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James Russell Lowell, A Biography; vol. 1/2

James Russell Lowell, A Biography; vol. 1/2
Title: James Russell Lowell, A Biography; vol. 1/2
Release Date: 2018-08-26
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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Mr. Lowell in 1889





A Biography
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The Riverside Press, Cambridge






The existence of the two volumes of Letters of James Russell Lowell,edited by Charles Eliot Norton, has determined the character of thisbiography. If they had not been published, I might have made a Life andLetters which would have been in the main Lowell’s own account ofhimself, in his voluminous correspondence, annotated only by suchfurther account of him as his letters failed to supply. As it is, thoughI have had access to a great many letters not contained in Mr. Norton’swork, I have thought it desirable not so much to supplement theLetters with other letters, as to complement those volumes with a moreformal biography, using such letters or portions of letters as I printfor illustration of my subject, rather than as the basis of thenarrative.

I have kept the Letters always by my side as my main book ofreference; by the courtesy of their editor and by arrangement with theirpublishers, Messrs. Harper & Brothers, I have now and then drawn uponthem where it seemed especially desirable that Lowell should speak forhimself, but{viii} their greatest use to me has been in their disclosure ofLowell’s personality, for they undoubtedly contain the cream of hiscorrespondence. I have, however, had other important material for myuse. First of all, Lowell’s collected writings in verse and prose, andsome uncollected writings, both in print and manuscript. After all thata biographer can do, after all that Lowell himself can do through hisletters, the substantial and enduring revelation of the man is in thatfree converse which he had with the world in the many forms which hisliterary activity took.

After this I must again thank Mr. Norton for his generosity in placingin my hands a large body of letters and papers, which he holds asLowell’s literary executor; perhaps even more for the wise counsel withwhich he has freely aided me in the course of the work. Without hiscoöperation the biography could not have been written in its fulness.

My thanks are due, also, to the friends and the children of the friendsof Lowell who have sent me letters and other material; to Miss CharlotteP. Briggs, daughter of the late Charles F. Briggs, the warm friend ofLowell in his early literary life; to Mrs. Sydney Howard Gay, who sentme not only letters, but the original manuscript of{ix} Lowell’scontributions to the National Anti-Slavery Standard; to Mrs. RichardGrant White; to Dr. Edward Everett Hale, whose James Russell Lowell andhis Friends has been a pleasant accompaniment to my labors; to GeneralJames Lowell Carter for the use of his father’s letters; to Col. T. W.Higginson; to Mrs. S. B. Herrick; to Mrs. Mark H. Liddell for Lowell’sletters to Mr. John W. Field; to Mr. R. R. Bowker; to Mr. R. W. Gilder;to Mr. Edwin L. Godkin; to Mr. Howells, Mr. Aldrich, Mr. De Witt Miller,Mr. J. Spenser Trask, and others.

Cambridge, Mass., 27 September, 1901.




I.Elmwood and the Lowells1
II.School and College19
III.First Ventures62
IV.In the Anti-Slavery Ranks151
V.A Fable for Critics, The Biglow Papers, and The Vision of Sir Launfal238
VI.Six Years270
VII.Fifteen Months in Europe309
VIII.An End and a Beginning346
IX.The Atlantic Monthly408



James Russell LowellFrontispiece
From a photograph by Gutekunst taken in 1889.
Rev. Charles Lowell10
From a painting by Rand, in the possession of Charles Lowell.
James Russell Lowell in 1843116
From the painting by William Page, in the possession of James B. Lowell.
Mrs. Charles Lowell306
From a painting by Rand, in the possession of James Duane Lowell.
Mrs. Maria White Lowell360
From a drawing by Cheney, after a painting by William Page.
House of Dr. Estes Howe, Cambridge384





James Russell Lowell was born at Elmwood in Cambridge, New England,Monday, 22 February, 1819. When he was about to leave England at theclose of his term as American minister, he was begged by a friend tomake Washington his home, for there he would find the world in whichlately he had been living; but he answered: “I have but one home inAmerica, and that is the house where I was born, and where, if it shallplease God, I hope to die. I shouldn’t be happy anywhere else;” and atElmwood he died, Wednesday, 12 August, 1891.

The place was endeared to him by a thousand memories, and he liked itnone the less for the historic associations, which lent it a flavorwhimsically suggestive to him of his own lurking sympathy. “It will makea frightful Conservative of you before you know it,” he wrote in 1873 toMr. Aldrich, then living at Elmwood; it was born a Tory and will die so.Don’t get too used to it. I often wish I had not grown into it so.”

