Death Of James Russell Lowell
Poet, critic, and diplomat James R. Lowell died on August 12, 1891.
James Russell Lowell was born on February 22, 1819, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The youngest of six children, Lowell developed an early appreciation for literature from his mother.
Lowell began attending Harvard College at age 15 in 1834. For much of his college career he was a poor student, missing classes and getting into trouble. Then during his senior year he was made an editor of the Harvardiana literary magazine. Several of Lowell’s stories and poems were published in the magazine, though he later admitted they weren’t very good.
In 1838 Lowell was elected class poet, which included reciting an original poem on Class Day, the day before commencement. However, he’d been suspended and not allowed to participate, so his poem was printed and distributed instead. While he was away from school for his suspension, Lowell met Ralph Waldo Emerson and other Transcendentalist poets.
Following his graduation, Lowell attended Harvard Law School and was admitted to the bar in 1842. While he attended, some of his earliest poems were published in the Southern Literary Messenger.
In 1843 Lowell co-founded the literary journal, The Pioneer. Unlike most journals of the day, it featured new works and serious criticism. As Lowell stated it would, “furnish the intelligent and reflecting portion of the Reading Public with a rational substitute for the enormous quantity of thrice-diluted trash, in the shape of namby-pamby love tales and sketches, which is monthly poured out to them by many of our popular Magazines.” The Pioneer’s first issue included the first appearance of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Unfortunately, Lowell had to take leave for health reasons, during which time his partner poorly managed the journal, leading to its closure.
Though Lowell had long been against slavery, his first wife encouraged him to become an active abolitionist. To this end, he published Miscellaneous Poems, a collection of anti-slavery beliefs, in 1843. It sold well – about 1,500 copies. His abolitionist work was published in several journals and newspapers in the coming years.
In 1848, Lowell published one of his most popular works, A Fable for Critics. The satirical book-length poem made good-natured jokes about his contemporaries. That same year, he published The Biglow Papers, which sold out within a week. He wrote dialogue for his characters using American dialects. This technique was not common at the time and had an influence on future writers like Mark Twain.