What We Are Reading Today: Cross of Snow

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Updated 21 June 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Cross of Snow

Author: NICHOLAS A. BASBANES

This is a major literary biography of America’s best-loved 19th-century poet, the first in more than 50 years, and a much-needed reassessment for the 21st century of a writer whose stature and celebrity were unparalleled in his time.
“At his death, in 1882, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wasn’t just the most famous poet in America but an international celebrity, translated into dozens of languages, admired by Dickens, Ruskin, even Queen Victoria.
Readers loved his clarity, his accessibility, his storytelling,” said Charles McGrath in a review for The New York Times.
Nicholas A. Basbanes “thinks that the tumble in Longfellow’s reputation was not the natural, inevitable result of changing tastes. In his new biography, he argues, on not much evidence, that Longfellow was done in by a cabal of modernists and New Critics who conspired to expel him from their snobbish, rarefied canon.
“So his book seeks to restore Longfellow in our present eyes mostly just by reminding us how important he was back in his own day,” said the review.
He spoke at least eight languages, including Danish, Swedish and Finnish, and could read and write half a dozen more. Practically single-handed, he introduced America to European literature.


What We Are Reading Today: Down from Olympus

Updated 06 July 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Down from Olympus

Since the publication of Eliza May Butler’s Tyranny of Greece over Germany in 1935, the obsession of the German educated elite with the ancient Greeks has become an accepted, if severely underanalyzed, cliché. In Down from Olympus, Suzanne Marchand attempts to come to grips with German Graecophilia, not as a private passion but as an institutionally generated and preserved cultural trope. 

The book argues that 19th-century philhellenes inherited both an elitist, normative aesthetics and an ascetic, scholarly ethos from their Romantic predecessors; German “neohumanists” promised to reconcile these intellectual commitments, and by so doing, to revitalize education and the arts. 

Focusing on the history of classical archaeology, Marchand shows how the injunction to imitate Greek art was made the basis for new, state-funded cultural institutions. 

Tracing interactions between scholars and policymakers that made possible grand-scale cultural feats like the acquisition of the Pergamum Altar.