Lowell, James Russell,
1819–91, American poet, critic, and editor, b. Cambridge, Mass. He was influential in revitalizing the intellectual life of New England in the mid-19th cent. Educated at Harvard (B.A., 1838; LL.B., 1840), he abandoned law for literature. In 1843 he started a literary magazine, the Pioneer,
which failed after two issues. The next year Lowell married Maria White, an ardent abolitionist and liberal, who encouraged him in his work. Lowell's Poems
(1844, 1846), A Fable for Critics
(1848), The Vision of Sir Launfal
(1848), and The Bigelow Papers
(1848; 2d series, 1867) brought him considerable notice as a poet and critic. The best remembered of these are The Bigelow Papers,
political and social lampoons written in Yankee dialect, which established his reputation as a satirist and a wit. The first of these two series of verses expressed opposition to the Mexican War, and the second supported the cause of the North in the Civil War. In 1855, Lowell became professor of modern languages at Harvard, a position he held until 1876. In addition to teaching, he served as first editor (1857–61) of the Atlantic Monthly
and later (1864–72) of the North American Review.
In his later writings he turned to scholarship and criticism. Collections of his essays and literary studies appeared as Fireside Travels
(1864), Among My Books
(1870; 2d series, 1876), and My Study Windows
(1871). In 1877 he was appointed minister to London, where he remained until 1885. While abroad Lowell did much to increase the respect of foreigners for American letters and American institutions; his speeches in England, published as Democracy and Other Addresses
(1887), are among his best work. Lowell's letters (ed. by C. E. Norton, 2 vol., 1893) and New Letters
(ed. by M. A. De Wolfe Howe, 1932) remain valuable for their shrewd and lively comments on public affairs and the literary activities of his generation.
See his collected works (12 vol., 1890–92); biographies by H. E. Scudder (2 vol., 1901, repr. 1969) and M. B. Duberman (1966); studies by L. Howard (1952, repr. 1971) and E. C. Wagenknecht (1971).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: American Literature: Biographies