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bridegroom on his death-bed. The shock was so great that it killed her likewise.”
This same H. L. C., dining with Mr. Longfellow, told him the story and said that he had tried to persuade Mr. Hawthorne to base a romance on the transaction, which he was backward to do. Longfellow at once saw in the incident the material for a poem, asked Hawthorne's permission to use the tale, made him promise not to anticipate him, and " Evangeline” was the result. The success of it was very remarkable. It sold by tens of thousands. Edition after edition was published. The reading of it decided the metre of “ The Bothie of Toper-Na-Fuosich,” as Mr. Arthur Hugh Clough, the author, acknowledged in a letter to Mr. Emerson, saying: “Will you convey to Mr. Longfellow the fact that it was a reading of his · Evangeline ' aloud to my mother and sister, which, coming after a reperusal of the Iliad, occasioned this outbreak of hexameters ?” Hans Christian Andersen gave it his heartiest commendation, and 0. W. Holmes has said : “ Of the longer poems of our chief singer, I should not hesitate to select · Evangeline 'as the masterpiece.
The hexameter has been often criticised, but I do not believe any other measure could. have told that lovely story with such effect as we feel when carried along on the tranquil current of these brimming, slow-moving, soulsatisfying lines.” The fitness of the verse for its uses disarmed criticism of separate lines. The poem was translated into German, French, Swedish, Danish, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Polish by F. Jersierkski. It may be added that the extension of the description over the West and South, instead of confining the scenery to New England, as well as the closing tragedy in a Philadelphia hospital, was part of the license which the artist allowed himself throughout. On a visit to the Quaker City many years before, he had been attracted by the delightful aspect of the hospital, the open yard in front, the grass and flowers, and by the Catholic Cemetery in the neighborhood, and be remembered them both later when he wrote.
One historian objects to the incorrectness of the representation of facts and to the injustice consequently done to literal truth. There was
no “forest primeval,” he says. There were no “ murmuring pines ” or “ hemlocks; " the Acadians were not a simple, innocent people; they were not all deported, only seven thousand out of thirteen thousand ; families were not designedly parted; the performance of the English was not needlessly cruel, but the result of military necessity. Mr. Longfellow, it is urged, was never in Acadia ; he took the story from untrustworthy sources, — the romantic descriptions of the Abbé Raynal, the but partly authentic account of Haliburton. The story itself came from a French Canadian who was prejudiced against the English, and who took the tale from hearsay.
To similar objections it is perhaps enough to reply that the poem is an idyl, the interest of which turns on the fate of the young couple and on the character of Evangeline; that the rest was only background which the poet arranged to suit his purpose ; that the historical materials stored up in French archives were not known to him, and would not, in any event, have been serviceable to his end, inasmuch as the main incident actually occurred, and the subordinate incident, on which the narrative turned, might easily have happened. Longfellow was a poet, not a historian.
His theory of historical accuracy is probably well enough given in a note to the “ Skeleton in Armor." “ I will not enter into a discussion of the point” (in regard to the original design of the old Tower). “ It is sufficiently well established for the purpose of a ballad ; though doubtless many a citizen of Newport, who has passed his days within sight of the Round Tower, will be ready to exclaim with Sancho : • God bless me!' did I not warn you to have a care of what you were doing, for that it was nothing but a wind-mill; and nobody could mistake it, but one who had the like in his head.'” It was no doubt unfortunate that the work should have been mistaken for history, that the reputation of a great name should have seemed to lend support to a wrong interpretation of events; but this, at the time, was inevitable. Should the poet be held answerable for what, after all, was the fault of injudicious defenders? The true history of the Acadians is yet to be written. One day it will be; but it may be doubted whether Mr. Longfellow's touching idyl will be materially affected. There is not enough of prose history in it for the author to be seriously compromised. The historical essayists who have written in his vindication, or who have made statements on insufficient evidence, will suffer more than he.
