit of the Master, and wrought
mighty works for the good of man in His name, what matters
it that he followed not with us ? Let us remember him who
said, "Forbid him not, for he that is not against us is for
us." For my part, if a man lives and works in the spirit of
10 HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.
Jesus, reverencing his name, receiving his word, seeking to do
the will of God and to promote the virtue and happiness of
man, nothing shall hinder me from welcoming him as my
Christian brother, and taking him to my heart.
.Longfellow s greatness did not consist in his towering above
all men in any one prominent or exaggerated trait or talent.
His was a remarkably full, rounded, complete, well-balanced
mind and character. The opening words of his sweet sonnet
to Parker Cleaveland are even more appropriate to himself :
" Among the many lives that I have known,
None I remember more serene and sweet,
More rounded in itself and more complete,
His greatness was like that of our Washington, with whom
his Cambridge residence associates his name. To some, this
may seem overstrained panegyric. But I do not so intend or
regard it. I say it because it forces itself upon me as simply
and strikingly true What Washington was in his sphere, such
was Longfellow in his. What Washington was as a general, a
statesman and a man, Longfellow was as a man, a writer and a
poet ; equal to his work, equal with himself, a leader in all,
serene, solid, symmetrical, teres atque rotundus, good in his
greatness, and great in his goodness. And this is the greatest
kind of greatness. Proud may America be to produce more of
the same type men that are men.
In 1829, Mr. Longfellow returned from his first visit to
Europe, and entered upon his duties as Professor of Modern
Languages in Bowdoin College. My class was the first that
received his whole course of instruction, beginning the French
with him in their Sophomore year, and completing the course
with the German in the Junior year ; several of us adding the
Spanish and Italian as voluntary studies, for which he kindly
gave us the extra hours of instruction. He created an interest
a furore for the modern languages, which has here never
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW. 11
since been equalled. He was a model teacher ; with a special
fitness, both natural and acquired, for this department. To a
musical voice and singularly facile organs, to a refined taste, a
ready command of the best English, and a thorough acquaint
ance with the languages and literature he taught he added an
affable and winning manner, a warmth of enthusiasm, a mag
netic power, a ready sympathy and an inexhaustible patience,
which made his lecture-room and the studies of his department
a joy and pleasure at the time, and ever afterwards a happy
memory. All his pupils loved him through life, and they will
always remember him with strong affection. None of us who
have succeeded to his chair has succeeded to his success. This
department of " the Modern Languages," of which he was the
first Professor, was, I believe, the first example of such a de
partment in the regular course of any of our American colleges.
Harvard soon began to look at Bowdoin with envy. She coveted,
and she purloined our jewel. But admirable Professor as Long
fellow was, the teaching of college classes was not his mission
in the world. His was a wider sphere, a larger audience. He
was to be the teacher of mankind. His instruction at Harvard
University was soon restricted to courses of lectures on the
literature of the modern languages, and then, in 1854, was re
linquished altogether ; that he might give himself freely and
fully to his proper office and mission as a poet.
We rightly regard Longfellow as the poet ; but in so doing,
we are liable to forget that he was also one of our best prose
writers ; next, perhaps, to Irving and Hawthorne. Hyperion
was his longest prose work ; and, passing by all the rest, I shall
take from this three brief passages, simply to let in further light
on some traits of his character.
" The talent of success/ says he, " is nothing more than doing
what you can do well ; and doing well whatever you do." He
knew the secret, and he applied it successfully. So did our
Parker Cleaveland. By the same secret, how many might
12 HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.
Again he writes : " I love that tranquillity of soul, in which
we feel the blessing of existence, and which, in itself, is a prayer
and a benediction."
And again : " Tell me, my soul, why art thou restless ? * *
* Oli that thou didst look forward to the great hereafter
with half the longing wherewith thou longest for an earthly
future." Here, too, we are permitted to have glimpses of a
beautiful inner life.
But Longfellow stood in his own light. His prose is eclipsed,
not by another s prose, but by his own poetry.
As a poet we are now to contemplate him. And here we
need a poet to guide us ; a poet s eye and a poet s tongue.
But, though possessing neither, yet, as a layman, as one of the
people, I shall boldly speak my mind, just as if I knew all about
it ; and leave the responsibility to those who have so inconsid
erately put me in this position to-night.
