Four Famous American Writers: Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe,
Part 2 out of 3
more than hint. This 'evil' was the greatest which can befall a man.
Six years ago, a wife, whom I loved as no man ever loved before,
ruptured a blood vessel in singing. Her life was despaired of. I took
leave of her forever, and underwent all the agonies of her death. She
recovered partially and I again hoped. At the end of a year the blood
vessel broke again. I went through precisely the same scene.--Then
again--again--and even once again, at varying intervals. Each time I
felt all the agonies of her death--and at each accession of her
disorder I loved her more dearly and clung to her life with more
Virginia gradually grew worse and finally died at their home at
Fordham, near New York. After this sad event Poe wrote a poem which is
a sort of requiem for her death. It was not published during his life,
but after his death it appeared in the _New York Tribune_. Immediately
it took rank as one of the three greatest poems Poe ever wrote. It is
long enough to be complete, it has none of those metrical
imperfections found in his earlier poems, and it possesses in a
wonderful degree that haunting thrill so characteristic of all the
best things Poe wrote. Moreover, it has a musical flow surpassing any
other of Poe's poems except "The Bells," and in some respects it is
even more pleasing to the ear when read aloud than is "The Bells."
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
_I_ was a child and _she_ was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love,--
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.
And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulcher
In this kingdom by the sea.
The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me,--
Yes!--that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.
But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we,--
Of many far wiser than we;
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:
For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling--my darling--my life and my bride,
In the sepulcher there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.
POE'S LITERARY HISTORY
As assistant editor of the _Southern Literary Messenger_, Poe achieved
great literary success. In this paper he began those spirited
criticisms of the writers of the day, which attracted attention
everywhere. He also published numerous stories. Poetry was almost
completely abandoned for prose.
The circulation of the magazine increased by the thousands, and there
could be no doubt that its success was due chiefly to Poe. At first
his salary was ten dollars a week; later, it was raised to fifteen
dollars, and was to have been raised to twenty, but Poe suddenly
resigned his position. Precisely why he did this is not known.
Experiences similar to that with the _Southern Literary Messenger_
were repeated many times afterward, during his literary career. Just
as he was getting well settled at his work, he would have some
difficulty with the proprietor, or commit some indiscretion, and then
he must find some other place. In those days, when a great New York
daily paper like Bryant's _Evening Post_ could be bought for from
$5,000 to $10,000, there was not much money to be made in publishing
or in literature. To make money, Poe should have been a business man,
and he was not so in any sense. Many another literary man, even in our
own times, has had similar misfortunes, even without those faults of
character and that fatality for falling out with everything and
everybody which distinguished Poe.
From Richmond, Poe went with his family to New York, where Mrs. Clemm
supported the household by keeping boarders. Poe himself spent the
winter chiefly in writing "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym," a tale
of the sea, which was first published by Messrs. Harper and Brothers.
From New York he went to Philadelphia, where he wrote various magazine
articles and stories, and did part of the work of preparing a school
textbook on "Conchology." He soon became associate editor of _The
Gentleman's Magazine_ with its proprietor Burton. The following year,
1840, his first volume of stories was published, under the title,
"Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque." The volume was not a popular
success. An edition of seven hundred and fifty copies was barely
disposed of, and all that Poe received was twenty copies for
distribution among his friends.
His connection with Burton's magazine did not last above a year.
Burton had been a comic actor, and offered prizes which Poe says he
never intended to pay. Poe's remarks on this transaction caused the
Poe had already been thinking about starting a periodical of his own,
and now he sent out the prospectus of _The Penn Magazine_. To found a
magazine which should be better and higher in literary art than any
other in America was his lifelong ambition. He tried again and again
to do this, first with _The Penn Magazine_, and later with a
periodical to be called _The Stylus_. He never succeeded, however.
George R. Graham, proprietor of the _Saturday Evening Post_, now
bought _The Gentleman's Magazine_, united it with a periodical of his
own called _The Casket_, and named the new venture _Graham's
Magazine_. Of this Poe soon became the editor.
After Poe's death, Mr. Graham published an article in which he said
that, while he was in Philadelphia, Poe seemed to think only of the
happiness and welfare of his family. There were but two things for
which he cared to have money--to give them comforts and to start a
magazine of his own. He never spent any money on himself. Everything
was intrusted to Mrs. Clemm, who managed all his household affairs.
His love for his wife was a sort of rapturous worship of the spirit of
beauty, which he felt was fading before his eyes. "I have seen him,"
says Mr. Graham, "hovering around her when she was ill, with all the
fond fear and tender anxiety of a mother for her first-born--her
slightest cough causing him a shudder, a heart chill, that was
visible. I rode out one summer evening with them, and the remembrance
of his watchful eyes, eagerly bent upon the slightest change of hue in
that loved face, haunts me yet as the memory of a sad strain. It was
this hourly anticipation of her loss which made him a sad and
thoughtful man, and lent a mournful melody to his undying song."
At last he left Philadelphia and returned to New York, where he
remained for the rest of his life. This is the childlike way he writes
to his mother-in-law concerning the journey:
"My Dear Muddy,
"We have just this minute done breakfast, and I now sit down to write
you about everything. * * * In the first place, we arrived safe at
Walnut St. wharf. The driver wanted to make me pay a dollar, but I
wouldn't. Then I had to pay a boy a levy to put the trunks in the
"In the meantime I took Sis [Virginia] in the Depot Hotel. * * * We
went in the cars to Amboy, * * * and then took the steamboat the rest
of the way. Sissy coughed none at all. I left her on board the boat. *
* * Then I went up Greenwich St. and soon found a boarding house. * *
* I made a bargain in a few minutes and then got a hack and went for
Sis. * * * When we got to the house we had to wait about half an hour
before the room was ready. The house is old and looks buggy, * * * the
cheapest board I ever knew, taking into consideration the central
situation and the _living_. I wish Kate [Catterina, the cat] could see
it--she would faint."
They had a little cottage at Fordham, in the country just out of New
York. It was a very humble place, but the scenery about it was
beautiful. Poe himself became ill, and his dear Virginia was dying of
consumption. They were so poor that friends had to help them. One of
these friends wrote:
"There was no clothing on the bed, which was only straw, but a
snow-white counterpane and sheets. The weather was cold and the sick
lady had the dreadful chills that accompany the hectic fever of
consumption. She lay on the bed wrapped in her husband's great-coat,
with a large tortoise-shell cat in her bosom."
On one Saturday in January, 1847, Virginia died. Her husband, wrapped
in the military cloak that had once covered her, followed the body to
the tomb in the family vault of the Valentines, relatives of the
POE AS A STORY-WRITER
Next to "The Raven," Poe's most famous work is that fascinating story,
"The Gold-Bug," perhaps the best detective story that was ever
written, for it is based on logical principles which are instructive
as well as interesting. Poe's powerful mind was always analyzing and
inventing. It is these inventions and discoveries of his which make
The story of the gold-bug is that of a man who finds a piece of
parchment on which is a secret writing telling where Captain Kidd hid
his treasure off the coast of South Carolina. The gold-beetle has
nothing whatever to do with the real story, and is only introduced to
mystify. It is one of the principles of all conjuring tricks to have
something to divert the attention. Poe's detective story is a sort of
conjuring trick, but it is all the more interesting because he fully
Cryptographs are systems of secret writing. The letter _e_ is
represented by some strange character, perhaps the figure 8. In "The
Gold-Bug" _t_ is a semicolon and _h_ is 4, so that; 48 means _the_.
Sometimes the letter _e_ is represented by several signs, any one of
which the writer may use; and perhaps the word _the_, which occurs so
often, is represented by a single character, like _x_. Often, too, the
words are run together, so that at first sight you cannot tell where
one word begins and another ends.
Solving a cryptograph is like doing a mathematical problem, and Poe
was very clever at it.
He published a series of articles on "Cryptography" or systems of
secret writing, in _Alexander's Weekly Messenger_, and challenged any
reader to send in a cipher which he could not translate into ordinary
language. Hundreds were sent to him, and he solved them all, though it
took up a great deal of his time.
In the same line with this was another feat of his. Dickens's story,
"Barnaby Rudge," was coming out in parts from week to week, as a
serial publication. From the first chapters Poe calculated what the
outcome of the plot would be, and published it in the _Saturday
Evening Post_. He guessed the story so accurately that Dickens was
greatly surprised and asked him if he were the devil.
Again at a later date Poe wrote a remarkable story, "The Mystery of
Marie Roget." A young girl had been murdered in New York. The
newspapers were full of accounts of the crime, but the police could
get no clew to the murderers. In Poe's story he wrote out exactly what
happened on the night of the murder, and explained the whole thing, as
if he were an expert detective. Afterward, by the confessions of two
of the participants, it was proved that his solution of the mystery
was almost exactly the truth.
"The Gold-Bug" was not published until sometime later, but it was as
editor of _Graham's Magazine_ that Poe first became known as a writer
of detective stories. One of the most famous is "The Murders of the
Rue Morgue." It is an imaginary story, but none the less interesting.
A murder was committed in Paris by an orang-outang, which had climbed
in at a window and then closed the window behind it. The police could
find no clew; but the hero of Poe's story follows the facts out by a
number of clever observations of small facts.
