Longfellow's Art

WHEN Michael Angelo, in Longfellow’s posthumous poem, holds discourse from the vantage-ground of age with the volatile Benvenuto Cellini, his counsel to the younger man is mingled with pathetic reflections upon his own relations to art. He cannot leave Rome for Florence ; he is under the spell which affects one like malaria : —

“ Malaria of the mind
Out of this tomb of the majestic Past;
The fever to accomplish some great work
That will not let us sleep. I must go on
Until I die.”

So he speaks, and to Benvenuto’s reminder of the memories which cluster about the pleasant city upon the Arno, he replies, musing : —

“ Pleasantly
Come back to me the days when, as a youth,
I walked with Ghirlandajo in the gardens
Of Medici, and saw the antique statues,
The forms august of gods and godlike men,
And the great world of art revealed itself
To my young eyes. Then all that man hath done
Seemed possible to me. Alas! how little
Of all I dreamed of has my hand achieved ! ”

The caution against mistaking a poet’s dramatic assumption for his own character and expression is of less force in the case of one in whom the dramatic power was so slightly developed, and the whole poem of Michael Angelo, taken in connection with the time and circumstances of its composition, may fairly be regarded as in some respects Longfellow’s apologia pro vita mea. This poem was written mainly in 1872, and was the last of his major works. The consciousness of age came earlier to Longfellow than to many, and though in the next ten years he was to write some of his most charming lyrics, it is clear that the day of great endeavor had closed for him. It is worth while to note with what spirit he entered upon his poetic career, nearly half a century before this, and the testimony of a friend affords a glimpse of the young poet when he was awaking to a consciousness of his power. Mr. George W. Greene, in dedicating his Life of General Greene to Longfellow, recalls an evening in Naples when the two friends were drawn into mutual confidences.

“ We wanted,” he says, “ to be alone, and yet to feel that there was life all around us. We went up to the flat roof of the house, where, as we walked, we could look down into the crowded street, and out upon the wonderful bay, and across the bay to Ischia and Capri and Sorrento, and over the house-tops and villas and vineyards to Vesuvius. The ominous pillar of smoke hung suspended above the fatal mountain, reminding us of Pliny, its first and noblest victim. A golden vapor crowned the bold promontory of Sorrento, and we thought of Tasso. Capri was calmly sleeping, like a sea-bird upon the waters; and we seemed to hear the voice of Tacitus from across the gulf of eighteen centuries, telling us that the historian’s pen is still powerful to absolve or to condemn longafter the imperial sceptre has fallen from the withered hand. There, too, lay the native island of him whose daring mind conceived the fearful vengeance of the Sicilian Vespers. We did not yet know Niccolini; but his grand verses had already begun their work of regeneration in the Italian heart. Virgil’s tomb was not far off. The spot consecrated by Sannazaro’s ashes was near us. And over all, with a thrill like that of solemn music, fell the splendor of the Italian sunset.

“We talked and mused by turns, till the twilight deepened and the stars came forth to mingle their mysterious influences with the overmastering magic of the scene. It was then that you unfolded to me your plans of life, and showed me from what ‘ deep cisterns ’ you had already learned to draw. From that day the office of literature took a new place in my thoughts. I felt its forming power as I had never felt it before, and began to look with a calm resignation upon its trials, and with true appreciation upon its rewards. Thenceforth, little as I have done of what I wished to do, literature has been the inspiration, the guide, and the comfort of my life.”

This was in 1828, and not long after Longfellow was writing home: “ My poetic career is finished. Since I left America I have hardly put two lines together.” It could not, therefore, have been the prophecy of a distinctly poetic vocation which so deeply moved Greene ; it must rather have been that Longfellow, after two years’ travel and study in Europe, and when looking forward to definite academic work in America, was forecasting a life devoted to literary art, in which poetry was not the predominant element. When a collegian he had won his little reputation almost exclusively as a poet. To his friends, watching him across the water, that was his character, and it was no doubt in answer to natural inquiries that he declared his poetic career finished. That he was sincere in this belief is clearly seen by the entry in his note-book, at this time, of the subjects upon which he proposed at once to write. They were all of them planned for prose treatment, and, what is even more noticeable, they were drawn from American life and history.

