The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (190721).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.
§ 3. Hyperion; Early Poems.
|His second period of training in Europe, although shorter, rendered Longfellow a greater service than his first. As he was more mature, his genius was better prepared to receive a definitive bent, and his experiences determined that that bent should take an emotional rather than an emphatically intellectual direction. After a short visit to England he spent some months in Sweden and Denmark studying their literatures with results obvious to the reader of his later poetry. Then he went to Holland, where his wife fell ill and died in the autumn. This meant that the ensuing winter at Heidelberg saw no notable progress made by the young professor in his German studies, but did see a deep absorption of the spirit of German romanticism by the young widower and the future poet. The sentimental prose romance Hyperion and the collection of poems entitled Voices of the Night, both published in 1839, show what bereavement and the new environment, physical as well as mental and spiritual, had brought to the man entering his fourth decade. We track the footsteps of the naïve hero of Hyperion with less confiding delight than our grandfathers and grandmothers probably experienced, but then we are less sentimental and more widely travelled than they were, facts which of course do not warrant us in arrogating to ourselves a taste necessarily superior to theirs. Hyperion doubtless meant more to the author and his countrymen than a scholarly monograph would have meant, for what America needed just then, apparently, was some one who, like Longfellow, could carry on the work begun by Irving of interpreting the Old World to the New. The younger man was not only better endowed with the faculty of specific poetic utterance, but he was naturally more fully qualified than his predecessor to gratify the taste of a generation that was beginning to be affected by the work of the newer English romantic poets. Thus we are not surprised to find the Smith Professor writing poems on European subjects instead of grammars and histories of literature, and editing in place of textbooks a small collection of poems entitled The Waif (1843), a similar volume, The Estray (1847), and the comprehensive and useful Poets and Poetry of Europe (1845). Even the thirty-one volumes of the much later Poems of Places (18761879) with which Longfellows name is more or less associated, bear witness to the influence of the teacher-poets second sojourn in Europe both upon him and upon American culture.