Friendship Poems

H.W. Longfellow Biography

LongfellowLongfellow was born on February 27, 1807, to Stephen Longfellow and Zilpah (Wadsworth) Longfellow in Portland, Maine. He grew up in what is now known as the Wadsworth-Longfellow House. His father was a prominent lawyer, and his maternal grandfather, Peleg Wadsworth, was a general in the American Revolutionary War and a Member of Congress. He was named after his mother’s brother Henry Wadsworth, a Navy lieutenant who died only three years earlier during the Battle of Tripoli. Henry was the second of eight children. His siblings were Stephen, Elizabeth, Anne, Alexander, Mary, Ellen and Samuel.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was enrolled in a primary school at the age of three and by age six was enrolled at the private Portland Academy, where he earned a reputation for being very studious and became fluent in Latin. His mother encouraged his enthusiasm for reading and learning by introducing him to Robinson Crusoe and Don Quixote. He published his first poem, a patriotic and historical four stanza poem called “The Battle of Lovell’s Pond” in the Portland Gazette on November 17, 1820, at the age of 13.. He stayed at the Portland Academy until the age of fourteen. He continued to spend much of his summers as a child at his grandfather Peleg’s farm in the western Maine town of Hiram.

In the fall of 1822, the then 15-year old Longfellow enrolled at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, alongside his brother, Stephen. His grandfather was a founder of the college and his father was a trustee. While there, Longfellow met Nathaniel Hawthorne, who later became his lifelong friend.

He went on to pursue his literary goals by submitting poetry and prose to various newspapers and magazines. Between January, 1824 and his graduation in 1825, he had published nearly 40 minor poems. About 24 of the poems appeared in the short-lived Boston periodical The United States Literary Gazette. Longfellow graduated from Bowdoin fourth in his class and gave the student commencement address.

After his graduation in 1825, he was offered a job as professor of modern languages at his alma mater. Instead of beginning the job immediately, he toured of Europe in May 1826 aboard the ship Cadmus, a tour which would last three years and cost his father $2,604.24, an exorbitant amount of money at the time. He traveled to France, Spain, Italy, Germany, back to France and then to England before returning to the United States sometime in mid-August 1829. He learned French, Spanish, Portuguese and German, mostly without formal instruction, while he was overseas.

On August 27, 1829, he wrote to the president of Bowdoin that he was turning down the professorship because he considered the $600 salary disproportionate to the duties required. The trustees responded by raising his salary to $800 with an additional $100 to serve as the college’s librarian, a post which required one hour of work per day. While he was teaching at Bowdoin College, he wrote textbooks in French, Italian and Spanish. He published his first book in 1833, a translation of the poetry of medieval Spanish poet Jorge Manrique. He also published a travel book, Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea , which was first published in serial form before a book edition was released in 1835.

On September 14, 1831, Longfellow married Mary Storer Potter, a childhood friend from Portland. The couple settled in Brunswick, although they were not happy there. In October 1835, while on a trip with his wife, Mary, she miscarried about six months into her pregnancy. She did not recover and died at the age of 22, after several weeks of illness on November 29, 1835. Longfellow had her body embalmed immediately and placed into a lead coffin inside an oak coffin which was then shipped to Mount Auburn Cemetery near Boston.

Longfellow courted Frances “Fanny” Appleton, the daughter of a wealthy Boston industrialist, Nathan Appleton. During his courtship, Longfellow continued writing and, in the fall of 1839, published Hyperion, a book of prose inspired by his trips abroad. On May 10, 1843, Longfellow received a letter from Fanny Appleton agreeing to marry him. After a seven-year courtship, Longfellow married Frances Appleton in 1843. They were married shortly thereafter. He and Fanny had six children and, by all accounts, a deeply romantic marriage. It was at this time that Longfellow began to devote himself entirely to his writing.

After Fanny’s untimely accidental death in 1861, he never fully recovered, occasionally resorting to laudanum and ether to deal with it. The next 20 years were some of the most prolific of his career. In March 1882, Longfellow reportedly went to bed with severe stomach pain. Suffering from peritonitis, he endured the pain for several days with the help of opium before he died surrounded by family on Friday, March 24, 1882. It was reported that, at the time of his death, his estate was worth an estimated $356,320.He is buried with both of his wives at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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