The first, the most striking and pervading traits of Longfellow
as a poet are, not grandeur or sublimity, or mighty force, or
dazzling brilliancy, but beauty and gentleness. His thoughts
breathe from the deepest soul of beauty and grace, and clothe
themselves in the most fascinating forms and the most felicitous
expressions. A beauty it is, not like that of Spenser, not an
airy and an artificial beauty reflected from the vanishing past,
or from the spectral abstractions of the brain, but a living,
fresh, healthy, real beauty; stirring, filling, captivating our
hearts. He never attempts to soar into the empyrean. He
never grasps the thunderbolt. His gentle spirit could not
assume the rdle of the stern reformer, the lash of the bitter
satirist, or the majestic and awful voice of the prophet, threaten
ing and denouncing sin. I do not regard this as a positive
perfection, nor do I speak of it as a positive defect ; it was a
relative deficiency. For, while there are Scribes and Pharisees
and hypocrisy in the world, while there are baseness and
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW. 13
meanness and lust and hate, while there are fraud, corruption
and villainy in high places as well as in low, the reckless self
ishness of tyranny, the oppression of the weak by the strong,
the lash of the slaveholder and the cry of the slave, so long
will it pertain to the prophetic vocation of the poet and that
in the full spirit of Christ himself to visit them with the just
judgment of stern rebuke and righteous indignation. To the
Muses the Eumenides are as nearly related as the Graces. All
this Longfellow himself recognized. He was not one of those
modern sentimentalists who eschew all sternness and punish
ment, whose sympathies are always with the wrong-doer, who
are severe only against severity, and condemn nothing but
condemnation. He never eulogized or defended or embellished
vice, iniquity or wrong. He simply found his greatest pleasure
in converse with the beautiful and the good ; and he sought to
make them attractive to others. This he felt was what he
could do well. This was his talent. This was his vocation.
For Dante, no man had a higher regard and reverence than he ;
for Dante, with all his colossal grandeur and crushing might,
and terrific imagery of future judgment. Yet in him he finds,
and he rejoices in, the tenderness of heart that lies beneath it
all. Thus he apostrophizes the great Tuscan :
" Stern thoughts and awful from thy so.
Like Farinata from his fiery tomb.
Thy sacred song is like the trump of
Yet in thy heart what human sympattf
What soft compassion glows, as in the
The tender stars their clouded lamps relume ! "
" Thy voice along the cloister whispers, Peace/ "
Longfellow was the poet of beauty ; yet, for him, the esthetic
never effaced the ethical, never was substituted for it. For him
in the right, the good, the true, -resided the very soul of beauty.
In symbolizing or in strengthening them, external nature has
for him her highest poetic charm. Nor did his love of art, as
with Goethe, swallow up and annul, together with all moral
14 HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.
distinctions, all sentiments of patriotism, and all regard for the
practical interests of mankind. The man was not lost in the
poet. Charles Sumner was his bosom friend. To him he gave
his full sympathy while he lived,
" And to his tender heart and brave
The tribute of this verse.
" His was the troubled life,
The conflict and the pain,
The grief, the bitterness of strife,
The honor without stain.
" Like Winkelried, he took
Into his manly breast
The sheaf of hostile spears, and broke
A path for the oppressed.
" Then from the fatal field
Upon a nation s heart,
Borne like a warrior on his shield !
So should the brave depart."
So in his earlier lines addressed to Channing :
" A voice is ever at thy side
Speaking in tones of might,
Like the prophetic voice that cried
To John in Patmos, Write !
Write ! and tell out the bloody tale ;
Record this dire eclipse,
This day of wrath, this endless wail,
This dread Apocalypse ! "
And then, in his poems on Slavery :
" Paul and Silas in their prison,
Sang of Christ the Lord arisen,
And an earthquake s arm of might,
Broke their dungeon gates at night.
" But, alas ! what holy angel
Brings the Slave this glad evangel ?
And what earthquake s arm of might
Breaks his dungeon gates at night ? "
And again :
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW. 15
" These are the woes of slaves ;
They glare from the abyss ;
They cry from unknown graves
We are the witnesses. "
And " The Warning " :
"There is a poor blind Samson in this land,
Shorn of his strength and bound in bonds of steel,
Who may, in some grim revel, raise his hand,
And shake the pillars of this commonweal,
Till the vast temple of our liberties
A shapeless mass of wreck and rubbish lies."
How timely the warning ! How narrow our escape ! And
through what a terrible passage !
When I read again his poems on slavery, I am inclined to
admit that even he could speak with plainness if not with
severity. But this to him was strange work, and in his later
years was quite disused.
Nor did his Muse forget those to whose memory these walls
are raised. How touching, how thrilling, his lines on one
" Killed at the Ford " I
" He is dead, the beautiful youth,
The heart of honor, the tongue of truth,
He, the life and the light of us all,
Whose voice was blithe as a bugle-call.
Two white roses upon his cheeks,
And one just over his heart blood-red !
