The Children’s Gift to Longfellow
by Andy Juell, published in the September 2001 Issue of Anvil Magazine
Longfellow’s blacksmith shop was more than poetic license. It sat on Brattle Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the proprietor was one Dexter Pratt. And yes, the “spreading chestnut tree” stood out front of the shop.
Brattle Street was widened in 1876, and the tree fell victim to progress. However, the children of Cambridge, as well as the town, took the wood and had a chair produced from it in honor of the poet. It was presented to him on his 72nd birthday.
The chair is described as a “black-stained Eastlake-style armchair” made from the wood of the “Spreading Chestnut Tree” by H. Edgar Hartwell of Boston. The seat was tufted leather, the seat rail carved in the gothic or black-letter style with a portion of the verse from the original poem etched around the rails:
And children coming home from school,
Look in at the open door,
And catch the burning sparks that fly,
Like chaff from a threshing floor.
The chair was presented to Longfellow on February 22, 1879, by the children of Cambridge — a few of which probably “caught those burning sparks” in their youth. The chair currently resides in the first-floor study at Longfellow House, at the Longfellow National Historic Site on Brattle Street in Cambridge under the care of the National Park Service.
Longfellow was so impressed with the gift that he composed the following poem for the children of Cambridge as a way of saying thanks.
To the Children of Cambridge
Who presented to me on my Seventy-second Birthday,
February 27, 1879, this Chair, made from the
Wood of the Village Blacksmith’s Chestnut Tree
From My Arm-Chair
Am I a king, that I should call my own
Only perhaps, by right divine of song
Well I remember it in all its prime,
There by the blacksmith’s forge, beside the street,
And when the winds of autumn, with a shout,
And now some fragments of its branches bare,
The Danish king could not in all his pride
I see again, as one in vision sees,
I see the smithy with its fires aglow,
And thus, dear children, have ye made for me
The heart hath its own memory, like the mind,
Only your love and your remembrance could