HWL's "Pour le Mérite" medal.


Courtesy National Park Service, Longfellow National Historic Site LONG 7573.

In May 1875, Longfellow, by order of the German Kaiser Wilhelm I, became the first American writer selected as a member of the "peace class" of the (originally exclusively military) Order "Pour le Mérite." At the time, "Pour le Mérite" members included Franz Liszt, Charles Darwin, Thomas Carlyle, Elias Lönnrot (the compiler of the Kalevala), and, the only other Americans so honored, John C. Frémont, the explorer, and George Bancroft, the historian.

Only the "peace class" of the "Pour le Mérite" survived the abdication of the Kaiser in 1918; the most recent American to be elected is the sculptor Richard Serra. The only other American poet among the Order's members, past and present, is T. S. Eliot.