Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (February 27, 1807 – March 24, 1882) was an American poet and educator whose works include "Paul Revere's Ride", The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline. He was also the first American to translate Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, and was one of the five Fireside Poets.
Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine, which was then a part of Massachusetts. He studied at Bowdoin College. After spending time in Europe he became a professor at Bowdoin and, later, at Harvard College. His first major poetry collections were Voices of the Night (1839) and Ballads and Other Poems (1841). Longfellow retired from teaching in 1854, to focus on his writing, living the remainder of his life in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a former Revolutionary War headquarters of George Washington. His first wife Mary Potter died in 1835, after a miscarriage. His second wife Frances Appleton died in 1861, after sustaining burns when her dress caught fire. After her death, Longfellow had difficulty writing poetry for a time and focused on translating works from foreign languages. He died in 1882.
Longfellow wrote many lyric poems known for their musicality and often presenting stories of mythology and legend. He became the most popular American poet of his day and also had success overseas. He has been criticized, however, for imitating European styles and writing specifically for the masses.
Parentage / Ancestry
Longfellow was born on February 27, 1807, to Stephen Longfellow and Zilpah (Wadsworth) Longfellow in Portland, Maine, then a district of Massachusetts, and he grew up in what is now known as the Wadsworth-Longfellow House.
His father was a lawyer, and his maternal grandfather, Peleg Wadsworth, was a general in the American Revolutionary War and a Member of Congress. He was named after his mother's brother Henry Wadsworth, a Navy lieutenant who had died three years earlier at the Battle of Tripoli. Longfellow was the second of eight children; his siblings were Stephen (1805), Elizabeth (1808), Anne (1810), Alexander (1814), Mary (1816), Ellen (1818) and Samuel (1819). Longfellow was of entirely English ancestry, all of which had been in New England since the early 1600s.
Marriage & Family
1st Marriage: Potter
On September 14, 1831, Longfellow married Mary Storer Potter, a childhood friend from Portland. The couple settled in Brunswick, though the two were not happy there.
In October 1835, during the trip, his wife Mary had a miscarriage about six months into her pregnancy. She did not recover and died after several weeks of illness at the age of 22 on November 29, 1835. Longfellow had her body embalmed immediately and placed in a lead coffin inside an oak coffin which was then shipped to Mount Auburn Cemetery near Boston. He was deeply saddened by her death, writing "One thought occupies me night and day... She is dead — She is dead! All day I am weary and sad". Three years later, he was inspired to write the poem "Footsteps of Angels" about her.
2nd Marriage: Appleton
On May 10, 1843, after seven years, Longfellow received a letter from Fanny Appleton agreeing to marry him and, too restless to take a carriage, walked 90 minutes to meet her at her house. They were soon married. Nathan Appleton bought the Craigie House as a wedding present to the pair. Longfellow lived there for the rest of his life.
He and Fanny had six children:
- Charles Appleton Longfellow (1844-1893) - Snuck away to join the Civil War where he was gravely wounded. He inspired Longfellow's poem I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.
- Ernest Wadsworth Longfellow (1845-1921) - renowned artist and art collector who donated a sizeable collection to the Boston Museum of Art.
- Frances Longfellow (1847-1848) - When the younger Fanny was born on April 7, 1847, Dr. Nathan Cooley Keep administered ether as the first obstetric anesthetic in the United States to Fanny Longfellow
- Alice Mary Longfellow (1850-1928) - noteworth philanthropist and historical preservationist. Never married.
- Edith Longfellow (1853-1915) - married Boston lawyer, Richard Henry Dana III, son of the popular writer Richard Henry Dana, Jr., author of Two Years Before the Mast.
- Anne Allegra Longfellow (1855-1934) - the youngest daughter of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), she married a Boston lawyer. Her father immortalized her in his poem "The Children's Hour" as "laughing Allegra," referring to her middle name.
|Offspring of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Mary Storer Potter (1812-1835)|
|Baby Longfellow (1835-1835)||5 October 1835 Rotterdam, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands||5 October 1835 Rotterdam, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands|
Family Connections in Literature
Longfellow's literary works include many remarkable historical familial connections, including the following:
Courtship of Myles Standish
The story of their courtship has been romanticized for all time in the story of The Courtship of Miles Standish written in poem by their descendant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882).
The colony's military leader, Myles Standish (c1584-1656), desired the hand of Priscilla in marriage, but being to shy to speak himself, employed John as a go-between. However, Priscilla fell in love with John.
Set against the backdrop of a fierce Indian war, the tale focuses on a love triangle among three Pilgrims: Myles Standish (c1584-1656), Priscilla Mullins (1602-1680), and John Alden (c1599-1687). Longfellow claimed the story was true, but the historical evidence is inconclusive. Nevertheless, the ballad was very popular in nineteenth-century America, immortalizing the Mayflower Pilgrims.
1870 US Census
Recorded at Cambridge MA - Living at Longfellow House
- Henry Longfellow - age 60 - ocp: Poet
- Charles Longfellow - age 25 - no occupation
- Ernest Longfellow - age 23 - ocp: artist
- Alice Longfellow - age 18 - no occupation
- Edith Longfellow - age 16 - at school
- Annie Longfellow - age 14 - at school