James Russell Lowell

American poet, critic, editor, and diplomat (1819-1891)

James Russell Lowell (22 February 181912 August 1891) was an American Romantic poet, critic, editor, and diplomat. He is associated with the Fireside Poets, a group of New England writers who were among the first American poets who rivaled the popularity of British poets.

Who speaks the truth stabs Falsehood to the heart.


  • From lower to the higher next,
    Not to the top, is Nature’s text;
    And embryo Good, to reach full stature,
    Absorbs the Evil in its nature.
    • Festina Lente, Moral
  • They came three thousand miles, and died,
    To keep the Past upon its throne;
    Unheard, beyond the ocean tide,
    Their English mother made her moan.
    • Graves of Two English Soldiers on Concord Battleground, st. 3 (1849)
  • There is nothing so desperately monotonous as the sea, and I no longer wonder at the cruelty of pirates.
    • Fireside Travels, At Sea (1864)
  • The only faith that wears well and holds its color in all weathers, is that which is woven of conviction and set with the sharp mordant of experience.
    • Abraham Lincoln (1864)
  • When I was a beggarly boy,
    And lived in a cellar damp,
    I had not a friend nor a toy,
    But I had Aladdin's lamp.
    • Aladdin, st. 1 (1868)
  • The capacity of indignation makes an essential part of the outfit of every honest man.
    • On a Certain Condescension in Foreigners (1869)
  • The clear, sweet singer with the crown of snow
    Not whiter than the thoughts that housed below.
    • Epistle to George William Curtis (1874)
  • But life is sweet, though all that makes it sweet
    Lessen like sound of friends’ departing feet;
    And Death is beautiful as feet of friend
    Coming with welcome at our journey’s end.
    For me Fate gave, whate’er she else denied,
    A nature sloping to the southern side;
    I thank her for it, though when clouds arise
    Such natures double-darken gloomy skies.
    • Epistle to George William Curtis (1874)
  • The child is not mine as the first was,
    I cannot sing it to rest,
    I cannot lift it up fatherly
    And bliss it upon my breast;
    Yet it lies in my little one's cradle
    And sits in my little one's chair,
    And the light of the heaven she's gone to
    Transfigures its golden hair.
  • The soil out of which such men as he are made is good to be born on, good to live on, good to die for and to be buried in.
    • Garfield (24 September 1881)
  • In vain we call old notions fudge,
    And bend our conscience to our dealing;
    The Ten Commandments will not budge,
    And stealing will continue stealing.
    • International Copyright (20 November 1885), in The Complete Poetical Works of James Russell Lowell (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1896), p. 433. Motto of the American Copyright League
  • If I were asked what book is better than a cheap book, I should answer that there is one book better than a cheap book, — and that is a book honestly come by.
    • Before the U. S. Senate Committee on Patents (29 January 1886)

A Year's Life (1841)

A Year's Life (Boston: C. C. Little and J. Brown, 1841)
  • She doeth little kindnesses
    Which most leave undone, or despise.
    • "My Love", stanza iv, p. 80
  • Be noble! and the nobleness that lies
    In other men, sleeping but never dead,
    Will rise in majesty to meet thine own.
    • Sonnet VI, line 9, p. 150
  • That love for one, from which there doth not spring
    Wide love for all, is but a worthless thing.
    • Sonnet XV, line 7, p. 159
  • If there breathe on earth a slave,
    Are ye truly free and brave?
    If ye do not feel the chain,
    When it works a brother's pain,
    Are ye not base slaves indeed,
    Slaves unworthy to be freed?
    • St. 1
  • Is true Freedom but to break
    Fetters for our own dear sake,
    And, with leathern hearts, forget
    That we owe mankind a debt?

    No! true freedom is to share
    All the chains our brothers wear,
    And, with heart and hand, to be
    Earnest to make others free!

