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No More Merry Christmas: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


On July 13th, Frances changed Henry’s life by saying "YES" to Him in marriage. Less than a year later, their little home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was blessed with the birth of their first child, Charles. Eventually, the Longfellow household numbered five children-- Charles, Ernest, Alice, Edith, and Allegra.


Henry and "Fanny" had a happy little family and a happy life. Sure there were all the "NO’s" every family knows and then some. Fanny recorded in her journal on July 9, 1861: "We are all sighing for the good sea breeze instead of this stifling land one filled with dust. Poor Allegra is very droopy with heat, and Edie has to get her hair in a net to free her neck from the weight."


After trimming some of seven-year-old Edith’s beautiful curls, Fanny decided to preserve the clippings in sealing wax. Melting a bar of sealing wax with a candle, a few drops fell unnoticed upon her dress. The longed-for sea breeze gusted through the window, igniting the light material of Fanny’s dress--immediately wrapping her in flames. In her attempt to protect Edith and Allegra, she ran to Henry’s study in the next room, where Henry frantically attempted to extinguish the flames with a nearby, but undersized, throw rug. Failing to stop the fire with the rug, he tried to smother the flames by throwing his arms around Frances--severely burning his face, arms, and hands. Fanny died the next morning. Too ill from his burns and grief, Henry did not attend her funeral.


The first Christmas after Fanny’s death, Henry wrote, "How inexpressibly sad are all holidays."


A year after the incident, he wrote, "I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace."


Henry’s journal entry for December 25th 1862 reads: "’A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me."


Almost a year later, Longfellow received word that his oldest son Charles, a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac, had been severely wounded with a bullet passing under his shoulder blades and taking off one of the spinal processes.


On December 25, 1864, America was torn in two by Civil War. Henry penned these words that Christmas:


I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet the words repeat

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along th’ unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way

The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime, a chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:

"There is no peace on earth," I said,

"For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men."

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