Among the English Worthies

Longfellow and the Campaign for Poets' Corner

in Critical Survey
Author:
David Haven Blake The College of New Jersey blake@tcnj.edu

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In 1884, a bust of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was unveiled in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey, positioning the American between memorials to Geoffrey Chaucer and John Dryden. Longfellow was the first foreign author thus honoured, and his selection created transatlantic controversy. Through newspapers and correspondence, this article explores how Longfellow's bust came to be in Poets' Corner, tracing the role of its organizer, Dr William Cox Bennett, his benefactors in government and the Palace, and a host of distinguished contributors to the campaign. While nineteenth-century celebrity is often described as a public phenomenon accompanied by crowds of cheering admirers, the memorialization campaign centred on transatlantic elites who praised Longfellow's virtue, humility, and internationalism. The article examines how the campaign shaped the meaning of both Poets' Corner and late nineteenth-century transatlantic fraternity and argues that it also became the setting for conflicting ideas about literature, cosmopolitanism, national memory, and Victorian racial theories.

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