The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (190721).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.
§ 1. Youthful Environment; Education.
|HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW was born in Portland, Maine, 27 February, 1807. In view of what America as a whole then was and of what he was destined to accomplish for the literature of the country, it is difficult to see how he could have been more fortunately circumstanced with respect to stock and environment. Both the Longfellows and his mothers people, the Wadsworths, were well-to-do, and they represented the best New England, particularly Massachusetts, traditions, which, with the spread of Unitarianism, were losing some of their rigidity. Thus the child experienced little that was specially straitening, and he received a training well adapted to bring out the talents that soon manifested themselves. His native town furnished the influence of the sea and sea-faring men; the virgin District soon to be the State of Maine, afforded other impressive features of nature; and the frontier situation, even if it could not make strenuous a constitutionally gentle and refined disposition, at least inculcated feelings of sympathy with a pioneer, rugged, prevailingly practical population, which were to be of great use to a poet who in after years could point to his successful fulfilment of the threefold function of transmitter of Old World culture to the New, shaper into verse of aboriginal, colonial, and Revolutionary material, both legendary and historical, and lyric interpreter of the simple thoughts and feelings of an unsophisticated people. His career was well foreshadowed when he published anonymously at the age of thirteen, in a local newspaper, a Revolutionary battle-lyric.