« AnteriorContinuar »
of the two poets was, to me, most captivating. The host, in his simple dress, was as shy as a schoolboy, while Mr. Longfellow, with his white and flowing hair and jolly laughter, reminded me of one of his own vikings; and when Mr. Whittier brought out and exhibited to us an antislavery document which he had signed forty years before, I could not help recalling some of the splendid things which that trio of great men had written on the subject of slavery. The drive to Newburyport, whence Mr. Sumner and Mr. Longfellow were to return to Nahant, was no less delightful than had been the preceding one ; and the kindly words which were spoken of Mr. Whittier proved that he was highly honored and loved by his noted friends, as he is by the world at large. Before parting from Mr. Longfellow he took me one side and spoke with great interest of the old homestead he had that morning visited, and expressed a wish that I should make a sketch of it for him, as it was then two hundred years old and rapidly going to decay. On the following morning I went to the spot and complied with his request; a few weeks afterward I sent him a finished picture of the house, not forgetting the wellsweep and the old stone horse-block, in which he felt a special interest; and he acknowledged the receipt of the picture in these words :
CAMBRIDGE, November 23, 1877. MY DEAR SIR: - I have this morning had the pleasure of receiving your letter, and the Japanese version of a portion of “ Kéramos ” which you were kind enough to send me, and for which I beg you to accept my cordial thanks. I shall put it away
with “ The Psalm of Life” written in Chinese on a fan. What I should like now is a literal retranslation of the Japanese into English.
In the introduction there is a slight error which is worth correcting. It is the Poet, not the Potter, who takes the aerial flight and in imagination visits far-off lands. Also, Kéramos is rather potter's earth than earthenware. But the difference is slight, and hardly worth noticing unless one wishes to be very particular.
You will rejoice as I do in the complete vindication of Sumner's memory from the imputations so recklessly cast upon it. With great regard, yours very truly,
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.
In November, 1881, when my work entitled “Curious Characters and Pleasant Places was published in Edinburgh, because of the fact that it contained a chapter on Anticosti, where Mr. Longfellow's first American ancestor lost his life (he who had built the Newbury homestead), I sent him a copy, and in my note I asked him for his views on the propriety of printing the private letters of living men without their consent. I had noticed in Barry Cornwall's autobiography several of Mr. Longfellow's own letters, and as I was then examining the very interesting correspondence of the late Professor Samuel Tyler, with a view to publication, I desired to be fortified with the poet's opinion, and the result of my application was as follows:
CAMBRIDGE, October 18, 1873. MY DEAR SIR: – I have had the pleasure of receiving your very friendly note, and the picture of the old homestead at Newbury, for both of which I pray you to accept my most cordial thanks. sured that I value your gift highly and appreciate the kindness which prompted it and the trouble you
took in making the portraits of the old house and tree. They are very exact, and will always remind me of that pleasant summer day and Mr. Poore's château and his charming family, and yours. If things could ever be done twice over in this world, which they cannot, I should like to live that day over again.
With kind regards to Mrs. Lanman, not forgetting a word and a kiss to your little Japanese ward (Ume Tsuda), I am, my dear sir, yours truly,
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.
When the poem of “ Kéramos was published in November, 1877, I had a translation made into Japanese of that portion of it alluding to Japan, and forwarded it to the poet with an explanation as to how the transformation had taken place ; the young gentleman who made the translation having been Mr. Amano Koziro, then of the Japanese legation. The acknowledgment sent me by Mr. Longfellow was as follows:
CAMBRIDGE, December 3, 1881. DEAR MR. LANMAN : I was very glad to get your letter and the
your Recollections.” It is a handsome volume, and most inviting in appear
I shall read it with the greatest interest, as soon as I am able to read anything, but at present I am confined to my room by illness. A trouble in the head which prevents continuous attention to anything. I hope this will soon pass away and all be right again.
The publication of private letters of living persons is certainly a delicate question. It is, however, universally practised in biographies. One must be guided by the importance of the letters themselves. I should omit everything that could in any way compromise the writer, as I see by your letter you would. There
This Anniversary. February 27, 1879.
