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In A Brown Study, 19 B

October 24, 2016

“Out of childhood, into manhood / Now had grown my Hiawatha / Skilled in every craft and learned –”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow graduated in 1825, fourth in a class of 38, being one of the four speakers at graduation. Nathaniel Hawthorne was in that graduating class, and they were friends for a long time. Now Bowdoin College trustees decided they needed a new modern language department to teach French, Spanish, and Italian, but had no qualified professor. The trustees knew Henry ‘s scholastic record and his published work, and voted to offer a professorship to him on condition he study languages in Europe for two years at his own expense to learn these languages. His father reluctantly agreed to his changing his plan.

Forget Harvard! The eighteen year old was delighted and studied the law with his father until spring, when he embarked for the old world. In Paris he took classes and engaged in walking tours with pleasant company. He spent eight months in Spain, later writing a poem “Castles in Spain” beginning, “How much of my young heart, O Spain / Went out to thee in days of yore?” In September, 1827, Henry sailed for Genoa, Italy and later to Pisa, Florence, Naples, and Venice.

In 1828 on his way to Germany, Henry received a letter from his father, telling him his sister Elizabeth was gravely ill, and Bowdoin trustees had changed their offer to a position of instructor instead of professor,… a position with less prestige and less money.

Longfellow returned home, but his favorite sister, Elizabeth, had died. Sad, and greatly disappointed, he wrote refusing the offer from Bowdoin’s trustees. “Having at great expense, devoted four years to the acquisition of French, Spanish, Italian, an German languages, I cannot accept a subordinate station with a salary so disproportionate to the duties required.” A week later the trustees responded, restoring the title of professor and compromising on the salary. He was ready to settle down to college life in Brunswick, Maine.

At Bowdoin his days were filled with lecturing, teaching and writing his own textbooks which he published in Boston. In 1831 at age 24 he married Mary Potter, nineteen and petite, pale, attractive, and well educated, although not robust in health and not energetic. Three weeks before his marriage he wrote to his sister Anne, “I have aimed higher than this, and I cannot believe that all my aspirations are to terminate in the drudgery of a situation which gives me no opportunity to distinguish myself.”

Longfellow never enjoyed the routine of teaching, and he found college politics annoying. The river of his life seemed stagnant …”Onward its course the river keeps, onward the constant current sweeps, till life is done ..”                             —to be contd.




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