13 Amazing Facts About Henry Wadsworth Longfellow You Probably Didn’t Know

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.

B_4141_HWLyoung 18272 

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.

Westminster Abbey

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!

22499 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).
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
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.


2014 Junior Docent Camp a Success!

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On the morning of August 8, 2014, visitors to the Wadsworth-Longfellow House arrived to participate in an activity that most people have come to expect from historic house museums: an informative tour led by a well-trained, enthusiastic docent. What they probably were not expecting, however, was that the docent would be in the fourth grade.

Graduates of Maine Historical Society’s Second Annual Junior Docent Camp were stationed in the different rooms of the house that morning, greeted each guest with a smile, and eagerly shared what they had learned over the course of one week about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, his poetry, and his childhood in Portland.

The eight Junior Docents (all 9 and 10 year-olds) spent the four days prior to their open house preparing to become tour guides and learning about life in the 19th century. They learned the stories of the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, took basement-to-attic tours, and learned how historians use artifacts and primary source documents by seeing and handling (with white gloves, of course) MHS collection material.

During their week at camp, the Junior Docents also had the chance to try their hands at 19th century crafts, chores, and games: they made butter, created self-portrait silhouettes, dipped candles, and perfected their athletic techniques in “games of graces.” It was a fun-filled week of trying new things and meeting new people that left every Junior Docent who participated excited to come back next year and build upon their experiences!


For inquiries about the 2015 Junior Docent Camp, contact Kathleen Neumann at 207-774-1822 ext. 214, or kneumann@mainehistory.org.

Notes from the Archives: Longfellowiana

by Nancy Noble, MHS archivist/cataloger

As you can imagine, we have quite of a bit of material in our library related to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, given that the Maine Historical Society maintains his boyhood home. A gem has recently been acquired and catalogued: a framed item which contains a portrait of Longfellow, as well as one of his friend Louis Agassiz, a Swiss-American zoologist, glaciologist, and geologist.

Between these two portraits are letters between the two of them. While not necessarily giving insight worthy of academic interest, they do show some of the charm of the day, when personal handwritten notes were sent to extend invitations.

Longfellow’s letter to Agassiz, dated June 4, 1861, states: “My dear Agassiz, Will you dine with me on Thursday next at 5 o’clock to meet W. Macintosh from London? Yours ever, Henry W. Longfellow.”

The letter of June 17th (no date) from Agassiz states: “My dear Longfellow, I had intended to call upon you last night to ask you to dine with me next Tuesday t.i. tomorrow, to meet the [?] minister, but the rain prevented me. Pray come if you can. We dine at 5 ocl. Ever truly your friend, L. Agassiz.”

In this day and age of social networking, how refreshing to read simple notes between two friends, no matter how famous they were in their day, as well as the years to come.

For more on Longfellow treasures at the Maine Historical Library search our Minerva database for author or subject: Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth, 1807-1882.