The Public Poet

HWL. Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie.  Proof sheets, 1847.


*AC85.L8605.847eaa. Houghton Library.

The proofs for Evangeline are heavily annotated throughout by the editor Charles Folsom, the politician Charles Sumner, and the Harvard classicist Cornelius Felton, as well as by Longfellow himself, usually in response to the remarks left by his readers. Their recommendations for improvement (not all of which Longfellow heeded) cover everything from missing or superfluous commas to the question, raised by both Felton and Sumner, as to whether or not the alligator mentioned in the second book of Evangeline "roars" (Longfellow decided it did).

Shown here is a sheet from the second set of proofs (second revision), on which Charles Sumner proposes that the "wilderness waving with forests" become a "wilderness sombrous with forests," because "waving is commonplace" and "reflects nothing upon the subject" (Longfellow obliged and replaced "waving" with "somber"). Always more literal-minded than his poet friend, Sumner points out that Evangeline's boat could hardly be "gliding" down "a turbulent river," a suggestion Longfellow ignored. Nevertheless, Sumner loved the finished product, writing Longfellow in December 1847 that he had achieved "True Glory" and that he had "really moved the water-as with an angelic wing."