It is customary to speak of Longfellow as if his Americanism was an accident, his natural disposition leading him really to an emigration in thought and sentiment to the other side of the Atlantic. In point of fact, he passed through the experience of many ingenuous American youth. He ardently desired an introduction to the Old World ; he entered quickly and warmly into the spirit of the past, but instead of losing himself in this spirit, he found himself; he took his spiritual bearings, and as a result set his face more positively westward than could have been possible had he never gone through the process of orientation. It is a superficial judgment which determines the nationality of a literary artist by his choice of subjects alone. Longfellow in Europe jotting down in his diary subjects drawn from life in the Maine woods was no more essentially American than he was essentially European when he was sitting in his study in Brunswick and writing OutreMer. The residence in Europe made him eager for his American life ; the return to America brought back with a rush the recollection of European scenes. In both cases the artist was employing the convenient perspective of time and space. What was remote shaped itself more definitely into picturesque relations to his mind; only to the student just returned from Europe, after three years of incessant occupation with new and suggestive forms of life and art, his own personal experience offers so rich and tumultuous a collection of themes that all else is for the time held in abeyance.

This was markedly true in Longfellow’s case, because his mind by natural disposition busied itself with the secondary rather than with the primary facts of nature and society. He was born and trained until he was nineteen in a society and amidst scenes exceedingly simple, almost elemental, indeed. No one can read the chapters in his Life which deal with his home in Portland and his education at Bowdoin College, especially no one can have recollection of the primitive, provincial period of New England which had its culmination just before the first steamer crossed the Atlantic, without perceiving how much had been eliminated from the American variation of the English mind by the absence for two centuries of familiar contact with university, cathedral, castle, theatre, gallery, and barracks. The brick college, the wooden meeting-house, the merchant’s square-built house, the singing-school, the peripatetic Greek slave, the muster, — all these marked the limits of expression, and hy consequence the strength of reacting influence. The effect upon individual minds differed according to the original constitution of those minds. Hawthorne, gatheringblueberries under the pines of Brunswick with his friend Bridge, was subjected to very much the same influences as Longfellow. He went out into the world later, it is true, than his great contemporary, but the author of The Scarlet Letter did not need to draw his breath of inspiration from any mediæval chronicle or under the shadow of Strasburg Cathedral; an old newspaper in the Salem Custom-House was enough for him. Longfellow, on the other hand, was writing of Italian scenery and Venetian gondoliers when his visits to Italy and Venice had been only in boats with sails rigged from the leaves of books. Even when treating of distinctly American subjects, as in the poem of The Indian Hunter, he borrowed his expression from traditions of English poetry : —

“The foot of the reaper moved slow on the lawn,
And the sickle cut down the yellow corn;
The mower sung loud by the meadow-side,
Where the mists of evening were spreading wide;
And the voice of the herdsmen came up by the lea,
And the dance went round by the greenwood tree.”

Was all that the result of observations on a Maine farm? No; it indicates a mind sensitive to poetic influences as derived not so much from direct contact with nature as from indirect acquaintance through books. It is doubtful if there is a single line in the poems written before his journey to Europe which describes an aspect of nature specifically noted by the poet, unless it be two or three lines in his poem Autumn, where he says: —

“ The purple finch,
That on wild cherry and red cedar feeds,
A winter bird, comes with its plaintive whistle,
And pecks by the witch-hazel; ”

while there are repeated instances of entirely second-hand reflections of scenes which were impossible to his eye, as when, in his poem To Ianthe, he says : —

“As I mark the moss-grown spring
By the twisted holly,”


“ Twisted close the ivy clings
To the oak that’s hoarest.”

Even when dealing with a slight historic fact, as in the Hymn of the Moravian Nuns of Bethlehem, he translates the entire incident into terms of foreign import. The dying flame of day shoots its ray through the chancel; the glimmering tapers shed faint light on the cowled head ; the burning censer swings before the altar ; the nuns’ sweet hymn is sung low in the dim, mysterious aisle. Yet the poem, masquerading in foreign dress, has a native fire and an enthusiasm kindled by the thought of personal sacrifice in a great cause. So, too, in the Burial of the Minnisink, where the red chief is only a mere transliteration of mediæval knight, the poetic passion flames forth in a single bold phrase at the end of the poem: —

“ They buried the dark chief ; they freed
Beside the grave his battle steed ;
And swift an arrow cleaved its way
To his stern heart! One piercing neigh
Arose, and, on the dead man’s plain,
The rider grasps his steed again.”

