Imágenes de páginas

" Mr. Longfellow liked much to examine collections of odds and ends in literature. It was a pleasure to him to chance upon some little book of poems or fiction that had been printed, forgotten, and finally brought to the light again. After the removal of our library to this city he wrote, congratulating us upon it, and expressing his best wishes for our prosperity. When visiting here in August last he passed an hour or two in our library, examining the shelves and cabinet with evident satisfaction. He presented us with the moccasins worn by the Sioux warrior, Rain-inthe-Face, who killed General Custer. They were sent to him by General Miles in acknowledgment of Longfellow's poem, The Revenge of Rain-in-the Face:'

* In that desolate land and lone,
Where the Big Horn and Yellowstone

Roar down their mountain path,
By their fires the Sioux Chiefs
Muttered their woes and griefs

And the menace of their wrath.' They are accompanied by the photograph of the Indian chief, who has rather an amiable countenance. His name was evidently given him on account of a line of dots or raindrops on his left cheek.

“Mr. Longfellow's taste in the printing and illustration of books was superlative. The early numbers of “Outre-Mer,” printed under his personal supervision at Brunswick, are very handsome; he loved to see 'a rivulet of text running through a meadow of margin.”

The influence of Mr. Longfellow's prose writings on American literature was probably greater than is commonly acknowledged. It was powerful because peculiar. He introduced the Old World into America without ceasing to be an American, and hereby rendered a service which was not in the line or according to the genius of Irving or Hawthorne. Irving turned to excellent use the material he gathered abroad ; Hawthorne's best work was done before he went abroad at all. Bryant availed himself of the fruits of his travels. But Longfellow was cosmopolitan. This view of nationality is given in “ Kavanagh"; nationality is a good thing “ if not carried too far; still, I confess, it rather limits one's views of truth. I prefer what is natural. Mere nationality is often ridiculous. Every one smiles when he hears the Icelandic proverb, · Iceland is the best land the sun shines upon. Let us be natural, and we shall be national enough.” “As the blood

of all nations is mingling with our own, so will their thoughts and feelings finally mingle in our literature. We shall draw from the Germans, tenderness; from the Spaniards, passion; from the French, vivacity, — to mingle more and more with our English solid sense. And this will give us universality, so much to be desired."

Longfellow himself practised the doctrine he preached in “ Hyperion,” “O thou poor authorling! Reach a little deeper into the human heart! Touch those strings, — touch those deeper strings, and more boldly, or the notes will die away like whispers, and no ear shall hear them, save thine own! And, to cheer thy solitary labor, remember that the secret studies of an author are the sunken piers upon which is to rest the bridge of his fame, spanning the dark waters of Oblivion. They are out of sight; but without them no superstructure can stand secure!” The writer of these words was himself a connecting bond between two worlds, the old and the new. The bridge he built united the hemispheres, and people could pass and repass from either side. He was a mediator, and on that account universal; national, of course, for the human heart embraces all lands; national, because every land furnishes themes to which the human heart responds; national, because his own land supplied material of thinking interest; but universal, because other lands had their interest also, and, being older, had longer and larger experiences ; universal, because the race covers the planet, and the heart is coextensive with it.

Wonderful is the universality of Longfellow's reach. The Jews quoted and circulated his “ Sandalphon,” “ Azrael," " The Jewish Cemetery at Newport,” “ The Legend of Rabbi Ben Levi,” “ Judas Maccabæus.” The missionary in Africa found a volume of his the surest means of communicating with his hosts, a veritable bond of sympathy. Mr. James T. Fields said, “ I have heard him quoted by an Armenian monk with a cowl, and sung at camp-meetings on the hills of New Hampshire.” No doubt it was as a poet that his influence was so widely felt, but his prose writings convey the same impression, and give the philosophy of it. He was a writer for all mankind, not for the


erature, when he wrote, and long afterwards, needed amplitude of genius.

Of late years catholicity has become suspected from its commonness. It springs, in some instances at least, from want of conviction. Mr. Longfellow had convictions, and deep ones, yet was catholic.