    • St. 3
  • They are slaves who fear to speak
    For the fallen and the weak;
    They are slaves who will not choose
    Hatred, scoffing, and abuse,
    Rather than in silence shrink
    From the truth they needs must think;
    They are slaves who dare not be
    In the right with two or three.
    • St. 4

Poems (1844)

Poems (Cambridge: John Owen, 1844)
  • His words were simple words enough,
    And yet he used them so,
    That what in other mouths was rough
    In his seemed musical and low.
  • All thoughts that mould the age begin
    Deep down within the primitive soul.
    • "An Incident in a Railroad Car", p. 114
  • It may be glorious to write
    Thoughts that shall glad the two or three
    High souls, like those far stars that come in sight
    Once in a century.
    • "An Incident in a Railroad Car", p. 115
  • New times demand new measures and new men;
    The world advances, and in time outgrows
    The laws which in our father's times were best;
    And doubtless, after us, some purer scheme
    Will be shaped out by wiser men than we,
    Made wiser by the steady growth of truth.
    • "A Glance Behind the Curtain" (1843), p. 176
  • No man is born into the world whose work
    Is not born with him. There is always work,
    And tools to work withal, for those who will;
    And blessed are the horny hands of toil.
    • "A Glance Behind the Curtain" (1843), p. 176
  • Great truths are portions of the soul of man;
    Great souls are portions of eternity.
    • Sonnet VI, p. 236
  • The real doth not clip the poet's wings,—
    To win the secret of a weed’s plain heart
    Reveals some clue to spiritual things,
    And stumbling guess becomes firm-footed art.
    • Sonnet XXXII, p. 263
  • Two meanings have our lightest fantasies,
    One of the flesh, and of the spirit one.
    • Sonnet XXXIV, p. 264

The Present Crisis (1844)

  • Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,
    In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;

    Some great cause, God's new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,
    Parts the goats upon the left hand, and the sheep upon the right,
    And the choice goes by forever 'twixt that darkness and that light.
    • St. 5
  • Hast thou chosen, O my people, on whose party thou shalt stand,
    Ere the Doom from its worn sandals shakes the dust against our land?
    Though the cause of Evil prosper, yet ’tis Truth alone is strong,
    And, albeit she wander outcast now, I see around her throng
    Troops of beautiful, tall angels, to enshield her from all wrong.
    • St. 6
  • Careless seems the great Avenger; history's pages but record
    One death-grapple in the darkness 'twixt old systems and the Word;
    Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,—
    Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
    Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.
    • St. 8
  • We see dimly in the Present what is small and what is great,
    Slow of faith how weak an arm may turn this iron helm of fate,
    But the soul is still oracular; amid the market's din,
    List the ominous stern whisper from the Delphic cave within,—
    "They enslave their children's children who make compromise with sin."
    • St. 9
  • Then to side with Truth is noble when we share her wretched crust,
    Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and 't is prosperous to be just;
    Then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside,
    Doubting in his abject spirit, till his Lord is crucified,
    And the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.
    • St. 11
  • Count me o'er earth's chosen heroes, — they were souls that stood alone,
    While the men they agonized for hurled the contumelious stone,
    Stood serene, and down the future saw the golden beam incline
    To the side of perfect justice, mastered by their faith divine,
    By one man's plain truth to manhood and to God's supreme design.
    • St. 12
  • New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth;
    They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth

    Lo, before us gleam her camp-fires! we ourselves must Pilgrims be,
    Launch our Mayflower, and steer boldly through the desperate winter sea,
    Nor attempt the Future’s portal with the Past’s blood-rusted key.
    • St. 18

"On the Capture of Certain Fugitive Slaves Near Washington" (1845)

"On the Capture of Certain Fugitive Slaves Near Washington", Boston Courier, 19 July 1845; anthologized in Poems: Second Series (1848)
  • I first drew in New England's air, and from her hardy breast
    Sucked in the tyrant-hating milk that will not let me rest.
  • The traitor to humanity is the traitor most accursed;
    Man is more than Constitutions; better rot beneath the sod,
    Than to be true to Church and State while we are doubly false to God!

