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We shall be sifted till the strength Of self-conceit be changed at length
“ This life of ours is a wild æolian harp of many a joyous
strain, But under them all there runs a loud perpetual wail as of
souls in pain."
* In the Harbor," published after his death, in 1882, and the dramatic poem, “ Michael Angelo," issued in 1883. It may look from this showing as if Longfellow was a voluminous writer. Yet in truth he was not, as compared with Goethe, Schiller, Byron (who lived only half as long), Tennyson, or Browning. He wrote many pieces, but most of them are short. If the large print of the titles is omitted, the stanzas will be found not to
space, his many years of life and his incessant industry being taken into account. He was very careful, and he had his moods.
Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in
passing, So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another, Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a si
Those who are curious in such matters will find a full and accurate list of Longfellow's books, in the order of their publication, in “ The Literary World” of February 26, 1882. The list should be completed by the addition of the volume which contains his latest
“ Alas! not always doth the breath of song
No account of Mr. Longfellow as a poet would be adequate or even intelligible that did not insist on his character as of primary importance. First of all he was a PERSOX, secondarily he was an artist in verse. His poetry was a reflection of himself, both in substance and in form. The very music of it flowed from the rhythmical element in his nature. The limitations of it were his own limitations; the charm of it was his own charm. It was not his case, as it is of so many, that his art was divorced from himself, the work from the workman, the sentiment from the principle; that deductions must be made on account of his daily life; that allowance must be put in for some infirmity of temper, or vice of disposition. He was faultless from the beginning, blameless according to the testimony of all men. What he preached he practised, and as a man of religious conviction. The lessons he inculcated, of patience, submission, hope, he had either inherited or learned. Had his lot been that of pain, want, struggle ; had he been thrown with the vicious instead of the virtuous, the sceptical instead of the believing, the destructive instead of the
conservative, there is no reason for thinking that his private qualities would have been different from what they were. He might have been less happy, he would not have been less pure, honest, manly, or simple. He was a man to honor and love. Yes, to be respected, even by those who regard felicity as a crime. Integrity, one may say, was his motto. The distinction between genius and character he could not comprebend.
“ It is better,” he says, that men should soon make up their minds to be forgotten, and look about them, or within them, for some higher motive, in what they do, than the approbation of men, which is Fame, namely, their duty ; that they should be constantly and quietly at work, each in his sphere, regardless of effects, and leaving their fame to take care of itself.” Again, “ Therefore should every man wait, — should bide his time, -- not in listless idleness, - not in useless pastime, - not in querulous dejection; but in constant, steady, cheerful endeavors, always willing and fulfilling, and accomplishing his task, that when the occasion comes he
be equal to the occa
sion. And if it never comes, what matters it?” And yet again, “ You know I am no great admirer of the modern French school of writers. The tales of Paul de Kock seem to me like obscene stories told at dinner-tables. . The most prominent trait in the French character is love of amusement and excitement."
Mr. Longfellow was brought up under widening influences, and while the doctrinal portions of the creed were dropped as irreconcileable with the dictates of natural feeling, the spirit of implicit faith which it engendered remained with him to the last. The soul of his religion, which was a very real thing with him, was a hearty trust in divine providence. “Build on, and make thy castle high and fair,
Rising and reaching upward to the skies;
Nor lose thy simple faith in mysteries."
“For others a diviner creed
Is living in the life they lead,
The Holy Ghost came from above." The ensuing “ Tale” is called “ Torquemada and concludes as follows:
“ But Torquemada's name, with clouds o'ercast,
Looms in the distant landscape of the Past,
To-day, to-morrow, every day, to thousands, the end of the world is close at hand. And why should we fear it? We walk here as it were in the crypts of life; at times, from the great cathedral above us, we can hear the organ and the chanting of the choir ; we see the light stream through the open door, when some
iend goes up before us; and shall we fear to mount the narrow staircase of the grave,
that leads us out of this uncertain twilight into the serene mansions of the life eternal ?”