" And I saw in a vision, how far and fleet
That fatal bullet went speeding forth,
Till it reached a town in the distant North,
Till it reached a house in a sunny street,
Till it reached a heart that ceased to beat
Without a murmur, without a cry ;
And a bell was tolled in that far off town
For one who had passed from cross to crown,
And the neighbors wondered that she should die."
Thus has the poet embalmed forever the deepest sadness of
those sad days. These walls shall crumble, but those words
16 HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.
Longfellow is to be compared with Petrarch or Tasso rather
than with Dante, though he preferred Dante before either;
with Schiller rather than with Goethe, though he combined in
himself what is best in both ; with Scott or Wordsworth, or
Southey or Burns, rather than with Milton or Shakespeare or
Byron. And yet, if to form our idea of Milton, we include with
the Paradise Lost his minor poems, which have far more of the
spirit of poetry than his greater work, we shall find between
him and Longfellow more points of resemblance than we
should have imagined. Shakespeare is, of course, incomparable.
Byron, too, is unique ; and, taking him all in all, we may well
be glad of it.
Next, after its beauty, gentleness and delicacy of sentiment,
the most striking characteristic of Longfellow s poetry is its un
spotted purity. We need no expurgated edition of his works.
He wrote no Don Juan. He left not a line which he, or any
good man, could wish to blot. In his works there is nothing
to offend the ear or corrupt the heart. Yet this purity is not
prudery ; it is simple, unconscious, natural loveliness, that
charms and satisfies the mind. It is felt to be, not a mere nega
tive attribute, but a positive perfection. It is a sweet, fresh,
healthy atmosphere. One rises from reading Longfellow a
happier and a better man. This moral purity has much to do
also with that infallible purity of taste which is a pervading
trait of all he wrote. Probably no poet has ever written so
many lines on such a variety of themes and in so many meas
ures and forms, and made them at once so universally attractive
and yet so absolutely stainless and faultless.
Another characteristic of Longfellow s poetry is its popularity.
He is emphatically the poet of the people. And this is one of
the principal marks of his real greatness. It is what every
great poet must be. Homer was the poet of the people.
Shakespeare was the poet of the people. And so were Dante
and Tasso ; so were Burns and Scott. It is not meant that the
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW. 17
poet should become vulgar, or dole out doggerel not that he
should degrade himself to the lowest level, but that he should
so reach all as to raise all to a higher level, or even, if possible,
to his own plane. No poet has ever shown, so well as Long
fellow, how the highest ideals, the noblest sentiments, and the
purest taste can be made to reach and stir the popular heart.
The true poet is not the minister of a class, or the mouthpiece
of a school ; no mystagogue or priest of " high art " ; he is the
vates, the prophet, of humanity ; who is to interpret and reveal
to men the voice of nature and the secrets of their own souls.
He deals not with the special idiosyncrasies of some set or
clique, but with what belongs to man as man, what all men
have in common. The more universal and profound are his
sympathies, and the more universally and thoroughly he makes
himself understood, the more completely does he fulfil his
office. Neither poetry nor language in general, was intended to
hide ideas or to wrap them up, like mummies, in infinite convo
lutions of high art. This is why such poetry as Browning s
or much of it must be ephemeral. It requires as deep study
to unroll and unravel it as to learn a new language or to master
a new system of metaphysics. It may be superb and super-
excellent to a few artistic connoisseurs ; but, being unintelligible
to men in general, it will just as certainly go into speedy oblivion,
or become a matter of interest only to rare antiquarian research,
as the subtle concetti and hieroglyphic oddities of a school of
poetry of the seventeenth century, whose painstaking produc
tions, though once supposed to be the beau-ideal of poetic
excellence, nobody now cares to take the trouble to decipher.
Schools and systems pass away, but the human mind and heart
remain the same. One of the first duties of the poet, as of
every man who presumes to speak to his fellow man, is to make
himself intelligible ; to make himself intelligible to the greatest
possible number which his subject matter will admit. And in
proportion as he brings the highest and noblest ideas, in all
their beauty and attractiveness, into contact with more and
18 HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.
more human minds, the more fully does he accomplish his proper
end, the education and elevation of mankind. The Protestant
doctrine of public prayer is eminently true of poetry ; that it
should be expressed in " language understanded of the people."
If Longfellow did not belong to the school of " high art,"
neither did he belong to the " realistic " school. He had a love
of the beautiful too ardent and absorbing, a sensibility too
keen and delicate and refined, a soul too large and deep, an
imagination too fastidious, and an intellectual insight too pen
etrating, to allow him to be satisfied with the rudeness and
triviality, not to say the grossness and filth, of the real
istic school of poetry. The bare reproduction, with scrupu
lous minuteness, of naked, ordinary nature, in words and
rhyme, may do for Dutch or Chinese art, but it is not poetry.
