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James Russell Lowell

James Russell Lowell (/lol/; February 22, 1819 Au- 1 Biography


gust 12, 1891) was an American Romantic poet, critic,
editor, and diplomat. He is associated with the Fireside
1.1 Early life
Poets, a group of New England writers who were among
the rst American poets who rivaled the popularity of
British poets. These writers usually used conventional
forms and meters in their poetry, making them suitable
for families entertaining at their reside.
Lowell graduated from Harvard College in 1838, despite
his reputation as a troublemaker, and went on to earn
a law degree from Harvard Law School. He published
his rst collection of poetry in 1841 and married Maria
White in 1844. The couple had several children, though
only one survived past childhood. They soon became in-
volved in the movement to abolish slavery, with Lowell
using poetry to express his anti-slavery views and taking a
job in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as the editor of an abo-
litionist newspaper. After moving back to Cambridge,
Lowell was one of the founders of a journal called The
Pioneer, which lasted only three issues. He gained noto- Elmwood, birthplace and longtime home of James Russell Lowell
riety in 1848 with the publication of A Fable for Critics, in Cambridge, Massachusetts
a book-length poem satirizing contemporary critics and
poets. The same year, he published The Biglow Papers, James Russell Lowell was born February 22, 1819.[1] He
which increased his fame. He went on to publish several was a member of the eighth generation of the Lowell fam-
other poetry collections and essay collections throughout ily,[2] the descendants of Percival Lowle who settled in
his literary career. Newbury, Massachusetts in 1639.[3] His parents were the
Reverend Charles Russell Lowell, Sr. (17821861), a
Maria died in 1853, and Lowell accepted a professorship minister at a Unitarian church in Boston who had previ-
of languages at Harvard in 1854; he continued to teach ously studied theology at Edinburgh, and Harriett Brack-
there for twenty years. He traveled to Europe before of- ett Spence Lowell.[4] By the time that James Russell Low-
cially assuming his teaching duties in 1856, and he mar- ell was born, the family owned a large estate in Cambridge
ried Frances Dunlap shortly thereafter in 1857. That year, called Elmwood.[5] He was the youngest of six children;
Lowell also became editor of The Atlantic Monthly. It his siblings were Charles, Rebecca, Mary, William, and
was not until 20 years later that he received his rst polit- Robert.[6] Lowells mother built in him an appreciation
ical appointment, the ambassadorship to the Kingdom of for literature at an early age, especially in poetry, ballads,
Spain. He was later appointed ambassador to the Court and tales from her native Orkney.[4] He attended school
of St. Jamess. He spent his last years in Cambridge in the under Sophia Dana, who later married George Ripley; he
same estate where he was born, and died there in 1891. later studied at a school run by a particularly harsh disci-
Lowell believed that the poet played an important role as plinarian, where one of his classmates was Richard Henry
a prophet and critic of society. He used poetry for reform, Dana, Jr.[7]
particularly in abolitionism. However, his commitment to Lowell attended Harvard College beginning at age 15 in
the anti-slavery cause wavered over the years, as did his 1834, though he was not a good student and often got into
opinion on African-Americans. He attempted to emulate trouble.[8] In his sophomore year, he was absent from re-
the true Yankee accent in the dialogue of his characters, quired chapel attendance 14 times and from classes 56
particularly in The Biglow Papers. This depiction of the times.[9] In his last year there, he wrote, During Fresh-
dialect, as well as his many satires, was an inspiration to man year, I did nothing, during Sophomore year I did
writers such as Mark Twain and H. L. Mencken. nothing, during Junior year I did nothing, and during Se-
nior year I have thus far done nothing in the way of college
studies.[8] In his senior year, he became one of the edi-
tors of Harvardiana literary magazine, to which he con-

