James Russell Lowell: Representative Selections

James Russell Lowell: Representative Selections

James Russell Lowell: Representative Selections

James Russell Lowell: Representative Selections

Excerpt

We have aimed, so far as the scope of one volume permits, to interpret and reprint selections representing Lowell development as an unusually versatile man-of-letters, using a multitude of forms, from youth to old age. It is hoped that the first half of the Introduction will help to show that he was not as inconsistent as some readers suppose, and that within broad periods, corresponding to trends in American life, he wrote in the light of certain reasonably unified patterns of ideas. Perhaps what is sometimes condemned in Lowell as inconsistency can be better defined as open-mindedness and the courage to modify attitudes which did not seem to him justified by the results. If his versatility did not enable him to concentrate his complete powers so as to achieve supreme eminence in any one form or activity, this tendency also has its good (and perhaps distinctively American?) aspect: he kept measure with his people, tried to meet their changing needs, was not above trying to put his idealistic theories into practice, and especially as ambassador and commentator on public affairs he used the torch of learning to light the way of our citizens in their various worldly and political affairs. When his career is viewed as a whole what stands out. is his inclusiveness and his uniting of opposites: although not always in the same period, he unites in his total career social reform and self-reform, ardent humanitarianism and the ideal of a natural aristocracy of virtue and wisdom, of social responsibility and stewardship; he unites nationalism and cosmopolitan internationalism, and concern with the present guided by lessons learned from a critical winnowing of the past; his fervent moral seriousness is leavened by racy humor; and his bookishness is leavened by a zestful devotion to the speech of the rustic, rooted in the soil. A good case could be made out for Lowell . . .

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