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HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW, the foremost of American poets, was born at Portland, Maine, on February 27, 1807. The English ancestor of the family, William Longfellow, came to this country in 1678, and settled at Newbury. His son was the "Village Blacksmith" of the day, and married the daughter of a clergyman in Marshfield. Their son became a schoolmaster, and a clerk of the court. Then followed a judge, whose son, Stephen, was Longfellow's father. He was a lawyer and a United States representative. He married a daughter of General Peleg Wadsworth, who was a prominent officer in the Revolutionary War. Their son, Henry Wadsworth, crowned the line as a poet.
The boy was a bright student and entered Bowdoin College by the time he was fourteen. He was studious and delighted in miscellaneous reading, especially in tales of Indian life, a taste that may have been fostered by the fact that his college was situated in a locality still full of Indian haunts and legends. He had at Bowdoin, in Nathaniel Hawthorne, a classmate whose fame equals his own.
Graduating at the age of eighteen, Longfellow entered his father's office, intending to follow the law, but soon received the offer of a professorship in modern languages in his own college, work for which he was much better fitted. In order to qualify for it more perfectly, he spent the next three years and a half in travelling in France, Italy, Germany, Holland, and England. Taking up his work at Bowdoin, he remained there six years, marrying in 1831, and in 1833 publishing a small volume of poetry, the fruit of his trip abroad. This was made up mainly of translations from the Spanish and the French, with part of a work called "Outre-Mer," which he completed in the next few years. In 1835 he was chosen professor of modern languages and belles-lettres at Harvard, and paid another visit to Europe for further preparation.
Returning after fifteen months of travel, he became a resident of Cambridge, Massachusetts. His next volume of poetry, "The Voices of the Night," in which appeared, among others, the famous "Psalm of Life," had an immense popularity. This was followed by "Ballads and other Poems," containing "The Wreck of the Hesperus," "Excelsior," "The Village Blacksmith," and others. Soon after came his "Poems on Slavery," followed in a year or two by two thin volumes, in which were included such favorites as "The Day is Done," "The Belfry of Bruges," and "The Old Clock on the Stairs."
About 1843 he fixed his residence in the Craigie House at Cambridge, celebrated for having been the headquarters of Washington when he took command of the Army of the United States in 1776. Here he continued to reside until his death. In 1847 he published "Evangeline," the greatest of his works, the story of which was drawn from a pathetic incident which occurred during the expulsion of the French from Nova Scotia by the British.
In 1849 Longfellow published "The Seaside and the Fireside," following it soon after with the "Golden Legend,” which is considered, next to "Evangeline," his greatest work. In 1854 he resigned his collegework, but did not cease to write. "Hiawatha," his noted Indian story, appeared in 1855, and "The Courtship of Miles Standish "three years later. This latter poem it was particularly fitting for Longfellow to write, as his mother was a descendant of "Priscilla, the Puritan Maiden," and the poem is founded upon a pleasing incident which was doubtless a well known tradition in his family history.
In 1867 he brought out his scholarly translation of the "Divina Commedia" of Dante.
In 1880 his health showed signs of failing, and two years later he died, amid universal regret.