The Atlantic Monthly, 1857-1909: Yankee Humanism at High Tide and Ebb

By Ellery Sedgwick | Go to book overview

2
James Russell Lowell (1857-1861) Yankee Humanist

As a result of the Atlantic's immediate reputation, Lowell, who in June of 1857 had felt that his editorial duties would be light, by late November found himself inundated with manuscripts. Not long after the publication of the first issue, he lamented humorously to Emerson: "You have no notion how hard bestead we are. Out of 297 manuscripts only at most six accepted. I begin to believe in the total depravity of contributions" ( 19 Nov. 1857, Scudder, Lowell 1: 416). A month later he was complaining in earnest to his friend Norton: "For a lazy man I have a great deal to do. A magazine allows no vacations. What with manuscripts and proofs and what not, it either takes up or breaks up all one's time" ( 31 Dec. 1857, Letters1: 280-81).

Lowell was not a lazy man. For extended periods of time he worked up to fifteen hours a day. As editor-in-chief, he had responsibilities that in the twentieth century would be delegated to a large professional staff.1 In addition to setting editorial policy, he had to read and make all final decisions on manuscripts, determine the makeup of issues, write literary notices or arrange for them, correspond with authors, be ombudsman for questions from the press, and even read proofs of all manuscripts except Holmes's -- all in addition to his full-time teaching duties at Harvard ( Lowell to J. W. Palmer, 17 Apr. 1860, in Duberman 178).

But if Lowell's editorial exertions were sometimes intense, they were seldom systematic. He worked at home in Cambridge, leaving the job of "office editor" to his assistant, Francis Underwood. A tardy and apologetic letter to Robert Grant White pictures the chaos that sometimes reigned in his Cambridge study:

I used to be able to answer letters in the month during which I received them, but now they pile up and make a jam behind the boom of my occupations, till they carry

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