1
2 1 BIOGRAPHY

tributed prose and poetry that he admitted was of low of poems Miscellaneous Poems expressed these antislav-
quality. As he said later, I was as great an ass as ever ery thoughts, and its 1,500 copies sold well.[23]
brayed & thought it singing.[10] During his undergrad- Maria was in poor health, and the couple moved to
uate years, Lowell was a member of Hasty Pudding and Philadelphia shortly after their marriage, thinking that
served both as Secretary and Poet. her lungs could heal there.[24] In Philadelphia, he be-
Lowell was elected the poet of the class of 1838[11] and, came a contributing editor for the Pennsylvania Free-
as was tradition, was asked to recite an original poem man, an abolitionist newspaper.[25] In the spring of 1845,
on Class Day, the day before Commencement on July the Lowells returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts to
17, 1838.[9] He was suspended, however, and not al- make their home at Elmwood. They had four children,
lowed to participate. Instead, his poem was printed though only one (Mabel, born 1847) survived past in-
and made available thanks to subscriptions paid by his fancy. Blanche was born December 31, 1845, but lived
classmates.[11] He had composed the poem in Concord, only fteen months; Rose, born in 1849, survived only
Massachusetts[12] where he had been exiled by the Har- a few months as well; their only son Walter was born in
vard faculty to the care of the Rev. Barzallai Frost be- 1850 but died in 1852.[26] Lowell was very aected by
cause of his neglect of his studies.[13] During his stay in the loss of almost all of his children. His grief over the
Concord, he became friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson death of his rst daughter in particular was expressed in
and got to know the other Transcendentalists. His Class his poem "The First Snowfall" (1847).[27] He again con-
Day poem satirized the social movements of the day; abo- sidered suicide, writing to a friend that he thought of my
litionists, Thomas Carlyle, Emerson, and the Transcen- razors and my throat and that I am a fool and a coward
dentalists were treated.[12] not to end it all at once.[26]
Lowell did no know what vocation to choose after grad-
uating, and he vacillated among business, the ministry, 1.3 Literary career
medicine, and law. He ultimately enrolled at Harvard
Law School in 1840 and was admitted to the bar two years Lowells earliest poems were published without remuner-
later.[14] While studying law, however, he contributed po- ation in the Southern Literary Messenger in 1840.[28] Low-
ems and prose articles to various magazines. During this ell, inspired to new eorts towards self-support, joined
time, he was admittedly depressed and often had suicidal with his friend Robert Carter in founding a literary jour-
thoughts. He once conded to a friend that he held a nal, The Pioneer.[20] The periodical was distinguished by
cocked pistol to his forehead and considered killing him- the fact that most of its content was new rather than ma-
self at the age of 20.[15] terial that had been previously published elsewhere, and
by the inclusion of very serious criticism, which cov-
ered not only literature but also art and music.[29] Lowell
1.2 Marriage and family wrote that it would furnish the intelligent and reect-
ing portion of the Reading Public with a rational sub-
In late 1839, Lowell met Maria White through her brother stitute for the enormous quantity of thrice-diluted trash,
William, a classmate at Harvard,[16] and the two became in the shape of namby-pamby love tales and sketches,
engaged in the autumn of 1840. Marias father Abi- which is monthly poured out to them by many of our pop-
jah White, a wealthy merchant from Watertown, insisted ular Magazines.[20] William Wetmore Story noted the
that their wedding be postponed until Lowell had gainful journals higher taste, writing that it took some stand
employment.[17] They were nally married on December & appealled to a higher intellectual Standard than our
26, 1844,[18] shortly after the groom published Conversa- puerile milk or watery namby-pamby Mags with which
tions on the Old Poets, a collection of his previously pub- we are overrun.[30] The rst issue of the journal included
lished essays.[19] A friend described their relationship as the rst appearance of "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar
the very picture of a True Marriage.[20] Lowell himself Allan Poe.[31] Lowell, shortly after the rst issue, was
believed that she was made up half of earth and more treated for an eye disease in New York, and in his ab-
than half of Heaven.[17] She, too, wrote poetry, and the sence Carter did a poor job of managing the journal.[23]
next twelve years of Lowells life were deeply aected After three monthly numbers, beginning in January 1843,
by her inuence. He said that his rst book of poetry A the magazine ceased publication, leaving Lowell $1,800
Years Life (1841) owes all its beauty to her, though it in debt.[31] Poe mourned the journals demise, calling it
only sold 300 copies.[17] a most severe blow to the causethe cause of a Pure
Marias character and beliefs led her to become involved Taste.[30]
in the movements directed against intemperance and slav- Despite the failure of The Pioneer, Lowell continued his
ery. She was a member of the Boston Female Anti- interest in the literary world. He wrote a series on Anti-
Slavery Society and persuaded her husband to become Slavery in the United States for the London Daily News,
an abolitionist.[21] James had previously expressed anti- though his series was discontinued by the editors after
slavery sentiments, but Maria urged him towards more four articles in May 1846.[32] Lowell had published these
active expression and involvement.[22] His second volume articles anonymously, believing they would have more
1.4 First trip to Europe 3

impact if they were not known to be the work of a com- the book himself.[38] The book presented three main
mitted abolitionist.[33] In the spring of 1848 he formed characters, each representing dierent aspects of Amer-
a connection with the National Anti-Slavery Standard of ican life and using authentic American dialects in their
New York, agreeing to contribute weekly either a poem or dialogue.[39] Under the surface, The Biglow Papers was
a prose article. After only one year, he was asked to con- also a denunciation of the MexicanAmerican War and
tribute half as often to the Standard to make room for war in general.[24]
contributions from Edmund Quincy, another writer and
reformer.[34]
1.4 First trip to Europe

