The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XII. Longfellow

§ 6. Dramatic Writings

The years immediately preceding his second marriage in 1843 were partly devoted to the composition of a poetical drama in three acts, The Spanish Student, which was published serially in 1842, and the next year was issued in book form. It is generally and justly regarded as a failure, since Longfellow exhibited neither in it nor in later poems cast in similar form—The New England Tragedies (1868), Judas Maccabaeus (1872), and Michael Angelo (1883),—the slightest trace of dramatic genius. A poet of literary derivation, so to phrase it, inspired by his own wide reading, and a useful transmitter of culture he could not help being from first to last, and his growing reputation naturally prompted him to undertake elaborate works in a form of art practised by preceding poets in every age. His countrymen were not exigent critics, and were inclined to resent it when he was accused, as by Poe and by Margaret Fuller, of unoriginality; latter-day readers are likely to skim, or else altogether to neglect the dramas that are protected from complete oblivion by the venerated and still venerable name. If they desire any justification for their conduct, such prudent readers may ejaculate “habent sua fata libelli,” or may recall the facts that Dr. Samuel Johnson wrote Irene and William Wordsworth, The Borderers.