« ПретходнаНастави »
ABOUT half a mile from the Craigie House in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on the road leading to the old town of Watertown, is Elmwood, a spacious square house set amongst lilac and syringa bushes, and overtopped by elms. Pleasant fields are on either side, and from the windows one may look out on the Charles River winding its way among the marshes. The house itself is one of a group which before the war for independence belonged to Boston merchants and officers of the crown, most of whom refused to take the side of the revolutionary party. Tory Row was the name given to the broad winding road on which the houses stood. Large farms and gardens were attached to them, and some sign of their roomy ease still remains. The estates fell into the hands of various persons after the war, and in process of time Longfellow came to occupy and later to own Craigie House. Elmwood at that time was the property of the Reverend Charles Lowell, minister of the West Church in Boston ; and when Longfellow thus became his neighbor, James Russell Lowell was a junior in Harvard College. He was born at Elmwood February 22, 1819; he died at the same place August 12, 1891.
He was named for his father's maternal grandfather, and was the youngest of a family of five, two daughters and three sons. His father at the time of Lowell's birth was thirty-seven years old and lived till 1861. His son has drawn his portrait in a letter to C. F. Briggs, written in 1844 : “He is Dr. Primrose in a comparative degree, the very simplest and charmingest of sexagenarians, and not without a great deal of the truest magnanimity.” It was characteristic of Lowell thus to find a prototype of his father in literature. The Lowells traced their descent from Percival Lowell, -a name which survives in the family, - of Bristol, England, who settled in Newbury, Massachusetts, in 1639. The great-grandfather of James Russell Lowell was a minister in Newburyport, one of those, as Dr. Hale says, "who preached sermons when young men went out to fight the French, and preached sermons again in memory of their death, when they had been slain in battle.” The grandfather was John Lowell, a member of the Constitutional Convention of Massachusetts in 1780. It was he who introduced into the Bill of Rights a phrase from the Bill of Rights of Virginia, “ All men are created free and equal," with the purpose which it effected of setting free every man then held as a slave in Massachusetts. A son of John Lowell and half-brother of the Rev. Charles Lowell was Francis Cabot Lowell, who gave a great impetus to New England manufactures, and from whom the city of Lowell took its name. Another son, and thus also an uncle of the poet, was John Lowell, Jr., whose wise and far-sighted provision gave his native city that important centre of intellectual influence, the Lowell Institute.
The mother of the poet, Mrs. Harriet Spence Lowell, a native of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was of Scotch origin. She is described as having “a great memory, an extraordinary aptitude for language, and a passionate fondness for ancient songs and ballads.” It pleased her to fancy herself descended from the hero of one of the most famous ballads, Sir Patrick Spens. In a letter to his mother, written in 1837, Lowell says : “I am engaged in several poetical effusions, one of which I have dedicated to you, who have always been the patron and encourager of my youthful muse.” The Russell in his name seems to intimate a strain of Jewish ancestry ; at any rate Lowell took pride in the name on this account, for he was not slow to recognize the intellectual power of the Hebrew race. An older brother of the poet who outlived him a short time, was the Rev. Robert Traill Spence Lowell, who wrote some poems, a story of school-boy life, and a novel, The New Priest in Conception Bay, which contains a delightful study of a Yankee and striking sketches of life in Newfoundland, where its author was for a while a missionary. A sister, Mrs. Anna Lowell Putnam, will be remembered among older lovers of literature for a group of singularly fine and thoughtful studies under the title Records of an Obscure Life.