It may be said, therefore, with some confidence that Longfellow’s mental growth was accelerated, not changed, by his study in Europe ; that the bent of his genius was toward the artistic use of the reflected forms of nature and of the product of human forces; that he sought instinctively for those expressions of life which had color and richness, not for those which had elemental significance ; and that, failing to note such expressions in the life about him, he endowed the scenes which he depicted with qualities borrowed from an older, more complex civilization. The very sober needlewomen of the Moravian sisterhood were seen through painted glass ; the squaws who sold baskets in Portland became a darkhaired virgin train, chanting the death dirge of the slain; and it is only an anthropologist, accustomed to the meagre results of an exploration among mounds, who will at first glance detect the plain truth concerning the savage, when he reads : —

“ A dark cloak of the roebuck’s skin
Covered the warrior, and within
Its heavy folds the weapons, made
For the hard toils of war, were laid ;
The cuirass, woven of plaited reeds,
And the broad belt of shells and beads.”

A Norse viking stood in the light of an Oldtown Indian, when the poet was sketching.

It was to a mind thus sensitive to rich color and complex form, and restrained from large opportunities during its adolescence, that a three years’ wandering through Europe brought a fullness of experience which enlarged and strengthened it, and not merely supplied it with new objects of exercise. Why was it that, after writing verse with pleasure for two or three years, Longfellow should suddenly drop the occupation, declare his poetic career finished, and devote himself assiduously to prose ? And why, to anticipate a further development, did he then return to prose deliberately but once more after another decade ? From 1824 to 1826 he was writing those poems which are classed as juvenile or earlier poems. From 1831 to 1838 he wrote the bulk of his miscellaneous prose and Outre-Mer and Hyperion. In 1838 he resumed his poetic career with Flowers and A Psalm of Life, and in 1848 he wrote Kavanagh.

I have half answered the first question already. When he went to Europe in 1826, it was ostensibly to qualify himself for the post of professor of modern languages in Bowdoin College. Immediately, to use the energetic phrase, his eyes were opened, and in seeing the rich deposit of an old civilization, where history had for centuries been building a house for the imagination, he was conscious of power, he found himself. Yet he needed time for the thorough orientation which his nature demanded. There are some poets who become naturalized in antiquity as soon as they land after their first voyage. Keats was one of these. There are others who, if they take out their papers early, do not at once exercise the rights of citizenship, and Longfellow was one of these. The period between his first emigration to Europe, in 1826, and his final settlement at Cambridge, in 1836, was one of accumulation and disposition of his treasures. The circumstances of his outer life, his successive journeys for specific purpose, his brief trial of teaching at Bowdoin, his experiments in literature, corresponded with the internal adjustment of his mind to its vocation. It was his apprentice time, and only when Hyperion was executed did he feel within himself that he had become a master.

His prose during this decade indicates very clearly his spiritual and artistic growth. He had come, by travel and study, into possession of a great store of material, the value of which he was ready to discern. It took him ten years, however, to make all this material really his own; he began the process by simple description, and prose was the natural vehicle. His letters show how quickly he caught the spirit of what he saw, and a comparison of Outre-Mer with them indicates the presence in his mind of a distinct literary sense. One may prefer the directness of the letters, but cannot help seeing that when Longfellow set up the same material in his book he was studying the form of presentation, and recognized that literature was something other than letter-writing. Along with and following Outre-Mer were those special studies of modern language and literature which confessed the student rather than the traveler ; and then came Hyperion, in which the imaginative constructive power began to reassert itself, and all the aspects of life and literature which had met the eye of the traveler and student were considered by the poetic mind and the creative genius. As has been so often pointed out, the tale is a rescript, only slightly disguised, of the poet’s spiritual as well as external experience ; but only when one considers it as the final outcome of a period of mental reconstruction does one apprehend the entire significance of the work. It marks the completion of Longfellow’s apprenticeship to literature, and, like most such critical works, it is as prophetic as it is historical.

