Category Archives: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Thomas Wentworth Higginson Papers Now Available


Handwritten postcard from Thomas Wentworth Higginson to Etta Russell, June 1, 1897, from the Thomas Wentworth Higginson Papers, 1850-1907.

The  Cambridge Room is pleased to announce that the Thomas Wentworth Higginson Papers, 1850-1907 are now available to research. A curated selection of the papers have been digitized and made available here.

Thomas Wentworth Higginson was a writer, minister, colonel, abolitionist, and activist. He was born on December 23, 1823 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Louisa Storrow Higginson and Stephen Higginson Jr. Thomas Wentworth Higginson graduated from Harvard College in 1841 and from Harvard Divinity School in 1847. He then served as a preacher, first in Newburyport, where he was deemed too radical, and later at the Free Church in Worcester, Massachusetts. During this time, Higginson became increasingly active in abolitionist activity. He wrote and preached against slavery in the years leading up to the Civil War and was active in the Boston Vigilance Committee and the Underground Railroad. After supporting abolitionist settlers in Kansas following the Kansas-Nebraska Act, he provided financial support to John Brown’s raid of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. During the Civil War, Higginson led the Higginson, Thomas Wentworth (Thomas Wentworth Higginson Papers, 1850-1907) Union’s first African-American regiment. He described his military service in the memoir Army Life in a Black Regiment.

After the Civil War, Higginson focused on writing, editing, and activism, living in Newport, Rhode Island, for about two decades before returning to Cambridge. As a writer, he published fiction, memoirs, and essays, working with publications such as the Atlantic Monthly and the Woman’s Journal. He wrote on issues such as women’s suffrage, temperance, and Reconstruction. Higginson was also an editor; he corresponded with Emily Dickinson and co-edited her poetry for publication after her death. Higginson served as a trustee of the Cambridge Public Library and was instrumental in establishing the collections of the Cambridge Room, the library’s archives and special collections. Higginson married Mary Channing in 1847. After her death in 1877, he married Mary Thacher in 1879. They had two daughters, Louisa, who died in infancy in 1880, and Margaret, born in 1881. Higginson died on May 9, 1911 in Cambridge and was buried in Cambridge Cemetery.

Collection Overview
This collection comprises letters written to and by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a manuscript of a portion of his book Cheerful Yesterdays, and pamphlets written by Higginson. The letters include discussion of Higginson’s time in England and work with the Cambridge Public Library. The manuscript contains the second chapter of Higginson’s memoir, Cheerful Yesterdays, “A Child of the College.” The pamphlets include speeches, sermons, reminiscences, and essays; topics covered include slavery and women’s suffrage.


Artist Harriet Spelman Longfellow: The Prettiest Girl in Cambridge

The Longfellow Family, Venice, 29 May 1869. A. Sorgato, photographer.  Harriet Spelman Longfellow is on the far right of the top row, standing next to her husband, Ernest Wadsworth Longfellow, the poet’s son.

Harriet “Hattie” Spelman (1848 to 1937), a close friend of Alice Longfellow – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s daughter –  was both a talented artist and a great beauty.  She was considered to be the “prettiest girl in Cambridge.”  When Ernest Longfellow, Alice’s brother and an artist himself, returned from his winter studies in Paris in 1867, he proposed to Hattie.  Ernest’s reputation was well known and was confirmed in an 1874 New Orleans Times article  as “a slender, delicate young man, an artist of talent, great at ten-pins, and tip-top at gunning.”  The dashing couple married on May 21, 1868 and honeymooned to Europe, accompanied by the Longfellow family.  In 1871, Ernest and Hattie moved from Craigie House, what is today called the Longfellow House, into their newly built home across the street at 108 Brattle Street.

Despite her great beauty, talent, and marriage into a prominent American family,  Hattie suffered from psychological problems – perhaps depression – prompting visits to sanatoriums across the country.

Harriet Spelman Longfellow’s letters and some examples of her artwork are included in the Ernest Wadsworth Longfellow Family Papers located at the Longfellow House –  Washington’s Headquarters.  To view the finding aid for the Longfellow Family, click here: For more information on visiting the Longfellow House – Washington’s Headquarters, click here:

**Special thanks to Anita Israel, Archivist at the Longfellow House – Washington’s Headquarters for this post.

Award-winning Online Longfellow Exhibition from Harvard’s Houghton Library

Longfellow, pictured with his family, taken during his last trip to Europe.  This photo is just one of hundreds in Houghton’s online exhibition.

The Houghton Library at Harvard University has available on its website an award-winning online exhibition of the life and works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  The exhibition  is the online version of a 2007 exhibition curated by Christopher Irmscher for the 200th anniversary of Longfellow’s birth and features a variety of digital objects, including photographs, manuscripts, journal entries, drawings, and objects such as locks of hair, that are part of Houghton’s Longfellow collection.

In 2009, the exhibition won the prestigious Katharine Kyes Leab and Daniel J. Leab American Book Prices Current Exhibition Catalogue Award for electronic exhibitions, given yearly by the American Library Association.

The exhibition is a wonderful resource for Longfellow scholars and enthusiasts alike and can be viewed at:

Haunted Houses by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Haunted Houses

All houses wherein men have lived and died
Are haunted houses.  Through the open
The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
With feet that make no sound upon the

We meet them at the door-way, on the stair,
Along the passages they come and go,
Impalpable impressions on the air,
A sense of something moving to and fro.

There are more guests at table, than the hosts
Invited ; the illuminated hall
Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
As silent as the pictures on the wall.

The stranger at my fireside cannot see
The forms I see, nor hear the sounds I hear ;
He but perceives what is ; while unto me
All that has been is visible and clear.

We have no title-deeds to house or lands ;
Owners and occupants of earlier dates
From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands,
And hold in mortmain still their old es-

The spirit-world around this world of sense
Floats like an atmosphere, and everywhere
Wafts through these earthly mists and vapors
A vital breath of more ethereal air.

Our little lives are kept in equipoise
By opposite attractions and desires ;
The struggle of the instinct that enjoys,
And the more noble instinct that aspires.

These perturbations, this perpetual jar
Of earthly wants and aspirations high,
Come from the influence of an unseen star,
An undiscovered planet in our sky.

And as the moon from some dark gate of cloud
Throws o’er the sea a floating bridge of light,
Across whose trembling planks our fancies
Into the realm of mystery and night, –

So from the world of spirits there descends
A bridge of light, connecting it with this,
O’er whose unsteady floor, that sways and
Wander our thoughts above the dark abyss.

-From The Courtship of Miles Standish, and Other Poems, 1858.

To view this edition of Longfellow’s book, please visit the Cambridge Room.