From Portland to Cambridge

HWL. Little Merrythought. An Autobiography with a Portrait. Autograph manuscript, ca. 1847.


Longfellow Papers MS Am 1340 (165). Houghton Library.

Inspired by "Matthew Merrythought," a terminally cheerful and exceedingly dull character in one of Sarah Josepha Hale's books for children, Longfellow began a series of vignettes centered around a tiny wishbone narrator, ripped from a Christmas turkey, who skeptically observes the goings-on in the Longfellow household. His audience at Craigie House liked the original idea, and Longfellow continued to work on the story over the course of several years, expanding the original cast of characters beyond the "Infant Terrible" Charley and the "dreamy little boy" Erny to include Alice, Edith, and Annie.

Since he is so small (note the similarities between Tom Thumb and Merrythought), Merrythought, decked out in a fancy cloak and dapper shoes, is able to comment unrestrainedly on the relations between Papa ("a rather portly man, with a bright red waistcoat") and Mama ("very beautiful") and their often less-than-perfect children.