At Maine Historical Society, we are preparing for the 208th birthday celebration of America’s beloved poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (born in Portland on February 27, 1807). Join us on Saturday, February 28 at 2:00pm to for his birthday party, eat cake, make hats, and hear his works read by local celebrities! In the meantime, please enjoy these 13 incredible facts about good ol’ Henry. Share your reactions in the comments section or on our Facebook page.
13. A one-cent stamp featuring a portrait of Longfellow was first issued on February 16, 1940. A stamp commemorating the 200th anniversary of his birth was issued on March 15, 2007.
12. The Portland Gazette published Henry’s first poem at the age of 13.
11. Henry was the first American to translate Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.
10. Henry was a major dog lover! The Longfellow family had many pets, but the “the last and greatest of all the dogs was Trap; Trap the Scotch Terrier, Trap the polite, the elegant, sometimes on account of his deportment called Turneydrop, sometimes Louis the Fourteenth” wrote Longfellow.
9. The often quoted phrases “into every life some rain must fall” and “ships that pass in the night” are lines that originated in two of Henry’s poems.
8. Henry is the only American to be honored with a bust in Westminster Abbey in London, England. His marble bust was placed in the Poet’s Corner in 1884, and stands among the monuments to other world-renowned authors and poets such as Dickens, Chaucer, and Browning.
7. Henry graduated from Bowdoin College in 1825 in the same class as Nathaniel Hawthorne.
6. One of Henry’s students at Harvard University was Henry David Thoreau.
5. Henry was a fluent speaker of eight different languages–quite the polyglot!
4. Henry was a descendant of Mayflower passengers John and Priscilla (Mullins) Alden. He made his ancestors household names with the publication of his poem The Courtship of Miles Standish in 1857.
3. At his home in Cambridge, MA, in 1867, Henry hosted Charles Dickens for Thanksgiving dinner. He also wrote the poem, Thanksgiving.
2. When Henry’s daughter Frances was born on April 7, 1847, Dr. Nathan Cooley Keep administered ether to Henry’s wife, Fanny Appleton Longfellow; this was the first recorded use of obstetric anesthetic in the United States. She later wrote about her experience, “I am very sorry you all thought me so rash and naughty in trying the ether. Henry’s faith gave me courage…I feel proud to be the pioneer to less suffering for poor, weak womankind. This is certainly the greatest blessing of this age and I am glad to have lived at the time of its coming and in the country which gives it to the world…”
1. Henry began growing a beard following the death of his second wife Fanny in 1861. Fanny died in a tragic fire and Henry was burned so badly trying to save her that he was left unable to shave his face for some time. He wore the beard the rest of his life.
1849: Henry W. Longfellow (1807-1882) and Frances Appleton Longfellow (1819-1861) with their two eldest children, Charles Appleton Longfellow (1844-1893) and Ernest Wadsworth Longfellow (1845-1921).
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Portland, 1878
To learn more about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow visit the Maine Memory Network and HWLongfellow.org. Visitors can tour his boyhood home, the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, and garden in Portland, Maine at the Maine Historical Society.