"The Gold-Bug" seems to have been written in 1842 for Poe's projected
magazine, _The Stylus_. F.O.C. Darley, the well-known artist, was to
draw pictures for it at seven dollars each. Poe himself took to him
the manuscript of "The Gold-Bug" and that of "The Black Cat."
As this magazine was never published, the story of "The Gold-Bug" was
sent to Graham some time after Poe had left him; but he did not like
it, and made some criticisms upon it. Poe got it back from Graham in
order to submit it for a prize of $100 offered by _The Dollar
Newspaper_. It won the prize, and became Poe's most popular story.
* * * * *
HOW "THE RAVEN" WAS WRITTEN
"The Raven" was published in New York just two years before Mrs. Poe
died; it instantly made its author famous, although it brought him
little or no money. It is said that he was paid only ten dollars for
the poem; but as soon as it appeared it was the talk of the
nation,--being copied into almost every newspaper. Poe had written
and published many other poems, but none of them had attracted much
We have spoken of Poe as a story-writer, and now in "The Raven" we see
him a great poet.
It is not unusual to think of poetry as the work of inspiration or
genius; but how it is written, nobody knows. Poe maintained that
literary art is something that can be studied and learned. To
illustrate this he told how he wrote "The Raven." Some people
considered this a sort of joke; but it was not. When Poe began to
write, his work was not at all good; as years went on, he learned by
patient practice to write well. It was more than anything else this
long course of training that made him so great.
The essay in which he tells how he wrote "The Raven," begins by saying
that when he thought of writing it he decided that it must not be too
long nor too short. It must be short enough so that one could read it
through at a sitting; but also it must be long enough to express fully
the idea which he had in mind.
Then, it must be beautiful. All true poetry is about beauty. It
doesn't teach anything useful, or analyze anything, but it simply
makes the reader feel a certain effect. When you read "The Raven" you
hardly know what the poet is saying; but you feel the ghostly scene,
and it makes you shudder; and there is a strange fascination about it
that makes you like it, even if it is horrible.
He goes on to say that he decided to have a refrain at the end of each
stanza, the single word "Nevermore." At first he thought he would have
a parrot utter it; but a raven can talk as well as a parrot, and is
more picturesque. The most striking subject he could think of was the
death of a beautiful woman--this he felt to be so because of his own
impressions concerning the approaching death of his sweet wife.
Besides this, Poe said that poetry and music are much alike, and he
tried to have his poem produce the effect of solemn music. All his
best poetry is very much like music.
With these materials at his command, he now turned his attention to
the construction of the poem. He would ask questions, and the raven
would always reply by croaking "Nevermore." As an answer to some
questions, this would sound very terrible. Says he: "I first
established in my mind the climax, or concluding query,--that query in
reply to which the word 'nevermore' should involve the utmost
conceivable amount of sorrow and despair. Here, then, the poem may be
said to have its beginning--at the end, where all works of art should
begin--for it was here, at this point of my preconsiderations, that I
first put pen to paper in the composition of the stanza:--
"'Prophet!' said I, 'thing of evil!--prophet still, if bird or devil!
By the heaven that bends above us--by that God we both adore!--
Tell this soul with sorrow laden, if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore,--
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.'
Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.'"
This principle of beginning at the end or climax to write a poem or
story was one so important that Poe insisted on it at great length. In
the "Murders in the Rue Morgue" the author necessarily began at the
end, imagined the solution of the mystery, and gradually worked back
to the beginning, bringing in his detective after everything had been
carefully constructed for him, though to the ordinary reader of the
story it seems as if the detective came to a real mystery.
It may be observed that all of Poe's stories and poems are built up
about some principle of the mind. They illustrate how the mind works.
After the principle is stated the illustration is given.
Can anything be more important and interesting than to know how the
mind thinks, how it is inspired with terror or love or a sense of
beauty? If you know just how the mind of a man works in regard to
these things, you can yourself create the conditions which will make
others laugh or cry, be filled with horror, or overflow with a sense
of divine holiness. Ordinary story-tellers and ordinary poets write
poems or stories that are pretty and amusing; but it is only a master
like Poe who writes to illustrate and explain some great principle.
His stories teach us how we may go about producing similar effects in
the affairs of life. We wish success in business, in society, in
politics. To gain it we must make people think and feel as we think
and feel. To do that we must understand the principles on which men's
minds work, and no poet or writer analyzed and illustrated those
principles so clearly as Poe.
MUSIC AND POETRY
Poe always maintained that music and poetry are very near of kin, and
in nearly all his greatest poems he seems to write in such a way as to
produce the impression of music. As you read his verses you seem to
hear a musical accompaniment to the words, which runs through the very
sounds of the words themselves.
Poe explained that poetry and music are alike in that both obey
absolute laws of time, and that the laws of time or rhythm in poetry
are just as exact as the laws of time in music. He wrote an essay
entitled "The Rationale of Verse," in which he demonstrated that all
the rules for scanning poetry are defective. Every one knows that the
ordinary rules for meter have numerous exceptions, but that if the
rules were exact in the first place, there would be no exceptions.
Perhaps you know something about musical notes. If so, a simple
illustration will show you what "feet" in poetry are. You have perhaps
been taught that a "foot" in verse is an accented syllable with one or
more unaccented syllables, and you scan poetry by marking all the
accented syllables. In Latin, poetry was scanned by marking long
vowels and short. Let us scan the first two lines of "The Raven":
"Once up | on a midnight | dreary, || while I | pondered
| weak and | weary,
Over | many a | quaint and | curious | volume | of
for | gotten | lore."
Observe that most of the feet have two syllables each, while two have
three. But if you read the lines in a natural tone you will see that
you give just as much time to one foot as to another, and where there
are three syllables they are short and can be pronounced quickly. Some
syllables take more time to pronounce than other syllables; and to
accent a syllable simply means to give it more time in pronouncing. In
music, time is accurately represented by notes, and a bar of music
always contains exactly the same amount of time, no matter how it is
divided by the notes; for if you wish, in place of a half note you can
use two quarter notes, or in place of a quarter note you can use two
eighth notes. Represented in music, our lines will be as follows:
[Illustration: (music) Once up on a midnight dreary, as I pondered,
weak and weary, O-ver man-y a quaint and cur-i--ous vol-ume of for-
We see this still further illustrated in a poem of Tennyson's, where a
foot consists of but one long syllable, thus:
[Illustration: (music) Break, break, break, On thy cold grey stones, O
One of Poe's greatest poems, "The Bells," was written for the express
purpose of imitating music in verse. The story of how it was first
written is as follows:
Poe went one Sunday morning to call on a lady friend of his, Mrs.
Shaw, who was something of a physician and had been very kind to his
wife. It was a bright morning, and the church bells were ringing. For
all that, Poe felt moody, and the church bells seemed to jangle.
"I must write a poem," said he, "and I haven't an idea in my head. For
some reason the bells seem frightfully out of tune this morning, and
nearly drive me distracted."
After he had been chatting with Mrs. Shaw for some time, he evidently
felt in better mood, and the sound of the bells grew more musical; or
perhaps their actual sound had stopped and his imagination suggested
bells that were indeed musical.
As he kept on complaining about his inability to write a poem, Mrs.
Shaw placed pen and ink and paper before him, first writing at the top
of a sheet the title, "The Bells, by E. A. Poe." Underneath she wrote,
"The bells, the little silver bells." Poe caught the idea, and
immediately wrote the first draft of the following stanza. According
to his habit he rewrote this poem many, many times. The original
stanza began with the words Mrs. Shaw had written. Here are the verses
as they may now be read in Poe's works:
Hear the sledges with the bells--
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heaven, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells,--
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.
Mrs. Shaw then wrote the words, "The heavy iron bells." Poe
immediately completed the stanza which now reads:
Hear the tolling of the bells,--
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.
And the people--ah, the people--
They that dwell up in the steeple,
And who tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone!
They are neither man nor woman,--
They are neither brute nor human,--
They are Ghouls;
And their king it is who tolls,--
And he rolls, rolls, rolls,
Rolls a paean from the bells!
And his merry bosom swells
With the paean of the bells!
And he dances, and he yells,
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the paean of the bells,
Of the bells.
The other stanzas were written afterward. There is music in these
words; but do not think that the music is all. Underneath is the deep
harmony of human suggestion, as in the lines,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone.
Now let us see if we can represent by musical notes the meter in which
this poem is written. We must remember that a punctuation mark at the
end of a line often makes a complete pause, which is represented in
music by a rest. In music a rest has the same effect in completing a
bar as the corresponding note. Here are the first two lines:
[Illustration: (music) Hear the sledg-es with the bells, Sil-ver
In the two following lines the commas in the middle of the line stand
for rests, like the punctuation at the end of the first line; or if we
wish we can make the words "time, time, time," three longer notes. It
all depends on how we pronounce them:
[Illustration: (music) Keep--ing time, time, time, in a sort of Ru-nic
POE'S LATER YEARS
Poe had the hardest time of his life when he was at New York, living
in that little cottage at Fordham, where his poor wife died. He was
always borrowing money, from sheer necessity, to keep himself and his
wife from starvation. Once while in New York he was so hard pressed
that Mrs. Clemm went out to see if she could not get work for him. She
went to the office of Nathaniel P. Willis, who was the editor and
proprietor of _The Mirror_. Willis was then starting _The Evening
Mirror_, and said he would give Poe work. So the poet came; he had
his little desk in the corner, and did his work meekly and
regularly,--poor hack work for which he was paid very little.
