There are no more chestnut trees, spreading or otherwise, for Longfellow's village smithy to stand under. All of them succumbed to blight at the turn of the twentieth century while blacksmiths perished from obsolescence. During these same years, Longfellow's literary reputation was withering, rooted as it was in the Victorian vineyard the modernists were trampling.

In 1902, W. D. Howells asked Thomas Bailey Aldrich if he had seen “that little new life … by a very nice young Columbia professor” who took the fashionable “new view of Longfellow which seems to be composed of his limitations.” Yes, the poet had surely been “overrated by the popular love,” and it was easy to find fault with him. But Howells defended “the beauty of his art, its refining simplicity without those bounds” (Selected Letters, 5:11).

The chestnuts are reviving...

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