The Public Poet

Longfellow was emphatically not a professional lecturer like Emerson. He spoke with his pen rather than his tongue, he told the citizens of Carlisle, England, in one of the few public speeches he ever gave. The poetry he published-preferably in cheap as well as in more durable editions-was his form of public service, produced in private but always with the needs and expectations of a steadily growing audience of readers in mind. From the marketing point of view, Longfellow's refusal to speak in public was extremely effective, too, since this ensured that nothing detracted from the impact of his poetry.

For all his reluctance to be dragged into the limelight, Longfellow as a private citizen helped whenever and wherever help was needed. And for the readers of his more overtly political poetry-such as Poems on Slavery or "Enceladus"-there couldn't be any doubt about Longfellow's political views. Perhaps the most beautiful tribute after his death came in an obituary published in the African-American newspaper The Christian Recorder. Longfellow's influence, said the writer of the article, "was always given on the side of Liberty."

In this section

Photograph The remnants of pencils. Ernest Wadsworth Longfellow (?)  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his study.  Drawing, pencil on paper, ca. 1851. Photograph
Photograph Longfellow, Poems on Slavery (New England Anti-Slavery Tract Association, 1843). HWL. Personal account book, 1840-1882. Photograph
Photograph HWL. Voices of the Night (Boston: Robert Redding, 1845). HWL. Hyperion: A Romance (Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1868). Photograph
Photograph HWL. Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie. Proof sheets, 1847. HWL. Notes for Hiawatha: Indian words and names. Autograph manuscript, undated. Photograph
Photograph Julia Margaret Cameron, photographer. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Photogravure from Alfred Lord Tennyson and His Friends (London:  T. Fisher Unwin, 1893).