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James Russell Lowell, Among my books, Spenser (search)
ion. Yet the praise of well-languaged, since it implies that good writing then as now demanded choice and forethought, is not without interest for those who would classify the elements of a style that will wear and hold its colors well. His diction, if wanting in the more hardy evidences of muscle, has a suppleness and spring that give proof of training and endurance. His Defence of Rhyme, written in prose (a more difficult test than verse), has a passionate eloquence that reminds one of Burke, and is more light-armed and modern than the prose of Milton fifty years later. For us Occidentals he has a kindly prophetic word:— And who in time knows whither we may vent The treasure of our tongue? to what strange shores The gain of our best glory may be sent To enrich unknowing nations with our stores? What worlds in the yet unformed Occident May come refined with accents that are ours? During the period when Spenser was getting his artistic training a great change was going o
James Russell Lowell, Among my books, Wordsworth. (search)
free, in a sense higher than political, by showing them that these sources are within them, and that no contrivance of man can permanently emancipate narrow natures and depraved minds. His politics were always those of a poet, circling in the larger orbit of causes and principles, careless of the transitory oscillation of events. The change in his point of view (if change there was) certainly was complete soon after his return from France, and was perhaps due in part to the influence of Burke. While he [Burke] forewarns, denounces, launches forth, Against all systems built on abstract rights, Keen ridicule; the majesty proclaims Of institutes and laws hallowed by time; Declares the vital power of social ties Endeared by custom; and with high disdain, Exploding upstart theory, insists Upon the allegiance to which men are born. . . . . . .Could a youth, and one In ancient story versed, whose breast hath heaved Under the weight of classic eloquence, Sit, see, and hear, unthankful
James Russell Lowell, Among my books, Milton. (search)
t enlightened by intellectual and above all historical sympathy with his subject. His interest was rather in the occasion than the matter of the controversy. No aphorisms of political science are to be gleaned from his writings as from those of Burke. His intense personality could never so far dissociate itself from the question at issue as to see it in its larger scope and more universal relations. He was essentially a doctrinaire, ready to sacrifice everything to what at the moment seemedduct of men which alone insures the continuity of national growth and is the great safeguard of order and progress. The life of a nation was of less importance to him than that it should be conformed to certain principles of belief and conduct. Burke could distil political wisdom out of history because he had a profound consciousness of the soul that underlies and outlives events, and of the national character that gives them meaning and coherence. Accordingly his words are still living and
James Russell Lowell, Among my books, Keats. (search)
s a nepenthe for the soul we elect into the small academy of the immortals. The poems of Keats mark an epoch in English poetry; for, however often we may find traces of it in others, in them found its most unconscious expression that reaction against the barrel-organ style which had been reigning by a kind of sleepy divine right for half a century. The lowest point was indicated when there was such an utter confounding of the common and the uncommon sense that Dr. Johnson wrote verse and Burke prose. The most profound gospel of criticism was, that nothing was good poetry that could not be translated into good prose, as if one should say that the test of sufficient moonlight was that tallow-candles could be made of it. We find Keats at first going to the other extreme, and endeavoring to extract green cucumbers from the rays of tallow; but we see also incontestable proof of the greatness and purity of his poetic gift in the constant return toward equilibrium and repose in his late