Later he had an interest in a paper called _The Broadway Journal_.
When it was about to cease publication Poe bought it himself for fifty
dollars, giving a note which Horace Greeley endorsed and finally paid.
Once a young man wrote to Greeley, saying, "Doubtless among your
papers you have many autographs of the poet, Edgar Allan Poe," and
intimated that he should like to have one of them. Greeley wrote back
that he had just one autograph of Poe among his papers; it was
attached to a note for fifty dollars, and Greeley's own signature was
across the back. The young man might have it for just half its face
But after Poe bought _The Broadway Journal_ he had no money to carry
it on, and its publication was soon suspended.
He earned his livelihood mainly by writing stories or articles for
various magazines and papers, which paid him from $5 to $50 each. It
was a hand to mouth way of living, for he was often, often
In 1845, a volume entitled, "Tales. By Edgar A. Poe," was published by
Wiley and Putnam, and in the same year "The Raven and Other Poems"
appeared in book form from the same publishing house. Poe also
delivered lectures, and by way of criticism carried on what was called
the "Longfellow War." Though he considered Longfellow the greatest
American poet, he accused him of plagiarism, or stealing some of his
ideas, which was very unjust on the part of Poe. Hawthorne and Lowell
he praised highly.
After the death of his wife, Poe was very melancholy. He went to
lecture, and to visit friends in Providence, Rhode Island, and in
Lowell, Massachusetts, and afterward went south to Richmond, where he
planned to raise enough money by lecturing to start _The Stylus_.
He was hospitably entertained in Richmond, and became engaged to marry
his boyhood's first love, Miss Royster, now the widow, Mrs. Shelton.
Their marriage was to take place at once, and Poe started north to
close up his business in New York and bring Mrs. Clemm south. In
Baltimore it seems that he fell in with some politicians who were
conducting an election. They took him about from one polling place to
another to vote illegally; then some one drugged him, and left him on
a bench near a saloon. Here he was found by a printer, who notified
his friends, and they sent him to the hospital, where he died on the
7th of October, 1849. He was nearly forty-one years old.
Poe had a great and wonderful mind. In the latter part of his life he
gave much of his time to a book called "Eureka," which was intended to
explain the meaning of the universe. Of course he was not a
philosopher; but he wrote some things in that book which were destined
afterward to be accepted by such great men as Darwin and Huxley and
His life was so full of work and poverty, so crossed and crossed again
by unhappiness and hardship, that he never had time or strength of
mind to think out anything as he would otherwise have done. All his
work is fragmentary, broken bits on this subject or on that. He wrote
very few poems, not many stories, and only a little serious criticism.
But a Frenchman will tell you that Poe, among American poets and
writers, is the greatest; his writings have been translated into
nearly every European language. In England, too, he is spoken of as
our one great poet and critic, our first great story-writer, the
inventor of the artistic short story.
Poor, unhappy Poe! After his death a monument was to have been erected
over his grave; but by a strange fatality it was destroyed before it
was finished. Twenty-five years later admiring friends placed over his
remains the first monument to an American poet. No such memorial was
needed, however, for American hearts will never cease to thrill at the
weird, beautiful music of "Annabel Lee," "The Bells," and "The Raven."
THE STORY OF JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL
[Illustration: _JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL_.]
JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL
James Russell Lowell was born on the 22d of February, 1819, in
Cambridge, Massachusetts. Elmwood, the home of the Lowells, was to the
west of the village of Cambridge, quite near Mount Auburn cemetery.
When James Russell was a boy, Elmwood was practically in the country,
and was surrounded on nearly all sides by woods, meadows, and
pastures. The house stood on a triangular piece of land surrounded by
a very high and thick hedge, made up of all sorts of trees and shrubs,
such as pines, spruces, willows, and oaks, with smaller shrubs at the
bottom so as to form a thick wall of green. In front of the house were
some fine English elms, quite different from the American variety,
and from these the house got its name. It was a large, square,
old-fashioned wooden house, and though it had stood for over a hundred
years, it remained during Lowell's life in perfect condition.
The house was surrounded by a fine, well-kept lawn, and at the back
were pasture, orchard, and garden, while half a mile away lay Fresh
Pond, the haunt of herons and other shy birds and land creatures. From
the upper windows one could look out on beautiful Mount Auburn
cemetery, which was to the south, while to the east was a low hill
called Symonds's Hill, beyond which could be seen a bright stretch of
the Charles River.
Elmwood faced on a lane, between two roads. In his essay in "Fireside
Travels," entitled "Cambridge Thirty Years Ago," Lowell describes the
scene towards the village as it was in his childhood. Approaching
"from the west, by what was then called the New Road (it is called so
no longer, for we change our names whenever we can, to the great
detriment of all historical association), you would pause on the brow
of Symonds's Hill to enjoy a view singularly soothing and placid.
In front of you lay the town, tufted with elms, lindens, and
horse-chestnuts.... Over it rose the noisy belfry of the college, the
square brown tower of the church, and the slim yellow spire of the parish
meeting-house, by no means ungraceful, and then an invariable
characteristic of New England religious architecture. On your right
the Charles slipped smoothly through green and purple salt meadows,
darkened here and there with the blossoming black grass as with a
stranded cloud-shadow. Over these marshes, level as water but without
its glare, and with softer and more soothing gradations of
perspective, the eye was carried to a horizon of softly rounded hills.
To your left upon the Old Road you saw some half dozen dignified old
houses of the colonial time, all comfortably fronting southward." One
of these, the largest and most stately, was the Craigie House, famous
as the headquarters of Washington in 1776, and afterwards as the home
of Longfellow. And at the end of the New Road toward Cambridge was a
row of six fine willows, which had remained from the stockade built in
early days as a defense against the Indians.
And here is Harvard Square, where stand the buildings of the famous
"A few houses, chiefly old, stood around the bare Common, with ample
elbow-room, and old women, capped and spectacled, still peered through
the same windows from which they had watched Lord Percy's artillery
rumble by to Lexington, or caught a glimpse of the handsome Virginia
general who had come to wield our homespun Saxon chivalry. People
still lived who regretted the unhappy separation from the mother
island. . . The hooks were to be seen from which swung the hammocks of
Burgoyne's captive redcoats. If memory does not deceive me, women
still washed clothes in the town spring, clear as that of Bandusia.
Commencement had not ceased to be the great holiday of the Puritan
Commonwealth, and a fitting one it was--the festival of Santa
Scholastica, whose triumphal path one may conceive strewn with leaves
of spelling-books instead of bay."
James was the youngest of four brothers and two sisters, a handsome
boy, and his mother's darling. He always thought he inherited his love
of nature and poetic aspirations from her, whose family was from the
Orkneys--those islands at the extreme north of Scotland.
His father was a strikingly handsome man, gracious and of rare
personal qualities, and a faithful pastor over his flock. Often he
took his youngest son on long drives with him, when he went to
exchange pulpits with neighboring clergymen. Because of his wide
family connection, and his father's position, James saw not a little
of New England society as it was in those days, pure Yankee through
AN IMPETUOUS YOUNG MAN
Young James was sent first to a dame school, as a private school for
very small children kept by a lady in her own house was called in
those days. But when he was eight or nine he was sent to a boarding
school near Elmwood--going, of course, only as a day scholar. This
school was kept by an Englishman named Wells, who had belonged to a
publishing firm in Boston which had failed. This teacher was very sharp
and severe, but he made all his boys learn Latin, as you may see by
reading the learned notes and introductions to the "Biglow Papers,"
supposed to have been written by "Parson Wilbur," but in reality by Lowell
We sometimes find it difficult to believe that a great man whom we
admire was ever an ordinary human being, with faults and errors like
our own. But when we do find natural, childish letters, or read
anecdotes of youthful naughtiness, we immediately feel like shaking
hands with the scapegrace, and a real liking for him begins.
Lowell was so reserved in after life, and so very correct and elegant
both in his writing and in his deportment, that when we come across
two letters written at about nine years of age, badly punctuated and
badly spelled, but displaying all the natural spirits of a boy, we
begin at once to feel at home with him and to have a genuine affection
for the man we had before only admired as a very great and learned
author. Here are the two letters just as they were written. It will be
a good exercise for you to rewrite them, correcting the spelling,
punctuation, and other faults.
Jan. 25, 1827.
My dear brother The dog and the colt went down to-day with our boy for
me and the colt went before and then the horse and slay and dog--I
went to a party and I danced a great deal and was very happy--I read
french stories--The colt plays very much--and follows the horse when
it is out. Your affectionate brother,
James R. Lowell.
I forgot to tell you that sister mary has not given me any present but
I have got three books
Nov. 2, 1828.
My Dear Brother,--I am now going to tell you melancholy news. I have
got the ague together with a gumbile. I presume you know that
September has got a lame leg, but he grows better every day and now is
very well but limps a little. We have a new scholar from round hill,
his name is Hooper and we expect another named Penn who I believe also
comes from there. The boys are all very well except Nemaise, who has
got another piece of glass in his leg and is waiting for the doctor to
take it out, and Samuel Storrow is also sick. I am going to have a new
suit of blue broadcloth clothes to wear every day and to play in.
