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LONGFELLOW. SINCE we began to write this series of is some deceit in even them, as in the
biographies, we have been somewhat matter of morals—many a vicious man struck with the representative character often writing virtuously; but generally, in of our writers; and were we disposed to matters of taste, of mind, of soul, the books follow out our theory on the subject, no of an author are more to be trusted than thing would be easier than to classify hearsay reports of his life, and any amount them : : as Bryant, the moralist; Halleck, of affidavits thereon. Do what we will, we the wit; Hawthorne, the recluse; Whittier, cannot hide our minds and hearts; they the reformer; Holmes, the satirist; Willis, will reveal themselves in thoughts. The the man-of-the-world; Longfellow, the thought may be shorn of its beams, or scholar; and so on through the whole may be gilded brighter than it naturally is, batch. Not one, we believe, but would but in either case it cannot be long disbe found to express some idea in the pop- guised; something about it, some tone or ular mind, from which he derives his pop- aroma betrays it, and betrays the source ularity; and not one but would exhibit in from which it derives its weakness or his writings the life which he has led, and strength; whether from nature, through is leading. We fail to reveal ourselves familiarity with her outward shows; from in action, but not in books; pens, ink, and other minds, through the medium of perpaper are sad truth-tellers : not but there sonal communication and books: or from
Vol. III, No. 1.-A
itself through years of self-communion Mer, or a Pilgrimage beyond the Sea. and dreams; we all whisper whence we In 1839 appeared Hyperion, his best prose steal our spoils. To fully develop this work, a sort of sentimental journey; and idea we should have to write essays equal | the Voices of the Night, his first collecto those of Emerson. Doubting our abil- tion of poems. In 1841 came his Ballads ity to do so, (modest man !) we shall not and other Poems; in 1843 The Spanish attempt to develop it; but content our Student, a Play; in 1844 Poems on selves with having given the clew, and Slavery; and a large octavo volume, the come back to a subject to which it espec- collected edition of his poetical works, ially applies, the subject of our present which were highly popular. Since that paper, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. time we have had The Belfry of Bruges ; From what we have said, and shall here- Evangeline, a Tale of Acadia; The Seaafter say, the reader will know how to Side and the Fire-Side ; and The Golden classify him.
Legend, in poetry; and Cavanah, a Tale, in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born prose. What he has on hand we know in Portland, Maine, on the 27th of not, but we suspect something; it is about February, 1807. Of his youth we have time for us to look for another volume. no account, save that in his fourteenth Longfellow's present residence is at year he entered Bowdoin College, from Cambridge, in the old Cragie house, forwhich he graduated in 1825. Then we merly the head-quarters of Washington. hear of his prosecuting the study of the In a beautiful poem addressed to one of law till the college appoints him Professor his children, he thus alludes to it :of Modern Languages; to fit himself for
“Once, ah, once within these walls, the chair, he, in 1826, sailed for Europe, One whom memory oft recalls, where he remained three or four years, The Father of his Country, dwelt; visiting and residing in England, France, And yonder meadows, broad and damp,
The fires of the besieging camp Spain, Italy, Germany, and Holland; re
Encircled with a burning belt. turning, he commenced his professional duties, and in 1831 took unto himself a
"Up and down these echoing stairs
Weary with the weight of cares wife. In 1835 the Professorship of Mod Sounded his majestic tread; ern Languages and Literature in Harvard Yes, within this very room College being rendered vacant by the
Sat he in those hours of gloom, resignation of Mr. George Ticknor, the
Weary both in heart and head." since author of several bulky tomes on Here Longfellow resides in elegant Spanish literature, Longfellow was elected style with his wife and children—(there his successor, and, resigning his chair at was a second marriage we forgot to say) Bowdoin, he again revisited Europe to surrounded by a rare collection of books, make himself a more thorough master of and visited by the great, the wise, the his studies. The summer of '35 was spent good of both hemispheres. No man in in Denmark and Sweden ; the autumn and New-England is more popular among bis winter in Germany, where he had the friends and the public at large; and no misfortune to lose his wife ; and the man, we fancy, more deservedly so. We spring and summer of '36 in Switzerland might turn several neat sentences about and the Tyrol. Returning to the United his excellent qualities of head and heart; States again in the autumn of the latter but when we say that he is a man, a genyear, he took the chair at Cambridge, tleman, we say all that is necessary. where he has since resided.
