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HEARTSEASE AND RUE And the poet longs for skill to praise him fitly whom he does fitly praise in the stanzas that follow. It is a thoughtful, nobly eloquent, and poetically beautiful characterization of the great Virginian, and appropriately closes with a fine apostrophe to the historic Commonwealth from which Washington sprang
The Ode for the Fourth of July, 1876,' though not lacking in forceful lines and fine imagery, is the least happy of the three
questioning and critical mood is prominent. But the spirit of confidence prevails and is voiced in the invocation with which the ode concludes.
Various notes are touched in the collection of eighty-eight poems to which its author
the title of Heartsease and Rue. Here are verses new and old, grave and gay, satirical, humorous, sentimental, and elegiac, epigrams, inscriptions, lyrics, poems of occasion, sonnets, epistles, and, chief among them, the ode written on hearing the news of the death of Agassiz. Whether, as has been asserted, this poem takes its place with the few great
“ elegies in our language, gives a hand to “Lycidas” ‘and to “Thyrsis,” 'is a question to be decided by the suffrages of many good critics, rather than by the dictum of one. There is no doubt, however, that by virtue of its human quality, depth of personal feeling, sincerity in the accent of bereavement, and felicity of phrase, the 'Agassiz' will always stand in the first rank of Lowell's greater verse.
FIRESIDE TRAVELS, MY STUDY WINDOWS, AMONG MY BOOKS, LATEST LITERARY ESSAYS
Fireside Travels is so entertaining a book as to make one wish that Lowell had chronicled more of his journeyings at home and abroad in the same amusing style. Two of the six essays 'Cambridge Thirty Years Ago' and 'A Moosehead 'Journal' take the form of letters addressed to the author's friend, 'the Edelmann Storg' (W. W. Story). The others are grouped under the general title of Leaves from my Journal in Italy 'and Elsewhere.'
One spirit animates the pages of this book, a love of plain people, homely adventures, everyday sights and sounds. In a half-serious way (as if to show that he knows how to 'do' a tempest in the mountains or an illumination of St. Peter's) Lowell throws in a number of unconventional passages on entirely conventional themes. But the strength of the book lies in the sympathetic and humorous accounts of that protean animal Man, who, whether he showed himself in the guise of a denizen of Old Cambridge, or of Uncle Zeb, who had been to the 'Roostick war,' or of the Chief Mate of the packet ship, or of Leo
poldo, the Italian guide, was more interesting to Lowell than any other object of his study.
Together with Fireside Travels may be read 'My Garden Acquaintance' and 'A Good Word 'for Winter,' from My Study Windows, gossipy papers on Nature by one who looked on 'a great 'deal of the modern sentimentalism about Nature 'as a mark of disease. . . one more symptom 'of the general liver complaint.' The sincerity of Lowell's love of birds, beasts, flowers, trees, the sky and the landscape, admits of no question. Yet he approached Nature more or less through literature, as was becoming in a man brought up on White's Selborne; and he seems his characteristic self when, having pulled a chair out under a tree, he sits there with a volume of Chaucer in his hands, looking up from the page now and then to watch his feathered neighbors, and make wise and humorous comments on their doings.
Among My Books is a volume of literary and historical studies, six in number, entitled respectively, 'Dryden,' 'Witchcraft,' 'Shakespeare 'Once More,'' New England Two Centuries Ago,' 'Lessing,'' Rousseau and the Sentimentalists.' All are in Lowell's best manner, and the 'Dryden' and 'Shakespeare' are particularly fine examples of those leisurely, stimulating, and always brilliant literary studies which this scholar knew so well how to write.
Of the thirteen papers in My Study Windows
that on 'Abraham Lincoln' and the one 'On a 'Certain Condescension in Foreigners' have a political bearing; those on 'A Great Public Charac'ter' (Josiah Quincy) and 'Emerson the Lecturer are studies in personality; the Library of Old Authors' is an exercise in textual criticism, a merciless arraignment of certain unfortunate editors; the Carlyle,' 'James Gates Percival,' 'Thoreau,' 'Swinburne's Tragedies,' ' Chaucer,' and Pope' are studies in literary history and interpretation.
Among My Books, 'second series,' contains five essays. More than a third of the volume is devoted to a study of 'Dante,' elaborate and exhaustive as the word 'exhaustive' might be used in speaking of an essay not of a book. Then follows a most sympathetic essay on 'Spenser,' together with papers on 'Milton,' 'Wordsworth,' and 'Keats.'
Of Lowell's critical writings as a whole it may be said that better reading does not exist; and among the virtues of these essays is their length. Lowell would have been ill at ease in the limits of three or four thousand words too often imposed by the editors of our current magazines. He might even have been scornful of a public taste which dictated to editors to dictate to their contributors limits so narrow. Writing from the fulness of a well-stored mind, he liked room in which to dis1 The remarkable paper on Lincoln was afterwards transferred to the volume of Political Essays.
LITERARY ESSAYS play his thought. Having much to say, he did not scruple to take time to say it; but the time always goes quickly. He understood perfectly the art of beguiling one into forgetting the hours as they pass.
These essays, so rich in critical suggestiveness, abound in matter-of-fact knowledge. We read for information and get it. Lowell shares with us the wealth of his acquaintance with books. His manner is unostentatious. Macaulay staggers us with his array of facts and his range of allusion. We are overwhelmed, intellectually cowed by the display of knowledge. Lowell too astonishes, but only after a while. Macaulay declaims at his reader, Lowell converses with him. All is so easy, goodhumored, and witty, that the reader for a moment labors under the mistake of supposing that he is being instructed less than he would like. Later he begins to count up his mental gains, and is surprised at the display they make.
Another obvious source of pleasure is the felicity of expression. Lowell had the courage of his cleverness. Brilliancy was natural to him. He defended the practice of piquant phrasing, maintaining that a thought is not wanting in depth because it is strikingly put. Doubtless he loved an ingenious turn for its own sake, but it would be difficult to find an instance of his making a display of verbal vivacity to conceal poverty of thought.