Mother tells me I may have any sort of buttons I choose. I have not
done anything to the hut, but if you wish I will. I am now very happy;
but I should be more so if you were there. I hope you will answer my
letter if you do not I shall write you no more letters, when you write
my letters you must direct them all to me and not write half to mother
as generally do. Mother has given me the three volumes of tales of a
Yours truly James R. Lowell.
You must excuse me for making so many mistakes. You must keep what I
have told you about my new clothes a secret if you don't I shall not
divulge any more secrets to you. I have got quite a library. The
Master has not taken his rattan out since the vacation. Your little
kitten is as well and as playful as ever and I hope you are to for I
am sure I love you as well as ever. Why is grass like a mouse you cant
guess that he he he ho ho ho ha ha ha hum hum hum.
Young Lowell's life was so very quiet and uneventful that we have very
little account of his boyhood and youth. We know, however, that he was
fond of books and was rather lazy, and did pretty much as he pleased.
A poem which in later years he dedicated to his friend Charles Eliot
Norton gives a very good picture of the life at Elmwood:
The wind is roistering out of doors,
My windows shake and my chimney roars;
My Elmwood chimneys seem crooning to me,
As of old, in their moody, minor key,
And out of the past the hoarse wind blows,
As I sit in my arm-chair and toast my toes.
"Ho! ho! nine-and-forty," they seem to sing,
"We saw you a little toddling thing.
We knew you child and youth and man,
A wonderful fellow to dream and plan,
With a great thing always to come,--who knows?
Well, well! 'tis some comfort to toast one's toes.
"How many times have you sat at gaze
Till the mouldering fire forgot to blaze,
Shaping among the whimsical coals
Fancies and figures and shining goals!
What matters the ashes that cover those?
While hickory lasts you can toast your toes.
"O dream-ship builder! where are they all,
Your grand three-deckers, deep-chested and tall,
That should crush the waves under canvas piles,
And anchor at last by the Fortunate Isles?
There's gray in your beard, the years turn foes,
While you muse in your arm-chair and toast your toes."
I sit and dream that I hear, as of yore,
My Elmwood chimneys' deep-throated roar;
If much be gone, there is much remains;
By the embers of loss I count my gains,
You and yours with the best, till the old hope glows
In the fanciful flame as I toast my toes.
Lowell entered Harvard College when he was but fifteen years old, very
nearly the youngest man in his class. In those days the college was
small, there were few teachers, and only about fifty students in a
COLLEGE AND THE MUSES
Soon after he entered college, young Lowell made the acquaintance of a
senior, W.H. Shackford, to whom many of his published letters of
college life are addressed. Another intimate friend was George Bailey
Loring, who afterward became distinguished in politics. To one or
other of these men he was constantly writing of his literary
ambitions, always uppermost in his mind.
Josiah Quincy was president of Harvard when Lowell was there, and
afterward Lowell wrote an essay on "A Great Public Character," which
describes this distinguished president. In it he refers to college
life in a way that shows he thoroughly enjoyed it.
"Almost every one," he writes, "looks back regretfully to the days of
some Consul Plancus. Never were eyes so bright, never had wine so much
wit and good-fellowship in it, never were we ourselves so capable of
the various great things we have never done.... This is especially
true of college life, when we first assume the titles without the
responsibilities of manhood, and the president of our year is apt to
become our Plancus very early."
In another of his essays he tells one of the standing college jokes,
which is worth repeating. The students would go into one of the
grocery stores of the town, whose proprietor was familiarly called
"Have you any sour apples, Deacon?" the first student to enter would
"Well, no, I haven't any just now that are exactly sour," he would
answer; "but there's the bellflower apple, and folks that like a sour
apple generally like that."
Enter the second student. "Have you any sweet apples, Deacon?"
"Well, no, I haven't any now that are exactly sweet; but there's the
bellflower apple, and folks that like a sweet apple generally like
"There is not even a tradition of any one's ever having turned the
wary Deacon's flank," says
Lowell, "and his Laodicean apples persisted to the end, neither one
thing nor another."
It did not take young Lowell long to find out that he had a weakness
for poetry (as his seniors sometimes spoke of it). Writing to his
friend Loring, probably at the beginning of the Christmas vacation,
1836, he says, "Here I am alone in Bob's room with a blazing fire, in
an atmosphere of 'poesy' and soft coal smoke. Pope, Dante, a few of
the older English poets, Byron, and last, not least, some of my own
compositions, lie around me. Mark my modesty. I don't put myself in
the same line with the rest, you see.... Been quite 'grouty' all the
vacation, 'black as Erebus.' Discovered two points of very striking
resemblance between myself and Lord Byron; and if you will put me in
mind of it, I will propound next term, or in some other letter,
'Vanity, thy name is Lowell!'"
And again, in a letter to his mother, he says, "I am engaged in
several poetic effusions, one of which I dedicated to you, who have
always been the patron and encourager of my youthful muse.
If you wish to see me as much as I do you, I shall be satisfied."
This is Mrs. Lowell's answer to the last wish. She and Dr. Lowell were
then making a visit to Europe: "Babie Jamie: Your poetry was very
pleasing to me, and I am glad to have a letter, but not to remind me
of you, for you are seldom long out of my head.... Don't leave your
whistling, which used to cheer me so much. I frequently listen to it
here, though far from you." In later years Lowell would often tell how
he used to whistle as he came near home from school, in order to let
his mother know he was coming, and she seldom failed to be sitting at
her window to welcome him.
Early in 1837 Lowell was elected to the Hasty Pudding Club. "At the
very first meeting I attended," he writes to his friend, Shackford, "I
was chosen secretary, which is considered the most honorable office in
the club, as the records are kept in _verse (mind,_ I do not say
_poetry_). This first brought my rhyming powers into notice, and since
that I have been chosen to deliver the next anniversary poem by a vote
of twenty out of twenty-four."
Not long afterward he writes to his friend Loring, "I have written
about a hundred lines of my poem (?), and I suspect it is going to be
pretty good. At least, some parts of it will take." And after a few
lines he goes on, "I am as busy as a bee--almost. I study and read and
write all the time." A little later he writes a letter to Loring in
Scotch dialect verse.
This was not the sort of work, however, that the college authorities
expected of him. He was lazy and got behind his classes, so that near
the end of his course he was rusticated, or suspended from college for
some weeks. He had been chosen class poet, but on account of his
suspension he could not read his poem, though it was printed.
He was sent to Concord during this interval to carry on his studies
under the minister of the town. Here he found it pretty dull, though
Emerson and Thoreau were there. But he did not then care for either
one of them. In one of his letters he said, "I feel like a fool. I
must go down and see Emerson and if he doesn't make me feel more like
one, it won't be for want of sympathy. He is a good-natured man in
spite of his doctrines."
Of Thoreau he said, "I met (him) last night, and it is exquisitely
amusing to see how he imitates Emerson's tone and manner. With my eyes
shut I shouldn't know them apart."
In the autumn he came back to Cambridge and took his degree of
Bachelor of Arts with his class.
HOW LOWELL STUDIED LAW
While at Concord, Lowell wrote to his friend Loring, as though
"Everybody almost is calling me 'indolent.' 'Blind dependent on my own
powers' and 'on fate.' Confound everybody! since everybody confounds
me. Everybody seems to see but one side of my character, and that the
worst. As for my dependence on my own powers, 'tis all fudge. As for
fate, I believe that in every man's breast are the stars of his
fortune, which, if he choose, he may rule as easily as does the child
the mimic constellations in the orrery he plays with. I acknowledge,
too, that I have been something of a dreamer, and have sacrificed,
perchance, too assiduously on that altar to the 'unknown God,' which
the Divinity has builded not with hands in the bosom of every decent
man, sometimes blazing out clear with flame, like Abel's sacrifice,
heaven-seeking; sometimes smothered with greenwood and earthward, like
that of Cain. Lazy quota! I haven't dug, 'tis true, but I have done as
well, and 'since my free soul was mistress of her choice, and could of
books distinguish her election,' I have chosen what reading I pleased
and what friends I pleased, sometimes scholars and sometimes not."
Once out of college he had to take up some profession. Had poetry been
a profession, he would have taken that; but such a choice at that time
would have been considered sheer folly. He did not consider that he
had any "call" to be a minister, still less a doctor. As there was
nothing else left, he began the study of law. It is truly amusing to
see how he manages to "wriggle along" until he takes his degree of
LL.B. and is admitted to the bar.
First, he announces that he is "reading Blackstone with as good a
grace and as few wry faces as he may." Only a few days later he
declares, "A very great change has come o'er the spirit of my dreams.
I have renounced the law." He is going to be a business man, and sets
about looking for a place, in a store. He is going to give up all
thoughts of literary pursuits and devote himself to money-making. He
also says, "I have been thinking seriously of the ministry, but
then--I have also thought of medicine, but then--still worse!"
A few days pass by. He goes into Boston and hears Webster speak in a
case before the United States Court. "I had not been there an hour
before I determined to continue in my profession and study as well as
Still, it was hard work to keep at his law studies. He is soon writing
to his friend George Loring, "I sometimes think that I have it in me,
and shall one day do somewhat; meantime I am schooling myself and
shaping my theory of poesy."
Six weeks later: "I have written a great deal of _pottery_ lately. I
have quitted the law forever." Then he inquires if he can make any
money by lecturing at Andover. He already has an engagement to lecture
at Concord, where he has hopes to "astonish them a little."