In 1850, Lowells mother died unexpectedly, as did his


third daughter, Rose. Her death left Lowell depressed and
reclusive for six months, despite the birth of his son Wal-
ter by the end of the year. He wrote to a friend that death
is a private tutor. We have no fellow-scholars, and must
lay our lessons to heart alone.[40] These personal trou-
bles as well as the Compromise of 1850 inspired Lowell
to accept an oer from William Wetmore Story to spend
a winter in Italy.[41] To pay for the trip, Lowell sold land
around Elmwood, intending to sell o further acres of the
estate over time to supplement his income, ultimately sell-
ing o 25 of the original 30 acres (120,000 m2 ).[42] Wal-
ter died suddenly in Rome of cholera, and Lowell and his
wife, with their daughter Mabel, returned to the United
States in October 1852.[43] Lowell published recollec-
tions of his journey in several magazines, many of which
would be collected years later as Fireside Travels (1867).
He also edited volumes with biographical sketches for a
series on British Poets.[44]
His wife Maria, who had been suering from poor health
for many years, became very ill in the spring of 1853 and
died on October 27[45] of tuberculosis.[26] Just before her
burial, her con was opened so that her daughter Mabel
could see her face while Lowell leaned for a long while
against a tree weeping, according to Henry Wadsworth
Daguerreotype of James Russell Lowell, taken in Philadelphia,
Longfellow and his wife, who were in attendance.[46] In
1844
1855, Lowell oversaw the publication of a memorial vol-
ume of his wifes poetry, with only fty copies for pri-
A Fable for Critics, one of Lowells most popular works, vate circulation.[44] Despite his self-described naturally
was published in 1848. A satire, it was published anony- joyous nature,[47] life for Lowell at Elmwood was fur-
mously. It proved popular, and the rst three thou- ther complicated by his father becoming deaf in his old
sand copies sold out quickly.[35] In it, Lowell took good- age, and the deteriorating mental state of his sister Re-
natured jabs at his contemporary poets and critics. Not all becca, who sometimes went a week without speaking.[48]
the subjects included were pleased, however. Edgar Allan He again cut himself o from others, becoming reclusive
Poe, who had been referred to as part genius and two- at Elmwood, and his private diaries from this time period
fths sheer fudge, reviewed the work in the Southern Lit- are riddled with the initials of his wife.[49] On March 10,
erary Messenger and called it "'loose'ill-conceived and 1854, for example, he wrote: Dark without & within.
feebly executed, as well in detail as in general. ... we M.L. M.L. M.L.[50] Longfellow, a friend and neighbor,
confess some surprise at his putting forth so unpolished referred to Lowell as lonely and desolate.[51]
a performance.[36] Lowell oered the prots from the
books success, which proved relatively small, to his New
York friend Charles Frederick Briggs, despite his own - 1.5 Professorship and second marriage
nancial needs.[35]
In 1848, Lowell also published The Biglow Papers, later At the invitation of his cousin John Amory Lowell, James
named by the Grolier Club as the most inuential book of Russell Lowell was asked to deliver a lecture at the pres-
1848.[37] The rst 1,500 copies sold out within a week and tigious Lowell Institute.[52] Some speculated the oppor-
a second edition was soon issued, though Lowell made tunity was because of the family connection, oered as
no prot, having had to absorb the cost of stereotyping an attempt to bring him out of his depression.[53] Lowell
4 1 BIOGRAPHY

chose to speak on The English Poets, telling his friend duced circumstances.[56] Lowell and Dunlap married on
Briggs that he would take revenge on dead poets for the September 16, 1857, in a ceremony performed by his
injuries received by one whom the public won't allow brother.[66] Lowell wrote, My second marriage was the
among the living.[52] The rst of the twelve-part lecture wisest act of my life, & as long as I am sure of it, I can
series was to be on January 9, 1855, though by Decem- aord to wait till my friends agree with me.[59]
ber, Lowell had only completed writing ve of them, hop-
ing for last-minute inspiration.[54] His rst lecture was on
John Milton and the auditorium was oversold; Lowell had 1.6 War years and beyond
to give a repeat performance the next afternoon.[55] Low-
ell, who had never spoken in public before, was praised
for these lectures. Francis James Child said that Lowell,
whom he deemed was typically perverse, was able to
persist in being serious contrary to his impulses and his
talents.[54] While his series was still in progress, Low-
ell was oered the Smith Professorship of Modern Lan-
guages at Harvard, a post vacated by Longfellow, at an an-
nual salary of $1,200, though he never applied for it.[56]
The job description was changing after Longfellow; in-
stead of teaching languages directly, Lowell would su-
pervise the department and deliver two lecture courses
per year on topics of his own choosing.[57] Lowell ac-
cepted the appointment, with the proviso that he should
have a year of study abroad. He set sail on June 4 of
that year,[58] leaving his daughter Mabel in the care of a
governess named Frances Dunlap.[56] Abroad, he visited
Le Havre, Paris, and London, spending time with friends
including Story, Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett
Browning, and Leigh Hunt. Primarily, however, Low-
ell spent his time abroad studying languages, particularly
German, which he found dicult. He complained: The
confounding genders! If I die I shall have engraved on
my tombstone that I died of der, die, das, not because I
caught them but because I couldn't.[58]
He returned to the United States in the summer of
1856 and began his college duties.[59] Towards the end
of his professorship, then-president of Harvard Charles
William Eliot noted that Lowell seemed to have no nat-
ural inclination to teach; Lowell agreed, but retained his
position for twenty years.[60] He focused on teaching lit-
erature, rather than etymology, hoping that his students
would learn to enjoy the sound, rhythm, and ow of po- The Atlantic Monthly, 1857
etry rather than the technique of words.[61] He summed
up his method: True scholarship consists in knowing not In the autumn of 1857, The Atlantic Monthly was estab-
what things exists, but what they mean; it is not memory lished, and Lowell was its rst editor. With its rst issue
but judgment.[62] Still grieving the loss of his wife, dur- in November of that year, he at once gave the magazine
ing this time Lowell avoided Elmwood and instead lived the stamp of high literature and of bold speech on pub-
on Kirkland Street in Cambridge, an area known as Pro- lic aairs.[67] In January 1861, Lowells father died of a
fessors Row. He stayed there, along with his daughter heart attack, inspiring Lowell to move his family back
Mabel and her governess Frances Dunlap, until January to Elmwood. As he wrote to his friend Briggs, I am
1861.[63] back again to the place I love best. I am sitting in my
Lowell had intended never to remarry after the death old garret, at my old desk, smoking my old pipe ... I be-
of his wife Maria White. However, in 1857, surprising gin to feel more like my old self than I have these ten
his friends, he became engaged to Frances Dunlap, who years.[68] Shortly thereafter, in May, he left The Atlantic
many described as simple and unattractive.[64] Dunlap, Monthly when James Thomas Fields took over as editor;
niece of the former governor of Maine Robert P. Dun- the magazine had been purchased by Ticknor and Fields
lap,[65] was a friend of Lowells rst wife and formerly for $10,000 two years before.[69] Lowell returned to Elm-
wealthy, though she and her family had fallen into re- wood by January 1861 but maintained an amicable rela-
tionship with the new owners of the journal, continuing
1.7 Political appointments 5