Not long before his death, Lowell wrote to an English friend a description of Elmwood ; and as he was very fond of the house in which he lived and died, it is agreeable to read words which strove to set it before the eyes of one who had never seen it. “ 'T is a pleasant old house, just about twice as old as I am, four miles from Boston, in what was once the country and is now a populous suburb. But it still has some ten acres of open about it, and some fine old trees. When the worst comes to the worst (if I live so long) I shall still have four and a half acres left with the house, the rest belonging to my brothers and sisters or their heirs. It is a square house, with four rooms on a floor, like some houses of the Georgian era I have seen in English provincial towns, only they are of brick, and this is of wood. But it is solid with its heavy oaken beams, the spaces between which in the four outer walls are filled in with brick, though you must n't fancy a brick-and-timber house, for outwardly it is sheathed with wood. Inside there is much wainscot (of deal), painted white in the fashion of the time when it was built. It is very sunny, the sun rising so as to shine (at an acute angle to be sure) through the northern windows, and going round the other three sides in the course of the day. There is a pretty staircase with the quaint old twisted banisters, — which they call balusters now ; but mine are banisters. My library occupies two rooms opening into each other by arches at the sides of the ample chimneys. The trees I look out on are the earliest things I remember. There you have me in my new-old quarters. But you must not fancy a large house — rooms sixteen feet square, and on the ground floor, nine high. It was large, as things went here, when it was built, and has a certain air of amplitude about it as from some inward sense of dignity.” In an earlier letter he wrote: “Here I am in my garret. I slept here when I was a little curly-headed boy, and used to see visions between me and the ceiling, and dream the so often recurring dream of having the earth put into my hand like an orange. In it I used to be shut up without a lamp, — my mother saying that none of her children should be afraid of the dark, — to hide my head under the pillow, and then not be able to shut ont the shapeless monsters that thronged around me, minted in my brain. . . . In winter my view is a wide one, taking in a part of Boston. I can see one long curve of the Charles and the wide fields between me and Cambridge, and the flat marshes beyond the river, smooth and silent with glittering snow. As the spring advances and one after another of our trees puts forth, the landscape is cut off from me piece by piece, till, by the end of May, I am closeted in a cool and rustling privacy of leaves.”
Elmwood in the days of Lowell's boyhood was in a more distinctly rural neighborhood than now, and until lately had the charm of seclusion. In his papers “My Garden Acquaintance ” and “ A Good Word for Winter,” in many of his poems, such as An Indian-Summer Reverie," "To the Dandelion,” “ Under the Willows,” “ Al Fresco," and in many passages in his letters, he bears witness to the intimacy which he enjoyed with that phase of nature which we may call homely and friendly. He once expressed to me his delight in Poussin's landscapes, not because of their homeliness, for they have nothing of this quality, but because of their stately, classical scenery, and the beauty of their composition ; but in his descriptive poetry it is noticeable that the large, solemn, or expansive scenes of nature make no such appeal to his interest as those nearer vistas which come close to human life and connect themselves with the familiar experience of home-keeping wits. His lively paper “ Cambridge Thirty Years Ago” contains many reminiscences of his early life and associations.
Lowell's school days were spent in his own neighborhood. Mr. William Wells, an Englishman and at one time a publisher, opened a classical school in one of the spacious Tory Row houses near Elmwood, and, bringing with him English public school thoroughness and severity, gave the boy a drilling in Latin which his quick appropriation of strong influences turned into a familiar possession, to judge by the ease with which he handled it afterward in mock heroics. Possibly the heavy hand of the schoolmaster, by its repression, gave greater buoyancy to the spirit of the student when the comparative freedom of college followed. Lowell was in his sixteenth year when he entered Harvard College with the class which graduated in 1838. He lived at his father's house, more than a mile away from the college yard ; but this could have been no great privation to him, for he had the freedom of his friends' rooms, and he loved the open air. The Rev. Edward Everett Hale has given a sketch of their common life in college. “ He was a little older than I,” he says, “and was one class in advance of me. My older brother, with whom I lived in college, and he were most intimate friends. He had no room within the college walls (he had for a time a room close by on Church Street], and was a great deal with us. The fashion of Cambridge was then literary. Now the fashion of Cambridge runs to social problems, but then we were interested in literature. We read Byron and Shelley and Keats, and we began to read Tennyson and Browning. I first heard of Tennyson from Lowell, who had borrowed from Mr. Emerson the little first volume of Tennyson. We actually passed about Tennyson's poems in manuscript. Carlyle's essays were being printed at the time, and his French Revolution. In such a community — not two hundred and fifty students all told — literary effort was, as I say, the fashion, and literary men, among whom Lowell was recognized from the very first, were special favorites. Indeed, there was that in him which made him a favorite everywhere."