6 Out of his old faith he had brought with him all he had found in it that was holy and pure and of good report. Not its bigotry, and fanaticism, and intolerance; but its zeal, its self-devotion, its heavenly aspirations, its human sympathies, its endless deeds of charity.” This faith was
to him genuine, no speculation but an element in his character, a part of his life. Hence his patience, his silent fortitude, his devotion to duty, his overflowing good-will, his forbearance, his uniform cheerfulness. He was unsectarian, and cherished the fair but delusive dream of the union of all sects in one comprehensive church of Christ whose attributes should be faith, hope, and love.
The lovely hymn written to be sung at his brother's ordination in Fall River in 1818 expresses the spirit of his faith.
The writing of the verses was the more remarkable, as his brother belonged to the advanced school of thinkers, was a Radical, a believer in the “Sympathy of Religions," as it has been called.
It is almost needless to say that Mr. Longfellow's interest in speculative questions was not keen. The following words, put into Paul Flemming's mouth, declare as much : “I will add no more than this; — there are many speculations in literature, philosophy, and religion, which, though pleasant to walk in, and lying under the shadow of great names, yet lead to no important result. They resemble rather those roads in the Western forests of my native land, which, though broad and pleasant at first, and lying beneath the shadow of great branches, finally dwindle to a squirrel track and run up a tree.”
The charity of the man was boundless, not merely in money but in sympathy, helpfulness, and patience. Many a young author blesses him for advice, encouragement, and substantial aid. The following extracts will give some idea of it. They are taken from the New York “ Independent” of April 13, 1882.
“ Most exquisite was his tender way of doing a kindness to others, as if he were receiving, instead of doing, the favor. It was this which constantly affected me with a sense of his goodness. “ My story is not a solitary one.
I had come, a poor girl, to Boston, from a distant part of the country, a young writer and singer, teaching music to defray my expenses in the continuance of my studies, and writing bits for the several papers in the city. One day I visited an editor, with some verses of greater length than usual. He said : *This is too long for a newspaper or magazine. Finish it, and then I want you to take it to Mr. Longfellow. I
Your last letter in Italian showed your great progress in the language. But now I think it would be well to come back to English again; for one's pen gallops and gossips more easily in one's native language, and perhaps you would write oftener if you wrote in English. You can keep your Diary in Italian; and do not forget to put down everybody's name whom you care to remember. ... Do not mind what I say about writing in Italian. Only write; and whether in English or not, your letters will always be welcome.'
opened my eyes in wonder. 'I go to Mr. Longfellow!'
“I had never dreamed it possible that Mr. Longfellow would trouble himself about a perfect stranger, and I imagined the editor to be making sport of me and my poem. Three months later I yielded to a sudden impulse, and wrote Mr. Longfellow, and was invited to visit his home. The day was a golden one, for I found in him a calm, wise counsellor. Afterward fortune favored me, so that I drifted to foreign shores, to carry on my ambitious plans; and even then his thoughtful kindness followed me now a word of encouragement, praise, or comfort, which he found time to give expression to, making its way across the Atlantic ; ever suggesting, without seeming to do so, some subject for my pen ; begging me at all times to write all about myself; and offering his help in any way that was possible.
“At one time his letters before me show him taking charge of a production of my pen to place it in the hands of the editor; at another, visiting the dusty office of the paper for which I was writing letters, to subscribe for it with his own hand ; and the editor, who never expected such an honor to be paid his poor paper, immediately begs me to consider myself engaged to write the following year. Finally, when I chose an operatic career and made my début in Italy, where temptations are no longer temptations, but deliberately set nets of the most intricate description to waylay and trip the footsteps of the most clear-headed, he gave his warnings and suggestions very wisely and kindly. This friend of friends taught me to confide my trials to him, until I wrote as freely as if to the pages of my journal.
· Again and again would he give some little commission to do for him, as if it were granting him a great favor, while it is only his delicate way of presenting me to persons who might be interested in my struggles and prove themselves friends.
