Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born on February 27, 1807 in Portland, Maine to Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Longfellow. Many who knew Henry when he was young were aware of his dynamic imagination and delight in learning. By the age of thirteen, Longfellow had published his first poem in the local Portland Gazette. From 1822-1825, he attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. He graduated at the age of eighteen in the same class as Nathaniel Hawthorne. After college, Longfellow was offered a position teaching modern language as a professor at Bowdoin. To prepare for this professorship, he studied abroad in France, Spain, Italy, and Germany for three years. While in Europe, not only was he able to master seven different languages, he was also exposed to classical literature and well-known foreign writers of the nineteenth century. Returning to Bowdoin, Longfellow served as a professor and college librarian for six years. During this time he married Mary Potter, and when he had written a number of foreign language textbooks, as well as his first book of prose, he was offered a job at Harvard as a professor of modern languages. Once more, he journeyed to Europe to prepare himself for his work. Unfortunately, while on this trip with his wife and two friends, Mary died of miscarriage complications in 1835.
Despite this devastating blow to his marriage, Longfellow pushed on and worked at Harvard. In 1839 he published Hyperion, an autobiographical novel, and Voices of the Night, his first book of poetry. What followed in 1842 included two collections: Poems on Slavery and Ballads and Other Poems. The following year, Longfellow married Frances Elizabeth Appleton, and together they had six children. By the time he had published Evangeline (1847), The Song of Hiawatha (1855) and The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858), Longfellow had become one of the most read authors and best-sellers in the world. Only forty-seven years old and already a self-sustained author, Longfellow was able to resign from his professorship at Harvard in 1854 and devote more time and attention to his family and writing. Unfortunately, both tragedy and fortune would mark the remaining years of his life. In 1861, his wife Fanny was severely burned by a wax spill on her dress, only to soon die afterwards of her burns. Longfellow was never able to fully recover from the incident, and to relieve himself of depression, he spent the next six years of his life translating Dante’s Divine Comedy. Longfellow received honorary degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge, and his fame allowed him time to mingle with figureheads such as Queen Victoria. In March 1822, at the age of seventy-five, Longfellow passed away.
Spengemann, William, and Jessica F. Roberts. Nineteenth-Century American Poetry. Penguin Books, 1996.
“The Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.” Maine Historical Society, www.hwlongfellow.org/life_overview.shtml. Accessed 1 Oct. 2016.