Notes from Longfellow: A Resdiscovered Life

I just read this recent biography of Henry Longfellow for the second time.  He and colombian poet Rafael Pombo shared what might be the first literary correspondence between Anglo and Latin America.  I’m currently working on article on it.  Anyway, I thought I’d post some of my notes from this brilliant biography.

(Longfellow is Ezra Pound´s distant cousin via Wadsworth.)

p. 48 ¨The chief question was what to do about Germany.  Stephen´s original idea had been to perfect his French – a language any civilized person should now – and to learn as Much Spanish as possible for more practical reasons.

In a letter from his father:

¨The situation you have in view cannot be obtained unless you qualify yourself to teach both these languages correctly.  Such are the relations now existing between this country and South America that a knowledge of the Spanish is qute as important as the French. ¨

George Ticknor however encouraged him to study in Germany.  He was excited about this newfangled “ new critical German scholarship.”

p. 51 ¨Writing from Madrid in March, Longfellow nonetheless assured his father that despite ‘the tales of all that is wild and wonderful in bloody murder and highway robbery’ he had reached the capital without incident.

‘The metropolis of a country is always the great literary mart…literary advantages are always greater- books always more numerous and accessible…and my expenses are much less here than in Paris.’”

p. 73 In 1839, Longfellow edited Manuel de Proverbes Dramatiques for his French students.  …The same year Griffin printed, Longfellow’s edition of Novelas Españolas.  El Serrano de la Alpujarras y el Cuadro Misterioso.  These were Spanish version of Washington Irving´s Rip Van Wikle and the Young Italian.  “None of this was scholarly work in the modern sense, but it was a remarkable harvest for one year.”

…¨the ‘survey of Western culture’ courses which, until a generation ago, formed the backbone of liberal education in most American colleges, but they were also ventures in comparative literature, a very new field on either side of the Atlantic.¨

p. 131 ¨In the 1839s this was a radical pedagogical notion.  Drawing on his own experience of several European cultures, Longfellow offered advanced language courses as well as more general lectures in which, for the most part, he read signifiant passages from a European author, translating as he went along, and offering his own opinions on their literary merits as well as enough historical context to help his students comprehend what they were hearing.  These were a prototype of the ‘survey of Western culture’ courses which, until a generation ago, formed the backbone of liberal education in most American colleges, but they were also ventures in comparative literature, a very new field on either side of the Atlantic.¨

p. 245 ¨Despite the enviable productivity as poet and translator sketched above, Longfellow found himself increasingly drawn in his last two decades toward playing a public role that he both welcomed and regretted.  The sheer volume of his correspondence – much of it from strangers requesting autographs (which he unfailingly sent, often in multiples) or seeking his comments on their poems (which he kindly declined to do) –  consumed much of his workday.  Meanwhile, amid a steady flow of distinguished guests and visitors (ranging from Trollope to Emperor Pedro of Brazil)…¨

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