to submit his poetry and prose for the rest of his life.[68] nance it, he sold o more of Elmwoods acres and rented
His prose, however, was more abundantly presented in the house to Thomas Bailey Aldrich; Lowells daugh-
the pages of the North American Review during the years ter Mabel, by this time, had moved into a new home
18621872. For the Review, he served as a coeditor along with her husband Edward Burnett, the son of a suc-
with Charles Eliot Norton.[70] Lowells reviews for the cessful businessman-farmer from Southborough, Mas-
journal covered a wide variety of literary releases of the sachusetts.[83] Lowell and his wife set sail on July 8,
day, though he was writing fewer poems.[71] 1872,[84] after he took a leave of absence from Har-
As early as 1845, Lowell had predicted the debate over vard. They visited England, Paris, Switzerland, and
Italy. While overseas, he received an honorary Doctor-
slavery would lead to war[72] and, as the American Civil
War broke out in the 1860s, Lowell used his role at the ate of Law from the University of Oxford and another
from Cambridge University. They returned to the United
Review to praise Abraham Lincoln and his attempts to
maintain the Union.[70] Lowell lost three nephews during States in the summer of 1874.[83]
the war, including Charles Russell Lowell, Jr, who be-
came a Brigadier General and fell at the battle of Cedar
Creek. Lowell himself was generally a pacist. Even so, 1.7 Political appointments
he wrote, If the destruction of slavery is to be a con-
sequence of the war, shall we regret it? If it be need-
ful to the successful prosecution of the war, shall any-
one oppose it?"[73] His interest in the Civil War inspired
him to write a second series of The Biglow Papers,[68]
including one specically dedicated to the preliminary
Emancipation Proclamation called Sunthin' in the Pas-
toral Line in 1862.[74]
Shortly after Lincolns assassination, Lowell was asked
to present a poem at Harvard in memory of graduates
killed in the war. His poem, Commemoration Ode,
cost him sleep and his appetite, but was delivered on July
21, 1865,[75] after a 48-hour writing binge.[76] Lowell had
high hopes for his performance but was overshadowed by
the other notables presenting works that day, including
Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
I did not make the hit I expected, he wrote, and am
ashamed at having been tempted again to think I could
write poetry, a delusion from which I have been tolerably
free these dozen years.[77] Despite his personal assess-
ment, friends and other poets sent many letters to Lowell
congratulating him. Emerson referred to his poems high James Russell Lowell in his later years
thought & sentiment and James Freeman Clarke noted
its grandeur of tone.[78] Lowell later expanded it with a Lowell resigned from his Harvard professorship in 1874,
strophe to Lincoln.[76] though he was persuaded to continue teaching through
1877.[60] It was in 1876 that Lowell rst stepped into the
In the 1860s, Lowells friend Longfellow spent sev- eld of politics. That year, he served as a delegate to
eral years translating Dante Alighieris Divine Comedy the Republican National Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio,
and regularly invited others to help him on Wednesday speaking on behalf of presidential candidate Rutherford
evenings.[79] Lowell was one of the main members of the B. Hayes.[85] Hayes won the nomination and, eventually,
so-called Dante Club, along with William Dean How- the presidency. In May 1877, President Hayes, an ad-
ells, Charles Eliot Norton and other occasional guests.[80] mirer of The Biglow Papers, sent William Dean Howells
Shortly after serving as a pallbearer at the funeral of to Lowell with a handwritten note proering an ambas-
friend and publisher Nathaniel Parker Willis, on January sadorship to either Austria or Russia; Lowell declined,
24, 1867,[81] Lowell decided to produce another collec- but noted his interest in Spanish literature.[86] Lowell was
tion of his poetry. Under the Willows and Other Poems then oered and accepted the role of Minister to the court
was released in 1869,[71] though Lowell originally wanted of Spain at an annual salary of $12,000.[86] Lowell sailed
to title it The Voyage to the Vinland and Other Poems. The from Boston on July 14, 1877, and, though he expected he
book, dedicated to Norton, collected poems Lowell had would be away for a year or two, he would not return to the
written within the previous twenty years and was his rst United States until 1885, with the violinist Ole Bull rent-
poetry collection since 1848.[82] ing Elmwood for a portion of that time.[87] The Spanish
[88]
Lowell intended to take another trip to Europe. To - media referred to him as Jos Bighlow. Lowell was
well-prepared for his political role, having been trained in
6 1 BIOGRAPHY

law, as well as being able to read in multiple languages.