No goddess smiles upon it. Every Muse averts her face. At
best, it is only artificiality and outside. Mere facts and forms,
however real, have no value in themselves. Their value lies in
their generic or representative character, in the ideas they
express, in the meaning they convey ; and if the realist replies
that he sets the facts and forms truthfully before us, and
lets them speak for themselves, I answer, to what purpose,
then, his work ? Nature and experience are continually pre
senting naked, ordinary facts and forms before all men, and
leaving them to speak for themselves; and what does he
add to this ? Does he reply that art consists in the imitation
of nature ? But mere imitation is the part of a monkey,
not of a poet. Does he finally appeal to the sculptor in
his defence ? Eead Winckelmann on the Apollo di Belvedere.
It is not all facts and forms that are naturally poetic. To
the mass of men, the most of them are dumb, they have no
speech, they convey no meaning. If the realist has made a
good selection, he has so far performed the office of the poet ;
for a good selection means that he presents, not merely the
trivial and the ordinary at hazard, but chooses that which will
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW. 19
of itself reveal its generic idea, and convey its meaning and its
lesson to the common mind. But the true poet finds the idea,
the meaning, the lesson, everywhere. He gives to all nature
and all history a thousand tongues. He opens the eyes of the
blind, and gives a new vision to all observers.
" He can behold
That have not been wholly told,
Have not been wholly sung or said.
For his thought that never stops
Follows the water drops
Down to the graves of the dead."
Thus our poet muses on the falling of the " Rain in Summer."
He has given us his own philosophy of art :
" Art is the child of Nature ; yes,
Her darling child, in whom we trace
The features of the mother s face,
Her aspect and her attitude,
All her majestic loveliness
Chastened and softened and subdued
Into a more attractive grace,
And with a human sense imbued.
He is the greatest artist, then,
Whether of pencil or of pen,
Who follows nature."
Longfellow is real, therefore, as well as ideal. His ideal is
not a mere invention of the fancy, a mere phrenzy or extrava
ganza, not merely his ideal, but the hidden ideal of all minds,
which needs but his magic touch to reveal it to them all. He
sees the ideal in the real, and elevates the common instead of
sticking in it. He bodies forth, in form and beauty, what was
secret or shadowy and shapeless. He prophesies upon the dry
bones, and they stand up a living army. He teaches mankind
not as a metaphysician or a moralist, but as a prophet and a
seer. He teaches the people, and by the people he is loved.
Here we may be told that working for an end is inconsistent
with the spontaneousness of genius, that art, in its very nature,
20 HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.
is not teleological. But a true work of art is never a freak, a
random stroke, an effect of mere aimless and lawless accident.
It is instinct with meaning and replete with lofty harmonies ;
it is aimed at and accomplishes a high purpose. Instinctive
genius may not have a logical consciousness of that purpose,
it never seeks to compass it with a plodding and painstaking
contrivance ; but the meaning and the purpose are there, and
they constitute the very kernel of the artistic or poetic inspira
tion ; while the easy unconsciousness of the achievement is the
measure of its inherent power. In creative genius, the purpose
and the effect coincide; yet in their logical correlation they
both remain distinguishable. Longfellow s poetry exhibits the
easy flow of genial spontaneity, and yet always moves in har
mony with the noblest and purest ends. The simple truth of
the case is ; a true work of genius is always in conformity
with the highest laws, and tends to the accomplishment of the
highest ends, whether its author is conscious of obeying those
laws, and of aiming at those ends or not. It is as if he were.
Longfellow is our beautiful, gentle, pure, popular, beloved
poet ; and his poetry, expressed as it is in the sweetest, simplest
and noblest English, will be enshrined in the hearts of the
people as long as the English tongue shall last. When all the
metaphysical involutions and unintelligibilities of high art, all
the embellished but disgusting immoralities of a prurient Muse,
and all the empty insipidities of realistic commonplace shall
have passed into oblivion, Longfellow s poetry will remain dear
to men s hearts as household words, cherished and consecrated
with ever-increasing affection. Shakespeare s racy English never
grows obsolete. Antiquity only makes it more homely and
familiar. Mannerisms, poetical patois, artificial dialects and
enigmatical subtleties of thought and speech, may have an
ephemeral life, but clear and noble thought, in pure and simple
speech, will be immortal.
Longfellow has sometimes been assigned to the school of
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW. 21
Wordsworth. If the love of nature and of natural simplicity is
peculiar to the school of Wordsworth, then to that he belonged.
