Saturday, May 23, 2020

Greatness rediscovered …

… ‘Cross of Snow’ Review: Our Poet of Loneliness - WSJ. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Nicholas Basbanes’s superbly sympathetic “Cross of Snow” is not, as his publisher claims, the first major Longfellow biography to appear in 50 years (Charles Calhoun’s briefer, more analytical “Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life” was published in 2004). But it is, perhaps, the biography Longfellow himself would have most liked to read. Absorbing the underlying message of Longfellow’s poetry, Mr. Basbanes writes about him the way a friend would, with generosity, gentleness and grace. The author of several well-received books on collectors and collecting, Mr. Basbanes is the ideal biographer for a poet who never threw anything out and would even label his pencil stubs with the titles of the poems for which he had used them. In his sumptuous residence at 105 Brattle Street in Cambridge, Mass., now a National Historic Site, Longfellow surrounded himself with a library of more than 12,000 books in 50 languages, many of which he spoke or read with some degree of fluency. Mr. Basbanes knows that library so well that he can tell us exactly where the poet kept his copy of Charles Dickens’s “Great Expectations” (in the dining room, “at eye level, on the middle shelf, to the left”).

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