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The poet was a dear lover of children, who "with their hearts full of sunshine and the songs of birds are to the world as leaves to the forest.” His poems, The Children, The Old Clock on the Stairs, My Arm Chair, etc., have made him one of their favorite writers. James Whitcomb Riley thus describes Longfellow's love for children :
Awake he loved their voices
And wove them into his rhyme,
Was with him all the time.
Though he knew the tongues of nations
And their meanings all were dear,
Was the sweetest for him to hear.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine, February 27, 1807. He was of Puritan descent, inheriting, on the maternal side, the blood of four Mayflower Pilgrims, among whom was John Alden, made famous in the Courtship of Miles Standish. His father, an eminent lawyer of Portland and a graduate of Harvard, was a man of high scholarly gifts and was reputed for his purity of life. His mother possessed rare charms of beauty, was very fond of music and poetry and a devoted lover of nature. In his poem, My Lost Youth, the poet describes his childhood home :
I remember the black wharves and the ships
And the sea tides tossing free,
I can see the breezy dome of groves,
The shadows of Deering's woods;
In quiet neighborhoods,
It flutters and murmurs still:
“A boy's will is the wind's will,
Young Henry had three brothers and four sisters for his playmates, and merry times they had together. He was very fond of his brother Stephen and frequently accompanied him on hunting expeditions. One day when they were out Henry shot a robin, and he was so distressed because he had taken a harmless life which he could not give back that he registered a vow never to take part in that kind of sport again. He never cared for any kind of rude sports. Thus early in childhood he showed the qualities which characterized his whole lifetenderness, gentleness, and a refined taste. He was a very precocious child, and at the age of seven
was half through his Latin grammar. His first poem, The Battle of Lovell's Pond, a scene near his grandfather's home, where a battle with the Indians had taken place, was written when he was thirteen. On the suggestion of a sister, it was privately sent to the Portland Gazette. We can imagine how eagerly the children watched for the appearance of the paper, and how delighted they were when the poem came out in all the glories of its print dress! And, again, we imagine how broken-hearted the ,
young poet felt when his verses were unkindly criticised a few days later!
At the age of fourteen, Longfellow entered Bowdoin College. He graduated four years later, in the same class with Nathaniel Hawthorne. Shortly after graduation, he was appointed professor of modern language in Bowdoin, and was allowed a leave of absence to continue his studies. After four years of study and travel through France, Spain, Italy, Germany and England, he entered upon his new labors in 1829. Here he remained in the beautiful old college town of Brunswick, growing in reputation, broadening in culture, for five years, when he was elected to fill a similar position in Harvard. Already an eminent scholar and master of many languages, he aspired to still greater learning, and visited Europe for the purpose of acquainting himself with the Scandinavian language and literature. On this voyage he sustained his first great misfortune. After visiting many noted European cities, and spending a delightful summer at Copenhagen and Stockholm, while on their way to Germany, Mrs. Longfellow, a wife of three years, was taken ill and passed away after a few days' illness at Rotterdam in the latter part of November. Longfellow describes this beautiful young wife as the "Being Beauteous" in his tender poem The Footsteps of Angels.
Longfellow wandered sorrowfully about in Europe for some time. While traveling in Switzerland the following summer, he came across a tablet containing an inscription which he made the motto of Hyperion and of his future life: "Look not mournfully into the Past. It comes not back again. Wisely improve the Present. It is thine. Go forth to meet the shadowy Future, without fear, and
with a manly heart.” On this journey too, he met Miss Frances Appleton, a Boston lady, and made her the heroine, "Mary Anburton," himself being the hero, “Paul Flemming," in his delightful romance, Hyperion. Returning to his work at Harvard in the fall of 1836, he sought lodgings in the old Craigie House, and his landlady proudly gave him the very room which George Washington had occupied when he made the place his headquarters in the early Revolutionary days. The teacher-poet was sad and lonely and often thought of the delightful companionship of the beautiful, cultivated Miss Appleton. He renewed their acquaintance, soon became a devoted lover, and made her his wife seven years after their first meeting in a foreign land. Mr. Appleton purchased Craigie House and gave it to Mr. and Mrs. Longfellow for a wedding present. It was his home for over forty years. The Longfellow children had the old historic room for their nursery.
Craigie House had spacious rooms on either side the broad wainscoted hall. A grand stairway with low, broad steps led to the upper rooms. Great open fireplaces piled high with crackling logs lent a genial warmth to the luxurious, comfortable home. Not far away was historic Elmwood, the home of Longfellow's life-long poet-friend, James Russell Lowell. The windows of both houses afforded a fine view of the River Charles, and the quiet, peaceful surroundings furnished opportunity for study and writing. Many an inspiration came to the neighbor poets from their home surroundings, and the birds, trees and flowers. Longfellow did not know the birds and flowers so well as his friend, yet he show's his love for them in many of his poems. In The Herons of Elmwood he tells about the birds he loved to watch at the Lowell home:
Silent are all the sounds of day;
Nothing I hear but the chirp of crickets,
O'er the poet's house in the Elmwood thickets. Longfellow's library was a grand old room, surrounded with book shelves filled to overflowing with books, letters and manuscripts. He always received his friends here, but he did his writing in a small study overhead. His desk and armchair, with the tall, old-fashioned clock just behind it, stood in a corner of the room near a bright window overlooking the grassy slope beneath. It was to this room that his children loved to come for a romp, "between the dark and the daylight," when their father's day was done. He tells us about this in his poem, The Children's Hour.
Longfellow and his wife spent eighteen years of precious home life happy in the possession of five lovely children, a multitude of the choicest friends, honor and fame, and then in the midst of their happiness came the tragic death of Mrs. Longfellow. While seated in the library with her two little daughters, engaged in sealing up small packets of their curls which she had just cut off, a match on the floor ignited her light summer dress. She was severely burned, and died the next morning. Longfellow received some very severe burns in trying to put out the flames, and was confined to his room when her burial took place three days later. It was the anniversary of her wedding-day, and some one crowned the beautiful head with a wreath of orange blossoms. The poet never ceased to mourn for his devoted wife. Some