In fact, the discovery of the precise political relations between France and England would no more compromise the truth of the poem than would the discovery that the word “ Acadie ” was a French corruption of the Indian word “ Aquodie” (a pollock), which the English, after their blunt fashion, transformed into “Quoddy.” In either case the local historical romance would be destroyed, but the spiritual lesson would remain ; and this was all the poet cared for. That Longfellow was heedless of historical accuracy beyond the usage even of poets, that he stretched the limits of poetical license, must, I think, be conceded. “The Courtship of Miles Standish” is far from correct in point of fact. But, on the other hand, it may be urged that few poets have been so idyllic in their conceptions as he ; have so evidently used the historical occasion as a frame-work for the picture. Tennyson's “ Idyls of the King” are founded on pure legend, even when the legend has been disproved, making it a vehicle for his moral teaching. Longfellow treads more openly in the paths of investigation, making light of it, and consulting only the exigencies of his story. Still his purpose is so plain that mistake would seem impossible for any who had eyes to read.
The objections to “ Hiawatha " came from another quarter. The poet was accused of having borrowed his measure and some of his material from the “Kalevala," a Finnish epic. The dispute raged furiously and assisted greatly in selling the book. The critics exerted their severity to the utmost. The caricaturists had a fine opportunity for doggerel. Through all the uproar the poet was serene, as he might well be. At this distance of time it is hard to believe that so much noise could have been made with so little cause.
That Mr. Longfellow was acquainted with the “ Kalevala" is a matter of course ; that he had it in mind is highly probable; that its peculiar versification
and certain of its words haunted his memory is altogether likely. But that any one at all familiar with the Finnish epic and with “ Hiawatha" should think the latter in any respect a reproduction of the former is surprising. As to the form, the poet simply used the form that was best adapted to his purpose. As Dr. Holmes well said: “In this most frequently criticised piece of verse-work, the poet has shown a subtle sense of the requirements of his simple story of a primitive race in choosing the most fluid of measures, that lets the thought run through it in easy sing-song, such as oral tradition would be sure to find on the lips of the story-tellers of the wigwams.” As to the matter, the poet merely adopted the Indian legends which he found in readily accessible books, such as Heckwelder, and Schoolcraft's “ Algic Researches."
Parkman pronounces the work of Schoolcraft worthless; and Palfrey, the historian of New England, declares severely: “ The results of the “Algic Researches' are a collection of the most vapid and stupid compositions that ever disappointed a laborious curiosity; but they were the best collection that, under the most favorable circumstances, was to be made in that quarter. Yet even of such poor products as these the mind of the native of New England was barren.”
If these judgments are just, and more competent authorities there are not, one cannot but admire the genius that could make so delightful a poem out of such unpromising materials. The author does not give a description of the American Indian, or his impression of their character. The atmosphere of the poem is supernatural. Hiawatha is an ideal personage, a Messiah, come to teach and save his people from the evils that assail them. He is a Hercules, an Apollo, a being of imagination and legend. The account of his fasting, his wooing, his sailing, his fishing, is fabulous, and intended to be so. The language, in places, reminds one of the prophetic anticipations of Isaiah.
It has been said that Longfellow was not a close observer of nature; that his trees and flowers do not always obey the order of the seasons, or consult the laws of growth; that he had no answer when experienced or curious vis“Or when the cowled and dusky-sandalled Eve,
In mourning weeds, from out the western gate, Departs with silent haste.”