Poems: Second Series (1848)

Poems: Second Series (Cambridge: George Nichols, 1848)
  • The nurse of full-grown souls is solitude.
    • "Columbus" (1844), p. 6
  • One day with life and heart
    Is more than time enough to find a world.
    • "Columbus" (1844), p. 16
  • Dear common flower, that grow'st beside the way,
    Fringing the dusty road with harmless gold,
    First pledge of blithesome [[May],
    Which children pluck, and, full of pride, uphold.
  • The birch, most shy and lady-like of trees,
    Her poverty, as best she may, retrieves,
    And hints at her foregone gentilities
    With some saved relics of her wealth of leaves.
  • The thing we long for, that we are
    For one transcendent moment.
    • "Longing", p. 183

The Vision of Sir Launfal (1848)


The Vision of Sir Launfal (1848)

  • Not only around our infancy
    Doth heaven with all its splendors lie
    Daily, with souls that cringe and plot,
    We Sinais climb and know it not.
    • Prelude to Pt. I, st. 2
  • Earth gets its price for what Earth gives us;
    The beggar is taxed for a corner to die in,
    The priest hath his fee who comes and shrives us,
    We bargain for the graves we lie in;
    At the Devil's booth are all things sold
    Each ounce of dross costs its ounce of gold.
    • Prelude to Pt. I, st. 3
  • There is no price set on the lavish summer,
    And June may be had by the poorest comer.
    • Prelude to Pt. I, st. 3
  • For a cap and bells our lives we pay,
    Bubbles we earn with a whole soul's tasking:
    'Tis heaven alone that is given away,
    'Tis only God may be had for the asking.
    • Prelude to Pt. I, st. 4
  • And what is so rare as a day in June?
    Then, if ever, come perfect days;
    Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune,
    And over it softly her warm ear lays:
    Whether we look, or whether we listen,
    We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;
    Every clod feels a stir of might,
    An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
    And, grasping blindly above it for light,
    Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers.
    • Prelude to Pt. I, st. 5
  • Now the heart is so full that a drop overfills it;
    We are happy now because God wills it.
    • Prelude to Pt. I, st. 6
  • Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how;
    Everything is happy now,
    Everything is upward striving
    'Tis as easy now for the heart to be true
    As for grass to be green or skies to be blue,—
    'Tis the natural way of living:
    Who knows whither the clouds have fled?
    In the unscarred heaven they leave no wake;
    And the eyes forget the tears they have shed,
    The heart forgets its sorrow and ache;
    The soul partakes the season's youth,
    And the sulphurous rifts of passion and woe
    Lie deep 'neath a silence pure and smooth,
    Like burnt-out craters healed with snow.
    • Prelude to Pt. I, st. 7
  • The Holy Supper is kept, indeed,
    In whatso we share with another's need,—

    Not that which we give, but what we share,—
    For the gift without the giver is bare;
    Who bestows himself with his alms feeds three,—
    Himself, his hungering neighbor, and me.
    • Pt. II, st. 8

A Fable for Critics (1848)

  • A reading-machine, always wound up and going,
    He mastered whatever was not worth the knowing.
    • Prologue, st. 7
  • There comes Emerson first, whose rich words, every one,
    Are like gold nails in temples to hang trophies on;
    Whose prose is grand verse while his verse the Lord knows
    Is some of it pr— No, 't is not even prose!
    • Pt. I - Emerson, st. 1
  • In creating, the only hard thing's to begin;
    A grass-blade's no easier to make than an oak,
    If you've once found the way you've achieved the grand stroke.
    • Pt. I - Emerson, st. 1
  • And I honor the man who is willing to sink
    Half his present repute for the freedom to think,
    And, when he has thought, be his cause strong or weak,
    Will risk t'other half for the freedom to speak,
    Caring naught for what vengeance the mob has in store,
    Let that mob be the upper ten thousand or lower.
    • Pt. V - Cooper, st. 3
  • There comes Poe, with his raven, like Barnaby Rudge,
    Three-fifths of him genius and two-fifths sheer fudge.
    • Pt. VI - Poe and Longfellow, st. 1
  • For though he builds glorious temples, 'tis odd
    He leaves never a doorway to get in a god.
  • Nature fits all her children with something to do,
    He who would write and can't write, can surely review.