But in truth he belonged to no school but his own. Of no
English poet could Longfellow say, as Dante of his dear master,
Virgil : " It is he
da cui io tolsi
Lo bello stile che m ha fatto honore/
Though he wrote much less than Wordsworth, and poems of
less ambitious proportions, it is not risking much to say that,
a hundred years hence, more of Longfellow s poems will survive
in* men s hearts and memories than of all that Wordsworth ever
wrote. Wordsworth s long-drawn, poetical diffusions, with all
their rich veins of poetic sentiment and their exquisite pensive
beauties, grow tiresome ; they pall upon the ear and lose their
hold upon the mind. But Longfellow s thoughts never with
out pith and point have a perennial freshness and a deathless
To compare him with other American poets, might seem in
vidious ; but it is hardly so ; for, by general consent, he is the
first and greatest of them all. Certainly no other American
poet has been so many-sided, has touched so many of the chords
of the human heart, or touched them so delicately and so pro
foundly. Others may have excelled him in the humorous or
the ludicrous, in the facetious, the comic or the satirical, in epic
stateluiess or the philosophic apothegm, or some other special
form of poetic expression ; but none has reached him in the rich
fulness, the wide compass, the refined sentiment, the tender
pathos, the warm and genial fancy, the varied and honied sweet
ness of his Muse.
His poetic diction is marvellous in its aptness and its com
pleteness, in the beauty of its associations and the delicacy of
its taste. No less marvellous is his rhythm, always smooth,
easy and free ; as simple and unstudied as the speech of child
hood, and as natural as the flow of the babbling brook. Hence
22 HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.
the unrivalled and unequalled success of his translations. They
are so free and fresh, they could not be suspected of being
translations at all; and yet they are perfect transcripts and
transfusions of the sense and spirit, the style, movement and
rhythm of the originals. But perhaps the most striking illus
tration of his wonderful readiness and aptness of poetic diction,
and his perfect ease of metrical arrangement, is found in his
" Divine Tragedy." In reading it, we seem to be reading whole
chapters straight from our English translation of the New Testa
ment, so deftly are the slight changes made in the words or in
their arrangement. And yet the whole is brought into flowing
metrical form ; which shows, indeed, not only Longfellow s ad
mirable talent of versification, but the wonderful harmony of
rhythm and cadence which characterizes our received version
of the Scriptures, making it at least equal to what the French
substitute for our blank verse. With the new Eevision, he
could not have done the same.
* But I must here venture one criticism upon the so-called
" Christus," of which the " Divine Tragedy " is the opening part.
It may have been well to trace, in " The Golden Legend " and
" The New England Tragedies," the course of Christianity through
its corruptions and perversions, down to the anti-climax in the
" Salem Witchcraft." But having reached this ultimate out
growth of inverted development, from such a splendid opening
with the real living, dying and risen Christ, to have nothing
better for a "finale" than the faint and feeble, though ex
quisitely beautiful and poetic reflections, and the general but
desponding hopes and wishes, of a legendary John, a mythical
shadow, wandering on wearily through the ages, with no vision
and no assurance of aught better to corne, seems to me a sad
and insignificant, not to say a lame and impotent conclusion.
The real Christ at the beginning, and the legendary John at the
end ! Is this the ideal " Christus " ? Is this the completion of
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW. 23
the kingdom of God upon earth ? After the sad picture of
perversion, corruption, and decline, we needed the blast of a
trumpet, proclaiming the coming triumph and glory. We
needed some one, in the spirit and power of Elias, or of John
the Baptist risen from the dead, to announce again the kingdom
of God at hand. We needed, to unfold to us the vision of the
future, some seer with the faith- of Abraham, who staggered not
at the promise of God, or of Isaiah, to whom was revealed the
glory of Messiah s coming reign. We needed the apocalyptic
and not the mythical John, to look beyond all the corruptions
and conflicts and trials through which Christianity must pass,
and tell us of the New Jerusalem coming down from God
out of Heaven, adorned as a bride for her husband. But,
peradventure, the poet had a high idea, which I have not fully
caught or fitly weighed. He may have regarde cf Christianity
as an ideal, a doctrine, a spirit, introduced into the world in
the life and teaching of Christ, and then left to its fortunes to
propagate itself sporadically, from age to age, in a few meek,
gentle, patient, loving, Christlike souls, who should make a
feeble struggle against prevailing corruption, oppression and vio
lence ; as we see specimens in the " Golden Legend " and in the
" New England Tragedies." He may have regarded Christianity
no longer as "the little leaven" and "the grain of mustard
seed," but without a church, without organic growth or de
velopment, or maturity, or " the glory that should follow "
as purely a subjective spirit, having no objective historical em
bodiment ; and thus bequeathing, in a last echo, the beautiful
and affectionate but meekly desponding words of the loving
and legendary John. This is, indeed, one aspect of Christianity,
but surely it is not its whole concrete idea, not the " Christus,"
the whole Christ of history. With all this, I must still think,
therefore, that a more fitting close would have been found in
the real John of the Apocalypse, than in the spectral apparition
of the legend.