A real critique of Longfellow is yet, The United States Literary Gazette, a perhaps, to be written. Enough has been feeble, but rather elegant journal of the written in the shape of so-called critiques, old time, printed at Boston while Long- both of praise and blame ; but, as far as fellow was an under-graduate, has the we have seen, the heart of the mystery merit, it is said, of having first ushered his remains yet untouched, or at the most has productions into the world. While profes- been but barely indicated, and then forsor at Bowdoin he wrote several papers gotten. A thorough analysis has never for the North American Review, (“My yet been made, and probably never will be Grandmother's Review, the British,") in full; those who could make it not havtranslated that heavy Spanish monody, ing the inclination, and those who would Coplas De Manrique, and published Outre not having the ability. In the meantime
we wade through seas of general criti- heavens, and things past, present, and to cism, (save the mark !) which will just come, meet in its broad domains lovingly as well apply to anybody else, and know and beautifully. We allow the poet the no more about Longfellow as he really is widest range therein ; but while we allow than about the man in the moon, a sort of him this range, we would not have him fabulous halo surrounding both.
abuse it; nor should he so far forget his The first thing that strikes us about own age as to sing of nothing but the ages Longfellow is his scholarship, his acquaint before him. If the dead are beautiful, ance with books; we see the professor at surely the living, who have discarded and once. Not that he ever puts forth his learn- outgrown so many of their imperfections, ing ostentatiously, or is in any degree pe- are equally so; and while the poet sympadantic-quite the contrary; but somehow he thizes with the past, he should love the always reminds us of, and insensibly lapses present in which he works, and the future into books. His themes and their manner which is to give him his renown, and lead of treatment are rather academical than mankind to nobler destinies. Now this, natural; and even when they are natural, it seems to us, is the point where Longit is very apt to be nature in a high state fellow chiefly fails. For anything in the of cultivation. We cannot long resist the bulk of his poetry materially to the conbookish bent of his mind, however mal- trary, it might have been written centuries apropos it may be : either he has no deep ago. It would have lacked then its present sense of fitness and poetic keeping, or else refinement and elegance, but its general his learning overpowers it. No modern cast and complexion would have been the poet save Longfellow, or some poetical same. Professor Longfellow sits in his professor like him, would think of going professor's chair, between the kingdoms of into a wood to muse on old monkish le- the past and future, a kind of scholastic gends; and no other modern po least Janus, looking both ways; but his tenderest of all an American one, would at such a glance is evidently cast behind him, and time allude to Pentecost, except in relig- his warmest sympathies and loves are ious poetry, or talk of “bishops' caps" with the dead and gone. The stir and among the flowers.
What are bishops' tumult of the present fills the scene around caps, pray? and what are they doing in him, and the future looms up grandly in the woods of America ? and what are the the distance ; but he turns from both to leaves doing when they clap their little the dead past, and to its cloud-like pomps hands? We are not generally disposed and pageants. The landscape of his to curtail any man's fancies; but when thoughts is peopled with old feudal castles, they are so far-fetched we should like to do and their picturesque inhabitants, lords so amazingly. Had Longfellow dreamed and ladies, knights and squires, with gray of the Indians in the forest it would have abbeys and cloisters, mitred bishops, friars, been natural ; had he even dreamed of and nuns, and minstrels and minnesingers ; the Dryads, it would still have been nat
Himself not least, but honor'd of them all." ural; for the old fables of Greece belong to all lands alike, they are so beautiful
He seems to have been born several and worldly; but when he comes to tra- centuries too late. He should have lived, ditions of saint and sage, to “chronicles of
we think, in the days of the Troubadours, old,” we feel that he is out of his sphere; the courts of love, where he could not but
and should have contended with them in he should be among missals and psalters in some old university or cloister, not have been crowned a victor. among flowers and trees in vernal woods,
His knowledge of nature seems to be
drawn exclusively from books; woods, "Where shadows dark, and sunlight sheen, fields, rivers, the sea and sky are but little Alternate come and go."
