Henry was able to go back to Portland
Academy in autumn, even
though he didn’t do much running. As he grew older, he grew quieter. He liked
books and he liked to read. His writing improved each season, until he could
send letters to his father that were clear and interesting.
His school work began to include Latin
and Greek and algebra, but Henry Longfellow found that he liked poetry best,
and he liked to memorize poetry. He learned whole songs by heart when the
family gathered around the piano and sang.
By the time he was twelve, his mother
allowed him to wander down to the Portland
docks whenever school was over. The sailors from all over the world told him
tales of ships – pirate ships, ghost ships, tales of storms at sea and
shipwrecks. He watched many ships built right there in Portland harbour,
watched the skeleton made of Maine timber, watched the mast put into place,
jumped up and down and shouted for joy with the rest of the crowd when the
great ship went down into the water.
The stories of ships and of sailors,
the stories of land far away, and the stories of Grandfather Wadsworth’s Indians,
all began to dance in his imagination. Sometimes they repeated the tunes he
sang and the poems he memorized.
Henry Longfellow began to keep a
notebook of his favourite poems. In the notebook there were verses, rhymes and
lines that he made up himself. He was becoming shy, and he kept his notebook a
secret from almost everyone but his mother and his sister Anne.
Anne was nine, old enough to
understand, when Henry was fourteen. Henry felt closer to her than to Stephen
or Betsy. Stephen liked rougher games and didn’t care for poetry. Betsy cared
more about helping her mother with the younger children. There were eight
Longfellow children in all, four boys and four girls.
There were a lot of books in the
Longfellow home. Many of them contained poems that excited Henry as he read
volume after volume. Often when his father was at home, he helped to Henry find
his way among all these volumes. He would pull one down from a top shelf and
"Here is a book that every educated man
should know about.”
Henry’s ability to write was winning
him honours at school, and his father was glad; but Mr. Longfellow didn’t know
that his son was dreaming about being a writer. Mr. Longfellow would not have
approved of that.
Mrs. Longfellow was sympathetic, and
Henry could tell her all his dreams. She encouraged him, looked over his
themes, helped him with new words and read with him.