Longfellow's Readers

Laura Bridgman. Letter to HWL, 8 February 1852.


Letters to Longfellow MS Am 1340.2 (723). Houghton Library.

Laura Bridgman (1829-89), deaf and blind after an infection she contracted as a small child, had been the prize exhibit of Longfellow's friend Samuel Gridley Howe, the director of Boston's Perkins Institution for the Blind. After having Evangeline, Longfellow's blockbuster poem about the displacement of the Acadians, read to her (i.e. tapped out into her hand), Bridgman wrote to Longfellow declaring that Evangeline was "one of Christ's dear Sisters" and that she should love to "meet her with my soul in Heaven when I die on the earth."

This is a remarkable letter, not only because of its style and tone, but also because Bridgman seems so convinced that Evangeline is a real person. For her, the character Longfellow had represented in his poem was more important than the author (as Bridgman saw it, Longfellow had just "copied" Evangeline's story).