When, shortly after the publication of Hyperion, Longfellow suddenly resolved to publish a volume of poems, it may be fairly assumed that he was in no sense renouncing prose, but only thinking of himself as an active littérateur, who was not shut up to any one form of expression. He was not yet, indeed, so conscious of his destiny that he could not outline, a few days later, a plan of literary work which embraced a history of English poetry, a novel, a series of sketches, and only one poem. His resolution to issue Voices of the Night, undoubtedly sprang from the growing recognition of his poetic faculty, and from the fact that he had for some time past been testing his power. In truth, one of the most interesting phases of the apprenticeship to literature which Longfellow passed through was the manner in which he kept alive that spark of poetic fire which, feeble enough in his adolescence, was yet genuine. In the same letter in which he wrote to his sister, “ My poetic career is finished,” he attempted a translation of a lovely little Portuguese song, and as soon as he began his series of prose writings he began also that series of translations which would alone have given him the name of poet. It was necessary, in the course of his critical work, to give examples of verse, and he was thus constantly impelled to use the metrical form ; then when he essayed the romance form, and cast his scenes largely in Germany, the very structure of his work called for those “ flowers of song 55 which were the essential expression of the life which he was translating into artistic mode.

Throughout his life Longfellow found in the work of translation a gentle stimulus to his poetic faculty, and resorted to it when he wished to quicken his spirit. “ I agree with you entirely,” he writes to Freiligrath, November 24, 1843, “ in what you say about translations. It is like running a ploughshare through the soil of one’s mind; a thousand germs of thought start up (excuse this agricultural figure), which otherwise might have lain and rotted in the ground. Still, it sometimes seems to me like an excuse for being lazy, — like leaning on another man’s shoulder.” This is, however, but a partial explanation of the place which translation held in Longfellow’s art. One must go back to the very nature of this poet to see why it is that so large a proportion of his poetical work was either direct translation or a reconstruction from foreign material. In the recent complete edition of his writings, three of the nine volumes of poetry are given to the translation of Dante, with, to be sure, the voluminous apparatus of notes and illustrations, while of another volume about two thirds of the matter consist of translations from various languages. But the longest section of Tales of a Wayside Inn, the Musician’s Tale of the Saga of King Olaf, is scarcely other than a paraphrase; The Mother’s Ghost, in the same book, is openly from the Danish; and Christus, Judas Maccabæus, and Michael Angelo are largely indebted to other forms of literature for their very phrases. It would not be difficult for one, running through the entire body of poems, to find in those relating to foreign subjects a constant indirect reference to existing literary material. Not only so, but in such poems as The Courtship of Miles Standish and Evangeline the scaffolding which the poet used could easily be put up again by the historical student; of the Tales of a Wayside Inn, only one is in any peculiar sense the poet’s invention ; while Hiawatha is Schoolcraft translated into poetry.

It is when one enlarges the conception of the word “ translation ” that one perceives the value as well as the limitations of Longfellow’s art. He was a consummate translator, because the vision and faculty divine which he possessed was directed toward the reflection of the facts of nature and society, rather than toward the facts themselves. He was like one who sees a landscape in a Claude Lorraine glass; by some subtle power of the mirror everything has been composed for him. Thus, when he came to use the rich material of history, of poetry, and of other arts, Longfellow saw these in forms already existing, and his art was not so much a reconstruction out of crude material as a representation, a rearrangement, in his own exquisite language, of what he found and admired. He was first of all a composer, and he saw his subjects in their relations rather than in their essence. To tell over again old tales, to reproduce in forms of delicate fitness the scenes and narratives which others had invented, — this was his delight; for in doing this he was conscious of his power and he worked with ease. Thus it is that the lyrical translations which he made in his student days are really his own poems ; he rendered the foreign form in a perfect English form; his work in this regard was that of an engraver, not that of a photographer. He has himself said on the general subject of translation : — “ The great art of translating well lies in the power of rendering literally the words of a foreign author, while at the same time we preserve the spirit of the original. But how far one of these requisites of a good translation may be sacrificed to the other, how far a translator is at liberty to embellish the original before him while clothing it in a new language, is a question which has been decided differently by persons of different tastes. The sculptor, when he transfers to the inanimate marble the form and features of a living being, may be said not only to copy, but to translate. But the sculptor cannot represent in marble the beauty and expression of the human eye; and in order to remedy this defect as far as possible, he is forced to transgress the rigid truth of nature. By sinking the eye deeper, and making the brow more prominent above it, he produces a Stronger light and shade, and thus gives to the statue more of the spirit and life of the original than he could have done by an exact copy. So, too, the translator.”

