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Today in History - February 27

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born on February 27, 1807, in Portland, Maine. During his lifetime, Longfellow’s poetry enjoyed extraordinary popularity at home and abroad.

Under a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Village Blacksmith,” External published 1841 in Ballads and Other Poems.
The original draft of this poem is featured in Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division’s First 100 Years.

Occupational Portrait of a Blacksmith, between 1840 and 1860. America’s First Look into the Camera: Daguerreotype Portraits and Views, 1839-1864
Henry W. Longfellow, photograph of a painting by William Edgar Marshall, circa 1900-12. Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

“The Village Blacksmith” originally appeared in Knickerbocker magazine in 1840 and served as a standard recitation piece in American schools well into the twentieth century. Longfellow’s longer narrative poems include EvangelineExternal (1847), The Song of Hiawatha External (1855), and The Courtship of Miles Standish External (1858).

Longfellow attended Bowdoin College. A classmate of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Longfellow returned to the college to teach in 1829. From 1836 to 1854, he served as Smith Professor of Modern Languages at Harvard University. At home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Longfellow and his second wife, Frances (Fanny) Appleton, raised six children. In his sentimental portrait of family life, “The Children’s Hour,” first published in the September 1860 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Longfellow immortalized his daughters:

From my study I see in the lamplight,
Descending the broad hall-stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper, and then a silence:
Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
To take me by surprise.

The Hall, Craigie, Home of Longfellow, Cambridge, Massachusetts, circa 1910-20. Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

Paul Revere’s Ride External,” published in Tales of a Wayside Inn External (1863), follows the famous patriot as he rides through the Massachusetts countryside warning of an impending British attack. Even today, the first lines of this poem are familiar:

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

One of few nineteenth-century American poets acclaimed in Europe, Longfellow received honorary degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge. Following his death in 1882, he became the only American commemorated in Westminster Abbey‘s Poet’s Corner.

Although Longfellow’s verse seems conventional now, especially when contrasted with his contemporary Walt Whitman, he was considered a “new poet” in his day. One of the first Americans to use native themes in his poetry, Longfellow holds an important place in American memory.

Interior [Writing Desk of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow], Wadsworth-Longfellow House, Portland, Maine, circa 1910-30. Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920
Sign in Evangeline Museum, Saint Martinville, Louisiana, November 1938. America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945.
Longfellow’s tale of ill-fated Acadian lovers, Evangeline, encouraged tourist trade in both Canada and Louisiana—the setting of the story.

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Mathew Brady

Mathew Brady photographed presidential aspirant Abraham Lincoln before his February 27, 1860, speech at Cooper Union in New York. Harper’s Weekly published Brady’s image as a woodcut on its cover with a biographical profile of Lincoln and the title Hon. Abram Lincoln, of Illinois, Republican Candidate for President. [Photographed by Brady.]

From the first, I regarded myself as under obligation to my country to preserve the faces of its historic men and mothers.

Brady, the Photographer, Returned from Bull Run, July 22, 1861. Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints

Abraham Lincoln: Before Delivering His Cooper Union Address, New York, New York. Mathew B. Brady, photographer, February 27, 1860. Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

When he became President, Marshal Lamon said: ‘I have not introduced Mr. Brady.’ Mr. Lincoln answered in his ready way, ‘Brady and the Cooper Institute made me President.’… I remember when I took Mr. Lincoln, in 1859, he had no beard. I had to pull up his shirt and coat collar; that was at the Tenth-street gallery


Mathew Brady, as quoted in George Alfred Townsend, “Still Taking Pictures: Brady, the Grand Old Man of American Photography, Hard at Work At Sixty-Seven (interview),”
The World, April 12, 1891; reprinted in Vicki Goldberg, ed., Photography in Print. Writings from 1816 to the Present (New York: Simon and Schuster: 1981), 204.

Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints
Brady’s Daguerrean Gallery, ca. 1854. America’s First Look into the Camera: Daguerreotype Portraits and Views, 1839-1864

Brady studied photography under Samuel F. B. Morse, a friend of Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre who had recently introduced the daguerreotype process to America. In 1844, Brady opened his own elegant gallery and studio on Broadway in New York City. He excelled at portraiture and actively sought sittings with prominent figures in the spheres of art and politics.

At the advent of the Civil War, Brady recognized the historical imperative of comprehensive documentation of the conflict. In spite of the inevitable physical and financial perils and risks, Brady organized a corps of photographers and assistants to document the characters, events, and settings of the battles of the war:

My wife and my most conservative friends had looked unfavorably upon this departure from commercial business to pictorial war correspondence, and I can only describe the destiny that overruled me by saying that, like Euphorios, I felt that I had to go. A spirit in my feet said ‘Go,’ and I went.

Brady in Townsend, “Still Taking Pictures,” 205.

Brady supervised his large corps of talented traveling photographers and preserved their negatives, augmenting the images with others that he bought from private photographers freshly returned from the battlefield, always seeking to tell the sweeping saga of history as it occurred. When photographs from his collection—which were, in fact, the work of many people—were published, whether printed by Brady or adapted as engravings in publications, most images were credited “From a photograph by Brady.”

In his endeavors to share the images of the war with the public, Brady shocked many by displaying photographs of battlefield corpses from Antietam. He posted a sign on the door of his New York gallery that read, “The Dead of Antietam.”

Brady succeeded in his goal of truly comprehensive photo-documentation of a war, but he paid a great price for his collection. He risked his fortune on the Civil War enterprise and fell into bankruptcy. Brady said, “No one will ever know what I went through to secure those negatives. The world can never appreciate it. It changed the whole course of my life.” He died in poverty in 1896. The New York Seventh Regiment Veterans Association paid a portion of his funeral expenses.

Go into the Gallery when you may and you will see crowds gathering around these pictures, some with tearful eyes, some with eyes that brim with pride and all with swelling hearts. To one who has moved in the scenes represented, these pictures are pregnant with strange, sad reminiscences…You recognize the very sycamore to whose base a young Lieutenant had crawled to die. You knew him…

Undated clipping, Mathew Brady Scrapbook, Brady/Handy Collection, Library of Congress

Brady’s Photo Outfit in Front of Petersburg, Virginia, circa 1864. [1864?]. Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints

If the men themselves whose physiognomies are here displayed, would but meet together for half an hour in as calm a frame of mind as their pictures wear, how vastly all the world’s disputes would be simplified; how many tears and troubles might mankind still be spared!

Portrait of Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Officer of the Federal Army. Mathew Brady, photographer, Brady National Photographic Art Gallery, Washington, D.C., between 1860 and 1865. Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints

And why should they not? For here at one end of the grand saloon behold a company of famous men who have in very truth so met. These are the dead of history.

“A Broadway Valhalla: Opening of Brady’s New Gallery,” American Journal of Photography and the Allied Arts & Sciences, n.s., 3, no. 10 (October 15, 1860): 151-53.

Mathew Brady’s and his colleague’s photographs document the sites and the carnage of the battles of the war quite powerfully. However, due to the long exposure times necessary to make readable images, capturing action on film was difficult if not impossible. The public relied on images rendered by sketch artists, printed in the news publications of the day, to get a sense of the battles.

Walt Whitman, three-quarter length portrait, facing left, right hand under head, Mathew Brady, photographer, 1875. Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

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