A fortnight later we find him in a "miserable state. The more I think
of business the more really unhappy do I feel, and think more and more
of studying law." What he really wants to do all the time is to write
poetry. "I don't know how it is," he says, "but sometimes I actually
_need_ to write somewhat in verse." Sunday is his work day in the
As for the law, it is settled at last. He writes to his friend,
"Rejoice with me, for to-morrow I shall be free. Without saying a word
to any one, I shall quietly proceed to Dane Law College to recitation.
Now shall I be happy again as far as that is concerned."
A fortnight later he declares, "I begin to like the law, and therefore
it is quite interesting. I am determined that I _will_ like it and
therefore I _do_."
In the summer of 1840 he completed his studies and was admitted to the
bar. A little later he opened an office in Boston. Misfortune had
overtaken his father, and his personal property had been nearly swept
away. It was now necessary for the young man to earn his own living.
His friends were therefore glad that he had his profession to depend
LOVE AND LETTERS
Lowell always had a presentiment that he should never practice law. He
was always dreaming of becoming independent in some other way. "Above
all things," he declares, "should I love to sit down and do something
literary for the rest of my natural life."
He did not then think of marrying, and it does not require much to
support a single man. Though he opened a law office in Boston, it does
not appear that he did any business. He wrote a story entitled "My
First Client," but one of his biographers unkindly suggests that this
may have been purely imaginary.
All through his letters we see his ambitious yearning. "George," says
he in one place, "before I die your heart shall be gladdened by seeing
your wayward, vain, and too often selfish friend do something that
shall make his name honored. As Sheridan once said, 'It's _in_ me,
and' (we'll skip the oath) 'it shall come _out_!'"
His bachelor dreams were soon dissipated, however. He went to visit a
friend of his, W.A. White, and there met the young man's sister Maria.
He thought her a very pleasant and pleasing young lady, and he
discovered that she knew a great deal of poetry. She could repeat more
verse than any other one of his acquaintances, though he laments that
she was more familiar with modern poets than with the "pure
wellsprings of English poesy."
The friendship grew apace. In the same fall that he began the
pretended practice of law he became engaged to her, and she caused a
fresh and voluminous outpouring of verse. His productions were printed
in various periodicals, such as the _Knickerbocker Magazine_, to which
Longfellow had contributed, and the _Southern Literary Messenger_,
which Poe once edited.
Miss White was a most charming and interesting young lady. She was
herself a poet, and had a delicate intellectual sympathy that enabled
her to enter into her lover's ambitions, and assist him even in the
minutest details of his work.
It is fair to suppose that Lowell's friends brought every possible
pressure to bear upon him to make him give up poetry and _dig_ at the
law. His father's financial losses had left him without an inherited
income; he was engaged to a beautiful girl and anxious to be married;
in some way he must earn his living, and if possible do more. Such was
not the effect, however. He devoted himself to poetry with an almost
feverish activity. He has made up his mind that he will do something
great; for only so can he hope possibly to make literature a paying
It was Maria who inspired most of his verse at this time. One of his
best poems even to this day was written directly for her. It is called
"Irene'." It may be taken as the best possible description of his lady
Hers is a spirit deep, and crystal-clear;
Calm beneath her earnest face it lies,
Free without boldness, meek without a fear,
Quicker to look than speak its sympathies;
Far down into her large and patient eyes
I gaze, deep-drinking of the infinite,
As, in the mid-watch of a clear, still night,
I look into the fathomless blue skies.
As the struggle between money and law on the one side and literature
on the other still went on, he expressed his feelings on the subject
to his friend Loring in the following stanza, which puts the whole
argument into a nutshell:
They tell me I must study law.
They say that I have dreamed and dreamed too long,
That I must rouse and seek for fame and gold;
That I must scorn this idle gift of song,
And mingle with the vain and proud and cold.
Is, then, this petty strife
The end and aim of life,
All that is worth the living for below?
_O God! then call me hence, for I would gladly go_!
Thus he had finally come to the conclusion that he would rather die
than give up literature.
"Irene" won the good opinion of many. The young poet, though but
twenty-one, felt that he was beginning to be a lion. His next definite
step was to publish a volume of verses. Says he, "I shall print my
volume. Maria wishes me to do it, and that is enough."
So his first volume, "A Year's Life," was published, with the motto in
German, "I have lived and loved."
The young poet's friends were very much opposed to this publication,
for the reason that a rising young lawyer is not helped on in his
profession at all by being known as a poet. Who would employ a _poet_
to defend his business in a court room? No one! A hard-headed business
man is wanted. Walter Scott was a lawyer of much such a temperament as
Lowell's, and when he put forth a similar volume he suffered as it was
certain that Lowell would suffer. But it is probable that Lowell was
now fully determined to give up law altogether.
"I know," he declares passionately, "that God has given me powers such
as are not given to all, and I will not 'hide my talent in mean clay.'
I do not care what others may think of me or of my book, because if I
am worth anything I shall one day show it. I do not fear criticism as
much as I love truth. Nay, I do not fear it at all. In short, I am
happy. Maria fills my ideal and I satisfy her. And I mean to live as
one beloved by such a woman should live. She is every way noble.
People have called 'Irene' a beautiful piece of poetry. And so it is.
It owes all its beauty to her."
It is very plain that she was on the side of the poet, not of the
worldly-minded persons who advocated the law, business, money-making.
She did not dread the prospect of being a poor man's wife. To be the
wife of a poet, a man of courage and ambition and nobleness of heart,
was far more to her. The turning point in Lowell's life was past; and
he had been led to that turning point by the little woman who was soon
to become his wife.
THE UNCERTAIN SEAS OF LITERATURE
As far as is known, Lowell never earned a dollar by the law. He soon
began to pick up a five or a ten dollar bill here and there by writing
for current periodicals. His book brought him some reputation, but not
much. A few hundred copies were sold, and most of the reviews and
criticisms were favorable. He received a slating from the _Morning
Post_ in Boston, however, just as an inkling of what a literary man
Three years of hard literary work now followed. Lowell wrote
assiduously and heroically, getting what happiness he could in the
meantime out of his love. He was young and strong, and life was not a
burden. He tells us of having spent an evening at the house of a
friend "where Maria is making sunshine just now," and he declared that
he had been exceedingly funny. He had in the course of the evening
recited "near upon five hundred extempore macaronic verses; composed
and executed an oratorio and opera" upon a piano without strings,
namely the center-table; drawn "an entirely original view of Nantasket
Beach"; made a temperance address; and given vent to "innumerable
jests, jokes, puns, oddities, quiddities and nothings," interrupted by
his own laughter and that of his hearers. Besides this, he had eaten
"an indefinite number of raisins, chestnuts(!), etc., etc., etc.,
In 1842 Lowell and Cobert G. Carter, who was about the same sort of a
business man as the poet himself, started a periodical which they
called the _Pioneer_. They had no capital; but they did have literary
connections, and they were able to get together for the three numbers
they published a larger number of contributions from distinguished
contributors than has often fallen to the lot of any American
periodical. It is true that these men were not as famous in those days
as they have since become; still, their names were known and their
reputations were rapidly growing. The best known were Poe, Hawthorne,
Longfellow, Whittier and Emerson; but there were not a few others
whose names are well known to-day. The magazine had a high literary
character, and was well worthy of the future greatness of the
contributors. Unfortunately, it takes something more than literary
excellence to make a successful magazine. Sometimes the literary
quality is too high for the public to appreciate. This was true of the
_Pioneer_. A magazine also requires a large capital and commercial
ability in the business office. It is not at all strange that the
venture did not succeed. It could not have done so. Three numbers only
were issued, and those three left behind them a debt which the young
publishers were unable to pay until some time after.
At the same time that Lowell was having trouble with his magazine, he
found his eyes becoming affected, and he was obliged to spend the
greater part of the winter of 1842-43 in New York to undergo
treatment. Here he made many new literary acquaintances, among others
that of Charles F. Briggs, who started the _Broadway Journal_ with the
assistance of Poe. In the meantime, he kept on writing poetry with
more vigor than ever, and in 1843 published a second volume of verse,
containing his best work since "A Year's Life" appeared.
His contributions to the periodicals included much prose as well as
poetry. Among other things, he wrote a series of "Conversations on
some of the Old Poets," which was published in a volume the same year
that the second book of poems came out. It consisted mainly of essays
on Chaucer, Chapman, Ford, and the old dramatists. He never cared to
reprint this first excursion into the realm of literary criticism; but
it opened up a field which he was to work with distinction in after
Lowell's prose is delicate, airy, and fanciful, but at the same time
keenly critical and sharp in its thought. "Fireside Travels" and "From
My Study Window" are books which are known all over the world and
which are everywhere voted "delightful".
HOSEA BIGLOW, YANKEE HUMORIST
In December, 1844, Lowell felt that his income from his literary work,
though very small and precarious, was sufficient to justify him in
marrying, and accordingly he was united to Miss White. She was
delicate in health, and after their marriage the couple went to
Philadelphia, where they spent the winter in lodgings. Lowell became a
regular contributor to the _Freeman_, an antislavery paper once edited
by Whittier. From this he derived a very small but steady income; and
the next year he was engaged to write every week for the _Anti-Slavery
Standard_ on a yearly salary of five hundred dollars. This connection
he maintained for the next four years.
