Longfellow's Readers

Berta E. Shaffer. Letter to HWL, 21 June 1880.


Letters to Longfellow MS Am 1340.2 (5010). Houghton Library.

One of the youngest of Longfellow's correspondents was a nine-year-old girl from Ohio, Berta Shaffer, who wondered how the ship in "The Wreck of the Hesperus" could have jumped a "cable's length." She had asked "mamma what it meant and she said she did not know." Undeterred, she wrote to Longfellow, who immediately wrote back and admitted that "poets, like children, occasionally exaggerate a little, and make things seem larger than they really are" (24 June 1880).