April 16.A SHORT but pleasant visit to Longfellow. I am not one of the calling kind, but as the author of Evangeline kindly took the trouble to come and see me three years ago in Camden, where I was ill, I felt not only the impulse of my own pleasure on that occasion, but a duty. He was the only particular eminence I called on in Boston, and I shall not soon forget his lit-up face and glowing warmth and courtesy, in the modes of what is called the old school.
And now just here I feel the impulse to interpolate something about the mighty four who stamp this first American century with its birth-marks of poetic literature. In a late magazine one of my reviewers, who ought to know better, speaks of my attitude of contempt and scorn and intolerance toward the leading poetsof my deriding them, and preaching their uselessness. If anybody cares to know what I thinkand have long thought and avowdabout them, I am entirely willing to propound. I cant imagine any better luck befalling these States for a poetical beginning and initiation than has come from Emerson, Longfellow, Bryant, and Whittier. Emerson, to me, stands unmistakable at the head, but for the others I am at a loss where to give any precedence. Each illustrious, each rounded, each distinctive. Emerson for his sweet, vital-tasting melody, rhymd philosophy, and poems as amber-clear as the honey of the wild bee he loves to sing. Longfellow for rich color, graceful forms and incidentsall that makes life beautiful and love refinedcompeting with the singers of Europe on their own ground, and, with one exception, better and finer work than that of any of them. Bryant pulsing the first interior verse-throbs of a mighty worldbard of the river and the wood, ever conveying a taste of open air, with scents as from hayfields, grapes, birch-bordersalways lurkingly fond of threnodiesbeginning and ending his long career with chants of death, with here and there through all, poems, or passages of poems, touching the highest universal truths, enthusiasms, dutiesmorals as grim and eternal, if not as stormy and fateful, as anything in Eschylus. While in Whittier, with his special themes(his outcropping love of heroism and war, for all his Quakerdom, his verses at times like the measurd step of Cromwells old veterans)in Whittier lives the zeal, the moral energy, that founded New Englandthe splendid rectitude and ardor of Luther, Milton, George FoxI must not, dare not, say the wilfulness and narrownessthough doubtless the world needs now, and always will need, almost above all, just such narrowness and wilfulness.