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There were also new ideas and impulses astir in the New England of Lowell's youth. The narrow Puritanism had given way to Unitarianism and Transcendentalism1 and literature. During the first twenty years of Lowell's life, American literature had taken a bulk and character which might risk comparison with the literature of any European nation during that period. In his teens he was reading Emerson, Longfellow, Holmes, Whittier, Hawthorne, and Prescott, and most of these men were his neighbours and ready to welcome and direct his first attempts at letters. There is a sense of an intellectual and imaginative dawn to be found in Lowell's essays and verse, a dawn that is to gladden the granite and pines of his native land. With a loving admiration for the old literature, there is a loyal national pride in the new; or, rather, there is a sectional pride; for the patriotism is mainly a sectional patriotism, a fervour for the New England hills and men. Boston was then a long way from New York and Philadelphia—although Lowell's literary adventures carried him to both cities—and the rest of the nation was separated by barriers of manners and habit. He was patriotically American because his beloved and awakened New England was expected to lead the nation.

Lowell's early poems do not show much novelty of theme or manner. They are on about the same subjects that all men were writing verse upon in the forties, and written with the same vocabulary, images, and rhythms. Love, nature, liberty, idealism, classic story, personal moods are the themes, but there is some novelty in the ingenuity of the phrases and in the new fauna and flora. If he was following the English romanticists he was transferring their worship of beauty to a New England landscape and their religious musings to the turmoil of idealism that stirred the youth of Massachusetts. He writes of the dandelion and the pine-tree, and his seasons are the riotous June or the Indian summer of Cambridge, his landscape that of Beaver Brook. All is descriptive or reflective; there is no narrative except when it is the mere text for sentiment and moral.

Some union of art and morality, of Keats and Carlyle, Poe and Emerson—that was the poet's endeavour. He wrote to Briggs in 1846:

1 See also Book II, Chaps. VII and XXII.

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