The house was one of a succession of spacious{2} dwellings set in broadfields, bordering on the Charles River, built in the eighteenth century,and occupied for the most part, before the War for Independence, byloyal merchants and officers of the Crown. They were generous countryplaces, pleasantly remote from Boston, which was then reached only by along détour through Brookline and Roxbury, and the owners of theseestates left them, one by one, as they were forced out by the revolt ofthe province: but the name of Tory Row lingered about the group, andthere had been no great change in the outward appearance of theneighborhood when Lowell was born in one of these old houses.

From the colleges, past the unenclosed common, a road ran in thedirection of Watertown. It skirted the graveyard, next to which wasChrist Church, the ecclesiastical home of the occupants of Tory Row, andshortly turned again by an elm already old when Washington took command,under its shade, of the first American army. Along the line of what isnow known as Mason Street, it passed into the thoroughfare upon whichwere strung the houses of Tory Row; a lane entered it at this point,down which one could have walked to the house of the vacillating ThomasBrattle, occupied during the siege of Boston by Quartermaster-GeneralMifflin; the main road, now known as Brattle Street, but in Lowell’syouth still called the Old Road, keeping on toward Watertown, passedbetween the estates of the two Vassalls, Henry and John, Colonel JohnVassal{3}l’s house becoming in the siege of Boston the headquarters ofWashington, and wreathing its sword later in the myrtle boughs ofLongfellow. Then, at what is now the corner of Brattle and Sparksstreets, stood the Lechmere house, afterward Jonathan Sewall’s, andoccupied for a while by the Baron Riedesel, when he was a prisoner ofwar after the defeat of Burgoyne, in whose army he commanded the Hessianforces.

The Baroness Riedesel, in her lively letters, rehearses the situation asit existed just before she and her husband were quartered in Cambridge:“Seven families, who were connected with each other, partly by the tiesof relationship and partly by affection, had here farms, gardens, andmagnificent houses, and not far off plantations of fruit. The owners ofthese were in the habit of daily meeting each other in the afternoon,now at the house of one, and now at another, and making themselves merrywith music and the dance—living in prosperity, united and happy, until,alas! this ruinous war severed them, and left all their houses desolate,except two, the proprietors of which were also soon obliged to flee.”Beyond the Lechmere-Sewall estate was that of Judge Joseph Lee, where inLowell’s middle day lived his friend and “corrector of the press” GeorgeNichols, and then, just before the road made another bend, came theFayerweather house, occupied in Lowell’s youth by William Wells, theschoolmaster. Here the road turned-to the south, and passed the last ofthe Row, known in later years as Elmwood.{4}

The house, square in form, was built in 1767 on the simple model whichtranslated the English brick manor house of the Georgian period into theterms of New England wood; it was well proportioned, roomy, with a halldividing it midway; and such features as abundant use of wood in theinterior finish, and quaintly twisted banisters to its staircase,preserve the style of the best of domestic colonial buildings. Heavyoaken beams give the structure solidity and the spaces between them inthe four outer walls are filled in with brick, while great chimneys arethe poles which fasten to the earth the tent which seems likely still toshelter many generations.

The house was built for Thomas Oliver, the son of a West India merchant,and a man of fortune, who came from the town of Dorchester, not far off,to live in Cambridge, probably because of his marriage to a daughter ofColonel John Vassall. He was lieutenant-governor of the Province, andhad been appointed by George III. President of the Council, a positionwhich rendered him especially obnoxious to the freemen of Massachusetts.In that contention for strict construction of the charter, which was oneof the marks of the allegiance to law characteristic of the king’sAmerican subjects, it was held that councillors were to be elected, notappointed. On the morning of 2 September, 1774, a large number of thefreeholders of Middlesex County assembled at Cambridge and surroundedOliver’s house. He had previously conferred with these zealous peopleand represented{5} that as his office of president was really the resultof his being lieutenant-governor he would incur his Majesty’sdispleasure if he resigned the one office and retained the other. Theexplanation seemed satisfactory for a while, but on the appearance ofsome signs of activity among his Majesty’s soldiers, the committee incharge renewed their demands, and drew up a paper containing aresignation of his office as president, which they called on thelieutenant-governor to sign. He did so, adding the significant clause:“my house at Cambridge being surrounded by about four thousand people,in compliance with their command I sign my name.”

Oliver left Cambridge immediately, never to return. He succeeded to thecivil government of Boston, and Sir William Howe to the militarycommand, when Governor Gage returned to England, but when Boston wasevacuated Oliver retired with the British forces. The estate, withothers in the neighborhood, was seized for public use. When the Americanarmy was posted in Cambridge it was used as a hospital for soldiers.Afterwards it was leased by the Committee of Correspondence. A credit of£69 for rent was recorded in 1776. Subsequently the estate wasconfiscated and sold by the Commonwealth, the land contained in it thenconsisting of ninety-six acres. The purchaser was Arthur Cabot, ofSalem, who later sold it to Elbridge Gerry,

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