In a word, Longfellow's sweetness of disposition was unutterable. A description of his visit to Wellesley College one summer day of 1877, in company with James T. Fields, is brimming over with delight at his simple, unaffected geniality. He read a poem; he wrote his name in albums; he said pleasant and humorous things; he was interested in the pursuits of the young ladies. On his seventyfifth birthday there was a stir in seminaries and schools. At the Perkins Institute for the Blind, in South Boston, founded by Dr. Howe and now superintended by his son-in-law, Mr. Anagnos, there were flowers, and speeches, and recitations. A picture of the poet and his home occupied prominent places on the wall of the chapel, which was handsomely decorated for visitors and guests. A dialogue was arranged to pay honor to the aged poet, and selections from his pieces, printed in raised letters were distributed among the pupils.
Longfellow's love for children has become proverbial. His affection for his own daughters,
“Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
And Edith with golden hair,” is not exaggerated in the lovely poem, " The Children's Hour,” while his sentiment towards childhood is none too strongly expressed in his charming stanzas called “Children." To see him with his grandchild in his arms was to see him as he was. On his seventy-second birthday, the children of Cambridge presented him with the celebrated chair which has been so often described, which occupies a place in the poet's study, and which was acknowledged by the verses, “From My Arm Chair.” The chair bore the loving inscription,
In 1880, when the city of Cambridge celebrated the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the town, December 28th, there was a children's festival at Sanders' Theatre in the morning, and the chair stood on the platform in full view of the thousand children assembled. Mr. George Riddle read the poem ; then, to the surprise of all, for the dear man's aversion to public appearances was well known, the poet himself came forward and made this charming little speech :
“ My dear young Friends, — I do not rise to make an address to you, but to excuse myself from making
I know the proverb says that he who excuses himself accuses himself, and I am willing on this occasion to accuse myself, for I feel very
much as I suppose some of you do when you are suddenly called upon
class-room, and are obliged to say that you are not prepared. I am glad to see your faces and to hear your voices. I am glad to have this opportunity of thanking you in prose, as I have already done in verse, for the beautiful present you made me some two years ago. Perhaps some of you have forgotten it, but I have not; and I am afraid yes, I am afraid
that fifty years hence, when you celebrate the three hundredth anniversary of this occasion, this day and all that belongs to it will have passed from your memory: for an English philosopher has said that the ideas as well as children of our youth often die before us, and our minds represent to us those tombs to which we are approaching, where though the brass and marble remain, yet the inscriptions are effaced by time, and the imagery moulders away."
After the presentation of the chair, no children who came to the house were refused admission. The children felt that Mr. Long
Traveller's Book at Schaffhausen, as there told :
fellow belonged to them, and he, on his part, encouraged the belief. Many pretty stories are told illustrating this reciprocal feeling ; perhaps the prettiest is that repeated often from the lips of Mr. Luigi Monti.
“ Beware of the Raven of Zürich!
'T is a bird of omen ill;
And a very, very long bill." It is recorded of him that, on visiting a certain house one day, it was his misfortune to have on a pair of creaking boots. The next day his card was left at the door, with these lines :
“I knew by the boots that so terribly creaked
Along the front entry a stranger was near.
“On Christmas day, as he was walking briskly toward the old historic house, he was accosted by a girl about twelve years old, who inquired the way to Longfellow's home. He told her it was some distance down the street, but if she would walk along with him he would show her. When they reached the gate she said: “Do you think I can go in the yard?' "Oh, yes,' said Signor Monti. “Do you see the room on the left ? That is where Martha Washington held her receptions a hundred years ago. If you
look at the window on the right you will probably see a white-haired gentleman reading a paper, Well, that will be Mr. Longfellow.'
“As Signor Monti drew near the house, he saw Mr. Longfellow standing with his back against the window, his head, of course, out of sight. When he went in, the kind-hearted Italian said : Do look out of the window and bow to that little girl, who wants to see you very much.' “A little girl wants to see me very much? Where is she!' He hastened to the door, and, beckoning with his hand, called out : “Come here, little girl ; come here if you want to see me.' She needed no second invitation, and, after shaking her hand and asking her name, he kindly took her into the house, showed her the chair made from the village smithy's chestnut tree and presented to him by the Cambridge children, and the beautiful pictures and mementoes gathered in many years of foreign residence. That child will carry all of her life delightful memories of her Christmas call at Mr. Longfellow's."