He had trouble socializing while in Spain, however, and
amused himself by sending humorous dispatches to his
political bosses in the United States, many of which were
later collected and published posthumously in 1899 as Im-
pressions of Spain.[89] Lowells social life improved when
the Spanish Academy elected him a corresponding mem-
ber in late 1878, allowing him contribute to the prepara-
tion of a new dictionary.[90]
In January 1880, Lowell was informed he was appointed
Minister to England, his nomination made without his
knowledge as far back as June 1879. He was granted
a salary of $17,500 with about $3,500 for expenses.[91]
While serving in this capacity, he addressed an impor-
tation of allegedly diseased cattle and made recommen-
dations that predated the Pure Food and Drug Act.[92]
Queen Victoria commented that she had never seen an
ambassador who created so much interest and won so
much regard as Mr. Lowell.[93] Lowell held this role
until the close of Chester A. Arthurs presidency in the
spring of 1885, despite his wifes failing health. Low-
ell was already well known in England for his writing
and, during his time there, he befriended fellow author
Henry James, who referred to him as conspicuously
American.[93] Lowell also befriended Leslie Stephen
many years earlier and became the godfather to his daugh-
ter, future writer Virginia Woolf.[94] Lowell was popular
Grave of James Russell Lowell at Mount Auburn Cemetery in
enough that he was oered a professorship at Oxford af-
Cambridge, Massachusetts
ter his recall by president Grover Cleveland, though the
oer was declined.[95]
His second wife, Frances, died on February 19, 1885, nyson and Francis Parkman.[102]
while still in England.[96] In the last few months of his life, Lowell struggled with
gout, sciatica in his left leg, and chronic nausea; by
the summer of 1891, doctors believed that Lowell had
1.8 Later years and death
cancer in his kidneys, liver, and lungs. His last few
He returned to the United States by June 1885, liv- months, he was administered [104]
opium for the pain and
ing with his daughter and her husband in Southboro, was rarely fully conscious. He died on August 12,
[105]
Massachusetts. [97]
He then spent time in Boston with 1891, at Elmwood. After services in the Appleton
his sister before returning to Elmwood in Novem- Chapel, he was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery.[106]
ber 1889.[98] By this time, most of his friends were After his death, Norton served as his literary executor
dead, including Quincy, Longfellow, Dana, and Emer- and published [107]
several collections of Lowells works and
son, leaving him depressed and contemplating suicide his letters.
again.[99] Lowell spent part of the 1880s delivering var-
ious speeches,[100] and his last published works were
mostly collections of essays, including Political Essays, 1.9 Writing style and literary theory
and a collection of his poems Heartsease and Rue in
1888.[98] His last few years he traveled back to Eng- Early in his career, James Russell Lowells writing was
land periodically[101] and when he returned to the United inuenced by Swedenborgianism, a Spiritualism-infused
States in the fall of 1889, he moved back to Elmwood[102] form of Christianity founded by Emanuel Swedenborg,
with Mabel, while her husband worked for clients in New causing Frances Longfellow (wife of the poet Henry
York and New Jersey.[103] That year, Lowell gave an ad- Wadsworth Longfellow) to mention that he has been
dress at the centenary of George Washingtons inaugura- long in the habit of seeing spirits.[108] He composed
tion. Also that year, the Boston Critic dedicated a special his poetry rapidly when inspired by an inner light but
issue to Lowell on his seventieth birthday to recollections could not write to order.[109] He subscribed to the com-
and reminiscences by his friends, including former pres- mon nineteenth-century belief that the poet was a prophet
idents Hayes and Benjamin Harrison and British Prime but went further, linking religion, nature, and poetry, as
Minister William Ewart Gladstone as well as Alfred Ten- well as social reform.[108] Evert Augustus Duyckinck and
7

A scholar of linguistics, Lowell was one of the founders


of the American Dialect Society.[112] He used this inter-
est in his writing, particularly in The Biglow Papers, pre-
senting a heavily ungrammatical phonetic spelling of the
Yankee dialect,[26] a method called eye dialect. In using
this vernacular, Lowell intended to get closer to the com-
mon mans experience and was rebelling against more
formal and, as he thought, unnatural representations of
Americans in literature. As he wrote in his introduction
to The Biglow Papers, few American writers or speak-
ers wield their native language with the directness, preci-
sion, and force that are common as the day in the mother
country.[113] Though intentionally humorous, this accu-
rate presentation of the dialect was pioneering work in
American literature.[114] For example, Lowells character
Hosea Biglow says in verse:
Ef you take a sword an' dror it,
An go stick a feller thru,
Guv'ment aint to answer to it,
God'll send the bill to you.[1]