The Biglow Papers (1848–1866)


Online text

Series I (1848)

  • Ez fer war, I call it murder—
    There you hev it plain an' flat;
    I don't want to go no furder
    Than my Testyment fer that.
    • No. 1, st. 2
  • You've gut to git up airly
    Ef you want to take in God.
    • No. 1, st. 2
  • Ef you take a sword an’ dror it,
    An’ go stick a feller thru,
    Guv’mint ain’t to answer for it,
    God’ll send the bill to you.
    • No. 1, st. 3
  • Laborin' man an' laborin' woman
    Hev one glory an' one shame;
    Ev'y thin' thet's done inhuman
    Injers all on 'em the same.
    • No. 1, st. 5
  • ’Tain’t by turnin’ out to hack folks
    You’re agoin’ to git your right,
    Nor by lookin’ down on black folks
    Coz you’re put upon by white;
    Slavery ain’t o’ nary color,
    ’Tain’t the hide thet makes it wus,
    All it keers fer in a feller
    ’S jest to make him fill its pus.
    • No. 1, st. 6
  • This goin' ware glory waits ye haint one agreeable feetur.
    • No. 2, st. 6
  • Gineral C. is a dreffle smart man;
    He’s ben on all sides thet give places or pelf;
    But consistency still wuz a part of his plan,—
    He’s ben true to one party, an’ thet is himself.
    • No. 2
  • We kind o' thought Christ went agin war an' pillage.
    • No. 3
  • But John P.
    Robinson, he
    Sez they did n't know everythin' down in Judee.
    • No. 3
  • A marciful Providunce fashioned us holler
    O' purpose thet we might our principles swaller.
    • No. 4, st. 2.
  • I du believe with all my soul
    In the gret Press's freedom,
    To pint the people to the goal
    An' in the traces lead 'em.
    • No. 6, st. 7
  • I don't believe in princerple,
    But oh I du in interest.
    • No. 6, st. 9
  • It ain't by princerples nor men
    My preudunt course is steadied—
    I scent wich pays the best, an' then
    Go into it baldheaded.
    • No. 6, st. 10
  • Of my merit
    On thet pint you yourself may jedge;
    All is, I never drink no sperit,
    Nor I haint never signed no pledge.
    • No. 7
  • Ez to my princerples, I glory
    In hevin' nothin' o' the sort.
    • No. 7

Series II (1866)

