James Russell Lowell

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James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) was a poet born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He and his wife opposed slavery.[1] His works include A Fable for Critics (1848), The Vision of Sir Launfal (1848), The Cathedral (1869).[2]

Life and Works

James Russell Lowell was born to the Reverend Charles Lowell and Harriet Spence on February 22, 1819, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[3] He was a troublemaker in his childhood, but graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School.[4] Lowell was the Class Poet of his senior class at Harvard, and wrote a poem to read the day before Commencement but was suspended that day, and unable to read it. The class instead raised money so that the poem could be published.[5]

In 1841, he published A Year's Life, his first volume of poetry, and chose to dedicate his life to the arts. He wrote his first collection of poems in 1841, and a second in 1843.[6] In 1844, he married the abolitionist poet Maria White, who encouraged him to write abolitionist poetry. That poetry, along with his later works A Fable for Critics, The Vision of Sir Launfal, and The Biglow Papers would enhance his reputation as a critic. Some have consideredThe Biglow Papers, a satiric piece criticizing slavery and the Mexican war [7] the best American dialect work until Harriet Beecher Stowe or Mark Twain.[8] A Fable for Critics was a satire of modern poetry and poets. In 1854, in need of money, he took a professorship at Harvard.

After the death of his three sons and wife, however, he ceased to write satire and turned to prose essays on politics and literature, particularly criticizing dead poets and warring science and religion, as is the custom of an aging liberal.[9] He married once again to a Frances Dunlap, edited newspapers, worked as minister to Spain and later to England, and withdrew himself upon the death of his second wife, dying August 12, 1891.


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