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Title: Letter from Henry W. Longfellow to James J. Pettigrew, March 27, 1847: Electronic Edition.
Author: Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth, 1807-1882
Editor: Erika Lindemann
Funding from the State Library of North Carolina supported the electronic publication of this title.
Text transcribed by Erika Lindemann
Images scanned by Mara E. Dabrishus
Text encoded by Amanda Page
First Edition, 2005
Size of electronic edition: ca. 11K
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text
The electronic edition is a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2005-06-01, Amanda Page finished TEI/XML encoding
Part of a series:
This transcribed document is part of a digital collection, titled True and Candid Compositions: The Lives and Writings of Antebellum Students in North Carolina
written by Lindemann, Erika
Title of collection: Pettigrew Family Papers (#592), Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Title of document: Letter from Henry W. Longfellow to James J. Pettigrew, March 27, 1847
Author: Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth
Description: 4 pages, 5 page images
Note: Call number 592 (Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Topics covered:
Education/UNC Curriculum
Reading and Writing/Composition
Writings by Non-Students
Editorial practices
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 5 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Transcript of the personal correspondence. Originals are in the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Original grammar, punctuation, and spelling have been preserved.
DocSouth staff created a 600 dpi uncompressed TIFF file for each image. The TIFF images were then saved as JPEG images at 100 dpi for web access.
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Any hyphens occurring in line breaks have been removed, and the trailing part of a word has been joined to the preceding line.
Letters, words and passages marked as deleted or added in originals have been encoded accordingly.
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All double right and left quotation marks are encoded as ".
All single right and left quotation marks are encoded as '.
All em dashes are encoded as —
Indentation in lines has not been preserved.

For more information about transcription and other editorial decisions, see Dr. Erika Lindemann's explanation under the section Editorial Practices.

Document Summary

Longfellow declines Pettigrew's request to write a poem for commencement, claiming that a student can do it better because he knows the graduates personally.
Letter from Henry W. Longfellow to James J. Pettigrew , March 27, 18471
Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth, 1807-1882

Page 1
Cambridge March 27

Dear Sir,

Accept my best thanks for the kindness both expressed and implied in your note of the 21st. It would give me much pleasure to attend your Commencement and to furnish the poem you suggest; but I fear

Page 2
that both will be impossible. Such a poem, to be good, must be written from the heart and not from the imagination, and consequently must be written by some one personally acquainted with the class. One of yourselves, therefore, would do it much better than I should; for he could

Page 3
fill his poem with little personal allusions, which would make it effective and beautiful; whereas the stranger could speak only in general terms, and his song would suit all similar occasions quite as well as that for which it was ostensibly written

Page 4
On this account I feel constrained, though reluctantly, to decline your request; while at the same time I thank you for the consideration and regard which have prompted it.

Very truly yours

Henry W Longfellow

Envelope page


1. Pettigrew Family Papers, SHC. Longfellow's letter was mailed in an envelope addressed to "Mr J. J. Pettigrew / University of North/Carolina./ Chapel Hill." The following endorsement appears in a second hand to the left of the address, written along the left edge: "From H. W. Longfellow./Dated. 27th March 1847,/Declining to write a poem." The envelope bears a postmark in red ink that is too faint to read. The letter has previously been published in Longfellow 3:133-34. Why Pettigrew wrote to Longfellow is unclear. The 1847 Commencement was notable because President James Knox Polk attended. Pettigrew , the class valedictorian, may have written to Longfellow on behalf of the graduating seniors as part of a plan for the elaborate ceremonies in anticipation of the President's visit. Though Gov. Swain did not extend his invitation to President Polk until April 24, 1847 (Swain Papers, SHC), North Carolina Gov. William A. Graham wrote a long letter to Swain on March 27, 1847, detailing plans for the President's reception. Thus, planning for the visit, including perhaps Pettigrew's invitation to Longfellow, may have been in progress a month before the President agreed to attend.