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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (February 27, 1807- March 24, 1882) was an American poet who wrote many works that are still famous today, including Evangeline.

He also wrote the first American translation of Dante Alighieri's Inferno and was one of the five members of the group known as the Fireside Poets. Born in Maine, Longfellow lived for most of his life in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a house occupied during the American Revolution by General George Washington and his staff.

Early life and education

Longfellow was born the son of Stephen and Zilpah (Wadsworth) Longfellow on the corner of Hancock and Fore Streets in Portland, Maine in a Federal Style house (demolished in 1955) and grew up in what is now known as the Wadsworth-Longfellow House. His father was a lawyer and his maternal grandfather Peleg Wadsworth was a general in the American Revolutionary War. He was descended from the Longfellow family who came to America in 1676 from Otley in Yorkshire, England and from Priscilla and John Alden on his father's side.

Longfellow was enrolled in a "dame school" at the age of only three and by the age of six, when he entered the Portland Academy, he was able to read and write quite well. He remained at the Portland Academy until the age of fourteen and entered Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine in 1822. At Bowdoin, he met Nathaniel Hawthorne, who became his lifelong friend.

First European tour and professorship at Bowdoin

After graduating in 1825, he was offered a professorship at Bowdoin College with the condition that he first spend some time in Europe for further language study. He toured Europe between 1826 and 1829, and upon returning went on to become the first professor of modern languages at Bowdoin, as well as a part-time librarian. During his years at the college, he wrote textbooks in French, Italian, and Spanish and a travel book, Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea. In 1831, he married Mary Storer Potter of Portland.

Second European tour and professorship at Harvard

In 1834, Longfellow was offered the Smith Professorship of French and Spanish at Harvard with the stipulation that he spend a year or so in Europe to perfect his German. Tragically, his young wife died during the trip in Rotterdam after suffering a miscarriage in 1835. When he returned to the United States, Longfellow took up the professorship at Harvard University. He began publishing his poetry, including "The Village Blacksmith", in 1841.

Longfellow was a devoted husband and father with a keen feeling for the pleasures of home. But his marriages ended in sadness and tragedy, the first to Mary Potter, of Portland, who died in 1835; He then married Frances "Fanny" Appleton, living at Craigie House, overlooking the Charles River. While he was courting Miss Appleton, he frequently walked from Harvard to her home in Boston, crossing the river via the West Boston Bridge. That bridge was subsequently demolished and replaced in 1906 by a new bridge, which was eventually renamed as the Longfellow Bridge.

He retired from Harvard in 1854, devoting himself entirely to writing. He was awarded an honorary doctorate of Laws from Harvard in 1859. In 1861, Frances died in a household fire, which had resulted from her attempting to seal a letter with parafin wax, a devastating event for Longfellow. He commemorated her with the sonnet "The Cross of Snow" (1879). He died on March 24, 1882.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1884 he was the first American poet for whom a commemorative sculpted bust was placed in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey in London.

Longfellow's work

His work was immensely popular during his time and is still somewhat today, but many modern critics consider him too sentimental. His poetry is based on familiar and easily understood themes with simple, clear, and flowing language. His poetry created an audience in America and contributed to creating American mythology.

Longfellow's home in Cambridge, the Longfellow National Historic Site, is a U.S. National Historic Site, National Historic Landmark, and on the National Register of Historic Places. A 2/3 scale replica was built in Minneapolis, Minnesota at Minnehaha Park in 1906 and once served as a centerpiece for a local zoo