24 HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.
But let that pass ; and listen to the ringing of his " Christ
mas Bells," as they echo from the days of our civil war :
" I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
# # * * *
" Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
" And in despair I bowed my head ;
There is no peace on earth/ I said ;
, For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men !
" Then pealed the bells more loud and deep :
God is not dead ; nor doth he sleep !
. The wrong shall fail,
The right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men ! "
Yes, verily ; and why should not such have been the close of
his " Christus " ?
Longfellow has a singular mastery of poetic forms. He does
not, like Scott, sing on and on in rhymed iambic eights, till the
ear is cloyed with the sweet monotony. He tries all measures
and combinations, and seems equally at home and at his ease
in all. He even had the boldness to adventure the naturaliza
tion in English of the peculiar metres of the classic Muse ; and
with a success surpassing all expectation. His sweet Evange-
line in hexameters, and his wild and weird Hiawatha in un-
rhymed trochaic eights, which John Bright has pronounced
the greatest poem of America will be read with pleasure while
the language lasts.
The Evangeline has a tone of bewitching sadness, which
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW. 25
culminates as is often Longfellow s manner in a pathetic and
almost tragic conclusion :
"All was ended now, the hope and the fear and the sorrow,
All the aching of heart, the restless, unsatisfied longing,
All the dull, deep pain, and constant anguish of patience !
And, as she pressed once more the lifeless head to her bosom,
Meekly she bowed her own and murmured, Father, I thank thee !
" Still stands the forest primeval ; but far away from its shadow,
Side by side, in their nameless graves, the lovers are sleeping.
Under the humble walls of the little Catholic churchyard,
In the heart of the city, they lie, unknown and unnoticed.
Daily the tides of life go ebbing and flowing beside them,
Thousands of throbbing hearts, where theirs are at rest forever,
Thousands of aching brains, where theirs no longer are busy,
Thousands of toiling hands, where theirs have ceased from their labors,
Thousands of weary feet, where theirs have completed their journey !
Still stands the forest primeval."
Similarly sad is the ending of Hiawatha. But there are
many gleams of bright sunshine in the story. He appeals to
" Listen to this Indian legend
To this song of Hiawatha,
Ye whose hearts are fresh and simple,
Who have faith in God and nature,
Who believe, that in all ages
Every human heart is human,
That in even savage bosoms
There are longings, yearnings, strivings
For the good they comprehend not,
That the feeble hands and helpless,
Groping blindly in the darkness,
Touch God s right hand in that darkness,
And are lifted up and strengthened ;
Listen to this simple story,
To this song of Hiawatha."
Then he tells
Of a half-effaced inscription,
Written with little skill of song-craft,
Homely phrases, but each letter
26 HENKY W. LONGFELLOW.
Full of hope, and yet of heart-break,
Full of all the tender pathos
Of the Here and the Hereafter ;
Stay and read this rude inscription,
Read this song of Hiawatha."
Of friends, he says :
" Straight between them ran the pathway,
Never grew the grass upon it.
Spoke with naked hearts together,
Brave as man is, soft as woman."
Of a dearer relation he says :
" As unto the bow the cord is,
So unto the man is woman ;
Though she bends him, she obeys him,
Though she draws him, yet she follows ;
Useless each without the other.
Like a fire upon the hearthstone
Is a neighbor s homely daughter ;
Like the starlight or the moonlight
Is the handsomest of strangers.
Rule by love, Hiawatha ;
Rule by patience, Laughing Water."
Among his earlier effusions, " The Spirit of Poetry " contains
a presage of the coming man :
" And this is the sweet spirit that doth fill
The world ; and in these wayward days of youth,
My busy fancy oft embodies it,
As a bright image of the life and beauty
That dwell in nature ; of the heavenly forms
We worship in our dreams."
The " Psalm of Life " and the " Excelsior " are probably the
most familiar and popular of his little pieces ; and, if he had
written nothing else, they would have made him immortal.
With what a tone of cheerfulness he closes his " Village
Blacksmith " :
"Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought ;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought."
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW. 27
And when he would playfully cast the horoscope of the
merry child upon his mother s knee :
" And if a more auspicious fate
On thy advancing steps await,
Still let it ever be thy pride
To linger by the laborer s side,
With words of sympathy or song
To cheer the dreary march along."