“Too proud to reply to his oft-repeated question of whether he might aid me, he finally visited some of my friends, to learn my exact needs; and then one New Year's morning I remember myself seated on the side of my bed, where letters have been brought to me, the tears rolling down my cheeks, for I feared I must yield to the inevitable and go home. Only a little New Year's gift, that will serve to buy gloves,” said his letter. Did he know that it was bread, not gloves, I feared I should need, and which his generous gift supplied ?
“ But I copy from these letters, my choicest treasure, a few paragraphs which will give an idea of his thoughtfulness and kindness. In one of his earlier letters he writes :
“ This bit is from another letter :
*Your tour in Switzerland will be a great refreshment to you. But when one is sad and sorrowful there is a kind of terror in mountain scenery. I have often felt it.'
“His criticisms of a young author's work were tenderness itself and full of appreciating encouragement.
When he made a criticism, it was so delicate as to be hardly felt. There was not a bit of severity intended in the following mention of a very immature and perhaps ambitious poetical venture. -Your poem I read in the
It is a little bit mystical, but I had no great difficulty in understanding it. Now that you tell me where it was written it has a double interest for me.
• This brief note is another of my poor returns for your longer and better ones; but, if you saw the pile of unanswered letters heaped up around me, you would pardon and pity me.'
“In another letter he refers to another literary venture with similar delicacy:• I have read the first chapters of the story of
It begins well and makes me curious to have a key to the characters.
• Probably it is my fault; but there seems to be a little entanglement in the incidents. Nevertheless, the story is interesting and excites the reader's curiosity, which is a great point gained.'
The song is that beginning “Stay, stay at home, my heart, and rest," the last verse of which is :
• Then stay at home, my heart, and rest,
To stay at home is best.' “Again he writes, speaking of an attempted injury:
Alas! an artist's life is never without its thorns; but it has its roses also. Above all, it has
«« La procellosa e trepida
. La gloria
La fuga e la vittoria.”' “ At another time he wrote:
• I wonder where you are at this moment and what you are doing. You must be sleeping; for here it is nine o'clock at night and in Italy two in the morning.
• But are you still in Italy, or have you gone to Spain, as you hinted you might do? Whether in Italy or Spain, you are certainly at this moment asleep, and this letter is a kind of serenade
to him to be furthered in their projects, and it
may be safely said that none were ever sent away unheard, if not assisted. Doubtless many imposters thrust upon him their worthless claims. The intruders and bores must have been incessant. Mr. Charles E. Norton one day ventured to remonstrate against this persistent long-suffering, in the case of a shameless persecutor of this class. The poet replied: “ Charles, who would be kind to him if I were not?”
There is a story that I know to be true, of an unstable and eccentric genius who had worn out all his friends, and suddenly disappeared. “ Have you seen him or heard of him lately?” said one of his benefactors to another. “ No, nor do I know where he is,” was the reply. “ Have you any idea who helps him?” said the interrogator. “Not the least, unless it may be Professor Longfellow. Everybody else has got out of patience with him.” Even the wretched tramp was not turned away empty. “I say, cap'n, hain't yer got a shirt yer can give a feller ?” The good man goes up-stairs, finds a shirt, and brings it down to the applicant. “I say, cap’n, can't yer put a bit of paper round it?” The patient giver ties it up without expostulation or remark. Plainly Mr. Longfellow was not a disciple of the “scientific" doctrine respecting almsgiving and helping only those who are willing to help themselves.
His charity was spiritual as well as eleemosynary. The sweetness he manifested towards his critics, especially towards his persecutor, Edgar A. Poe, whose vituperation he pardoned but could not understand, is in all mouths. The most generous explanations were always on his lips. He was more than forgiving; he was gracious and pitiful, accounting for apparent malignity by some possible misconception or misfortune which the evil-speaker could not help. To well-grounded objection he was ever more than tolerant. He could even thank the man who convicted him of 6
grave historic crimes and misdemeanors,” bearing no rancor in his breast.
