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A Psalm of Life (Longfellow)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was one of America's most famous poets and educators. He was born in 1807 in Portland, Maine, and attended Bowdoin College there, graduating in 1825. He was then offered a professorship there, under the condition that he travel to Europe to study and learn French, Spanish, and Italian. He spent three years traveling around Europe, from 1826 to 1829, learning French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Portuguese, without formal instruction. When he returned, he began his work as professor of modern languages at Bowdoin.

Soon after his return, he became reacquainted with Mary Storer Potter, a young woman he had known from school days. They were married in 1831 and then in 1834, Harvard College offered him a professorship of modern languages, under the condition that he travel abroad again for another year or so. He and Mary took the trip and he studied Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, and Icelandic. Sadly, Mary died in 1835, shortly after miscarrying their child, while the couple was in the Netherlands. She was only 23 years old and Longfellow had her remains shipped back to Boston for burial as he struggled to endure the pain.

He returned home the following year and began his professorship at Harvard. He wrote many poems and had many more fans than critics, but the criticism was harsh, and perhaps why he devoted years of his life to translating works like Dante's Divine Comedy from Italian into English, rather than writing his own original works. Still, he was one of America's very first (if not the first) celebrity.

In 1843, he married Fanny Appleton, who bore him six children. He retired from Harvard in 1859, to devote his time to writing. Two years later, in 1861, Fanny died tragically after her dress caught on fire. Longfellow was devastated and never the same again, but he lived on another 21 years, dying in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1882, at the age of 75.


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