Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Poetry
Dreams that Cannot Die
1 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1

   Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
   Layne Longfellow
   Michael Hoppé


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine, in 1807. He became the best-selling, most widely quoted American author in an era in which poets were accorded the status now reserved for rock stars. Remarkably, while topping the bestseller lists of the nineteenth century, Longfellow was an internationally respected scholar. He spoke seven languages and understood nearly twice that number. His translation of Dante's Divine Comedy was utilized (and complimented, both for its art and its accuracy) 125 years after its original publication, by American Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, in his own translation of Dante.

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Longfellow was appointed Professor of Modern Languages at Bowdoin College at age 18, immediately upon graduation from that institution. By age 27, he accepted the Smith Chair in Modern Languages at Harvard. He vacated that position in 1854, in part to escape the demands on his time and energies, but also because, to put it directly, he did not need the salary to supplement his poetic income—he was paid as much as $3000 for a poem. Personally, he was a great and good friend, a fine family man, and a loyal and gracious correspondent. He undertook to respond to a great many of the unsolicited letters he received from an admiring but unknown public, although his journals reveal the degree of imposition that placed on him.

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He married Mary Storer Potter in 1831. She accompanied him on his second European trip, which he undertook in order to prepare himself for his Harvard position. His young wife died in Rotterdam, of complications following a miscarriage. In 1843 he married Frances Appleton, whose father purchased the Craigie House near Harvard for them as a wedding present. Longfellow had boarded in the house, which already had an illustrious history—it had served as Washington's Revolutionary War headquarters for a time. Today, it is the Longfellow National Historic Site, recently restored to former glory, administered by the National Park Service, and welcoming visitors.

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Frances Appleton Longfellow—Fanny—died tragically in 1861. She was sealing a package of locks of hair from her daughters when her light summer dress caught fire. She ran to her husband, who attempted to smother the flames with a rug. She died the next day. Longfellow was unable to attend her burial due to the severity of his own burns. These burns were the occasion for growing the full beard that we commonly associate with him.




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