This instance was one of many. There is a story of a boy who brought his new album in perfect confidence that Mr. Longfellow would write his name in it, as he did most obligingly. There is another story, more comprehensive in its bearing, of a scholar at a Sunday-school who, when asked by the pastor what books were best worth reading, replied without a misgiving, “The poems of Mr. Longfellow.” Was she so far wrong?
Longfellow had a keen sense of humor. He could take in the grotesque points of a situation. In “Hyperion” one may find four lines on the “ Raven” hotel at Zürich, written in the
The stories may possibly be apocryphal, but they may be true, and they are characteristic.
He was fond of telling anecdotes like these : An Englishman without letters of introduction said, on coming into the room: “Is this Mr. Longfellow ? ah, — as you have no ruins in your country, I - ah — thought I would call and see you.
A stranger who visited him at Newport remarked with enthusiasm : “ Mr. Longfellow, I have long desired the honor of knowing you. Sir, I am one of the few men who have read your • Evangeline.''
An English lady on being introduced to him observed: “Why, Mr. Longfellow, I thought you were dead.” “No madam, you see I take the liberty of living.” “Yes — but I thought you belonged to Washington's time at least."
One morning a man pushed by the servant at the door, burst in upon the poet in his study, and without preface said: “Mr. Longfellow, you are a poet, I believe.” “Well, sir, some persons have said so."
“ All right, Mr. Longfellow! Poet it is! Now I've called here to see if I could n't git you to write some poetry for me to have printed and stuck onto my medicine bottles. You see, I go round sellin' this medicine, and if you 'll do it, it ’ll help immensely; and I 'll just tell you right now, if you 'll give me the poetry, I 'll give you a bottle of the carminative, — and it's one dollar a bottle!” Mr. Winter, the poet, is responsible for this story, which he heard from Longfellow's own lips as he sat by the fire-place in the library back of the study. The comments must have been delicious, for the way of telling the anecdote added vastly to its effect, “Carminative!” 66 One dollar a bottle!”
The man's industry was incessant. He was an economist of moments. The acquirements that seemed so natural to him were the fruit of hard study. As a young man, in Paris, he lived in modest lodgings, saw few sights, went little to theatre or opera, made rare visits, Lafayette and Madame de Sailly being almost his only French acquaintances, had no companions save Pierre Irving, David Berdan, and a cousin, Dr. Storer, but devoted himself, with the aid of Levizac's grammar, Boniface's dictionary, and some good French author, to perfecting his knowledge of the language which already he was tolerably familiar with. The translation of Dante, so careful, painstaking, faithful, was accomplished by the slow accumulation of lines, the principle being to let no day pass without its contribution to the work; as much as ten minutes in the morning, if no more. He wrought his pieces over and over, revised and re-revised; did no hasty writing ; never wrote to order; often left his verses in the drawer for months ; would do nothing until his mind was set on fire by an idea ; welcomed opportunities, but made them wait till he was ready. His was a literary conscience as well as a poetical genius. His habits were those of one who insisted on doing the best of which he was capable. He could be forbearing towards others; with himself he was exacting in all things, small or great. He remembered where everything was; he took care of things.
He was a man of strong opinions. Though seldom appearing before the public, taking no forward part in political affairs, never a leader
or partisan, his convictions were deep and his feelings warm. In private conversation he expressed himself at times in unvarnished phrase on questions of local or national concern. He was frank and honest; no prevaricator or palterer. He had no talent for leadership; he was too modest to esteem his name a power ; but he had his thoughts, and he had no scruple at expressing them when they were asked for.
Even at an advanced age it was his habit to rise early, eat a comparatively light breakfast, and then equip himself for walk, if the weather permitted. His gait was firm, his step elastic, his bearing upright; evidently he enjoyed the motion and relished exercise. In his later years, to the very last, indeed, he took pleasure in the theatre. He hoped that his “ Masque of Pandora ” would be successful on the stage, actually took steps towards it. In fact the piece was brought out at the Boston Theatre, on the 10th of January, 1881, with music by Alfred Cellier, but it did not succeed. When Signor Rossi was acting in Boston during the autumn of 1881, he occupied, one evening, a box with his friend, Luigi Monti, and was as hearty in his demonstrations of applause as any spectator in the house.
