The Song of Hiawatha first appeared in 1855. In it Mr. Longfellow has woven together the beautiful traditions of the American Indians into one grand and delightful epic poem. The melodies of its rhythm and measure flow from his classic pen in unison with the hoof-beats of the bison, the tremulous thunder of the Falls of Minnehaha, the paddle strokes of the Indian canoeist, and he has done more to immortalize in song and story the life and environments of the red man of America than any other writer, save perhaps J. Fenimore Cooper. It was from a perusal of the Finnish epic “Kalevala” that both the measure and the style of “Hiawatha” was suggested to Mr. Longfellow. In fact, it might appropriately be named the “Kalevala” of North America. Mr. Longfellow derived his knowledge of Indian legends from Schoolcraft’s Algic Researches and other books, from Heckewelder’s Narratives, from Black Hawk, with his display of Sacs and Foxes on Boston Common, and from the Ojibway chief, Kahge-gagah-bowh, whom he entertained at his own home.
Hiawatha had a wide circulation, both in America and Europe, and was universally admired by readers and critics on both Continents. Large audiences gathered to hear it read by public readers. It was set to music by Stoepel, and at the Boston Theater it was rendered with explanatory readings by the famous elocutionist, Matilda Heron. The highest encomiums were passed upon it by such critics of ripe scholarship as Emerson and Hawthorne. A part of it was translated into Latin and used as an academic text book. Those who wish to read more about it will find interest and pleasure in perusing the masterly criticisms of Dr. O. W. Holmes in the Annals of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and that of Horatio Hale in the Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1881.
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