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Biography of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was an American poet who was born on February 27, 1807 in Portland, Maine. His father, Stephen Longfellow, was a lawyer and maternal grandfather a general in the American Revolutionary War. As the son of Stephen Longfellow and Zilpah Wadsworth Longfellow, Henry was sent to school at the early age of three.

When Henry was a young boy, his mother read to him and his siblings the romance of Ossian, a legendary Gaelic hero, and his most favorite books, Don Quixote. However, the book which influenced Longfellow the most was Sketch Book by Washington Irvin.

Longfellow later studied at Bowdoin College and became a librarian before becoming the first professor of modern languages at Bowdoin after touring Europe in 1826 until 1829.

In 1831, Longfellow married Mary Storer Potter, who died just four years later in Rotterdam while the couple were traveling. After her death, Longfellow became a professor at Harvard University. He lived in a room at the historic Cragie House. The Cragie House was owned by an eccentric woman who read widely, containing complete sets of Voltaire and other authors.

After several years, the house was owned by Nathan Appleton and given to Longfellow and his wife Frances "Fanny" Appleton after their marriage as a wedding gift, seven years after Storer's death. The two began living at Craigie House, overlooking the Charles River.

While courting Appleton, Longfellow would walk from Harvard to Boston crossing the river via the West Boston Bridge, which was later demolished and replaced in 1906 to be named the Longfellow Bridge, to visit her home.

During the seven years of courting Appleton, Henry Wadsworth became known as a romantic figure in Cambridge. His hair flowed as he wore yellow gloves and flowered waistcoats. He wrote his first book of poems, Voices of the Night, and a prose romance book about his love for Frances, Hyperion.

After their marriage, their house became the center of attention in the college town. Young people flocked to the Cragie House to play with their five children; two boys and three girls. Longfellow's poem The Children's House describes the events best.

In the meantime, Longfellow came to know Nathaniel Hawthorne. From Hawthorne, Longfellow got a brief outline of his most favorite poem, Evangeline. The poem was published in 1847.

Longfellow retired from Harvard in 1854, devoting much of his time to writing. In 1859, he received an honorary Doctor of Laws award from Harvard. Sadly, two years later his wife Frances died in a housefire, devastating Longfellow. He remembered her in his sonnet The Cross of Snow in 1879.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow died on March 24, 1882.

Poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow