The Public Poet

HWL. Personal account book, 1840-1882.


Longfellow Papers MS Am 1340 (152). Houghton Library.

These two pages cover the years 1855 (when Song of Hiawatha appeared) to 1856. The ex-slave Josiah Henson, widely known as the model for Harriett Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom, is mentioned as the recipient of donations in Longfellow's account books until the mid-1870s. Longfellow met Henson in the summer of 1846, when the preacher called at Craigie House to get the poet to sponsor his school, which Longfellow apparently did, and over a longer period of time (in March 1875, for example, "Father Henson" received $20.00 out of a total of $122.00 in donations for that month).

 Ida May was the title of a vastly popular 1854 novel by the Maine novelist Mary Hayden Green Pike a.k.a. "Mary Langdon" (1824-1898). The protagonist of Ida May was a white Pennsylvania girl who was kidnapped, sold into slavery, and eventually freed. Filled with stereotypes, the novel nevertheless dares white readers to imagine slavery as an experience reserved not only for African-Americans-a message that would have appealed to Longfellow.