“Yet were her thoughts of him, and at times a feeling of
sadness Passed o'er her soul, as the sailing shade of clouds in
the moonlight Flitted across the floor and darkened the room for a
moment. And, as she gazed from the window, she saw serenely
the moon pass Forth from the folds of a cloud, and one star follow her
footsteps, As out of Abraham's tent young Ishmael wandered
“ Columns of shining smoke uprose, and flashes of flame Were thrust through their folds and withdrawn, like the
quivering hands of a martyr."
itors wanted to know the name of plant or bird. This may be all true. Nature was to him a symbol rather than a fact, a succession of phenomena suggestive of thoughts. He took it up into his mind, and transformed it into sentiment. He was observant of Nature's moods, though not a student of her appearances, and moralized about her while others scrutinized. Both offices are necessary; it is hard to say which is most so, or which is most uncommon. They are seldom united in the same person. It is certainly much to be able to “gather a harvest in a song." For the multitude of readers this is the kind of harvest they prefer. One may be an accomplished naturalist and yet not be able to write " Evangeline.” We honor the naturalist and rejoice in his discoveries. The heart loves “ Evangeline." Longfellow knew enough about nature to be an interpreter of it, and that was all he aspired to. As for an expert's knowledge, his claim was about on a level with his claim to be a historian.
This theory of the poet's office is expressed in language of his own taken from the eighth chapter of the first book of “Hyperion : "
“ Beautiful, no doubt, are all the forms of Nature, when transfigured by the miraculous power of poetry; hamlets and harvest-fields, and nut-brown waters, flowing ever under the forest, vast and shadowy, with all the sights and sounds of rural life. But after all, what are these but the decorations and painted scenery in the great theatre of human life? What are they but the coarse materials of the poet's song? Glorious indeed is the world of God around us, but more glorious the world of God within us. There lies the Land of Song; there lies the poet's native land. The river of life, that flows through streets tumultuous, bearing along so many gallant hearts, so many wrecks of humanity; — the many homes and households, each a little world in itself, revolving round its fireside, as a central sun ; all forms of human joy and suffering, brought into that narrow compass; --- and to be in this, and be a part of this; acting, thinking, rejoicing, sorrowing, with his fellow-men: - such, such should be the poet's life."
Of one thing we may be certain ; his images were exquisitely finished and beautiful.
Strange forebodings of ill, unseen and that cannot be
compassed. As, at the tramp of a horse's hoof on the turf of the
prairies, Far in advance are closed the leaves of the shrinking
mimosa, So, at the hoof-beats of fate, with sad forebodings of
evil, Shrinks and closes the heart, ere the stroke of doom
has attained it."
“ Where into the empty spaces
Sinks the sun, as a flamingo
In the melancholy marshes."
“ The Angels of Wind and of Fire Chant only one hymn and expire
With the song's irresistible stress; Expire in their rapture and wonder, As harp-strings are broken asunder
By music they throb to express.”
“When on the boughs the purple buds expand,
The banners of the vanguard of the Spring."
“Sun-illumined and white, on the eastern verge of the
ocean, Gleamed the departing sail, like a marble slab in a
« The Past and Present here unite
Beneath Time's flowing tide,
But seen on either side.”
“ Time has laid his hand
“'T is the sound Of their own hearts they hear, half full of tears, Which are like crystal cups, half filled with water, Responding to the pressure of a finger With music sweet and low and melancholy."
Hearing the music as they pass, But deeming it no more, alas! Than the hollow sound of brass.
“ Slowly, slowly up the wall
Steals the sunshine, steals the shade;
“The grave itself is but a covered bridge,
Leading from light to light, through a brief darkness.” Gems of thought and expressions like these are found on almost every page of Longfellow's poems, and the figures of speech, while sometimes fanciful, far-fetched, and artificial, are always apt. In “ The Jewish Cemetery at Newport” the illustrations and allusions are all Hebraic; a great deal of learning is cast into the form of imagery, as for example, “ And thus forever with reverted look
The mystic volume of the world they read,
Till life became a Legend of the Dead.” That Longfellow made a just estimate of his own rank as a poet is evident from many passages. Perhaps the following lines from the Carillon of the “ Belfry of Bruges
Belfry of Bruges” express as well as any what his aim was as a singer,
“ And I thought how like these chimes
“ Yet perchance a sleepless wight,
Lodging at some humble inn
Wet with most delicious tears." Longfellow personally knew but little of his contemporaries, not because he was haughty or exclusive, for no man was ever more modest in his estimate of his own gifts. He was always ready to award the palm of excellence to others. His noble sonnet to Tennyson illustrates his spirit in this respect, — “Poet! I come to touch thy lance with mine;
Not as a knight, who on the listed field
In token of defiance, but in sign
In English song ; nor will I keep concealed,
My admiration for thy verse divine.