In that which was technically translation, then, Longfellow made the foreign poems his own without sacrificing the truth of the originals ; in that which was in a more general sense translation, the transfer, namely, of the spirit rather than the precise form of foreign art, he preserved the essential quality of what he took so perfectly as to lead many to underestimate the value of his own share in the result. Yet this fine sense of form, this intuitive perception of fitness, was an inestimable endowment of the artist, and is one of his passports to immortality. It is, however, most appreciable in those forms of art which are least dependent upon passion and more allied with the common experience; in dramatic art it has less significance. The use of the hexameter in Evangeline and the adoption of the Kalevala measure in Hiawatha are illustrations of how a great artist will choose forms perfectly fitted to his purpose, yet exceedingly dangerous in the hands of less skillful workmen. The pathway of English poetry is strewn with the bones of hexametrical beasts of burden, but Longfellow’s Evangeline has made the journey to the present time with every prospect of carrying her rider to the gates of whatever blessed country of immunity from criticism awaits the poet. An interesting illustration of Longfellow’s unerring sense of form is furnished by a trifling experiment which he made when engaged upon Evangeline. He records in his diary the completion of the second canto of Part II., and adds, “ I tried a passage of it in the common rhymed English pentameter. It is the song of the mocking-bird: —

“ Upon a spray that overhung the stream,
The mocking-bird, awaking from his dream,
Poured such delirious music from his throat
That all the air seemed listening to his note.
Plaintive at first the song began, and slow;
It breathed of sadness, and of pain, and woe;
Then, gathering all his notes, abroad he flung
The multitudinous music from his tongue, —
As, after showers, a sudden gust again
Upon the leaves shakes down the rattling rain. ”

Taken by itself this verse falls agreeably on the ear, but it needs only a moment’s thought to perceive that the story of Evangeline given in this measure would have been robbed of that lingering melancholy, that pathos of lengtheningshadows, which resides in the hexameter as Longfellow has handled it. Something of all this may be seen even in the few lines of the poem which render the passage just given : —

“Then from a neighboring thicket the mock-
ing-bird, wildest of singers,
Swinging aloft on a willow spray that hung
o’er the water,
Shook from his little throat such floods of
delirious music
That the whole air and the woods and the
waves seemed silent to listen.
Plaintive at first were the tones and sad;
then soaring to madness
Seemed they to follow or guide the revel of
frenzied Bacchantes.
Single notes were then heard, in sorrowful,
low lamentation;
Till, having gathered them all, he flung them
abroad in derision,
As when, after a storm, a gust of wind
through the tree-tops
Shakes down the rattling rain in a crystal
shower on the branches. ”

The limitations of the rhymed pentameter are clearly seen in a comparison of the two forms, — its limitations, and also its brief gain, for as the expression of a single moment the shorter form is more immediate in its operation. One catches the incident on the wing, instead of watching it slowly from inception to close, and I suspect that Longfellow may have been led to make this little experiment from a perception, as he wrote the hexameters, of the slight loss thereby sustained ; if so, it is only another illustration of his exquisite sense of form.

