LOWELL, JAMES RUSSELL. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, February 22, 1819; died there, August 12, 1891. More closely in touch with the life of his own day than any of his poet contemporaries and with a wider range of sympathy with public affairs, Lowell was at the same time preeminently the scholar and man of letters, happily combining the creative, critical, and social qualities of his nature. He began writing when very young and published his first book, "A Year's Life," in 1841, the year after leaving Harvard Law School. Other books of verse followed at comparatively short intervals, but none made for Lowell a wide recognition until he published the "Biglow Papers" in which his racy vein of humor and satire found full vent. The first series, directed against the Mexican War, began to appear in 1846; the second series, published in the sixties, pertained to the Civil War. Both were typically American and gained a wide audience. In 1855 Lowell succeeded Longfellow as Professor of Modern Languages and Belles-Lettres at Harvard University. During the same period he spent several years as editor of the "Atlantic Monthly" and later as one of the editors of the "North American Review," in which much of his finest critical work appeared. Volumes of poetry and criticism, succeeding each other rapidly, gave proof of the fecundity of Lowell's mind and the rich storehouse from which he drew. "Fireside Travels" (1864); "Among My Books" (1870); "My Study Windows" (1871); and "Among My Books, Second Series," alternated with volumes of verse. A new outlet for the versatile talents of Lowell now presented itself and he was sent as United States Minister to Spain, a post which he filled so ably that in three years he was transferred to the Court of St. James in London. Here his culture, his charm of personality, and his public gifts combined to render his service among the most distinguished in the history of American diplomacy. After his return to America he lived quietly at "Elmwood," his beautiful home in Cambridge, but did not cease to take an interest in public affairs, always reproached from the broadest standpoint. Lowell was in the true sense a citizen of the world and the noblest qualities met in him. The ferver of the "Commemoration Ode" reveals his spirit. In poetry his moods were various. He alone among the New England poets possessed humor, whimsicality, and the gift of kindly satire. His work in these moods, however, should not obscure that in others, and some beautiful lyrics remain among his permanent offerings.

This biographical note is reprinted from The Little Book of American Poets: 1787-1900. Ed. Jessie B. Rittenhouse. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1915.



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