December 14, 2010

Longfellow: of my inner life, not a word

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a private man. Suddenly overcome with the rising interest in his work, he became concerned that people would delve into his personal life to satisfy their own curiosity. In an entry dated December 14, 1853, Longfellow admitted that even his journal would remain aloof:

How brief this chronicle is, even of my outward life. And of my inner life, not a word. If one were only sure that one's journal would never be seen by any one, and never get into print, how different the case would be! But death picks the locks of all portfolios, and throws the contents into the street for the public to scramble after.

This exact quote was published after his death by his brother, Rev. Samuel Longfellow. Within a year of writing it, Longfellow left his full-time job at Harvard College and focused solely on his writing. Using it as his only regular source of income for the rest of his life, he is today considered America's first professional poet.

Despite this major accomplishment, few modern scholars approach Longfellow. Certainly, this reticence comes at least in part from a disdain for the perceived simplicity of his poetry, spurned by a Modernist aggression against Longfellow. But, his acknowledged refusal to admit his "inner life" at the height of his popularity remains an important obstacle. For the poet's bicentennial, for example, Prof. Christoph Irmscher prepared a booklet to go along with an exhibit at Harvard titled Public Poet, Private Man.

1 comment:

  1. Have you had a look at the "Longfellow House Bulletin"?Google the name in quotes.