From Portland to Cambridge

Charles Appleton Longfellow. Charley's Journal, 1850.


Longfellow Papers MS Am 1340 (161). Houghton Library.

Although the entries are in his father's handwriting, the journal kept by 5-year-old Charley authentically reflects a child's use of language and way of thinking. In May 1850, the Longfellow family visited New York and also attended Barnum's Museum, where they watched "Jack the Giant Killer." Charley was introduced to the 12-year old "Tom Thumb" (Charles Sherwood Stratton), a midget Barnum had discovered in 1842, when he was under two feet tall.  Tom Thumb starred in "plays" that were little more than a series of vignettes written to highlight his smallness. A drawing by Longfellow ("Here are the Giant, and his wife, and Tom Thumb") catches the scene on stage as Charley would have perceived it, in its full absurdity and incongruity.