When it was the fashion to depreciate Thomas Carlyle, he said, “It is hardly worth while to lose our presence of mind. Let us rather profit as we may, even from this spectacle, and recognize the monarch in his masquerade. For, hooded and wrapped about with that strange and antique garb, there walks a kingly, a most royal soul, even as the Emperor Charles walked amid solemn cloisters, in a monk's cowl, a monarch still in soul.”

The following verses express this feeling of catholicity. They are entitled “ The Singers.”

“God sent his Singers upon earth

With songs of sadness and of mirth,
That they might touch the hearts of men,
And bring them back to heaven again.

deep-thinking few, not for the keen students of the divine economies in human life, not for the speculating or analytical, but for the feeling multitude, to whatever faith they might be long, to whatever country they might be attached.

This is saying a great deal. It was a supreme and memorable achievement, at that time, to break through the barrier of provincial ideas, and introduce, so heartily, Europe to America, - the best of it, its romance, its beauty, its history, its store of legend and poetry, its cultivation and wealth of sentiment. It was a vast service to detect and produce the fine elements in modes of belief and observance which were held in small esteem on both sides of the water, but especially at home, in New England. The man who did this deserves all our praise, and to have done it so naturally and heartily enhances the merit.

Mr. Longfellow's constitutional healthiness of feeling gives a great charm to his writing. He is exuberant, spontaneous, overflowing, but never windy, gushing, or affected. There is nothing strained, either in his sentiment or his language. His facility of acquiring foreign tongues, his elasticity of disposition, his charm of manner, his readiness to adapt himself to circumstances, his frankness and freedom of social intercourse, all helped to make him fcel at home in strange lands. It seems to have cost him no effort to become a citizen of the world. It is clear from his books that he had his reverses, but they were not limitations, nor did they arise from any want of sympathy with the moods of those about him. He was always cordial, yet always himself. His pages suggest a large-minded as well as a warm-hearted man, with more to say, if he was moved to say it, yet so copious of resource that he must pour himself out. Even “ Kavanagh,” slight in construction as it is, shows this hospitable spirit, this broad comprehensiveness of appreciation. The touches of criticism are kindly; the estimate of character is large. The book is defective, as all his books are defective, in sharpness of delineation, but the virtue of liberality is the arer, and more than makes amends for the keenness of discrimination, the lack of which is so often complained of in his pages. Our lit

“ The first, a youth, with soul of fire,

Held in his hand a golden lyre ;
Through groves he wandered, and by streams,
Playing the music of our dreams.

“ The second, with a bearded face,

Stood singing in the market-place,
And stirred with accents deep and loud
The hearts of all the listening crowd.

“A gray old man, the third and last,

Sang in cathedrals dim and vast, While the majestic organ rolled Contrition from its mouths of gold.

“ And those who heard the Singers three

Disputed which the best might be ;
For still their music seemed to start
Discordant echoes in each heart.

“But the great Master said, “I see

No best in kind, but in degree;
I gave a various gift to each,
To charm, to strengthen, and to teach.

“ These are the three great cords of might,
And he whose ear is tuned aright
Will hear no discord in the three,
But the most perfect harmony.'”

So much has been said on this subject here


because criticism of Mr. Longfellow bears on this point, as if he were a marsh instead of a

No discerning reader of his prose, considering the date of its production and the circumstances under which it was composed, can fail to recognize its remarkable force, or to perceive its significance as an element in American literature. Had he never been distin

guished as a poet it would still be a mistake to pass by these remarkable volumes, “OutreMer,” “ Hyperion,” and, it may be added,

Kavanagh.” They would never have made him immortal, but they should not be forgotten, and will not be by those who are desirous of knowing the sources by which fine influences come into the American mind.



As he dash'd through birch and brake,

From the hunter fled.