The deliberate note which a poet strikes at the outset of his career may wisely be taken as indicative of his conscious judgment of his own vocation. Although, as we have seen, Longfellow grew into poetry through the exercise of translation, and by a decade of fruitful study acquired that mastery of form which fixed his place in literature as primarily an artist, it is equally true that the spirit which in youth at once chose poetry as expression was not changed, but only held in reserve through the formative period, and as soon as true maturity came broke forth once more in its native language. The Prelude which opens Voices of the Night and L’Envoi which closes the volume together disclose the poet’s attitude toward his verse. He had gathered his recent poems, and chosen from his scattered translations and his earlier work such examples as came nearest to his more educated taste, and now proposed sending them out into the world. The very title of the volume hinted at the poet’s mood. From the Orestes of Euripides he took his motto, and paraphrased it in the last stanza of the opening poem, Hymn to the Night:

“ Peace! Peace ! Orestes-like I breathe this prayer!
Descend with broad-winged flight,
The welcome, the thrice-prayed for, the most fair,
The best-beloved Night! ”

The title Voices of the Night was first given to the poem Footsteps of Angels, and all of the poems in the section, that is, all the poems which sprang from the new birth of poetry in his mind, strike a single key, — that of consolation ; and so full is the poet of this sense of his poetic mission that he breaks forth at the close of his Prelude in these words, catching, characteristically, at a phrase of Sir Philip Sidney’s : —

‘ Look, then, into thine heart, and write !
Yes, into Life’s deep stream !
All forms of sorrow and delight,
All solemn Voices of the Night,
That can soothe thee, or affright,
Be these henceforth thy theme.”

There is no doubt that the poet’s personal history in the period immediately preceding the appearance of A Psalm of Life and similar poems had much to do with this mood, and certainly this “ theme ” was by no means thenceforth his only one, although it reappeared frequently. It was natural, also, that his recent study of Jean Paul and other sentimental Germans should affect his choice and treatment of subjects, but there is a deeper, more fundamental account. Longfellow’s nature was one of religious bent; his training had been that of the liberal school, and his interest in institutional, historical Christianity was rather æsthetic than inbred. He was also a man of deep reserve, and shrank not only from the disclosure of his intimate feeling, but generally from all revelation of sacred experience. He found in poetry a form of expression which permitted great freedom of speech without necessary reference to the personality of the author. Behind this almost transparent screen he could give full utterance to his own interior life, all the while appearing as the priest of humanity. It was not his own loss which he registered in Resignation, although the occasion of the poem came from his own loss, but he generalized his grief, and took refuge in his office as spokesman for the crowd of sorrowful ones. Thus his personal outlook supplied the fervor of A Psalm of Life, and infused into those lines of commonplaces a poetic spirit which makes them have the sound of a trumpet call; but the lines could not be tracked home to their author by any clue which his personal history might furnish. His home, his friends, the multitudinous experience in emotion of a sensitive nature, constantly supplied him with impulses to poetic expression, but, with very rare exceptions, he spoke for himself and others, not for himself alone.

It was for this reason, in part, that he seized so readily upon the symbols of religion which he found in historic Christianity, and made use of them as forms in his poetic art. His delight in The Golden Legend was not only an artist’s pleasure in rich color and form, but the pleasure of a religious nature working in material that allowed full scope to motives born of religions faith. The remark of Ruskin, often quoted, that “ Longfellow, in his Golden Legend, has entered more closely into the temper of the monk, for good and for evil, than ever yet theological writer or historian, though they may have given their life’s labor to the analysis,” is in support of this view. Longfellow read the monk as he read all mediæval Christianity, from the vantage of a man sympathetic with religion in whatever sincere form it took, unembarrassed by any personal concern in the church which enshrined this particular faith, and keenly sensitive to whatever filled the imagination ; while, as a poet, and especially as a poet of high order as composer, he was able to select just those noble and essential features which justify claims to reverence and admiration, and to oppose as shades those features which could be regarded as transient, and accidental.

How important an element in Longfellow’s art was his religious feeling appears when one considers the two works which dominated his life. I have said that the deliberate note which a poet strikes at the beginning of his career ought to be heeded for the disclosure which it makes of his consciousness of vocation; and the psalms of life which stirred Longfellow’s spirit, as he once more found expression in poetry, showed him as a priest of humanity ; they were indicative of a nature religious, emotional, reserved, yet eagerly desirous of translating his discovery of himself into broad, universal terms. The time from 1837 to 1841, marked in his life by the entrance upon residence at Cambridge, with its duties in teaching not yet irksome, was a period of quick poetic exercise and the trial of a variety of forms. It saw, besides the Voices of the Night, experiments in ballads, like The Wreck of the Hesperus and The Skeleton in Armor ; a drama, The Spanish Student; his famous poem, Excelsior, in which his art executed its most splendid feat in bridging the gulf between the sublime and the ridiculous ; and it offers to the reader of his life a picture of spirited youth, weighted, indeed, by physical infirmity, but with the foot in the stirrup. Yet what was he thinking of ? What was he planning to do ? It was near the close of 1841 that he wrote in his diary : —