to him as a poet, whatever they may be to This, however, is the peculiarity, and, him as a man. He seldom detects in our way of thinking, the fault of his “The light that never was on sea or land, genius. We are not, let us here remark,
The consecration and the poet's dream." of that school of critics who would cir- But he discovers similarities between cumscribe a poet of the nineteenth century nature and art which no other man can, to the nineteenth century alone. The and makes pretty fancies thereon. He world of song is as wide as the illimitable talks of spring's armorial bearing, summer's green emblazoned field, and the brazen “ Through the closed blinds, the golden sun shield of autumn. The winds are anthems
Pour'd in a dusty beam,
Like the celestial ladder seen and masses, and the clouds are hooded
By Jacob in his dream.” friars who tell their beads in drops of rain. The brook pours its waters from
The reader will observe the repetition a laver, the landscape is like a shield of the word “ like," and the constant use embossed with silver, the west at sunset of comparisons, good, bad, and indifferent: is a painted oriel, and the evening is cowled they are half Longfellow's stock in trade, and dusky-sandaled. He seems never to and however he may fail in poetry, have observed nature on her own account, he can hardly become a bankrupt in metaand never to have described her in un- phor; to the last he will give us dainty adorned beauty. Further than that he can fancies. Beautiful many of them certainly make her poetical and picturesque, and are, and delightedly do we linger over that he can use her to hang his thick-them; and yet we would that they were coming fancies upon, he cares not for her. not; while our heart approves them, our Such is the impression that we derive taste condemns. We object to fancies in from his poems, though, for anything we general, and those of Longfellow in know to the contrary, he may be as deeply particular, because they retard poetry enamored of her in private as was ever when they should advance it; however Wordsworth himself.
exquisite or fitting they may be, they bring We have spoken of Longfellow's fancy, it to a dead stand. The poet had to and as we have something to say on that stop to make them, and we have to stop subject, we may as well say it here, es- to admire them ; besides, they direct our pecially as it is calculated to attract atten- attention to themselves rather than to the tion-his fancy, we mean, not what we thoughts which they accompany, the subhave to say—equally with his scholarship. stances of which they are the shadows. Speaking of himself in “ Hyperion,” under Like the shadow in Anderson's fairy the disguise of Paul Fleming, he says, story, they claim more attention than the (we change the tense from the past to man who casts the shadow. To be the present) Imagination is the ruling thoroughly understood, and thoroughly power of his mind.
His thoughts are useful, thought should be naked and abtwin born ; the thought itself, and its stract; clothed upon by shining fancies figurative semblance in the outer world. and quaint conceits, it degenerates into Thus through the quiet still waters of his mere sentiment, and as such is forgotten. soul each image floats double, swan and When the image fades from the mind, the shadow.” This is happily expressed, and thought fades with it; for it was probably true—all but the word imagination. For by the image alone that the thought gained imagination read fancy, and the character- admittance. Not that true thought is ization is complete. Imagination Long- really, and at all times, opposed to imagery; fellow has not, or only on rare occasions, on the contrary, it is often rendered more and in a limited degree ; but fancy he impressive by it; but then the imagery certainly has, more than any writer of the must be natural, and really poetical and times, and it is his most distinguishing sublime-must elevate and not sink the trait. Seldom does he give us a thought, thought. There is more truth in the old without its “figurative semblance.” A rhetorical rule, “ The greater cannot be few examples are better than pages of compared with the less,” than some of our pre pt :
moderns are aware of. What we object “Where the sailing clouds went by,
to in much of Longfellow's imagery is, that Like ships upon the sea."
it sinks rather than elevates the subject “ Under its loosen'd vest
to which it is applied; it is often merely Flutter'd her little breast,
pretty fancy when it should be sublime Like birds in the nest,
imagination. When, for instance, he By the hawk frighted.”
compares a vast landscape to a shield, the “And catch the burning sparks that fly, Like chaff from the threshing-floor.”
moon to a golden goblet, and the stars to
forget-me-nots, we all feel that something “ His brow was sad ; his eye beneath Flash'd like the falchion from its sheath;
is wrong, though we may not all be able And like a silver clarion rung
to say what it is ; and when, on the other The accents of that unknown tongue." | hand, the pewter plates on a dresser are