  • God makes sech nights, all white an' still,
    Fur'z you can look or listen,
    Moonshine an' snow on field an' hill,
    All silence an' all glisten.
    • The Courtin' , st. 1.
  • Zekle crep' up quite unbeknown
    An' peeked in thru' the winder,
    An there sot Huldy all alone,
    'ith no one nigh to hender.
    • The Courtin' .
  • The very room, coz she was in,
    Seemed warm from floor to ceilin'
    • The Courtin' .
  • 'T was kin' o' kingdom-come to look
    On sech a blessed cretur.
    • The Courtin' .
  • She thought no v'ice hed sech a swing
    Ez hisn in the choir;
    My! when he made Ole Hunderd ring
    She knowed the Lord was nigher.
    • The Courtin' .
  • His heart kep' goin' pity-pat,
    But hern went pity-Zekle.
    • The Courtin' .
  • To say why gals acts so or so,
    Or don't, 'ould be persumin';
    Mebby to mean yes an' say no
    Comes nateral to women.
    • The Courtin' .
  • He stood a spell on one foot fust
    Then stood a spell on t' other,
    An' on which one he felt the wust
    He could n't ha' told ye nuther.
    • The Courtin' .
  • All kin' o' smily round the lips,
    An' teary round the lashes.
    • The Courtin' .
  • Like streams that keep a summer mind
    Snow-hid in Jenooary.
    • The Courtin' .
  • My gran'ther's rule was safer 'n 'tis to crow:
    Don't never prophesy — onless ye know.
    • No. 2.
  • It's 'most enough to make a deacon swear.
    • No. 2.
  • The one thet fust gits mad 's 'most ollers wrong.
    • No. 2.
  • Folks never understand the folks they hate.
    • No. 2.
  • Ef you want peace, the thing you've gut tu du
    Is jes' to show you're up to fightin', tu.
    • No. 2.
  • Bad work follers ye ez long's ye live.
    • No. 2.
  • No, never say nothin' without you're compelled tu,
    An' then don't say nothin' thet you can be held tu.
    • No. 2.
  • The surest plan to make a Man
    Is, think him so.
    • No. 2.
  • Our papers don't purtend to print on'y wut Guv'ment choose,
    An' thet insures us all to git the very best o' noose.
    • No. 3.
  • No, never say nothin' without you're compelled tu,
    An' then don't say nothin' thet you can be held tu.
    • No. 5.
  • Our Pilgrim stock wuz pithed with hardihood.
    • No. 6.
  • Soft-heartedness, in times like these,
    Shows sof'ness in the upper story.
    • No. 7.
  • Earth's biggest country 's gut her soul,
    An' risen up earth's greatest nation.
    • No. 7.
  • Under the yaller pines I house,
    When sunshine makes 'em all sweet-scented,
    An' hear among their furry boughs
    The baskin' west-wind purr contented.
    • No. 10.
  • Wut's words to them whose faith an' truth
    On war's red techstone rang true metal;
    Who ventered life an' love an' youth
    For the gret prize o' death in battle?
    • No. 10.

The Election in November 1860 (1860)


Online text, The Atlantic

  • In a society like ours, where every man may transmute his private thought into history and destiny by dropping it into the ballot-box, a peculiar responsibility rests upon the individual. Nothing can absolve us from doing our best to look at all public questions as citizens, and therefore in some sort as administrators and rulers. For, though during its term of office the government be practically as independent of the popular will as that of Russia, yet every fourth year the people are called upon to pronounce upon the conduct of their affairs.
  • Whatever be the effect of slavery upon the States where it exists, there can be no doubt that its moral influence upon the North has been most disastrous. It has compelled our politicians into that first fatal compromise with their moral instincts and hereditary principles which makes all consequent ones easy; it has accustomed us to makeshifts instead of statesmanship, to subterfuge instead of policy, to party-platforms for opinions, and to a defiance of the public sentiment of the civilized world for patriotism.
  • To be told that we ought not to agitate the question of Slavery, when it is that which is forever agitating us, is like telling a man with the fever and ague on him to stop shaking and he will be cured. The discussion of Slavery is said to be dangerous, but dangerous to what?...Discussion is the very life of free institutions, the fruitful mother of all political and moral enlightenment, and yet the question of all questions must be tabooed.
  • It is the tendency of all creeds, opinions, and political dogmas that have once defined themselves in institutions to become inoperative.
  • We are persuaded that the election of Mr. Lincoln will do more than anything else to appease the excitement of the country. He has proved both his ability and his integrity; he has had experience enough in public affairs to make him a statesman, and not enough to make him a politician.
  • The encroachments of Slavery upon our national policy have been like those of a glacier in a Swiss valley. Inch by inch, the huge dragon with his glittering scales and crests of ice coils itself onward, an anachronism of summer, the relic of a bygone world where such monsters swarmed. But it has its limit, the kindlier forces of Nature work against it, and the silent arrows of the sun are still, as of old, fatal to the frosty Python. Geology tells us that such enormous devastators once covered the face of the earth, but the benignant sunlight of heaven touched them, and they faded silently, leaving no trace but here and there the scratches of their talons, and the gnawed boulders scattered where they made their lair. We have entire faith in the benignant influence of Truth, the sunlight of the moral world, and believe that slavery, like other worn-out systems, will melt gradually before it.