In June, 1846, the editor of the _Boston Courier_, a weekly paper well
known in the "Hub" for its literary character even to this day,
received a strange communication. It was a letter signed "Ezekiel
Biglow," enclosing a poem written by his son Hosea. This is the way
the letter began:
Jaylem, June, 1846.
Mister Eddyter:--Our Hosea wuz down to Boston last week, and he see a
cruetin Sarjunt a struttin round as popler as a hen with 1 chicking,
with 2 fellers a drummin and fifin arter him like all nater, the
sarjunt he thout Hosea hedn't gut his i teeth cut cos he looked a
kindo's though he 'd jest cum down, so he cal'lated to hook him in,
but Hosy woodn't take none o his sarse for all he hed much as 20
Rooster's tales stuck onto his hat and eenamost enuf brass a bobbin up
and down on his shoulders and figureed onto his coat and trousis, let
alone wut nater hed sot in his featers, to make a 6 pounder out on.
The letter was rather a long one, and closed thus. Referring to the
verses enclosed, the writer says:--
If you print em I wish you'd jest let folks know who hosy's father is,
cos my ant Kesiah used to say it's nater to be curus ses she, she aint
livin though and he's a likely kind o lad.
The poem itself began with this stanza:
Thrash away, you'll _hev_ to rattle
On them kittle-drums o' yourn,--
'Taint a knowin' kind o' cattle
Thet is ketched with mouldy corn;
Put in stiff, you fifer feller,
Let folks see how spry you be,--
Guess you'll toot till you are yeller
'Fore you git ahold o' me!
The letter and the poem were printed together in the _Courier_, and
immediately were the talk of the town. You will remember that in 1846
the war with Mexico was just beginning, and many people were opposed
to it as the work of "jingo" politicians, controlled in some degree by
the slavery power. Southern slaveholders wished to increase the
territory of the United States in such a way as to enlarge the
territory where slavery would be lawful. The antislavery people of New
England were violently opposed to the war, and this poem by the Yankee
Hosea Biglow immediately became popular, because it put in a humorous,
common-sense way what everybody else had been saying with deadly
Charles Sumner saw the common sense of the poem, but didn't see the
fun in the bad spelling. Said he, "This Yankee poet has the true
spirit. He puts the case admirably. I wish, however, he could have
used good English." Evidently Sumner did not suspect that so cultured
and polished a poet as James Russell Lowell was the author of a stanza
'Wut 's the use o' meetin'-goin'
Every Sabbath, wet or dry,
Ef it's right to go amowin'
Feller-men like oats and rye?
I dunno but wut it's pooty
Trainin' round in bobtail coats.--
But it's curus Christian dooty,
This 'ere cuttin' folks's throats.
The fact is, however, Lowell had written all this, even the letter
with bad spelling purporting to come from Ezekiel Biglow. He was
deeply interested in the antislavery cause, in good politics and sound
principles; yet he saw that it would be useless for him to get up and
preach against what he did not like. There were plenty of other
earnest, serious-minded men like Garrison and Whittier who were
fighting against the evil in the straightforward, blunt way. Lowell
was as interested as they in having the wrongs righted; but he was
more cool-headed than the rest. He considered the matter. A joke, he
said to himself, will carry the crowd ten times as quickly as a
serious protest; and people will listen to one of their own number, a
common, every-day, sensible fellow with a spark of wit in him, where
they would go away bored by polished and cultured writing full of
Latin quotations. This is how he came to begin the Biglow papers.
Their instant success proved that he was quite right.
Of course it was not long before shrewd people began to see that this
fine humor, with its home-thrusts, was not in reality written by a
country bumpkin. Through the rough dialect and homely way of stating
the case, there shone the fine intellect of a cultivated and skillful
writer. The _Post_ guessed that James Russell Lowell was the real
author. This was regarded only as a rumor, however, and many people
scouted the idea that a young poet, whose books sold only in small
numbers and were known only to literary people, could have written
anything as good as this.
"I have heard it demonstrated in the pauses of a concert," wrote
Lowell afterward, "that I was utterly incompetent to have written
anything of the kind."
It was early in this same summer of 1846 that Lowell made his contract
to write regularly for the _Anti-Slavery Standard_; and he soon began
sending the "Biglow" poems to that paper instead of to the _Courier_.
The most popular of the whole series of poems by Hosea Biglow was the
one on John P. Robinson. Robinson was a worthy gentleman who happened
to come out publicly on the side of a political wire-puller.
Immediately Hosea caught up his name and wrote a comic poem on voting
for a bad candidate for office. Looked at in that light, the poem
applies just as well to political candidates to-day as it did then.
Here are a few stanzas of the poem. You will want to turn to "Lowell's
Poetical Works" and read the whole piece.
WHAT MR. ROBINSON THINKS.
Guvener B. is a sensible man;
He stays to his home an' looks arter his folks;
He draws his furrer ez straight ez he can,
An' into nobody's tater-patch pokes;
But John P.
Sez he wunt vote fer Guvener B.
My! aint it terrible? Wut shall we du?
We can't never choose him o' course--thet's flat;
Guess we shall hev to come round, (don't you?)
An' go in fer thunder an' guns, an' all that,
Fer John P.
Sez he wunt vote fer Guvener B.
Gineral C. is a dreffle smart man:
He's ben on all sides thet give places or pelf;
But consistency still wuz a part of his plan--
He's been true to _one_ party--an' thet is himself;
So John P.
Sez he shall vote fer Gineral C.
Gineral C. he goes in fer the war;
He don't vally principle more'n an old cud;
Wut did God make us raytional creeturs fer,
But glory an' gunpowder, plunder an' blood?
So John P.
Sez he shall vote fer Gineral C.
The side of our country must ollers be took,
An' President Polk, you know, _he_ is our country.
An' the angel that writes all our sins in a book
Puts the _debit_ to him, an' to us the _per contry_;
And John P.
Sez this is his view o' the thing to a T.
There is a story that Mr. Robinson couldn't go anywhere after this
poem was published without hearing some one humming or reciting,
Fer John P.
Sez he wunt vote fer Guvener B.
School children shouted it everywhere, people on the street repeated
it as they met, and the funny rhyme was heard even in polite
drawing-rooms, amid roars of laughter. Mr. Robinson went abroad, but
scarcely had he landed in Liverpool before he heard a child crooning
over to himself,
Fer John P.
Sez he wunt vote fer Guvener B.
In Genoa, Italy, it was a parody, telling what John P.--Robinson
he--would do down in Judee.
In the course of time the "Biglow Papers" were published in book form.
Not only was Lowell's name not yet connected publicly with the Yankee
humor, but the poems were provided with an elaborate introduction,
notes and comments, by the learned pastor of the church at Jaalam,
Homer Wilbur. His notes and introduction are filled with Latin
quotations, and he appears as much a scholar as Hosea Biglow does a
natural. He says he tried to teach Hosea better English, but decided
to let him work out his own ideas in his own way. Still, he endorses
Hosea's principles, and is in every way thoroughly his friend.
This Parson Wilbur is almost as much of a character in the book as
Hosea himself, and his prose, printed at the beginning and end of each
poem in small type, is almost as clear and effective and interesting
as Hosea's poems. We are always tempted to skip anything printed in
small type, and placed in brackets; but in this case that would be a
Speaking of "What Mr. Robinson Thinks," Parson Wilbur says, "A bad
principle is comparatively harmless while it continues to be an
abstraction, nor can the general mind comprehend it fully till it is
printed in that large type which all men can read at sight, namely the
life and character, the sayings and doings, of particular persons....
"Meanwhile, let us not forget that the aim of the true satirist is not
to be severe upon persons, but only upon falsehood, and as Truth and
Falsehood start from the same point, and sometimes even go along
together for a little way, his business is to follow the path of the
latter after it diverges, and to show her floundering in the bog at
the end of it. Truth is quite beyond the reach of satire. There is so
brave a simplicity in her, that she can no more be made ridiculous
than an oak or a pine. The danger of the satirist is, that continual
use may deaden his sensibility to the force of language. He becomes
more and more liable to strike harder than he knows or intends. He may
put on his boxing gloves, and yet forget that the older they grow, the
more plainly may the knuckles inside be felt. Moreover, in the heat of
contest, the eye is insensibly drawn to the crown of victory, whose
tawdry tinsel glitters through the dust of the ring which obscures
Truth's wreath of simple leaves."
There is another very interesting passage which is said to be an
extract from one of the Parson's sermons, describing the modern
"Wonderful, to him that has eyes to see it rightly, is the newspaper.
To me, for example, sitting on the critical front bench of the pit, in
my study here in Jaalam, the advent of my weekly journal is as that of
a strolling theater, or rather of a puppet-show, on whose stage,
narrow as it is, the tragedy, comedy, and farce of life are played in
little. Behold the huge earth sent to me hebdomidally in a brown paper
You see that what he says is very learned in its choice of words; but
if you read it carefully you will find it interesting.
