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- Journeys Through Bookland - 10/71 -
And here and there a foamy flake Upon me, as I travel With many a silvery waterbreak Above the golden gravel,
And draw them all along, and flow To join the brimming river; For men may come and men may go, But I go on forever.
I steal by lawns and grassy plots, I slide by hazel covers; I move the sweet forget-me-nots That grow for happy lovers.
I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance, Among my skimming swallows; I make the netted sunbeam dance Against my sandy shallows.
I murmur under moon and stars In brambly wildernesses; I linger by my shingly bars; I loiter round my cresses.
And out again I curve and flow To join the brimming river; For men may come and men may go, But I go on forever.
HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW
_By_ GRACE E. SELLON
Among the most distinguished and interesting buildings in the town of Portland, Maine, is the rather severe-looking house built in the latter part of the eighteenth century by General Peleg Wadsworth. From the very date of its erection, this structure became the object of not a little pride among the citizens of Portland as the first in the town to be made of brick; but this local fame grew in the course of a century to world-wide celebrity when the dwelling came to be known as the childhood home of the most loved of American poets.
In 1808 the daughter of General Wadsworth, with her husband, Stephen Longfellow, and their two little children, removed from the house in the eastern part of Portland, where their second son, Henry, had been born a little over a year before, to live in the Wadsworth home. There the young mother, surrounded by the scenes endeared to her as those in which her own youth had been spent, devoted herself to the care and training of her children, while the father continued to pursue an honorable career as a lawyer and able representative, in public affairs, of the Federalist party. As the years passed, the little family grew considerably until it came to consist of four girls and five boys. Yet the mother found time for close companionship with all of her children and active interest in the affairs of each. And the father, though much occupied with duties outside of the home, watched carefully the progress made by his boys and girls and tried to put in their way the advantages that would help them to become rightminded and useful men and women.
[Illustration: HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW 1807-1882]
Indeed, so wholesome and well-ordered was the Longfellow home that it must have been a pleasant place to look in upon when all the family had assembled at evening in the living room. While the mother read perhaps from a book of verse, for she was especially fond of poetry, and the father gave himself up to some work on history, theology or law, the children would study quietly for probably an hour or more. Then, their lessons prepared, they would draw up in a little group to listen to a story, possibly from the _Arabian Nights_, or would gather about the piano in the parlor where Henry would sing to them the popular songs of that day. Sometimes the music would become so irresistibly gay that the children would begin to dance to its accompaniment and to awaken the echoes of the staid old dwelling-house with sounds of unrestrained delight that would have fallen with startling effect upon the ears of their Puritan ancestors.
Always a leader in these amusements was Henry Longfellow. His lively nature found especial delight in social pleasures. In fact, when he was but eight months old his mother discovered that he wished "for nothing so much as singing and dancing." Then, too, he was fond of playing ball, of swimming, coasting and skating and of all the other ordinary games and sports. However, he was an especially thoughtful boy, and even from his earliest years was a very conscientious student and took pride in making a good record at school. During the years passed at the Portland Academy, where he was placed when six years old, he worked so industriously and with such excellent results that although he found it very hard--too hard in fact--to be perfect in deportment, his earnest efforts were recognized by the master of the school who sent home from time to time a _billet_ or short statement in which Henry's recitations and his general conduct were highly praised. The _billet_ was a matter of no small consequence to the boy, at least in the earliest part of his school life, for in his first letter--a few lines written with much labor when he was seven years old, and sent to his father in Boston--one of the four sentences that make up the curt little note announces with due pride, "I shall have a billet on Monday."
While the boy was pursuing his regular studies at school, he found interest in reading other books than those required in his school course--various English classics contained in his father's library. Like the delight that he felt in such reading, was that which he found in rambling through the woods on the outskirts of the town and about the farms of his two grandfathers and of his uncle Stephenson. He liked the quiet of natural scenes, and was moved with deep wonder by the ever-changing beauty of the woods and fields, the ocean and the mountains. Because of this genuine love for nature and his tender regard for every living creature, he could not share his companions' pleasure in hunting expeditions. Indeed, it is said that on one occasion when he had shot a robin, he became so filled with pity and sorrow for the little dead bird that he could never again take part in such cruel sport.
It was not long before the effect of the combined influences of Henry Longfellow's reading of classic poets and of his rambles about the country surrounding his native town was made apparent in an event that doubtless seemed to him then to be the most important that had befallen in his career of thirteen years. He had been visiting his grandfather Wadsworth at Hiram, and while there had gone to a near-by town where is situated Lovell's Pond, memorable as the scene of a struggle with the Indians.
Henry had been so moved by the story that he could relieve his feelings only by telling it in verse. The four stanzas thus produced he so longed to see in print that he could not resist the desire to convey them secretly to the letter-box of the Portland _Gazette_, and deposit them there with mingled hope and mistrust. With what keen expectation he awaited the appearance of the newspaper perhaps only other youthful authors in like positions can fully feel. When at length the paper arrived, Henry must wait until his father had very deliberately opened it, read its columns and then without comment had laid it aside, before he could learn the fate of his verses.
But when, at length, he had the opportunity to scan the columns of the paper, he forgot all his anxiety and the hard period of waiting. There on the page before him he saw:
_The Battle of Lovell's Pond_
Cold, cold is the north wind and rude is the blast That sweeps like a hurricane loudly and fast, As it moans through the tall waving pines lone and drear, Sings a requiem sad o'er the warrior's bier.
The war-whoop is still, and the savage's yell Has sunk into silence along the wild dell; The din of the battle, the tumult, is o'er And the war-clarion's voice is now heard no more.
The warriors that fought for their country--and bled, Have sunk to their rest; the damp earth is their bed; No stone tells the place where their ashes repose, Nor points out the spot from the graves of their foes.
They died in their glory, surrounded by fame, And Victory's loud trump their death did proclaim; They are dead; but they live in each Patriot's breast, And their names are engraven on honor's bright crest.
It is little wonder that through the day he read the verses again and again and that his thoughts were filled with the excitement and joy of success. That evening while visiting at the home of Judge Mellen, the father of one of his closest friends, he was sitting interestedly listening to a conversation on the subject of poetry, when he was startled by seeing the judge take up the _Gazette_ and hearing him say: "Did you see the piece in to-day's paper? Very stiff, remarkably stiff; moreover, it is all borrowed, every word of it." So unexpected and harsh was the censure that Henry felt almost crushed and could hardly conceal his feelings until he could reach home. Not until he had gone to bed and was shielded from all critical eyes did he give vent to his bitter disappointment.
In the following year (1821), his course at the Academy having come to an end, he took the entrance examinations for Bowdoin College. Though both he and his elder brother passed these successfully, they did not go to the College at Brunswick for another year. Henry then entered upon his course of study with such earnestness and enthusiasm that in a class, consisting of students several of whom later became notable, he ranked as one of the first. Like his classmate Hawthorne, he was especially devoted to the study of literature. So genial and courteous was his bearing toward all, and such a lively interest did he take in all the worthier activities of the life at the college, that though he chose as his intimate friends only those whose tastes agreed with his own, he was generally liked and admired.
Perhaps the success of his course at Bowdoin increased his confidence in his ability to write for publication, though indeed it had been proved that the outcome of his first venture along this line had not after all destroyed the budding hopes of the young writer. For previous to entering college he had continued to make contributions to the _Gazette_. Other compositions in both prose and verse were now sent at various times to the Portland periodical; and in October, 1824, appeared in a Boston magazine entitled _The United States Literary Gazette_ the first of a series of seventeen poems composed by _H. W. L._
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