Longfellow is, par excellence, the poet to learn off by heart. He has so many pieces temptingly short, perfect in form, that go singing through the brain as one reads them, that you will not be able to forget them if you read them over a few times.
He is, too, in a very special sense, the woman’s poet; that is, he understands the nature of women as we like best to be understood. He is the poet of the fireside, of children, and of domestic affection. There is only one type of woman, or one side of a woman’s nature that he can appreciate; but most people and every man will consider it the best side and the best type.
The world of the affections is thy world,
Not that of man’s ambition. In that stillness
Which most becomes a woman, calm and holy,
Thou sittest by the fireside of the heart,
Feeding its flame.
What will Marie Corelli and Sarah Grand say to that? A very little experience and observation of life teaches us that, however largely our minds may be dominated by the affections, we must have some fund of strength, outside earthly love, which in a thousand ways fails us in our hour of need.
It is a staff upon which, if you lean too heavily, it will pierce your hand. Therefore, Longfellow’s feminine ideal, however lovely, is defective in this imperfect world where “the crooked cannot be made straight and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.”
A little of the world of business or the world of intellect added to the “world of the affections” supplies not only a useful reserve of interest to women but is absolutely essential in most cases if they are to live a worthy life.
To descend to a prosaic instance, how many of you would feel your life a blank, though surrounded by an adoring husband and prattling children, if at one fell swoop you were deprived of your cackling hens and waddling ducks, your kye, your cheese and your butter and shut up within four walls to the world of the affections? Higher in the social scale, this is no uncommon history.
“She lived for fashion, as he for power.”
Well, she must live for something, and it is not unlikely that the love of her lord failed her.
I never see the moon by daylight but I recall this (Longfellow) verse:
In broad daylight, and at noon
Yesterday I saw the moon
Sailing high, but faint and white
As a schoolboy’s paper kite.