Chapter 15: Academic life in CambridgeThere exists abundant evidence, to which the present writer can add personal testimony, in regard to Longfellow's success as an organizer of his immediate department of Harvard University and in dealing with his especial classes. He was assigned, for some reason, a room in University Hall which was also employed for faculty meetings, and was therefore a little less dreary than the ordinary class-room of those days. It seemed most appropriate that an instructor of Longfellow's well-bred aspect and ever-courteous manners should simply sit at the head of the table with his scholars, as if they were guests, instead of putting between him and them the restrictive demarcation of a teacher's desk. We read with him, I remember, first the little book he edited, ‘Proverbes Dramatiques,’ and afterwards something of Racine and Moliere, in which his faculty of finding equivalent phrases was an admirable example for us. When afterwards, during an abortive rebellion in the college yard, the students who had refused to  listen to others yielded to the demand of their ringleader, ‘Let us hear Professor Longfellow; he always treats us like gentlemen,’ the youthful rebel unconsciously recognized a step forward in academical discipline. Longfellow did not cultivate us much personally, or ask us to his house, but he remembered us and acknowledged our salutations. He was, I think, the first Harvard instructor who addressed the individual student with the prefix ‘Mr.’ I recall the clearness of his questions, the simplicity of his explanations, the well-bred and skilful propriety with which he led us past certain indiscreet phrases in our French authors, as for instance in Balzac's ‘Peau de Chagrin.’ Most of all comes back to memory the sense of triumph with which we saw the proof-sheets of ‘Voices of the Night’ brought in by the printer's devil and laid at his elbow. We felt that we also had lived in literary society, little dreaming, in our youthful innocence, how large a part of such society would prove far below the standard of courtesy that prevailed in Professor Longfellow's recitation room. Yet the work of this room was, in those days of dawning changes, but a small part of the function of a professor. Longfellow was, both by inclination and circumstances, committed to the reform initiated by his predecessor, George  Ticknor. He had inherited from this predecessor a sort of pioneer-ship in position relative to the elective system just on trial as an experiment in college. There exists an impression in some quarters that this system came in for the first time under President Walker about 1853; but it had been, as a matter of fact, tried much earlier,—twenty years, at least,—in the Modern Language Department under Ticknor, and had been extended much more widely in 1839 under President Quincy. The facts are well known to me, as I was in college at that period and enjoyed the beneficent effects of the change, since it placed the whole college, in some degree, for a time at least, on a university basis. The change took the form, first, of a discontinuance of mathematics as a required study after the first year, and then the wider application of the elective system in history, natural history, and the classics, this greater liberty being enjoyed, though with some reaction, under President Everett, and practically abolished about 1849 under President Sparks, when what may be called the High School system was temporarily restored. An illustration of this reactionary tendency may be found in a letter addressed by Longfellow to the President and Fellows, placing him distinctly on the side of freedom of choice. The circumstances are these: Students had for some time been  permitted to take more than one modern language among the electives, and I myself, before receiving my degree of A. B. in 1841, had studied two such languages simultaneously for three years of college course. It appears, however, from the following letter, that this privilege had already been reduced to one such language, and that Longfellow was at once found remonstrating against it, though at first ineffectually.
[Addressed externally to the President and Fellows of Harvard College.]
A year later than the above correspondence, the subject was evidently revived on the part of the governing powers of the College, and we find the following letter from Professor Longfellow:—
 It is a curious fact that more than half a century later, at a meeting of the American Modern Language Association, held at the very institution where this correspondence took place, it was President Charles William Eliot, son of the author of the letter just quoted, who recognized the immense advance made in this particular department as one of the most important steps in the progress of the University. His remarks were thus reported in the Boston Herald of December 27, 1901:—
When the meeting opened yesterday afternoon President Eliot was present and graciously said a few words of welcome. He said that he knew of no body of modern learned men whom he would be so glad to welcome as the professors of language. “Here at Harvard,” he said,It is always to be borne in mind that Longfellow's self-restrained and well-ordered temperarent habitually checked him in the career of innovator. Both in public and private matters, it was his way to state his point of view and then await results. It is clear that his mental habit, hi foreign experience, and the traditions of his immediate department predisposed him to favor the elective system in university training. This system, after temporary trial and abandonment, was now being brought forward once more and was destined this time to prevail. Towards this success, the prosperity of the Modern Language Department formed a perpetual argument, because it was there that the reform was first introduced. The records of the Faculty at that  period give very little information as to the attitude of individual professors, and Longfellow may be viewed as having been for the most part a silent reformer. One finds, however, constant evidence in his diaries of the fact that his duties wore upon him. ‘I get very tired of the routine of this life.’ ‘This college work is like a great hand laid on all the strings of my lyre, stopping their vibrations.’ ‘How the days resemble each other and how sad it is to me that I cannot give them all to my poem.’ ‘have fallen into a very unpoetic mood and cannot write.’ It must be remembered that his eyes were at this time very weak, that he suffered extremely from neuralgia, and that these entries were all made during the great fugitive slave excitement which agitated New England, and the political overturn in Massachusetts which culminated in the election of the poet's most intimate friend, Sumner, to the United States Senate. He records the occurrence of his forty-fourth birthday, and soon after when he is stereotyping the ‘Golden Legend’ he says: ‘I still work a good deal upon it,’ but also writes, only two days after, ‘Working hard with college classes to have them ready for their examinations.’ A fortnight later he says: ‘Examination in my department; always to me a day of anguish and exhaustion.’ His correspondence is very  large; visitors and dinner parties constantly increase. His mother dies suddenly, and he sits all night alone by her dead body, a sense of peace comes over him, as if there had been no shock or jar in nature, but a ‘harmonious close to a long life.’ Later he gets tired of summer rest at Nahant, which he calls ‘building up life with solid blocks of idleness;’ but when two days later he goes back to Cambridge to resume his duties, he records: ‘I felt my neck bow and the pressure of the yoke.’ Soon after he says: ‘I find no time to write. I find more and more the little things of life shut out the great. Innumerable interruptions—letters of application for this and for that; endless importunities of foreigners for help here and help there—fret the day and consume it.’ He often records having half a dozen men to dine with him; he goes to the theatre, to lectures, concerts, and balls, has no repose, and perhaps, as we have seen at Nahant, would not really enjoy it. It was under these conditions, however, that the ‘Golden Legend’ came into the world in November, 1851; and it was not until September 12, 1854, that its author was finally separated from the University. He was before that date happily at work on ‘Hiawatha.’we have been pressing forward for many years toward the same object you have in view. I congratulate you upon the great progress made in the last thirty years. One of the most striking features of American education has been the rapid development of the study of languages. It has been more rapid at some of the other colleges than at Harvard. They started at nothing a shorter time ago. [Laughter.] You are to be congratulated upon the cohesion which exists among learned men in  dealing with this important subject. The study of modern languages is beginning to connect itself with the life of the nation. It no bears a real connection to national life and interest. No great subject in educational thought ever obtained a firm hold that had not some modern connection with the day. I do not overlook the literary element in the study of modern languages, but you will have a stronger hold for the next twenty years than you have in the past, wing to this use of modern languages in daily life, incident to the industrial and commercial activity of the country.