This, it may be said, is no merit in one who is assured of his popularity. Such a man can afford to be magnanimous. Charity of all kinds comes easy to a rich and happy and
Such, perhaps, is the common impression, but it is not correct. Mr. Longfellow was probably never rich as a man of letters. He, from this source alone, it is likely, at no time earned more than a competency. His generosity was quite as great as his ability in all parts of his career, and he was obliged to deny himself something in order to be munificent to others. He was compelled to work that his beneficiaries might be comfortable.
Then reputation brings its penalties, sometimes severe ones. The sufferings of poverty and obscurity are appreciated by all. They are visible. They appeal to the senses. They are pains and deprivations. They suggest the privileges of others who are more fortunate. But the happy, if they are conscientious or sensitive, are open to visitations of trouble which are peculiar to their condition. They are subject to appeals for sympathy and aid, to which they do not always know how to respond. They must consider as well as compassionate, - consider in order to compassionate rightly. They must bear the vexation of being imposed upon, or of doubting whether they are imposed upon or not, or of mastering the tendency to misanthropy which is often so hard to overcome. Theirs is the temptation to disbelieve in man which is but the other side of the unhappy man's disbelief in God. Theirs is the responsibility of life, the responsibility for duty, not less than for charity, the responsibility for faith and hope and love; a fearful responsibility it is. No doubt Mr. Longfellow frequently envied the poor wretch he assisted, thinking an exchange of care might be a relief by throwing upon the body the burden that oppressed the mind.
After all, sorrow is sorrow, and disappointment is disappointment, and trouble is trouble. None are exempt from affliction. At the height of his bliss, Mr. Longfellow was nearly prostrated, and would have been crushed but for his fortitude, courage, and patience; virtues that no mortal can afford to be without, neither the richest nor the poorest.
His manner of meeting the terrible calamity of his wife's death by fire makes us regard him as almost a saint. Certainly his submission has never been
surpassed. Nothing short of an implicit faith in the heavenly will can quite explain that silence which was so full of God. Unless he poured out his heart in one of the poems written for himself alone, the grief was confined absolutely to his private bosem.
He had a genius for friendship. The death of Agassiz, of Sumner, was agony to him. Allusion has already been made to his feeling for them and for C. C. Felton; but even such expressions as he used in his poem about those friends do but feeble justice to the loyalty and intimacy of his affection. Could his old intimate, George Washington Greene, have told his confidential communications, the substance of numerous talks and letters, an impression of the depth and tenderness of the poet's soul would be given such as nothing else can convey. But alas! knowledge of this kind cannot be imparted. Mr. Greene's bodily and mental powers were sufficient, but here was an inward life which no material medium might impart, and the material medium alone was all that remained. An intimate friend may well have shrunk from such a task.
In his early years at Cambridge, the literary celebrities of the day, Prescott, the historian; George S. Hillard, the critic, essayist, man of elegant taste; George Ticknor, the professor and author ; Dr. Howe, the philanthropist, were often in his society. The following letter from Mr. Charles Lanman tells of his interest in later acquaintances.
During the summer of 1873, while spending a few weeks at Indian Hill, in Massachusetts, the delightful residence of Ben : Perley Poore, it was again my privilege to meet Mr. Longfellow. He had come down from Nahant, with his friend Charles Sumner, for the purpose of visiting, for the first time, the Longfellow homestead in Newbury.
After that visit he came by invitation, with the senator, to Indian Hill, where they enjoyed an early dinner and a sip of old wine, after which Mr. Poore took us all in his carriage on a visit to the poet John G. Whittier, at Amesbury. The day was charming, the route we followed was down the Merrimack and very lovely, and the conversation of the lions was of course delightful. We found Mr. Whittier at home, and it was not only a great treat to see him there, but a noted event to meet socially and under one roof three such men as Whittier, Sumner, and Longfellow. The deportment