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tv   The Wadsworth- Longfellow House  CSPAN  October 21, 2017 12:27pm-12:44pm EDT

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and, in fact, henry wadsworth longfellow who lived in town, he was very friendly with the family that was the lighthouse keepers probably the longest. they were here for decades. he used to come down here and spend the night and hang out with them, and there's a section talking about influencing his work. there's a stanza from one of his poems about coming out here and just sitting by the lighthouse and watching the ocean and relaxing. >> so we've talked a lot about portland, and you and i even off camera have talked about our shared love of the city. but what's next? what would you like to see for this place that's become your adopted home? >> we want it to grow, we want it to be, you know, what it's becoming with, you know, more people moving in and discovering how beautiful it is. but we don't want to lose this. we don't want to lose the lobster boats, the working waterfront, we don't want to lose this picturesque thing where you can sit on the rocks and not have 25 people around you. it's so well protected in terms
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of shoreland and conservation and food sustainability, and it's just, it's just terrific. >> thank you so much for sharing your city with us. >> r span -- c-span is in portland, maine. we visit the childhood home of henry wadsworth longfellow. >> often i think of the beautiful town that is seated by the sea, and often in thought go up and down the pleasant streets of that dear old town, and my youth comes back to me. henry wadsworth longfellow was a, was an american poet in the 19th century. he was, when he was alive and writing, probably the most famous english language writer in the world if not the most famous person in the world. and today he's probably best remembered for poems like "paul revere's ride," "the children's hour." he's still very much a part of our everyday lexicon and our
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american memory. henry wadsworth longfellow was born in portland, maine, february 27, 1807. he grew up here. it's where he started writing. and even after he as an adult left portland and left maine, he still came back all the time. he found inspiration in the city, in his childhood home. it was still very much a special place to him and a real source of his poetry. the wadsworth longfellow house was always owned by the wadsworth and the longfellows. henry's grandparents, they built the house in 1786, and henry's own parents lived here from 1807 through their deaths. the last person to live at the house was henry's sister, ann longfellow pearce. she died here in 1901. and upon her death, she left the house and everything in it to maine historical set. as far as how much of what you see in the wadsworth longfellow
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house is original to the house and to the family, the figure i've been quoted is 94%. so is, in other words, almost all of it. there are a few places in the house where we've had to fill in some gaps, things that may have been lost over the years, but almost everything that you're looking at has a personal connection to the house, to the people who lived here. so this is the front hall of the wadsworth longfellow house where the family's guests would have come in. and as guests, they probably would have been taken right into the family's parlor. so is this was the most formal room of the house. it was where they kept their nicest things, their finest furniture, because this more often than not was a room really for special occasions. sometimes somber occasions like funerals, but also a lot of happy occasions like weddings. henry's parents were married in this room on january 1, 1804, and then later two of henry's
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sisters also celebrated their weddings in this parlor. and looking down on all this important family activity from a place of honor in the room just over the fireplace is an engraving of george washington that we're told has been in that spot since 1802. washington was a very popular figure in early 19th century america. it wouldn't have been a huge surprise to find his likeness in any american's home. but the wadsworths and the longfellows were proud that they had a personal connection to the first president through henry's grandfather. so the man who built this house was a general during the american revolution. he actually knew george washington. the moment that he is best remembered for during the war was his role in the we on scot expedition in 1779.
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the massachusetts militia was anxious to get the british out of maine, out of what is today castine, maine. so they sent a lot of ground forces and naval forces to that area. and henry's grandfather was kind of second in command to the ground forces. and in charge of the artillery in that expedition was paul revere. the expedition ended in a horrible defeat for the americans. it was actually the worst naval defeat in america's history until pearl harbor. and paul revere was made something of a scapegoat for everything that went wrong. when it was all over, henry's grandfather said that paul revere had not obeyed an order that he had given him. paul revere was not remember by a lot of the men with him at the penobscot expedition fondly. kind of remembers as arrogant and not easy to work with.
