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June 9, 2009
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v2.1 Reference

Public Poet, Private Man

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at 200

The most popular American poet of his day, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) was a multiculturalist before the term was invented. He passionately believed in the value of foreign travel and conceived of American literature as deeply "transatlantic." A polyglot poet-scholar, the first American to translate Dante's entire Divine Comedy, he was also a hands-on, unconventional father who produced numerous Edward Lear–like drawings for the entertainment of his children.

Based on an exhibition at Harvard's Houghton Library and originally published as a special issue of the Harvard Library Bulletin, this volume offers an innovative view of the poet's personal life, his connection with his audience, and his efforts to add an international dimension to American literature. Profusely illustrated with manuscripts, drawings, and photographs from the extensive collections of Houghton Library and the Longfellow National Historic Site, it demonstrates how intensely involved Longfellow was in family, fatherhood, and friendship. It also shows how these supposedly "private" aspects of his life constantly intersected with the more public aspects of his understanding of authorship, his collaborative projects, and his commitment to his readers. The result is a vivid introduction to Longfellow's world.

About the Author

Christoph Irmscher is professor of English at Indiana University and author of Longfellow Redux and The Poetics of Natural History: From John Bartram to William James.


"Christoph Irmscher demonstrates the enviable ability to select a dazzling array of material objects from another century, and use them to give shape and substance to the life and times of a most appealing subject. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was America's first celebrity poet—a superstar of his day, we realize here in a very immediate way—but he was also a devoted family man and a model of professionalism to an adoring public. The great Bard of Brattle Street could not have wished for a more suitable Boswell on the occasion of his two hundredth birthday."—Nicholas Basbanes, author of A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books

"This lively, provocative study encourages new Americanist reconfigurations of American literary studies to include global considerations. . . . Essential."—Choice

"Some men are pioneers of their art form during their eras. Public Poet, Private Man is a biography of one of the premier authors and poets of the early nineteenth century in America, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. A man of the world, (Longfellow) believed that American literature should be like its people, the best from around the world. His life is an important one in the history of American literature, making Public Poet, Private Man a fine entry into any literary or biography collection."—Midwest Book Review

"Lovers of literature...will enjoy Public Poet, Private Man: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at 200 by Christoph Irmscher. . . . This book combines both excellent scholarship and a valuable look at the whole man in terms of his family, his friends, and his life in the spotlight."—Alan Caruba, Bookviews

"Irnscher sketches the coordinates of Longfellow's life between 'the inside of his head' and his manifold social ties, and the critic's achievement of a balanced and succinct representation must by applauded. ... [Public Poet, Private Man] will most certainly help the unembarrassed return of Longfellow to the core of American Literary history."—American Studies: A Quarterly
University of Massachusetts Press

9781558495845 : public-poet-private-man-irmscher
Paperback / softback
236 Pages
$25.95 USD

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