Who craze the brain with their delirious dance,
Art thou, O sweet historian of the heart!
To thee our love and our allegiance,
For thy allegiance to the poet's art.” A similar feeling he had toward all the great poets, living or dead. If he did not like their influence, as probably he did not like that of Byron, Shelley, Keats, Heine, and even Goethe, he said nothing about them. What he thought of Wordsworth his letters will probably tell. He might have been too speculative or too little of an artist for his taste. Of native writers he was always appreciative. Irving he met once, in Spain. Emerson he heartily admired. Bryant he saw once or twice. Whittier he knew chiefly through his books, which were on his table and with which he was familiarly acquainted. Lowell he called “one of the man
“ Stay at home, my heart, and rest;
To stay at home is best."
“No endeavor is in vain;
Its reward is in the doing,
Is the prize the vanquished gain.”
“Let our unceasing, earnest prayer
Be, too, for light, for strength to bear
One half the human race."
“O holy Night! from thee I learn to bear
What man has borne before! Thou layest thy finger on the lips of Care,
And they complain no more.”
“Let us be patient! These severe afflictions
Not from the ground arise,
Assume this dark disguise.”
“The holiest of all holidays are those
Kept by ourselves in silence and apart; The secret anniversaries of the heart."
liest and noblest men that ever lived ;
" " Hawthorne often came into the room,” he said, "and sometimes he would go behind the window curtains and remain in silent reverie the whole evening. He came and went as he liked.” The truth is that he was a domestic man, who stayed at home, journeyed very little, and, beyond the circle of his personal friends, sought but little companionship. His poetical life was inward. He obeyed the instinct of his genius. He followed the monitions of his heart.
In this account of him no record is made of his separate volumes, for dates are here of small significance. The poems, whenever written, are much alike in sentiment, and not greatly unlike in art. Elsie in the "Golden Legend,” Priscilla in “ The Courtship of Miles Standish,” and Evangeline in “ A Tale of Acadie," tell the same story of woman's meekness and consecration. The same chord is struck each time, as truly as Tennyson struck it in the
Idyls of the King.” The themes were such as circumstances suggested, the treatment of them was in the mood of feeling, which did not vary much. He was always writing ; in truth he could not stop. There was no reason why he should as long as his feeling continued fresh. But a few days before his death he corrected the proofs of a poem, “ Mad River,” for the Atlantic."
Standards of superiority vary in poetry as in prose. Some writers inspire to action, some to aspiration, some to contemplation. Some address the soul, some the conscience, some the intellect. Longfellow addressed the heart. The burden of his Muse is faith, resignation, love, duty, and these he voices in music that enchants the ear, and in melody which will never die. There are few of his pieces that one can read without tears. They have the true pathos that communicates itself to the language, and even burns between the lines. There is more in the stanzas than the words contain. For they are addressed to the feelings as much as to the ear. Passages taken at random from his writings reach the inmost springs of feeling. For example, “ Wisely the Hebrews admit no Present tense in their
“ Faith alone can interpret life, and the heart that aches
and bleeds with the stigma Of pain, alone bears the likeness of Christ, and can com
prehend its dark enigma."
“I see, but cannot reach, the height
“Our Lord and Master When He departed, left us in His will, As our best legacy on earth, the poor! These we have always with us; had we not, Our hearts would grow as hard as are these stones.”
“ No action, whether foul or fair,
“Feeling is deep and still; and the word that floats on the
language. While we are speaking the word, it is already the Past.”
surface Is as the tossing buoy, that betrays where the anchor is
One look of that pale, suffering face