Room to Pass

Few people read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) much anymore.  Lines from his poems were once on the tips of tongues the world over.  Students used to memorize “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” and lines from “Evan-geline” and “Hiawatha.”  Longfellow’s once-great literary reputation rivaled that of Tennyson and Dickens, and, after his death, the American poet was singularly honored by having his bust placed in Westminster Abbey with the greatest English poets.  When Longfellow is mentioned at all today, however, he is held up to ridicule by modern academics and dismissed.  His gentle Christian nature would have accepted his waning reputation tranquilly.  Perhaps he would even quote from one of his poems: “The tide rises and the tide falls / The twilight darkens, the curlew calls.”

Charles Calhoun’s new biography, which is both overdue and welcome, would rescue Longfellow from the surrounding darkness.  The book’s cover sports a handsome portrait of the poet at 33 years of age.  Longfellow is generally pictured as an old man with flowing white beard.  But he, too, had his youth and, when young, was a bit of a dandy.  A clever student at Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Club wrote of the Smith Professor of French and Spanish:

Just twig the Professor dressed out in...

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