Literary Essays, vol. I (1864-1890)

  • Things always seem fairer when we look back at them, and it is out of that inaccessible tower of the past that Longing leans and beckons.
    • A Few Bits of Roman Mosaic.
  • Mishaps are like knives, that either serve us or cut us, as we grasp them by the blade or the handle.
    • Cambridge Thirty Years Ago.
  • What a sense of security in an old book which Time has criticized for us!
    • A Library of Old Authors.
  • It is curious how tyrannical the habit of reading is, and what shifts we make to escape thinking. There is no bore we dread being left alone with so much as our own minds.
    • A Moosehead Journal.
  • Our slender life runs rippling by, and glides
    Into the silent hollow of the past;
    What is there that abides
    To make the next age better for the last?
    • St. 3.
  • The little that we do
    Is but half-nobly true;
    With our laborious hiving
    What men call treasure, and the gods call dross,
    Life seems a jest of Fate's contriving,
    Only secure in every one's conniving,
    A long account of nothings paid with loss.
    • St. 3.
  • Nature, they say, doth dote,
    And cannot make a man
    Save on some worn-out plan,
    Repeating us by rote.
    • St. 5.
  • Here was a type of the true elder race,
    And one of Plutarch's men talked with us face to face.
    • St. 5.
  • They come transfigured back,
    Secure from change in their high-hearted ways,
    Beautiful evermore, and with the rays
    Of morn on their white Shields of Expectation!
    • St. 8.

Under the Willows and Other Poems (1869)

Under the Willows and Other Poems (Boston: Fields, Osgood, and Co., 1869)
  • The snow had begun in the gloaming,
    And busily all the night
    Had been heaping field and highway
    With a silence deep and white.
  • Though old the thought and oft exprest,
    'Tis his at last who says it best.
    • "For an Autograph" (1868), p. 47
  • Not failure, but low aim, is crime.
    • "For an Autograph" (1868), p. 48
  • Darkness is strong, and so is Sin,
    But only God endures forever!
    • "Villa Franca. 1859", p. 188
  • Along A River-Side, I Know Not Where,
    I walked one night in mystery of dream;
    A chill creeps curdling yet beneath my hair,
    To think what chanced me by the pallid gleam
    Of a moon-wraith that waned through haunted air.
  • God, give us peace! not such as lulls to sleep,
    But sword on thigh and brow with purpose knit!

    And let our Ship of State to harbor sweep,
    Her ports all up, her battle lanterns lit,
    And her leashed thunders gathering for their leap!
    • "The Washers of the Shroud. October 1861", stanza 21, p. 237

The Cathedral (1870)

The Cathedral (Boston: Fields, Osgood & Co., 1870)
  • Ye come and go incessant; we remain
    Safe in the hallowed quiets of the past;
    Be reverent, ye who flit and are forgot,
    Of faith so nobly realized as this.
    • Stanza 9, pp. 21–22
  • How little inventiveness there is in man,
    Grave copier of copies, I give thanks
    For a new relish, careless to inquire
    My pleasure's pedigree, if so it please,
    Nobly, I mean, nor renegade to art.
    The Grecian gluts me with its perfectness,
    Unanswerable as Euclid, self-contained,
    The one thing finished in this hasty world,
    Forever finished, though the barbarous pit,
    Fanatical on hearsay, stamp and shout
    As if a miracle could be encored.
    • Stanza 9, pp. 22–23

My Study Windows (1871)

  • The foolish and the dead alone never change their opinions.
  • What a sense of security in an old book which Time has criticised for us!
    • chapter "Library of Old Authors'".

