A Look at Life in the Longfellow House (#2)

One hundred and fifty years ago this month, Henry W. Longfellow saw his poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” published in the December 18, 1860, edition of the Boston Evening Transcript. And he was dismayed to see an error in the text.

Six whole lines were missing!

Longfellow immediately contacted his editor—not the editor of the newspaper, but the editor of The Atlantic Monthly, James T. Fields. With the next issue of that magazine about to go on sale, Fields had “leaked” Longfellow’s poem to the Transcript to stir up demand.

The poet’s letter said:
In “Paul Revere” as given in The Transcript I find six lines left out. I hope it is not so in the Atlantic. The lines follow immediately after “The fate of a nation rode that night,” and are rather essential, I think, to the picture. Perhaps I accidentally omitted them in copying for the press.
Fields checked his proofs and printed copies and wrote back to his friend Longfellow with the bad news:
The lines are omitted in the magazine, so that you must have left them out of the copy you sent. How unfortunate, as they are so excellent as to rank with the best in the poem, which is saying much for them. It is a fine piece of poetry and painting.
Longfellow acknowledged that he had made the error himself, and overlooked it as he and Fields edited the poem. (For more on that process, see Charles Bahne’s article on the creation of “Paul Revere’s Ride,” starting here.)

When “Paul Revere’s Ride” was reprinted in Tales of a Wayside Inn in 1863, Longfellow was finally able to restore the stanza he intended. It reads:
He has left the village and mounted the steep, 

And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep, 

Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides; 

And under the alders, that skirt its edge, 

Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge, 

Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.
Perhaps this episode from Longfellow House history can offer a small measure of reassurance to other authors who spot errors in their writing just when it’s too late for corrections. It happens to everyone.