The renowned poet Henry Wadworth Longfellow was respected by celebrities and scholars, but he was es

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A large chestnut tree once shaded a blacksmith forge on busy Brattle Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Every day as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow walked to work he passed that tree.

"Under a spreading chestnut-tree . . ."Longfellow taught French, Italian, Spanish, and German at Harvard University, but he preferred writing poetry. One day the chestnut tree inspired Longfellow to write what became one of his most famous poems, “The Village Blacksmith.”

Longfellow’s poetry became very popular. Eventually he was able to quit his job at Harvard and spend more time writing. He wrote hundreds of poems. “Paul Revere’s Ride” describes the night before the battles of Lexington and Concord at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. “The Children’s Hour” is a tribute to Longfellow’s three daughters. “The Song of Hiawatha” is based loosely on the life of a Native American leader.

Longfellow was a celebrity. He entertained a constant stream of visitors. Among them were British author Charles Dickens and Pedro II, the emperor of Brazil, to whom Longfellow wrote in Portuguese. But his visitors also included his not-so-famous neighbors, especially the children.

Longfellow was a well-known and beloved figure in Cambridge. He was very generous to his friends, and he was always gracious to the strangers who came to see him.

Children loved Longfellow, and he loved children. A neighborhood boy who was visiting one day looked around the book-lined study and asked Longfellow if he had Jack and the Beanstalk. When the poet replied that he did not have that book, the boy bought it with his own money and gave it to Longfellow the next day. Longfellow asked his young friend to autograph the book for him, and added it to his collection.

As the city of Cambridge grew, Brattle Street needed to be widened. That meant the chestnut tree that Longfellow had made famous had to be cut down. His neighbors, Phoebe and Eben Horsford, organized a campaign of schoolchildren to make an armchair for Longfellow from the tree’s wood.

Some seven hundred children donated money to pay for the chair, which was built by a furniture manufacturer in Boston. The children gave the armchair to Longfellow on his seventy-second birthday. Along with the chair was a book that had the names of all the children who had contributed.

The chair was designed by Longfellow’s nephew, William Pitt Preble Longfellow, who was an architect. Chestnut tree leaves and flowers are carved on the back of the chair. Several lines from “The Village Blacksmith” are carved into the seat. Under the cushion is a brass plaque that says, “To the author of the ‘Village Blacksmith.’ This chair, made from the wood of the spreading chestnut tree, is presented as an expression of grateful regard and veneration by the children of Cambridge, who, with their friends, join in best wishes and congratulations on this anniversary. February 27, 1879.”

Longfellow was delighted with his birthday present. He wrote to a friend: “And what a beautiful chair it is! As I look at it now, the brass nails along its arms shine like the street lights of Brighton opposite, or the double line of lights on the Cambridge bridge.”

To thank the children, Longfellow wrote a poem, “From My Arm-chair.” The last verse says:

Only your love and your remembrance could
Give life to this dead wood,
And make these branches, leafless now so long,
Blossom again in song.

Longfellow put the chair in his study, next to the fireplace, and showed it to his visitors. He kept a stack of printed copies of “From My Arm-chair” on hand. Whenever one of the children who had contributed to the chair stopped by, he let the child sit in the armchair and gave him or her a copy of the poem.

The Village Blacksmith

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
  The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
  With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
  Are strong as iron bands.

His hair is crisp, and black, and long;
  His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
  He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
  For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
  You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
  With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
  When the evening sun is low.

And children coming home from school
  Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
  And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
  Like chaff from a threshing-floor.

He goes on Sunday to the church,
  And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
  He hears his daughter’s voice
Singing in the village choir,
  And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother’s voice
  Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
  How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
  A tear out of his eyes.

  Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
  Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
  Has earned a night’s repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend.
  For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
  Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
  Each burning deed and thought.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)