Literary Essays, vol. II (1870–1890)

  • Toward no crimes have men shown themselves so cold-bloodedly cruel as in punishing differences in belief.
    • Witchcraft
  • If there are men who regret the Good Old Times, without too clear a notion of what they were, they should at least be thankful that we are rid of that misguided energy of faith which justifies conscience in making men unrelentingly cruel.
    • Witchcraft
  • He who is firmly seated in authority soon learns to think security, and not progress, the highest lesson of statecraft.
  • One thorn of experience is worth a whole wilderness of warning.
    • Shakespeare once more

New England Two Centuries Ago

  • From the summit of power men no longer turn their eyes upward, but begin to look about them. Aspiration sees only one side of every question; possession, many.
  • Truly there is a tide in the affairs of men; but there is no gulf-stream setting forever in one direction.
  • There is no better ballast for keeping the mind steady on its keel, and saving it from all risk of crankiness, than business.
  • It was in making education not only common to all, but in some sense compulsory on all, that the destiny of the free republics of America was practically settled.
  • Simple as it seems, it was a great discovery that the key of knowledge could turn both ways, that it could open, as well as lock, the door of power to the many.
  • Puritanism, believing itself quick with the seed of religious liberty, laid, without knowing it, the egg of democracy.

Rousseau and the Sentimentalists

  • Talent is that which is in a man's power; genius is that in whose power a man is.
  • There is no work of genius which has not been the delight of mankind, no word of genius to which the human heart and soul have not sooner or later responded.
  • Every man feels instinctively that all the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action.
  • Sentiment is intellectualized emotion, — emotion precipitated, as it were, in pretty crystals by the fancy.
  • No man can produce great things who is not thoroughly sincere in dealing with himself.

Literary Essays, vol. III (1870-1890)

  • An umbrella is of no avail against a Scotch mist.
    • On a Certain Condescension in Foreigners
  • Solitude is as needful to the imagination as society is wholesome for the character.
    • Dryden
  • Where Church and State are habitually associated it is natural that minds, even of a high order, should unconsciously come to regard religion as only a subtler mode of police.
    • Dryden
  • A wise skepticism is the first attribute of a good critic.
    • Shakespeare Once More

On Democracy (6 October 1884)


On Democracy, Address in Birmingham, England (6 October 1884)