1. ^ Heymann, 87

Lowell is considered one of the Fireside Poets, a group


of writers from New England in the 1840s who all had a
substantial national following and whose work was often
read aloud by the family replace. Besides Lowell, the
main gures from this group were Longfellow, Holmes,
John Greenleaf Whittier, and William Cullen Bryant.[115]
Portrait of Lowell by Thobald Chartran, 1880

2 Beliefs
others welcomed Lowell as part of Young America, a
New York-based movement. Though not ocially ali-
Although he was an abolitionist, Lowells opinions on
ated with them, he shared some of their ideals, including
African-Americans wavered. Though Lowell advocated
the belief that writers have an inherent insight into the
surage for blacks, he noted that their ability to vote
moral nature of humanity and have an obligation for lit-
could be troublesome. Even so, he wrote, We believe
erary action along with their aesthetic function.[110] Un-
the white race, by their intellectual and traditional supe-
like many of his contemporaries, including members of
riority, will retain sucient ascendancy to prevent any se-
Young America, Lowell did not advocate for the creation
rious mischief from the new order of things.[116] Freed
of a new national literature. Instead, he called for a nat-
slaves, he wrote, were dirty, lazy & lying.[117] Even be-
ural literature, regardless of country, caste, or race, and
fore his marriage to the abolitionist Maria White, Lowell
warned against provincialism which might put farther o
wrote: The abolitionists are the only ones with whom I
the hope of one great brotherhood.[29] He agreed with
sympathize of the present extant parties.[118] After his
his neighbor Longfellow that whoever is most universal,
marriage, Lowell at rst did not share Whites enthusi-
is also most national.[110] As Lowell said:
asm for the cause but was eventually pulled in.[119] The
couple often gave money to fugitive slaves, even when
I believe that no poet in this age can write their own nancial situation was not strong, especially if
much that is good unless he gives himself up to they were asked to free a spouse or child.[120] Even so, he
[the radical] tendency ... The proof of poetry did not always fully agree with the followers of the move-
is, in my mind, that it reduces to the essence ment. The majority of these people, he said, treat ideas
of a single line the vague philosophy which is as ignorant persons do cherries. They think them un-
oating in all mens minds, and so render it wholesome unless they are swallowed, stones and all.[27]
portable and useful, and ready to the hand ... Lowell depicted Southerners very unfavorably in his sec-
At least, no poem ever makes me respect its ond collection of The Biglow Papers but, by 1865, ad-
author which does not in some way convey a mitted that Southerners were guilty only of weakness
truth of philosophy.[111] and, by 1868, said that he sympathized with Southerners
8 3 CRITICISM AND LEGACY

and their viewpoint on slavery.[121] Enemies and friends he measured his poemskept them within formula.[126]
of Lowell alike questioned his vacillating interest in the Fellow Fireside Poet John Greenleaf Whittier praised
question of slavery. Abolitionist Samuel Joseph May ac- Lowell by writing two poems in his honor and calling
cused Lowell of trying to quit the movement because him our new Theocritus" and one of the strongest and
of his association with Harvard and the Boston Brah- manliest of our writersa republican poet who dares to
min culture: Having got into the smooth, dignied, self- speak brave words of unpopular truth.[127] British au-
complacent, and change-hating society of the college and thor Thomas Hughes referred to Lowell as one of the
its Boston circles, Lowell has gone over to the world, and most important writers in the United States: Greece
to 'respectability'.[122] had her Aristophanes; Rome her Juvenal; Spain has had
Lowell was also involved in other reform movements. He her Cervantes; France her Rabelais, her Molire, her
Voltaire; Germany her Jean Paul, her Heine; England her
urged for better conditions for factory workings, opposed
capital punishment, and supported the temperance move- Swift, her Thackeray; and America has her Lowell.[115]
Lowells satires and use of dialect were an inspiration for
ment. His friend Longfellow was especially concerned
about his fanaticism for temperance, worrying that Low- writers like Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, H. L.
ell would ask him to destroy his wine cellar.[23] There are Mencken, and Ring Lardner.[128]
many references to Lowells drinking during his college Contemporary critic and editor Margaret Fuller wrote,
years and part of his reputation in school was based on his verse is stereotyped; his thought sounds no depth,
it. His friend Edward Everett Hale denied these allega- and posterity will not remember him.[129] Duyckinck
tions and, even then, Lowell considered joining the Anti- thought Lowell was too similar to other poets like William
Wine club and later, during the early years of his rst Shakespeare and John Milton.[130] Ralph Waldo Emerson
marriage, became a teetotaler.[123] However, as Lowell noted that, though Lowell had signicant technical skill,
gained notoriety, he became popular in social circles and his poetry rather expresses his wish, his ambition, than
clubs and, away from his wife, he drank rather heavily. the uncontrollable interior impulse which is the authentic
When he drank, he had wild mood swings, ranging from mark of a new poem ... and which is felt in the pervad-
euphoria to frenzy.[124] ing tone, rather than in brilliant parts or lines.[131] Even
his friend Richard Henry Dana Jr., questioned Lowells
abilities, calling him very clever, entertaining & good
3 Criticism and legacy humored ... but he is rather a trier, after all.[132] In the
twentieth century, poet Richard Armour dismissed Low-
ell, writing: As a Harvard graduate and an editor for
the Atlantic Monthly, it must have been dicult for Low-
ell to write like an illiterate oaf, but he succeeded.[133]
The poet Amy Lowell featured her relative James Rus-
sell Lowell in her poem A Critical Fable (1922), the ti-
tle mocking A Fable for Critics. Here, a ctional ver-
sion of Lowell says he does not believe that women will
ever be equal to men in the arts and the two sexes can-
not be ranked counterparts.[134] Modern literary critic
Van Wyck Brooks wrote that Lowells poetry was forget-
table: one read them ve times over and still forgot them,
as if this excellent verse had been written in water.[131]
Nonetheless, in 1969 the Modern Language Association
established a prize named after Lowell, awarded annually
for an outstanding literary or linguistic study, a critical
edition of an important work, or a critical biography.[135]
Lowells poem "The Present Crisis", an early work that
addressed the national crisis over slavery leading up to the
Civil War, has had an impact in the modern civil rights
movement. The National Association for the Advance-
ment of Colored People named its newsletter The Crisis
Lowell in the Famous American Poets series, 1940 after the poem, and Martin Luther King, Jr. frequently
quoted the poem in his speeches and sermons.[136] The
In 1849, Lowell said of himself, I am the rst poet poem was also the source of the hymn Once to Every Man
who has endeavored to express the American Idea, and and Nation.[137]
I shall be popular by and by.[125] Poet Walt Whitman
said: Lowell was not a growerhe was a builder. He
built poems: he didn't put in the seed, and water the seed,
and send down his sunletting the rest take care of itself:
9

