On this day in 1819 James Russell Lowell (d: 12 August, 1891) was born in Cambridge, MA. Mr. Lowell was a poet, critic editor and even a diplomat.
- Lowell attended Harvard at age 15. He was known as a troublemaker and wrote: “During Freshman year, I did nothing, during Sophomore year I did nothing, during Junior year I did nothing, and during Senior year I have thus far done nothing in the way of college studies.“
- For his first attempts at poetry, Lowell wrote for the Harvardiana literary magazine (which he also edited). He freely admitted that his poems were bad and said that “I was as great an ass as ever brayed & thought it singing.” Even though he was elected “class poet” (1838) he was not allowed to read a poem on Class Day since he was suspended.
- Lowell did graduate from Harvard and not knowing what to do he decided to practice law.
- Lowell married Maria White, a sister of a Harvard classmate, who persuaded him to become an abolitionist.
- The Lowells had 4 children, however only one lived past infancy. Lowell grieved over his children and particular his first born, Rose, for whom her wrote his poem “The First Snowfall”.
- Maria’s health has always been spotty, still when she died in the spring of 1853 it affected Lowell tremendously. His friend and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said that during the funeral Lowell “leaned for a long while against a tree weeping,”
- Even though he said he would never marry again, Lowell surprised everyone by marrying Frances Dunlap (niece of ex Maine governor Robert P. Dunlap) in 1857.
- During the years that Longfellow spent translating Dante’s Divine Comedy he invited Lowell (as well as others) to help him on Wednesday evenings.
- In 1880 Lowell was made Minister to England. The nomination caught Lowell by surprise as it was made without his knowledge. In England Lowell was already well known for his writing and befriended such luminaries as Henry James and Leslie Stephen. During his time there, Lowell was made godfather to Stephen’s daughter – Virginia Woolf.
- Before his death, Lowell gave the address at the centenary of George Washington’s inauguration, saw the Boston Criitc dedicate an issue to him on this 70th birthday. The issue included stories by notable friends such as British Prime Minister Gladstone, Alfred Tennyson and former presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison.
Zohar – Man of la Book
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