Here is another of his characteristic notes of encouragement :
" No endeavor is in vain ;
Its reward is in the doing,
And the rapture of pursuing
Is the prize the vanquished gain."
You remember the hopefulness and cheerfulness of his
" Morituri Salutamus."
Once, in a Sonnet, a " Shadow " crossed his mind :
" I said unto myself, if I were dead,
What would befall these children ?"
Then, as the shadow passed away :
"The world belongs to those who come the last,
They will find hope and strength, as we have done."
Take these beautiful stray lines from " The Masque of
" Still the same,
Nameless or named, will be thy loveliness."
" Thy whole presence seems
A soft desire, a breathing thought of love."
" O what a tell-tale face thou hast,"
" Thy very weakness
Hath brought thee nearer to me, and henceforth
My love shall have a sense of pity in it,
Making it less a worship than before."
" Let me die ;
What else remains for me ?
Youth, hope and love ;
To build a new life on a ruined life,
To make the future fairer than the past,
And make the past appear a troubled dream.
28 HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.
Even now, in passing through the garden walks,
Upon the ground I saw a fallen nest
Ruined and full of rain ; and over me
Beheld the uncomplaining birds already
Busy in building a new habitation."
Thus the unfailing cheerfulness breaks through again.
" The Builders," in his pieces " By the Fireside," is almost as
characteristic as his " Psalm of Life " :
"All are architects of fate,
Working in these walls of time ;
Some with massive deeds and great,
Some with ornaments of rhyme.
" In the elder days of art,
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part;
For the Gods see everywhere.
" Let us do our work as well,
Both the unseen and the seen ;
Make the house where Gods may dwell
Beautiful, entire and clean/
" The Bridge " and " The day is done," are exceedingly sweet
and beautiful, but will bear no brief selection. But "The
Arrow and the Song " may be taken entire :
"I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where ;
For so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.
I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where ;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song ?
Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow still unbroke ;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend."
How pretty his retort of the Weather-cock to the Maiden,
when she savs :
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW. 29
" Ah, that is the ship from over the sea,
That is bringing my lover back to ine,
Bringing my lover so fond and true,
Who does not change with the wind, like you.
pretty maiden, so fine and fair,
With your dreamy eyes and your golden hair,
When you and your lover meet to-day
You will thank me for looking some other way."
And how noble his musings on the epitaph over a nameless
"A SOLDIER OF THE UNION MUSTERED OUT."
" Thou unknown hero, sleeping by the sea
In thy forgotten grave ! With secret shame
I feel my pulses beat, my forehead burn,
When I remember thou hast given for me
All that thou hadst, thy life, thy very name,
And I can give thee nothing in return."
Longfellow has a special love for Burns ; and how Burns
would have loved Longfellow ! I cannot refrain from reading
a few verses from his lines to the sweet Scottish bard, they
are so hearty and true :
" Touched by his hand, the wayside weed
Becomes a flower ; the lowliest reed
Beside the stream
Is clothed with beauty ; gorse and grass
And heather, where his footsteps pass,
The brighter seem."
"And then to die so young, and leave
Unfinished what he might achieve !
Yet better sure
Is this, than wandering up and down
An old man, in a country town,
Infirm and poor."
" For now hte haunts his native land
As an immortal youth ; his hand
Guides every plough ;
He sits beside each ingle-nook,
His voice is in each rushing brook,
Each rustling bough."
30 HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.
" His presence haunts this room to-night,
A form of mingled mist and light
From that far coast :
Welcome beneath this roof of mine !
Welcome ! this vacant chair is thine,
Dear guest and ghost."
That portion or collection of Longfellow s poems which he
entitles, " Tales of a Wayside Inn," is especially rich in varied
and characteristic beauties, of which we have not plucked a
single specimen ; but I forbear.
Longfellow was emphatically the poet of his native land.
Though deeply imbued with the classic spirit, and revelling at
his ease in all the treasures of English and European literature,
not insensible to the poetic aspect of the middle ages, enjoying,
with a refined taste and an artist s soul, the scenery and the art
of the old world, with its mighty monuments and ancient
historic memories and glorious ideals, its magnificent domes, its
gorgeous palaces, its ivied towers and its crumbling castles ;
his heart yet was in this new world, in its wild scenes, its
forests and hills, its lakes and " rivers unknown to song," in its
new associations and histories, in its fresh life and recent
memories. Here he found the true heroic age, the age of
origins and foundations ; here his poetic soul found the answer
ing soul of poesy, and the materials for his verse ; here he found
a home for his Muse, and he made that home illustrious.
His "New England Tragedies" present characteristic, but
sad and not very flattering pictures of early New England life.