Lowell was a reader, as so many of his fellows were, and the letters which he wrote shortly after leaving college show how intent he had been on making acquaintance with the best things in literature. He began also to scribble verse, and he wrote both poems and essays for college magazines, and literary societies. His class chose him their poet for Class Day, and he wrote his poem ; but he was careless about conforming to college regulations respecting attendance at morning prayers ; and for this was suspended from college the last term of his last year, and not allowed to come back to deliver his
poem. He was sent to Concord for his rustication, and so passed a few weeks of his youth among scenes dear to every lover of American history and letters.
In “ An Indian-Summer Reverie " Lowell says:
"Though lightly prized the ribboned parchments three,
Yet collegisse juvat, I am glad
That here what colleging was mine I had,
Whether or no there had been a reaction from the discipline of school days, it is certain that the independence which characterized Lowell throughout his life found expression in his college days, not in insubordination, but in a frank pursuit of those courses of study and lines of reading to which he was led by his own likings and which the tolerable equipment of the college and home library put it in his power to follow.
“ Never," says Lowell in his essay, “ A Great Public Character,” when speaking of college life, “Never were we ourselves so capable of the various great things we have never done ; and however, much he may have been generalizing for college youth, he recalled well his own spiritual experience; with an impulse which outwardly was wayward, he obeyed that law of his being which his growing consciousness of intellectual power disclosed to him. In his penetrating discrimination between talent and genius, he says profoundly : “ The man of talents possesses them like so many tools, does his job with them, and there an end ; but the man of genius is possessed by it, and it makes him into a book or a life according to its whim. Talent takes the existing moulds and makes its castings, better or worse, of richer or baser metal, according to knack and opportunity ; but genius is always shaping new ones and runs the man in them, so that there is always that human feel in the results which give us a kindred thrill. What it will make, we can only conjecture, contented always with knowing the infinite balance of possibility against which it can draw at pleasure.” His was a singularly self-centred nature, and he was always true to those large ideals which he drew from history and literature ; but so various were his intellectual interests and so abundant his capacities, that the precise direction was uncertain in which his genius would at any time take him.
It is interesting to observe this self-centred nature in its early struggle after equipoise. After his graduation he set about the study of law, and for a short time even was a clerk in a counting-room ; but his bent was strongly toward literature. His vacillation of mind regarding his vocation, his apparent fickleness of purpose, the conflict going on between his nature craving expression and the world with its imperious demands, the stirring within him of large designs, and the happy contentment in the pleasures of the day, all seek outlet in his natural yet uneasy letters. He was finding himself in these early days, as many another young man, and there are glimpses all through Lowell's letters of this restlessness, this subtle sense of one's self which in weaker natures hardens into a mordant self-consciousness. Now and then he turns upon himself in a sort of mingled pride and shame, as if at once aware of his power and angry that he has it not wholly at his beck. But for the most part one is aware of a nature singularly at one with life, and finding its greatest satisfaction in getting at the world through the reflection of the world in literature. No one would deny that Lowell was eminently a man of books, but it would be a wholly inadequate phrase which described him as a bookish man. That he was at home in a library his early letters show ; but they show also how even then he read through his books into life, and interpreted history and literature by means of an innate spiritual faculty which was independent of intellectual authority. It is this criticism at first hand, this swift, direct penetration of the reality, which mark emphatically what I have characterized as Lowell's self-centred nature. He has told us that his brain required a long brooding time ere it could hatch anything. He was speaking of the matter of expression; but the phrase is a fit one for his habitual temper. The superficial charge of indolence could apply only to his apparent disregard of bustling activity. His nature was of the sort that knows the power of stillness, and though he upbraids himself in his letters for his unproductiveness at times, he had plainly the instinct which waits on opportunity. His faculty of observation was very strong, but it was no stronger than his power of assimilation ; and thus it was that when opportunity came he had not hurriedly to adjust himself to the situation.
It was while he was engaged with his books and his friends, professing law but prac