4 List of selected works My Study Windows (1871)[138]


Among My Books (second collection, 1876)[138]
Democracy and Other Addresses (1886)[98]
Political Essays (1888)[98]

5 See also
Il pesceballo
James Russell Lowell School (Philadelphia)
The Knickerbocker

6 Notes
[1] Nelson, 39

[2] Lowell, Delmar R. The Historic Genealogy of the Lowells


of America from 1639 to 1899. Rutland, VT: The Tuttle
Company, 1899: 121122.

[3] Sullivan, 204

[4] Sullivan, 205

[5] Heymann, 55

[6] Wagenknecht, 11

[7] Duberman, 1415

[8] Duberman, 17
My Study Windows (1871)
[9] Sullivan, 208

Poetry collections [10] Duberman, 20

[11] Duberman, 26
A Years Life (1841)
[12] Warner, Charles Dudley (1900). "Lowell, James Russell".
Miscellaneous Poems (1843) In Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John. Appletons Cyclop-
dia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
The Biglow Papers (1848)[24]
[13] M. A. De Wolfe Howe (1933). Lowell, James Russell.
A Fable for Critics (1848)[24] Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles
Scribners Sons.
Poems (1848)[24]
[14] Sullivan, 209
The Vision of Sir Launfal (1848)[24]
[15] Wagenknecht, 50
Under the Willows (1869)[71]
[16] Wagenknecht, 135
The Cathedral (1870)[138]
[17] Sullivan, 210
Heartsease and Rue (1888) [98]
[18] Wagenknecht, 136

Essay collections [19] Heymann, 73

[20] Sullivan, 211


Conversations on the Old Poets (1844)
[21] Yellin, Jean Fagan. Hawthorne and the Slavery Ques-
Fireside Travels (1864)[138] tion, A Historical Guide to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Larry J.
Reynolds, ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001:
Among My Books (1870)[138] 45. ISBN 0-19-512414-6
10 6 NOTES

[22] Duberman, 71 [56] Sullivan, 215

[23] Sullivan, 212 [57] Duberman, 141

[24] Wagenknecht, 16 [58] Heymann, 105

[25] Heymann, 72 [59] Sullivan, 216

[26] Sullivan, 213 [60] Wagenknecht, 74

[27] Heymann, 77 [61] Heymann, 107

[28] Hubbell, Jay B. The South in American Literature: 1607 [62] Duberman, 161
1900. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press,
[63] Heymann, 106
1954: 373374.
[64] Duberman, 155
[29] Duberman, 47
[65] Duberman, 154
[30] Duberman, 53
[66] Duberman, 154155
[31] Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-
ending Remembrance. New York: Harper Perennial, [67] Heymann, 108
1991: 201. ISBN 0-06-092331-8
[68] Heymann, 119
[32] Duberman, 410
[69] Duberman, 180
[33] Heymann, 76
[70] Sullivan, 218
[34] Duberman, 113
[71] Heymann, 132
[35] Duberman, 101
[72] Wagenknecht, 183
[36] Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. New York:
Checkmark Books, 2001: 141142. ISBN 0-8160-4161- [73] Wagenknecht, 186
X.
[74] Heymann, 121
[37] Nelson, 19
[75] Duberman, 224
[38] Duberman, 112
[76] Heymann, 123
[39] Heymann, 85
[77] Sullivan, 201
[40] Duberman, 116
[78] Duberman, 224225
[41] Duberman, 117 [79] Arvin, Newton. Longfellow: His Life and Work. Boston:
[42] Wagenknecht, 36 Little, Brown and Company, 1963: 140.

[43] Heymann, 98 [80] Calhoun, Charles C. Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life.