MR. LONGFELLOW's poetical career may be said to have begun with his boyhood. He has himself told us of the trepidation with which he sent his first piece to a local paper, of his anxious waiting for its appearance, of his sending the same verses to another paper, of his ecstacy when they at last could be read in print. So he passed through the experience of other less eminent aspirants to poetic honors. Mr. Bryant, the capable librarian of the Maine Historical Society, who has been quoted already, said at the spring meeting of the association in 1882:

In these ancient woods so bright,
That are full of life and light,
Many a dark, mysterious rite

The stern warriors kept.
But their altars are bereft,
Fall'n to earth, and strewn and cleft,
And a holier faith is left

Where their fathers slept.


From their ancient sepulchres, Where amid the giant firs, Moaning loud, the high wind stirs,

Have the red men gone. Tow'rd the setting sun that makes Bright our western hills and lakes, Faint and few, the remnant takes

Its sad journey on.

[blocks in formation]



Where the Indian hamlet stood,
In the interminable wood,
Battle broke the solitude,

And the war-cry rose; Sudden came the straggling shot Where the sun looked on the spot That the trace of war would blot

Ere the day's faint close.

The following ode was written for the occasion by Mr. H. W. Longfellow, of Bowdoin College.


[blocks in formation]


[ocr errors]

And the story of that day
Shall not pass from earth away,
Nor the blighting of decay

Waste our liberty;
But within the river's sweep
Long in peace our vale shall sleep,
And free hearts the record keep

Of this jubilee. These lines are quoted at length as a pretty fair specimen of the poetry that he wrote at this period. Of the early poems, written for the most part during the author's college life, all of them before he was nineteen years old, some of which “found their way into schools and seem to have been successful," while others led “a vagabond and precarious existence in the corners of newspapers, or changed their names, and ran away to seek their fortunes beyond the sea," he afterwards collected seven of the best, at all events of the best known, and published them among his acknowledged works with such slight alterations as seemed to be called for. The rest were gathered by Mr. Richard Herne Shepherd and published by Pickering and Company of London. They may be found at length in the New York

Independent” for April 6, 1882, and in the appendix to Underwood's “ Life of Longfellow.” They appeared, for the most part, in the “United States Literary Gazette.” The titles and dates are given here.

Thanksgiving. “ When first in ancient time from Jubal's tongue.” November 15, 1824.

Autumnal Nightfall. “ Round autumn's mouldering urn.” December 1, 1824.

Italian Scenery. “Night rests in beauty on Mont Alto." December 15, 1824.

The Lunatic Girl. “ Most beautiful, most gentle." January 1, 1825. The Venetian Gondolier.

66 Here rest the weary oar." January 15, 1825. Dirge over a Nameless Grave.

“ By yon still river, where the wave.” March 15, 1825.

A Song of Savoy. “ As the dim twilight shrouds.” March 15, 1825.

The Indian Hunter. “ When the summer harvest was gathered in." May 15, 1825.

Jeckoyva. “ They made the warrior's grave beside.” August 1, 1825.

The Sea Diver. “My way is on the bright blue sea.” August 15, 1825.

Musings. "I sat by my window one night." November 15, 1825.

Song. “Where from the eye of day.” April 1, 1826.

These verses were received with favor when they first appeared. In 1831 his classmate, George B. Cheever, in “The American Commonplace Book of Poetry, with Occasional Notes,” gave Mr. Longfellow high and just praise for simplicity, sweetness, and refinement of feeling, as well as for “quiet accuracy of observation."

These early poems are remarkable as displaying the same pensiveness of sentiment that characterized his later productions. Take for example the last stanza of “ An April Day” as printed in all the editions,

“ Sweet April ! many a thought
Is wedded unto thee, as hearts are wed;
Nor shall they fail, till, to its autumn brought,

Life's golden fruit is shed.”
Or these lines from the poem of “ Autumn,'

“( what a glory doth this world put on
For him who, with a fervent heart, goes forth
Under the bright and glorious sky, and looks
On duties well performed, and days well spent !
For him the wind, ay, and the yellow leaves,
Shall have a voice, and give him eloquent teaching 3.
He shall so hear the solemn hymn that Death
Has lifted up for all, that he shall go

To his long resting-place without a tear."
Or these from “Sunrise on the Hills,".