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and he's brought up on charges after it's all over, and even for a while placed under house arrest. paul revere would demand a court-martial to clear his name, which it did, but by then we're talking it was 1782 or 1783. the american revolution was coming to an end. people really weren't, they didn't really care much anymore. they weren't worried about paul revere much anymore. so his reputation's really ruined forever. he falls into obscurity for a long time, for a generation. nobody knew who paul revere was. and then in 1861 henry wadsworth longfellow, on the eve of the civil war, decides to write a poem in which he makes paul revere the star and is makes him the hero, recounting how paul revere mounted his horse and rode through the massachusetts countryside to warn his fellow
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patriots that the british were marching for lekkington and con covered -- lexington and concord. the poem was probably henry's way of warning his fellow new englanders, you know, we are on the eve of war again, a civil war is coming. our grandparents were ready when the call came 80 years ago, we're going to have to be ready when it comes again. so why he chose paul revere out of any of the other figures he might have chosen is not really known. we don't think that his grandfather ever talked to henry about paul revere. we don't know that he ever really talked to him about the war at all. but it's interesting, i think, to note that henry's grandfather would have seen paul revere remembered in a very different way from the way his grandson would have him remembered. henry started to show an interest in becoming a writer at a very young age, from his childhood. his, he published his first poem
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when he was 13 years old, "the battle of lovells pond," which he wrote here at this house. after he graduated from boden college, he would have been about 18 or 19 years old, he told his father that's what he wanted to do. he wanted to be a writer. so i think he kind of always knew that was, that was his dream, that was his passion. so this room was the family's dining room and sitting room, a place where when they weren't entertaining company in the parlor, they might gather just to relax. and for many years henry's father, steven longfellow, used this space as his law office. he was a lawyer, and for a time he practiced right out of the house. he also had a small waiting room added on to the house for his clients to use. so his clients could come in and out this entrance and wait for steven here without interrupting
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the day of the rest of the family. and we know that when henry was young, he liked to sit back here and write. maybe this small space is where he found some privacy away from the prying eyes of the seven brothers and sisters, his parents, his aunt. but in any case, he liked to sneak back here for a little alone time to do some writing. and when henry was about 19 years old, his father had moved the law office out of the house, and henry's mother decided to turn this space into a china closet which had him feeling a little put out. he would say in a letter to his sister, elizabeth, basically i haven't been able to write a thing, not since the governments and vandals crossed the rubicon into the sanctum sang to have rum of the little room and turned it into a china closet. now at 19 talking about his mother, i think we can assume
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the statement is a little tongue in cheek. but it shows us just how important this space really was to henry even as he grew up. henry's poetry, his first big commercial success is probably evangeline which he published in 1847. evangeline is his poem about the acadian expulsion out of canada and the maritimes by the british in the 1700s. and that was followed by other big hits, if you will, "the courtship of miles standish," "hiawatha, ""paul revere's ride." and one of the things that they have in common is a very romantic style, sort of epic storytelling, if you will. and all those poems that i just
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mentioned were all inspired by actual historical events or actual historical figures that henry, for his own purposes, might have changed or adapted a little bit, taken some real license with to kind of suit his needs or suit the expectations of his audience. but those are some of the ones he's best known for still to this day. and so that poetry had and continues to have a very real influence on how america imagines its origins as a nation. at the back of the hall and to the left was the family's summer dining room. this side of the house faces north, so it's a little cooler back here for eating in the summertime. and today this room is often referred to as the rainy day room because it's believed that in this room and at that very desk henry wrote his poem "the
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rainy day." now, the poem is not one of henry's better remembered in 2017, but people quote et all the time -- it all the time, usually just not realizing they're quoting one of henry's poems. so the poem has just three stanzas. the first stanza henry describeds what he can see out the window, that the day is very dark and dreary. it's raining, the wind is blowing. every time the wind blows, the dead leaves are falling from the trees. and in the second stanza, he says that's how he feels. his life is very dark and dreary, and his -- the hopes of his youth, like those leaves falling off the trees, are falling thick all around him. but in the last stanza, he strikes a slightly more hopeful tone and says "be still, sad heart, and is cease repining." "behind the clouds is the sun still shining." "into each life, a little rain
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must fall." "some days are dark and dreary." so that phrase has made its way into our everyday lexicon. it originated with that poem. henry wrote the poem on the heels of a lot of loss in his personal life. within the span of about one year, his sister ellen died. she was just 16 years old. and then not long after her passing, his brother-in-law, george pearce, died. he and george were classmated at boden college. they were -- classmates at boden college. and henry that same year lost his first wife, mary, while they were traveling abroad. so i think when he sits down to write "the rainy day" it's probably his way of responding to that grief. we know that henry, whenever he was visiting his childhood home, he would often stay in this bedroom. in fact, after he married his
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second wife, francis appleton, we know that they came here for a visit and that they stayed in this very room. and still sitting on the table in here is henry's traveling writing desk. so this piece, it's like a precursor to the laptop. it's hinged in the middle, folds up into a nice little box so that you can transport it very easily. we know that henry actually wrote part of his poem "evangeline" on this writing desk. and so it's here in his childhood home still a very tangible reminder of the work that he did. and i would say, too, of how famous and how well-traveled he was. his fame as a writer took him all over the world, and he found inspiration all over the world. so it was important for him to have the tools that he needed so that he could always be writing and creating no matter where he was. henry, after he left maine, would come back typically at least once a year to visit. he wouldn't really become well
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known as a writer until the 1840s, 1850s. after the civil war he certainly would have been more physically recognizable with the advent of photography. we know at his home in cambridge, massachusetts, whenever he left the house photographers would kind of come out of their studios, can we take your picture, can we take your picture. and he, by all accounts, was a very nice man, so he would oblige. so there are lots of photographs that still exist of henry longfellow. so coming back to his hometown in his middle age and into his final years he would have certainly been a very recognizable figure. henry wadsworth longfellow died in 1882. his sister ann would be living in this house about another 15 years. i think that she probably imagined not too long after
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henry's death that this might be a place for the public to come and see. and when she made that decision in the years before she died, she literally said it's the right things to do. it would be right to leave it for the public to enjoy. >> the help of our spectrum cable partners, c-span is in portland, maine, featuring its local literary community. up next, we speak with elizabeth dewolf on her book, "shaking the faith." >> i learned about shaker history pretty much when i first moved to maine. maine is home to the last active shaker community in new glouster, maine. when i was in graduate school, i was searching for a topic, and my husband actually -- a rare book dealer -- suggested that i hook at the writings of mary dyer.


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