Yet, in reality, they are not so discreditable as one might at
first suppose. He did not mean them so. He was perfectly
aware that the spirit of excessive eccleSiasticism, of intolerance
and superstition, which he portrayed, was not peculiar to New
England. Witches were burned or drowned by the hundred
and the thousand in other parts of Christendom. The con
temporary law of England visited witchcraft with the penalty
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW. 31
of death. And so does the common and civil law to this day.
In 1683, the very year after the arrival of William Penn in
America, two persons were tried before the council in Phila
delphia, for witchcraft. And in 1719 the assembly of Pennsyl
vania enacted that the English law of the first year of King
James I the same under which the Salem trials had been held
so many years before should be enforced in that colony. In
Belgium, a witch is said to have been judicially drowned, so
late as the year 1834 Why, then, does all the world stand
aghast at the Salem witchcraft the Salem witchcraft, and
hears of nothing else ? The reason must be that of New Eng
land so much better things were and are expected than of the
rest of the world, that a vice or a superstition, which elsewhere
in Christendom would be passed by as a matter of course, be
comes, when found on the fair face of New England, a staring
blot of disfigurement.
In his Hiawatha he has distilled the essence of poetry from
the life of the North American Indian ; in his Evangeline he
has disinterred it from among the French Catholics of the
almost mythical Acadie ; in his Miles Standish and his Priscilla
with her quaint hexametric,
* * " Why don t you speak for yourself, John ? "
he has detected it among the rugged New England Puritans ;
and in his Elizabeth and John Estaugh, he has extracted it
from the quiet and demure Quakers of colonial times.
The epic pomp may be past ; but poetry and poetic themes
remain. We have not left Europe and the old World and the
old civilization, with all its classic models and all its clustering
historic associations, behind. We retain and we prize them all ;
but we have found, besides them, a new World, with a fresh,
new life, and a new history, with new associations and bright
beckoning hopes. Longfellow has shown us that the spirit
of poesy resides here as well as there. He has revealed to us
the riches of a new inheritance. He was, he is, our great
American poet. He is our beloved and immortal Longfellow.
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.
We bid him a fond adieu to-night, in the warm-hearted
words of an English bard :
" Nee turpem senectam
Degere, nee cithara carentem."
" Not to be tuneless in old age !
Ah ! Surely blest his pilgrimage,
Who in his winter s snow,
Still sings with note as sweet and clear
As in the morning of the year
When the first violets blow !
" Blest ! but more blest, whom summer s heat, .
Whom spring s impulsive stir and beat,
Have taught no feverish lure ;
Whose Muse, benignant and serene,
Still keeps his autumn chaplet green,
Because his verse is pure !
( Lie calm, O white and laureate head !
Lie calm, dead, that art not dead,
Since from the voiceless grave,
Thy song shall speak to old and young,
While song yet speaks an English tongue,
By Charles or Thamis wave ! "
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW. 33
For the following genealogical data I am indebted to the kindness of Cyrus
Woodman, Esq., of Cambridge, Mass. :
H. W. LONGFELLOW
was the son of Stephen Longfellow, an eminent lawyer, of Portland, graduate
of Harvard and Trustee of Bowdoin College, born 1776, died 1849. He was
chosen M. C. in 1822, and received the degree of LL.D. in 1828. He had a seat
in the State Legislature, and had been a member of the Hartford Convention.
He married Zilpha, daughter of Gen. Wadsvvorth, of Revolutionary fame ; she
was our Henry Wadsworth s mother. Stephen s father was Judge Stephen
Longfellow, of Gorharn, who married Patience Young, of York. He died in
1824, aged 74. His father was Stephen Longfellow, the " Schoolmaster,"
whose wife was Tabitha Bragdon, of York. He graduated at Harvard in
1742, died in 1790, and was buried at Portland, where he taught the Grammar
School. He was Parish Clerk, Town Clerk, Clerk of the Judicial Courts, and
Register of Probate The father of Stephen, the Schoolmaster, was also
Stephen, who married Abigail, daughter of the Rev. Edward Tompson, of
Marshfield, and sister of the Rev. Wm. Tompson, of Scarboro.* He was
owner of the farm called " the High Field," in Byfield Parish, Newbury,
Mass., arid lived in a house which is still standing. His father, who lived
on the same farm, was Win. Longfellow, born 1651, in Hampshire, England,
married in 1676 Anna Sewall, daughter of Henry Sewall and sister of Chief
Justice Sewall. He enlisted as an ensign in the ill-fated expedition to
Canada, and was drowned at Anticosti, in 1690. j
*His daughter Anna was the wife of Joseph Gerrish, of Gerrish s Island, Kittery.
t His daughter Elizabeth was the wife of Benj. Woodman, of Bytield Parish, New