But after all, Parson Wilbur is a humorous character, though he has
his sense, too. At the end of his introduction are some fragmentary
notes which are intended as a general satire on editors of books. He
goes on at some length to say that he thought he ought to have his
picture printed in the book which he professes to be editing. But he
has only two likenesses, one a black profile, the other a painting in
which he is made cross-eyed. He speaks of it as "strabismus," which
sounds very learned of course, and he goes on to explain that in
actual fact this is not a bad thing, for he can preach very directly
at his congregation, and no one will think the preacher has him
particularly in his eye. He also says Mrs. Wilbur objected to having a
cross-eyed picture reproduced, and he is therefore driven to take the
position of those great people who refuse to have their features
copied at all. Then he puts in a lot of absurd genealogical notes.
At the beginning of the book there are also a number of imaginary
notices of "the independent press." Of course there are no such papers
as those mentioned, and the praise and the blame are alike satirical.
In the original volume of "Biglow Papers," part of a page at the end
of these "Notices of the Press" remained unfilled, and the printer
asked Lowell if he could not send in something to occupy that space.
As poetry came easiest, Lowell wrote a number of stanzas about
"Zekle's Courtin'." There were only six stanzas in the original
edition. Lowell wrote more, but told the printer to break off when the
page was filled. This the printer did, and the stanzas which were not
put in type were lost, as Lowell had kept no copy. This piece became
so popular that friends urged the poet to finish the story, and he
wrote a few more stanzas. Then he wrote still others. In the course of
time it developed into the long poem printed with the second series of
"Biglow Papers," under the title of "The Courtin'."
This is the way it runs in the first version; but you will want to
read it also in its complete form:
Zekle crep' up quite unbeknown,
An' peeked in thru the winder,
An' there sot Huldy all alone,
'ith no one nigh to hender.
He kin' o' l'itered on the mat,
Some doubtfle o' the sekle,
His heart kep' goin' pitypat,
But hern went pity Zekle.
He stood a spell on one foot fust,
Then stood a spell on tother,
An' on which one he felt the wust
He could n't ha' told ye, nuther.
Sez he, "I'd better call agin;"
Sez she, "Think likely, _Mister_;"
The last word pricked him like a pin,
An'--wal, he up and kist her.
When in the course of the publication of the second series of "Biglow
Papers," twenty years after the first, it was announced that Parson
Wilbur was dead, people who had read the first series felt very much
as though they had lost a personal friend. The public had learned to
love the pedantic, vain old man as if he were a real human being.
Lowell had created in him a great character of fiction, almost as if
he were a novelist instead of a poet.
A FABLE FOR CRITICS
Lowell's next attempt in the satirical and humorous line was a long
poem written somewhat after the style of the old Latin fable writers,
and hence called "A Fable for Critics." It was written in double
rhymes, for the most part, which are very hard to make, and not
altogether easy to read; but they help the humorous impression.
This poem was published anonymously, and in it the author hits off all
the prominent authors of the day, speaking as the god Apollo. Of
course he did not attach his name to it, and as it appeared
anonymously he felt that he could say what he liked--in other words,
tell the truth about his friends and acquaintances, or at least give
his opinion of them. Incidentally, he pokes fun at the literary fads
of the day.
Among other things, to give the impression that he was not the author
of the poem, he puts in a free criticism of himself:
There is Lowell, who's striving Parnassus to climb
With a whole bale of _isms_ tied together with rhyme.
He might get on alone, spite of brambles and boulders,
But he can't with that bundle he has on his shoulders.
The top of the hill he will never come nigh reaching
Till he learns the distinction 'twixt singing and preaching;
His lyre has some chords that would ring pretty well,
But he'd rather by half make a drum of the shell,
And rattle away till he's old as Mathusalem,
At the head of a march to the last new Jerusalem.
Evidently he thought that he paid too much attention to politics, as
in the "Biglow Papers," and to lecturing, and various side issues,
when he ought to be cultivating pure poetry more assiduously; or
rather, he would have liked to be a simple poet and do nothing else,
not even earn a living.
The way he characterizes in this poem the great writers whom we know
is both amusing and interesting, and he generally tells the truth. For
instance, he writes--
There comes Poe, with his raven, like Barnaby Rudge,
Three fifths of him genius and two fifths sheer fudge.
The best of his criticisms are not satirical, but true and appreciative.
There is Hawthorne, with genius so shrinking and rare
That you hardly at first see the strength that is there;
A frame so robust, with a nature so sweet,
So earnest, so graceful, so lithe, and so fleet,
Is worth a descent from Olympus to meet.
His reference to Whittier, too, is a noble tribute by one poet to
There is Whittier, whose swelling and vehement heart
Strains the strait-breasted drab of the Quaker apart,
And reveals the live Man, still supreme and erect,
Underneath the bemummying wrappers of sect.
Bryant was the oldest of the American poets, and the generation to
which Lowell belonged had been taught to look up to him as the head of
American poetical literature. Of course the younger poets felt that
they ought to receive a share of the homage, and perhaps they were a
little jealous of Bryant.
There is Bryant, as quiet, as cool, and as dignified,
As a smooth, silent iceberg that never is ignified,
Save when by reflection 't is kindled o' nights
With a semblance of flame by the chill Northern Lights.
This is not at all complimentary, it would seem, but a little farther
along Lowell makes up for it in part by saying--
But, my dear little bardlings, don't prick up your ears,
Nor suppose I would rank you and Bryant as peers;
If I call him an iceberg I don't mean to say,
There is nothing in that which is grand in its way;
He is almost the one of your poets that knows
How much grace, strength, and dignity lie in Repose.
You will remember that in one of his college letters, written while he
was at Concord because rusticated, Lowell did not seem to care for
Emerson. He afterward became his great admirer, and in this fable
leads off with Emerson, saying:
There comes Emerson first, whose rich words, every one,
Are like gold nails in temples to hang trophies on,
Whose prose is grand verse, while his verse, the Lord knows,
Is some of it pr--No, 'tis not even prose.
Irving and Holmes are two more of his favorites. Of the first he says:
What! Irving? Thrice welcome, warm heart and fine brain,
You bring back the happiest spirit from Spain,
And the gravest sweet humor, that ever were there
Since Cervantes met death in his gentle despair.
Holmes he happily hits off thus:
There's Holmes, who is matchless among you for wit;
A Leyden jar always full charged, from which flit
The electrical tingles of hit after hit.
His are just the fine hands, too, to weave you a lyric
Full of fancy, fun, feeling, or spiced with satiric;
In a measure so kindly, you doubt if the toes
That are trodden upon are your own or your foe's.
And he ends by saying:
Nature fits all her children with something to do;
He who would write and can't write, can surely review,
Can set up a small booth as critic and sell us his
Petty conceit and his pettier jealousies.
Lowell was a good critic, and clearly saw the merit of the really
great writers of his time. We have quoted his characterizations of
those he admires. His keen thrusts at those who are not half as great
as they would have us believe are both amusing and true, and no doubt
made their victims smart sharply enough, for instance that--
One person whose portrait just gave the least hint
Its original had a most horrible squint.
THE TRUEST POETRY
While Lowell was becoming famous indirectly as the anonymous author of
the "Biglow Papers" and "A Fable for Critics," he was writing and
publishing over his own name sweet, simple lines that came straight
from his heart and which will no doubt be remembered when the uncouth
Yankee dialect of Hosea Biglow and the hard rhymes of the "Fable" are
forgotten. The simpler a true poet is the more beautiful and really
poetic he is likely to be. The simplest thing Lowell ever wrote was
"The First Snow-Fall," composed in 1847 after the death of his little
daughter Blanche, with the sorrow for whose loss was mingled the joy
at the coming of another child.
THE FIRST SNOW-FALL.
The snow had begun in the gloaming,
And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
With a silence deep and white.
I stood and watched by the window
The noiseless work of the sky,
And the sudden flurries of snow-birds,
Like brown leaves whirling by.
I thought of a mound in sweet Auburn
Where a little headstone stood;
How the flakes were folding it gently,
As did robins the babes in the wood.
Up spoke our own little Mabel,
Saying, "Father, who makes it snow?"
And I told of the good All-father
Who cares for us here below.
Again I looked at the snow-fall,
And thought of the leaden sky
That arched o'er our first great sorrow,
When that mound was heaped so high.
I remembered the gradual patience
That fell from that cloud like snow,
Flake by flake, healing and hiding
The scar that renewed our woe.
And again to the child I whispered,
"The snow that husheth all,
Darling, the merciful Father
Alone can make it fall!"
Then with eyes that saw not, I kissed her;
And she, kissing back, could not know
That my kiss was given to her sister,
Folded close under deepening snow.
Lowell's greatest poem, "The Vision of Sir Launfal," was written in
the same simple, beautiful spirit of "The First Snow-Fall," and that
is why we all like to read it over and over again. "Sir Launfal" was a
favorite with Mrs. Lowell from the beginning. She probably knew better
that it was a great poem than the poet himself did.
The "Prelude" to the first part is beautiful because it contains so
much that cannot but touch the heart of every one, however he may
dislike poetry. A great poem like this cannot be read hastily, nor
must we stop with reading it once. Great poetry must be read so many
times that it is committed entirely to memory before we begin to reach
the end of the beauties in it. Each time we reread we see new
beauties, we feel new thrills.
Over his keys the musing organist,
Beginning doubtfully and far away,
First lets his fingers wander as they list,
And builds a bridge from Dreamland for his lay;
Then, as the touch of his loved instrument
Gives hope and fervor, nearer draws his theme,
First guessed by faint auroral flashes sent
Along the wavering vista of his dream.