Mr. Longfellow looked the poet and the man he was. There was a striking likeness between the youth and the patriarch. There was the same bright eye, the same fresh complexion, the same hearty expression of voice and manner. Age, of course, left its marks upon him, whitened his hair, drew lines about his eyes and cheeks, took the color from his cheek, but it added dignity and majesty to his appearance. His look became at once softer and loftier. His hair fell in more impressive masses, while a thick beard gave a picturesque setting to the face. His lips were full and sensitive, his tones mellow and rich. He was about middle height, rather under it, perhaps; but like his ancestor, Peleg Wadsworth, he looked taller than he was, owing to his straight bearing. His form was light and compact, his carriage buoyant. Artists and women delighted in his aspect. The most elaborate account of his physiognomy is from the pen of a woman who was prepared to sing in the “Masque of Pandora.” He was undoubtedly a singularly handsome man, a certain strength of contour and strongly marked features at all ages of life redeeming the countenance from everything like effeminacy.
Mr. Longfellow was not averse to pleasant words in public or private. There is no reason why he should have been. He was famous, and could not but know it. He had genius, as all the world acknowledged. He was by nature sympathetic and responsive, always courteous and accessible. He was destitute of exclusiveness. He loved his kind, and on every occasion did his utmost to please them. That his goodness was taken advantage of by flatterers of both sexes is certain ; goodness like his always is taken advantage of; but in his case it was goodness still, - a wish to gratify others, not a greedy passion to delight himself. The virtue of humility, that “ base of all the virtues," he possessed.
There are many portraits of Longfellow, none of them quite satisfactory, but all with good points. Lawrence, Healy, Marshall, Buchanan Read have done well. The line engraving that W. E. Marshall made from his own showy painting was signed by Mr. Long
fellow himself among his last performances in that
way; he writing his name on more than a thousand impressions not long before he died. The main features of the face and head are familiar through likenesses published in popular journals after his death. Mr. Piatt, the poet, recalled a full length engraving of Mr. Longfellow in “ Graham's Magazine” of May, 1813. Early portraits are in existence in Portland and Boston. The Portland home possesses a portrait painted by Badger about 1830. Now and then certain features were grotesquely caricatured, as might have been expected, but in the main the manly, open, noble face was fairly presented. The spirit of the man was preserved. The earliest oil painting of the poet was done when he was professor at Bowdoin College ; the latest was also executed for Bowdoin by his son Ernest, who had painted one in 1876. Healy's picture is in Boston, and there is one, perhaps there are two in Philadelphia. There are six portraits in his house at Cambridge, three of them in crayon. The photographs are numberless, and cannot be mentioned. But the sun has no soul; and correct as most of these are, they fail to present the inside of the man.
MR. LONGFELLOW's health was usually good. Though not robust, his constitution was elastic, and by proper care was equal to any strain that he put on it. He was never seriously ill. Exercise in the open air, simple habits of living, cheerfulness, freedom from injurious excitements, the pursuit of congenial aims, preserved him from disease. He seemed, and was to all appearance, a privileged mortal, almost his whole life through. On his seventy-fourth birthday, as he sat with his family and a few chosen friends at his dinner-table, he said, 6. There seems to me a mistake in the order
I can hardly believe that the four should not precede the seven.” In July, 1875, the poet went to Brunswick to meet his remaining classmates, and read his “ Morituri
Salutamus" on the fiftieth anniversary of his graduation, and his voice was firm, his form erect, his manner as attractive as ever. But when the Maine Historical Society celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday with loving admiration, addresses by old friends, reviews of the past, gratitude for the present, hopeful confidence in the future, he could not be present; could only send a telegram expressing cordial thanks and gratitude for the tribute of remembrance. He had been troubled with ailments before, especially with neuralgia. His digestion had become impaired; still there was nothing to cause serious uneasiness to himself or others. But Mr. C. E. Norton, who knew him well testifies that in the year following his seventyfourth birthday he experienced “ the pains and
of the years.