James Russell Lowell: Overview

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Author: John B. Pickard
Editor: Jim Kamp
Date: 1994
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 816 words

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Of all the schoolroom poets, James Russell Lowell was easily the most talented, clearly the most versatile, and probably the one who strove hardest to achieve poetic excellence. Yet today his poetry is less critically valued and read than the verses of his contemporaries Holmes, Longfellow, and Whittier. Some explanation for the disparity between his ability and accomplishments resides in the very nature of his life and talents. Among other things he was poet, essayist, journalist, editor, critic, linguist, teacher, reformer, and diplomat. In 1848, before his thirtieth birthday, he published A Fable for Critics, The Biglow Papers, and The Vision of Sir Launfal to secure his poetic reputation. Ten years later he assumed the first editorship of the Atlantic Monthly and by his critical judgment and taste made it the finest literary journal in America. In his later years he became ambassador to Spain, and from 1880 to 1885 he served as ambassador to Britain. To highlight these few achievements from so many illustrates part of Lowell's problem: his brilliance, erudition, and versatility constantly led him to new tasks and dissipated the control and self-discipline needed for artistic excellence. In addition his responsiveness to the tradition of public oratory and imitations of older...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420005088