Boston: Beacon Press, 2004: 236. ISBN 0-8070-7026-
[44] Duberman, 139 2

[45] Duberman, 134 [81] Baker, Thomas N. Nathaniel Parker Willis and the Trials
of Literary Fame. New York, Oxford University Press,
[46] Wagenknecht, 139 2001: 187. ISBN 0-19-512073-6
[47] Heymann, 101 [82] Duberman, 243
[48] Duberman, 136 [83] Heymann, 134
[49] Heymann, 101102 [84] Duberman, 258
[50] Duberman, 138 [85] Heymann, 136
[51] Heymann, 102 [86] Duberman, 282
[52] Duberman, 133 [87] Duberman, 282283

[53] Heymann, 103 [88] Heymann, 137

[54] Duberman, 140 [89] Heymann, 136138

[55] Heymann, 104105 [90] Duberman, 294


11

[91] Duberman, 298299 [125] Sullivan, 203

[92] Wagenknecht, 168 [126] Nelson, 171


[93] Sullivan, 219
[127] Wagenknecht, Edward. John Greenleaf Whittier: A Por-
[94] Duberman, 447 trait in Paradox. New York: Oxford University Press,
1967: 113.
[95] Sullivan, 218219
[128] Heymann, 90
[96] Heymann, 143
[129] Blanchard, Paula. Margaret Fuller: From Transcenden-
[97] Heymann, 145
talism to Revolution. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-
[98] Wagenknecht, 18 Wesley Publishing Company, 1987: 294. ISBN 0-201-
10458-X
[99] Duberman, 339
[130] Duberman, 55
[100] Duberman, 352
[131] Sullivan, 220
[101] Duberman, 351

[102] Heymann, 150 [132] Sullivan, 219220

[103] Duberman, 364365 [133] Nelson, 146

[104] Duberman, 370 [134] Watts, Emily Stipes. The Poetry of American Women
from 1632 to 1945. Austin, Texas: University of Austin
[105] Duberman, 371
Press, 1978: 159160. ISBN 978-0-292-76450-7
[106] The Last Tribute Paid. James Russell Lowell Laid At
Rest. Buried Under Hornbeam Trees In The Spot He Had [135] "James Russell Lowell Prize". Modern Language Asso-
Himself Selected And Near The Grave Of Longfellow At ciation. Retrieved on October 1, 2008.
Mount Auburn. New York Times. August 15, 1891. Re-
trieved 2010-03-23. Simple but impressive funeral ser- [136] The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr, by Martin Luther
vices over the body of the late James Russell Lowell were King, Clayborne Carson, Peter Holloran, Ralph Luker,
held in Appleton Chapel, Cambridge, at noon to-day. ... Penny A. Russell, vol. 1 at 417 n.2

[107] Heymann, 152 [137] Peterson, William J. and Ardythe Peterson. The Complete
Book of Hymns. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House
[108] Duberman, 62 Publishers, Inc., 2006: 185. ISBN 978-1-4143-0933-0
[109] Wagenknecht, 105106 [138] Wagenknecht, 17
[110] Duberman, 50

[111] Duberman, 5051


7 Sources
[112] Wagenknecht, 70

[113] Heymann, 86 Duberman, Martin. James Russell Lowell. Boston:


Houghton Miin Company, 1966.
[114] Wagenknecht, 71
Heymann, C. David. American Aristocracy: The
[115] Heymann, 91
Lives and Times of James Russell, Amy, and Robert
[116] Wagenknecht, 175 Lowell. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company,
1980. ISBN 0-396-07608-4
[117] Duberman, 229

[118] Heymann, 63 Nelson, Randy F. The Almanac of American Let-


ters. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann,
[119] Heymann, 64 Inc., 1981. ISBN 0-86576-008-X
[120] Duberman, 112113
Sullivan, Wilson. New England Men of Letters. New
[121] Wagenknecht, 187 York: The Macmillan Company, 1972. ISBN 0-02-
788680-8
[122] Heymann, 122
Wagenknecht, Edward. James Russell Lowell: Por-
[123] Wagenknecht, 29
trait of a Many-Sided Man. New York: Oxford Uni-
[124] Heymann, 117 versity Press, 1971.
12 9 EXTERNAL LINKS

8 Further reading
Greenslet, Ferris. James Russell Lowell, His Life and
Work. Boston: 1905.
Hale, Edward Everett. James Russell Lowell and His
Friends. Boston: 1899.

Scudder, Horace Elisha. James Russell Lowell: A


Biography. Volume 1, Volume 2. Published 1901.

9 External links
Works by James Russell Lowell at Project Guten-
berg

Works by or about James Russell Lowell at Internet


Archive

Works by James Russell Lowell at LibriVox (public


domain audiobooks)
Full View Books with PDF downloads at Google
Books
The Complete Writings of James Russell Lowell,
edited by Charles Eliot Norton
The Oliver Wendell Holmes Library at the Library
of Congress has noteworthy representation volumes
inscribed by James Russell Lowell.

Papers of James Russell Lowell at Harvard Univer-


sity Archives
James Russell Lowell Miscellaneous Correspon-
dence (MS Am 1191) at Houghton Library, Harvard
University.
13

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