[ocr errors]

“If thou art worn and hard beset With sorrows, that thou wouldst forget, If thou wouldst read a lesson, that will keep Thy heart from fainting and thy soul from sleep, Go to the woods and hills! No tears Dim the sweet look that Nature wears."


To the same effect one might cite “ The Spirit of Poetry.” The sadness so common to youth of both sexes will not account for this habit of musing melancholy, this mood of smiling through tears which was characteristic of the poet all his life. There was a pensive strain in his genius which, from first to last, ran through his works. He could be cheerful, at times gay,

but merriment was not natural to him.

The first translated sonnets were printed at the end of the volume called “ Voices of the

Night.” The first original sonnets were the three at the end of the "Belfry of Bruges, ” “The Evening Star," " Autumn,” “Dante." Edgar A. Poe pitched upon the lines quoted above from “ Autumn ” and “ Sunrise on the Hills” as proof positive that Longfellow stole from Bryant's “ Thanatopsis,” but the sentiment is familiar and the expression so far unlike as to force one to conclude that the later poet had made the thought his own. For the benefit of those who may wish to compare the poems which Mr. Longfellow never claimed when he collected his progeny with those he afterwards published himself, a few examples are given.

And Summer's white and folded clouds

Are glowing in the west,
Loud shouts come up the rocky dell,

And voices hail the evening-bell.

Faint is the goatherd's song,

And sighing comes the breeze:
The silent river sweeps along

Amid its bending trees
And the full moon shines faintly there,
And music fills the evening air.

Beneath the waving firs

The tinkling cymbals sound;
And as the wind the foliage stirs,

I feel the dancers bound
Where the green branches, arch'd above,
Bend over this fair scene of love.


By yon still river, where the wave

Is winding slow at evening's close, The beech, upon a nameless grave,

Its sadly-moving shadow throws.

And he is there, that sought

My young heart long ago!
But he has left me though I thought

He ne'er could leave me so.
Ah! lovers' vows -- how frail are they!
And his were made but yesterday.

O'er the fair woods the sun looks down

Upon the many-twinkling leaves,
And twilight's mellow shades are brown,

Where darkly the green turf upheaves.

Why comes he not? I call

In tears upon him yet;
’T were better ne'er to love at all,

Than love, and then forget!
Why comes he not ? Alas! I should
Reclaim him still, if weeping could.

The river glides in silence there,

And hardly waves the sapling tree: Sweet flowers are springing, and the air

Is full of balm — but where is she!

But see

he leaves the glade,
And beckons me away:
He comes to seek his mountain maid !

I cannot chide his stay.
Glad sounds along the valley swell,
And voices hail the evening-bell.

They bade her wed a son of pride,

And leave the hopes she cherish'd long: She loved but one and would not hide

A love which never knew a wrong.


And months went sadly on —

on — and years: And she was wasting day by day: At length she died and many tears

Were shed, that she should pass away.

When the summer harvest was gather'd in,
And the sheaf of the gleaner grew white and thin,
And the ploughshare was in its furrow left,
Where the stubble land had been lately cleft,
An Indian hunter, with unstrung bow,
Look'd down where the valley lay stretched below.

Then came a gray old man, and knelt

With bitter weeping by her tomb: And others mourn'd for him, who felt

That he had seal’d a daughter's doom.

The funeral train has long past on,

And time wiped dry the father's tear! Farewell - lost maiden!- there is one

That mourns thee yet and he is here.

He was a stranger there, and all that day
Had been out on the hills, a perilous way,
But the foot of the deer was far and fleet,
And the wolf kept aloof from the hunter's feet.
And bitter feelings pass'd o'er him then,
As he stood by the populous haunts of men.


As the dim twilight shrouds

The mountain's purple crest,

The winds of autumn came over the woods
As the sun stole out from their solitudes,
The moss was white on the maple's trunk,
And dead from its arms the pale vine shrunk,

« AnteriorContinuar »