Series of narrative poems by Longfellow, published in three parts (1863, 1872, and 1874) and collected in 1886. The concept of a succession of tales by a group of congenial acquaintances was obviously derived from Chaucer, Boccaccio, and other authors. The setting is at a real inn near Boston, and the characters are based on Longfellow's friends. The musician is Ole Bull; the Spanish Jew, Israel Edrehi; the poet, T. W. Parsons; the theologian, Professor Daniel Treadwell; the student, Henry Ware Wales, a young Harvard scholar; the Sicilian, Luigi Monti; and the landlord, Lyman Howe, actual keeper of the inn at Sudbury. Of the 21 stories, only three deal directly with American themes.
Part First opens with the description of the inn and the members of the group. The first tale is “Paul Revere's Ride,” told by the landlord. The second is the student's tale, “The Falcon of Ser Federigo,” derived from Boccaccio and telling of a knight who kills his beloved falcon to furnish a breakfast for his lady. The Jew tells “The Legend of Rabbi Ben Levi,” a tale from the Talmud, and the Sicilian relates the story of “King Robert of Sicily,” whose exalted spirit is broken when an angel in disguise takes his place on the throne and he is forced to serve as the jester until his arrogance disappears. The musician's tale, “The Saga of King Olaf,” is derived from Snorre Sturleson's account of the king who championed Christianity among his heathen countrymen. The theologian's tale, “Torquemada,” tells of a father who denounces his daughters for some doctrinal heresy during the Inquisition. The poet's tale, “The Birds of Killingworth,” concerns Connecticut farmers who killed the small birds that destroyed their crops, and the way in which the birds were avenged by a plague of caterpillars who made the lands a desert.
In Parts Second and Third, each of the friends relates two further narratives, most of them based on European legends, although “Elizabeth,” the theologian's tale in Part Third, is a love story set in rural Pennsylvania among Quakers.
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807—1882) American poet