Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) was a highly popular American poet and educator. Born in New Hampshire, he went to Bowdoin College, where he met up with classmate Nathaniel Hawthorne, who later became one of America’s favorite writers of prose. After graduation, Longfellow took on a post as Professor of Modern Languages at Bowdoin and later taught at Harvard. In the 1850s, Longfellow gave up his professorship to devote himself entirely to writing. Longfellow’s most enduring works are his narrative poems, Hiawatha, Evangeline and The Courtship of Miles Standish. The last two of these poems are written in dactylic hexameter, in imitation of classic Greek poetry. Longfellow’s most popular poem (although less acclaimed) is his “Ride of Paul Revere,” which recounts the famous rider’s alarm “through every Middlesex village and farm” that the British were coming. Longfellow has lost favor with American teachers, but there has been a rebirth of interest in his poetry. Adored by the British overseas, Longfellow was the first American poet to be given honor in Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey.
Longfellow’s personal life was very sad. His first wife died on a European tour which the poet was taking in preparation for a position he was offered at Harvard as Professor of Modern Languages. She suffered a miscarriage on the trip, became seriously ill and did not recover. Longfellow grieved, writing, “One thought occupies me night and day... She is dead—she is dead! All day I am weary and sad.” About ten years later he married Frances Appleton, the daughter of a wealthy Boston industrialist. The couple lived in the famous Craigie House, which had been Washington’s first official headquarters during the Siege of Boston. The house, built in 1759, was bought and given to Longfellow as a wedding gift by Nathan Appleton, his father-in-law. The poet and his wife had six children together, but their happy family life was interrupted by a horrible tragedy. His wife died suddenly from a fire. Her dress had ignited while sealing her children’s hair in envelopes using wax. Longfellow’s grief was overwhelming, and he never fully recovered. Longfellow died on Friday, March 24, 1882 of an abdominal disorder.