Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born on 27 February 1807 in Portland, Maine. An industrious and able student, with a love of books and a talent for writing, he mastered Latin while still a young boy. At 15, he started at Bowdoin College where he befriended Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was to become a lifelong friend. While in school, Longfellow wrote prolifically, sending his poems to newspapers, magazines and journals around the country. By the time Longfellow graduated in 1825, forty of his poems had been published. After time in Europe, Longfellow returned to The States, eventually lecturing at Harvard.
As a poet, Longfellow was highly-respected by his fellow writers. The reading public agreed; he is considered the the most popular poet of his day and his work sold well on both sides of the Atlantic. Among his best known works: “Evangeline” (1847), “The Song of Hiawatha” (1855), and “Paul Revere’s Ride” (1861). In 1867, Longfellow published his translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy—he was the first American to do so— which introduced the American public to the Italian Maestro’s masterpiece.
Longfellow was married twice. His first wife died while they were in Europe, in 1835, after miscarrying in her sixth month of pregnancy. His second wife died in 1861 from burns sustained when her dress caught fire. While attempting to save her, Longfellow covered her body with his—attempting to smother the flames. The injuries he suffered were so serious, he was unable to attend her funeral. And the scarring on Longfellow’s face was so disfiguring, he began to wear his trademark, shaggy beard.
In his final years, Longfellow worked translating the poetry of Renaissance giant Michelangelo Buonarroti, though he never completed the task to his satisfaction before his death in 1882. In March of his last year, Longfellow took to bed, complaining of severe stomach pain. He made it through the next several days—with the help of opium to lessen the pain—and died of peritonitis on 24 March 1882. Longfellow is buried in the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts with both of his wives.
Two years after his death, Longfellow was honored with a bust in Westminster Abbey’s “Poet’s Corner,” which makes him the first non-British writer to enjoy that honor. He still remains the only American to have his bust there.
The bookends above, finely-cast in solid bronze, were crafted some four decades after the poet’s death. Please click on the photo to learn more about them.
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