The first time you read this passage it may mean little to you; but as
you read again and again you gradually picture in your mind a grand
cathedral, just filling with people for the morning worship. The
organist begins with a few light notes, fanciful, merely suggestive;
then louder and louder swells the strain; the music begins to bring up
before your mind pictures of waterfalls, cities, men and women with
passionate hearts; at last, in the grand flood of the music, you
forget yourself, the world around you, the church, the thronging
After this pretty and suggestive prelude, describing the musician, we
read such passages as this, which suggest the theme as by a "faint
And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays.
A little farther along the music seems to broaden and deepen:
Now is the high-tide of the year,
And whatever of life hath ebbed away
Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer,
Into every bare inlet and creek and bay;
Now the heart is so full that a drop overfills it,
We are happy now because God wills it.
You must read the rest of the poem for yourself, ever remembering that
to read poetry so that you understand it and love it means that you
yourself are a poet at heart; and if you come to love a great poem you
may be proud of your achievement.
PROFESSOR, EDITOR, AND DIPLOMAT
There was a touching and very warm affection between Longfellow and
Lowell. Mrs. Lowell says of it, "I have never seen such a beautiful
friendship between men of such distinct personalities, though closely
linked together by mutual tastes and affections. They criticise and
praise each other's performances with frankness not to be surpassed,
and seem to have attained that happy height of faith where no
misunderstanding, no jealousy, no reserve exists." Often in his diary
Longfellow speaks of "walking to see Lowell," who was either "musing
before his fire in his study," or occupied in his "celestial study,
with its pleasant prospect through the small square windows."
Longfellow was some dozen years the elder; and when the time came that
he wished to retire from the professorship of belles-lettres in
Harvard College, he was very desirous that Lowell should take the
place. There were others who wanted it; but it was arranged that
Lowell should become Longfellow's successor. Lowell had never before
been a professor and he did not particularly like the work. In 1867 he
speaks of "beginning my annual dissatisfaction of lecturing next
week." Still, he was popular with the students and highly successful
because of his fine gift of literary criticism. Here, for instance, is
his definition of poetry: "Poetry, as I understand it, is the
recognition of something new and true in thought or feeling, the
recollection of some profound experience, the conception of some
heroic action, the creation of something beautiful and pathetic."
In his diary Longfellow sometimes refers to Mrs. Lowell, "slender and
pale as a lily"; and once when he and Charles Sumner had gone to see
Lowell and found that he was not at home, Longfellow adds, "but we saw
his gentle wife, who, I fear, is not long for this world."
His words were prophetic. She gradually failed in strength. Of their
four children, three died while mere babes. In 1853 Mrs. Lowell
The appointment to Longfellow's professorship did not come until a
little over a year after the death of Mrs. Lowell. During her life Mr.
Lowell's income was very small and irregular, a few hundred dollars a
year in payment of royalties on his books and for articles and poems
contributed to various periodicals. With his appointment to the
Harvard professorship he became financially independent for the first
time. To prepare for it he went abroad, spending most of his time at
He returned sooner than he expected, and for a reason that very well
illustrates his business habits. When he set out he had a limited
amount of money. This he placed with London bankers, arranging to draw
on them for such sums as he might need from time to time. He asked
that when he had drawn down to a certain sum the bankers should notify
him, and then he would immediately prepare to return home. He settled
down, and thought that he was getting on moderately well and had a
considerable sum still to draw. What was his surprise when he was
notified by his bankers that he had drawn his account down to the
amount he had mentioned! As there was nothing better for him to do, he
packed his trunk and went home.
Some years after that, he received a letter from these London bankers
informing him that an error had been made in his account, and that a
draft for a hundred pounds sterling (five hundred dollars) which had
been drawn by some other person named Lowell had by mistake been
charged to his account. This money, with compound interest, was now at
his disposal. The bankers suggested, however, that if he was not in
immediate need of the money, they would use it for an admirable
investment they knew of which might considerably increase it within a
year. At the end of a year he received a draft for seven hundred
pounds. This he used to refurnish Elmwood. "Now, you, who are always
preaching figures and Poor Richard, and business habits," said he, in
telling the story to some friends, "what do you say to that? If I had
kept an account and known how it stood, _I should have spent that
money_ and you would not now be sitting in those easy chairs, or
walking on Wilton carpet. No; hang accounts and figures!"
In 1857 the _Atlantic Monthly_ was started, and Lowell was made
editor, with a salary of three thousand dollars a year, of course in
addition to his salary as a Harvard professor. Though he was the
editor, he recognized that the success of the magazine would be made
by Holmes. Said he, "You see, the doctor is like a bright mountain
stream that has been dammed up among the hills and is waiting for an
outlet into the Atlantic. You will find that he has a wonderful store
of thought--serious, comic, pathetic, and poetic,--of comparisons,
figures, and illustrations. I have seen nothing of his preparation,
but I imagine he is ready. It will be something wholly new, and his
reputation as a prose writer will date from this magazine." When you
recollect the success of the "Autocrat of the Breakfast Table" you
cannot help remarking that Lowell was a veritable prophet.
President Hayes, soon after his inauguration, offered Lowell an
appointment as minister to Austria, but Lowell declined. When he was
asked if he would accept an appointment as minister to Spain, he
consented, and thither he went in the early part of President Hayes'
administration. After a time he was transferred to London, where he
became a striking diplomatic figure.
He was one of the most popular and polished gentlemen ever sent as
ambassador to a European nation, and as such his presence at the Court
of Saint James was highly appreciated by the English people. When, in
1884, on the election of Cleveland to the presidency, he prepared to
leave London, many glowing tributes were paid him by the English
press, but none was more hearty than this, printed in _Punch_:
Send you away? No, Lowell, no.
That phrase, indeed, is scarce well chosen.
We're glad, of course, to have you go
More like a brother than a cousin;
True, we must "speed the parting guest,"
If such a guest from us _must_ sever;
But what we all should like the best
Would be to keep you here forever.
You've won our hearts; your words, your ways,
Are what we like. Without desiring
To sicken you with fulsome praise,
We think you've seen no signs of tiring.
Of graceful speech, of pleasant lore,
How much to you the English mind owes!
We're sad to think we'll see no more
Of you--save through your Study Windows.
Well, well, the best of friends must part;
That's commonplace, like Gray, but true, sir.
Commend us to the Yankee heart;
If you can come again, why, _do_, sir.
What Biglow calls our "English sarse,"
Is not _all_ tarts and bitters, is it?
Farewell!--if from us you must pass,
But try, _do_ try, another visit!
After his return from England, Mr. Lowell did comparatively little
literary work. Some years before this, he had married the lady who was
educating his only daughter. He now spent the most of his time at
Elmwood among his books and in the society of his friends. In 1888 a
volume of his later poems appeared, bearing the title of "Heartsease
and Rue." About the same time "Democracy," a collection of the
addresses which he had delivered in England, was published. But
neither of these volumes added materially to his fame.
On the twelfth of August, 1891, the famous poet, essayist, and man of
affairs died. He was nearly seventy-three years of age.
* * * * *
[NOTE.--The thanks of the publishers are due Messrs. Harper & Brothers
for permission to use extracts from "Letters of James Russell Lowell,
edited by Charles Eliot Norton," and to Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin &
Co. for permission to use extracts from the Poetical Works of Lowell.]
THE STORY OF BAYARD TAYLOR
[Illustration: BAYARD TAYLOR.]
HIS BIRTH AND CHILDHOOD
Bayard Taylor was born in the country village of Kennett Square,
Chester County, Pennsylvania, Jan. 11, 1825, "the year when the first
locomotive successfully performed its trial trip. I am, therefore," he
says, "just as old as the railroad." He was descended from Robert
Taylor, a rich Friend, or Quaker, who had come to Pennsylvania with
William Penn in 1681, and settled near Brandywine Creek. Bayard's
grandfather married a Lutheran of pure German blood, and on that
account was expelled from the Society of Friends, which at that time
had very strict rules regarding the marriage of its members. Although
the family still used the peculiar speech of the Quakers, and clung to
the Quaker principles of peace and order, none of them ever returned
to the society.
When Bayard was four years old, the family moved to a farm about a
mile from the village. There they lived, until, years afterward, the
successful traveler and poet bought an estate near by and built a
magnificent house upon it, into which he received his father and
mother and brothers and sisters, with that open-hearted generosity and
hospitality which was so much a part of his nature.
He was the fourth child of his parents; but the three older children
had died in infancy, and he remained as the eldest of the family.
Chester County, Pennsylvania, has always been a rich farming region,
peopled by solid, well-to-do farmers, many of whom are Quakers. Here
the northern elms toss their arms to the southern cypresses, as the
poet has it; the two climates seem to meet and mingle, in a sort of
calm, neutral zone, and the vegetation of the North is united with the
vegetation of the South, to produce a peculiar richness and variety.
In such surroundings the boy grew up, a farmer's lad, and learned that
love of nature which was a part of his being till the day he died.
"The child," says he, "that has tumbled into a newly plowed furrow
never forgets the smell of the fresh earth.... Almost my first
recollection is of a swamp, into which I went barelegged at morning,
and out of which I came, when driven by hunger, with long stockings of
black mud, and a mask of the same. If the child was missed from the
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