“ This evening it has come into my mind to undertake a long and elaborate poem by the holy name of Christ, the theme of which would be the various aspects of Christendom in the Apostolic, Middle, and Modern Ages; ” and he adds, characteristically using a quotation to express his own deepest thought, “ And the swete smoke of the odorous incense whych came of the wholsome and fervent desyres of them that had fayth ascended up before God, out of the aungel’s hande.”

It was not till 1873 that the work as it now stands was published ; and for those two and thirty years which represent almost the whole of his productive period the subject of the trilogy seems never to have been long absent from his mind. As I have said elsewhere, the theme, in its majesty, was a flame by night and a pillar of cloud by day, which led his mind in all its onward movement, and he esteemed the work which he had undertaken as the really great work of his life. His religious nature was profoundly moved by it, and the degree of doubt which attended every step of his progress marked the height of the endeavor which he put forth. There was nothing violent or eccentric in this sudden resolution. The entry in his journal, his biographer states, is the only one for that year, but his correspondence and the dates of his poems indicate clearly enough that the course of his mental and spiritual life was flowing in a direction which made this resolve a most natural and at the same time inspiring expression of his personality. He had been singing those psalms of life, triumphant, sympathetic, aspiring, which showed how strong a hold the ethical principle had of him; he had been steeping his sold in Dante ; he had been moved by the tender ecclesiasticism of The Children of the Lord’s Supper, and in recording a passage in the life of Christ had fancied himself a monk of the Middle Ages ; while the whole tenor of his life and thought had shown how strong a personal apprehension he had of the divine in humanity.

In all that calls for delicate taste, a fine sense of fitness, and a skillful use of material already formed, this trilogy, like the other dramatic writings of Longfellow, has the poet’s distinctive mark. In no part is this more clear than in The Divine Tragedy. A large portion of this drama is a deftly arranged mosaic of passages from the Evangelists, and the reader is at first quite as much struck with the rhythmical character of the King James version, which permits the words to fall so easily into the metrical order, as he is with the poet’s skill in selection and adjustment. Probably the indifference shown by people in general to this drama is due in part to the feeling that nothing very novel was offered. In fact, Longfellow’s reverence is sufficient to explain his lack of success. The desire which he had to accomplish the great work of Christus sprang not only from a poet’s conception of the great movement involved in the subject, but from a deep sense of personal obligation. He approached this dramatic representation of the Christ somewhat as a painter might propose a Crucifixion as a votive offering, only that while the painter, in a great period of religious art, would be working in a perfectly well understood and accepted mode, this poet was artistically alone, and was not merely not helped, but actually hindered, by the prevalent religious temper. Thorwaldsen’s Christ is an example of how an artist, unincumbered by too strong a personal feeling, was able to avail himself of the sympathy of his fellow-believers. The statue, repeated large and small, has become the type of Lutheran Protestant Christianity ; but it has become so because its sculptor drew from Lutheranism his conception of the Christ, not so much as the Sufferer as the Friend. Longfellow, on the other hand, has added nothing to the New England conception of the Christ, because he neither met the requirements of the traditional faith which concentrated all the drama into one act, nor was able to precipitate the floating views of the liberal theology into so striking a dramatic form as to present a figure which would be recognized as the one that men were looking for. Perhaps that was too much to ask under any circumstances, and certainly, as a human hero of a drama, a more disappointing subject could not be found than the Man of Nazareth. At any rate, Longfellow was not the one to lay sacrilegious hands on the ark of his own hopes, and he could not as an artist deny himself as a reverent believer.

After all, the very presence of those qualities which we have observed in Longfellow’s art seems to exclude the admission of that requisite to dramatic art, — passion. The graces which enrich the lyrical and narrative work are somewhat foreign from the drama. One needs to break bounds there, the bounds not of law, but of conventions, and the most orderly and reasonable succession of scenes can hardly put the reader into that state of forgetfulness of self which the drama should compel. There is one scene in Judas Maccabæus, where the mother of the seven sons listens to the voices of her children as they undergo torments in the dungeon of the citadel, which is conceived with fine force ; and yet, upon closer examination, one is obliged to concede that Longfellow was here displaying not so much dramatic conception as that admirable faculty in the adjustment and arrangement of forms already at hand to which I have several times referred.

The question was asked incidentally, on a previous page, why, after once abandoning prose at the end of a decade of work in it, Longfellow should return to prose after another decade given almost wholly to poetry. In 1838 Hyperion was written, and was followed at once by Voices of the Night. In 1848 Kavanagh appeared, and was the last piece of prose produced by the author. It stands in the midst also of a poetic period: Evangeline had just been finished, and The Golden Legend was begun shortly after Kavanagh was published, while the volume The Seaside and the Fireside collected a number of noticeable short poems.

It is probable that in waiting Kavanagh Longfellow was obeying an impulse which often seizes artists, to lay at rest some ghost of a purpose that has pursued them. In his earliest plans for literary work, made on his first journey to Europe, he had outlined several sketches of American life. He made one or two essays in this direction after his return, but hid them away in annuals so carefully that only recently have they been unearthed. He was also somewhat in love with the character of a country schoolmaster, since it seemed to furnish the opportunity for combining the two elements of a recluse and a man of learning and taste. Then he could not help having his opinions about the national literature which was exercising the minds of the writers of his day, and as in Hyperion he had disclosed something of his personal life under the veil of a romance, so in Kavanagh he made a pleasing rural story the vehicle for carrying reflections and opinions which he wished once for all to be rid of. He had done with reviewing and prose work in general; whatever he did now must be in some form of art, and Kavanagh seems to have answered its purpose of materializing the floatingforms which had been in its author’s vision for many years. After this he used the economy of a wise artist, and worked in that material and in those forms which most completely satisfied the bent of his genius.

Yet Kavanagh, in another aspect, is interesting for its witness to a controlling principle in Longfellow’s art. In the passage from Michael Angelo which stands at the head of this paper, the great sculptor is made to speak in his old age of

“ The fever to accomplish some great work
That will not let us sleep. ”

If there were any such fever in Longfellow’s case, as I think the writing of Michael Angelo intimates, there certainly was from the beginning of his career a most healthy and normal activity of life, which stirred him to the achievement of great works, in distinction from the familiar, frequent exercise of the poetic faculty. That lovely lyric, The Arrow and the Song, which might well stand as a prelude to Longfellow’s shorter poems, is headed in the recent edition by an extract from the author’s diary: “ Before church wrote The Arrow and the Song, which came into my mind as I stood with my back to the fire, and glanced on to the paper with arrow’s speed. Literally an improvisation.” The spontaneity of his art is again and again illustrated by just such lyrics as this, and no one can follow these shorter flights of song in connection with Longfellow’s life without being impressed by the ease with which they sped from his bow and the directness of their aim. But to see this is to see only one side of Longfellow’s artistic power. One needs also to keep in mind the seriousness with which he regarded his art, and the clear purpose always in his mind to build large and strong. It is not impossible that his several attempts at dramatic composition may have been due in part to this temper which impelled him to use all his strength, and to justify his gift of song by something more than swallow dips. Hyperion was necessary to his mind, though he might have broken up much of the work into independent, minor sketches. Scarcely had he been reborn to poetry before he was at work on The Spanish Student. He was then also projecting Christus, and evidently feeling the weight of the great theme. The length of time which it remained in his mind is an illustration of the large circle on which his thought sailed, and his poetic career is marked to the end by the deliberate inception, elaboration, and completion of great works.

It is not possible to reconstruct the conversation which Mr. Greene and Mr. Longfellow had in their youth upon the house-top at Naples, but the more one studies the art which has made one of these names a household word, the more one is able to see the “ deep cisterns ” from which the pure stream has flowed. The gift of nature which made Longfellow an artist to his finger-tips was reinforced by that broad, free study which enriched his mind with a multitude of familiar figures and forms, and behind all lay a reverent, devout character, which constantly obeyed the impulse to work, to create, to be.

H. E. Scudder.