  • He must be a born leader or misleader of men, or must have been sent into the world unfurnished with that modulating and restraining balance-wheel which we call a sense of humor, who, in old age, has as strong a confidence in his opinions and in the necessity of bringing the universe into conformity with them as he had in youth. In a world the very condition of whose being is that it should be in perpetual flux, where all seems mirage, and the one abiding thing is the effort to distinguish realities from appearances, the elderly man must be indeed of a singularly tough and valid fibre who is certain that he has any clarified residuum of experience, any assured verdict of reflection, that deserves to be called an opinion, or who, even if he had, feels that he is justified in holding mankind by the button while he is expounding it.
  • I hear America sometimes playfully accused of sending you all your storms, and am in the habit of parrying the charge by alleging that we are enabled to do this because, in virtue of our protective system, we can afford to make better bad weather than anybody else. And what wiser use could we make of it than to export it in return for the paupers which some European countries are good enough to send over to us who have not attained to the same skill in the manufacture of them?
  • There is no good in arguing with the inevitable. The only argument available with an east wind is to put on your overcoat. And in this case, also, the prudent will prepare themselves to encounter what they cannot prevent. Some people advise us to put on the brakes, as if the movement of which we are conscious were that of a railway train running down an incline. But a metaphor is no argument, though it be sometimes the gunpowder to drive one home and imbed it in the memory.
  • One of the most curious of these frenzies of exclusion was that against the emancipation of the Jews. All share in the government of the world was denied for centuries to perhaps the ablest, certainly the most tenacious, race that had ever lived in it - the race to whom we owed our religion and the purest spiritual stimulus and consolation to be found in all literature - a race in which ability seems as natural and hereditary as the curve of their noses, and whose blood, furtively mingling with the bluest bloods in Europe, has quickened them with its own indomitable impulsion.
  • I have hinted that what people are afraid of in democracy is less the thing itself than what they conceive to be its necessary adjuncts and consequences. It is supposed to reduce all mankind to a dead level of mediocrity in character and culture, to vulgarize men's conceptions of life, and therefore their code of morals, manners, and conduct — to endanger the rights of property and possession. But I believe that the real gravamen of the charges lies in the habit it has of making itself generally disagreeable by asking the Powers that Be at the most inconvenient moment whether they are the powers that ought to be. If the powers that be are in a condition to give a satisfactory answer to this inevitable question, they need feel in no way discomfited by it.
  • Few people take the trouble of trying to find out what democracy really is. Yet this would be a great help, for it is our lawless and uncertain thoughts, it is the indefiniteness of our impressions, that fill darkness, whether mental or physical, with spectres and hobgoblins. Democracy is nothing more than an experiment in government, more likely to succeed in a new soil, but likely to be tried in all soils, which must stand or fall on its own merits as others have done before it. For there is no trick of perpetual motion in politics any more than in mechanics.
  • The framers of the American Constitution were far from wishing or intending to found a democracy in the strict sense of the word, though, as was inevitable, every expansion of the scheme of government they elaborated has been in a democratical direction. But this has been generally the slow result of growth, and not the sudden innovation of theory; in fact, they had a profound disbelief in theory, and knew better than to commit the folly of breaking with the past. They were not seduced by the French fallacy that a new system of government could be ordered like a new suit of clothes. They would as soon have thought of ordering a new suit of flesh and skin. It is only on the roaring loom of time that the stuff is woven for such a vesture of their thought and experience as they were meditating. They recognized fully the value of tradition and habit as the great allies of permanence and stability. They all had that distaste for innovation which belonged to their race, and many of them a distrust of human nature derived from their creed.
  • Their problem was how to adapt English principles and precedents to the new conditions of American life, and they solved it with singular discretion. They put as many obstacles as they could contrive, not in the way of the people's will, but of their whim.
  • Their children learned the lesson of compromise only too well, and it was the application of it to a question of fundamental morals that cost us our civil war. We learned once for all that compromise makes a good umbrella but a poor roof; that it is a temporary expedient, often wise in party politics, almost sure to be unwise in statesmanship.
  • Truth, after all, wears a different face to everybody, and it would be too tedious to wait till all were agreed. She is said to lie at the bottom of a well, for the very reason, perhaps, that whoever looks down in search of her sees his own image at the bottom, and is persuaded not only that he has seen the goddess, but that she is far better looking than he had imagined.
  • The democratic theory is that those Constitutions are likely to prove steadiest which have the broadest base, that the right to vote makes a safety - valve of every voter, and that the best way of teaching a man how to vote is to give him the chance of practice. For the question is no longer the academic one, "Is it wise to give every man the ballot?" but rather the practical one, "Is it prudent to deprive whole classes of it any longer?" It may be conjectured that it is cheaper in the long run to lift men up than to hold them down, and that the ballot in their hands is less dangerous to society than a sense of wrong in their heads.
  • An appeal to the reason of the people has never been known to fail in the long run.
  • All free governments, whatever their name, are in reality governments by public opinion, and it is on the quality of this public opinion that their prosperity depends. It is, therefore, their first duty to purify the element from which they draw the breath of life. With the growth of democracy grows also the fear, if not the danger, that this atmosphere may be corrupted with poisonous exhalations from lower and more malarious levels, and the question of sanitation becomes more instant and pressing. Democracy in its best sense is merely the letting in of light and air.
  • Communism means barbarism, but Socialism means, or wishes to mean, cooperation and community of interests, sympathy, the giving to the hands not so large a share as to the brains, but a larger share than hitherto in the wealth they must combine to produce - means, in short, the practical application of Christianity to life, and has in it the secret of an orderly and benign reconstruction.
  • I do not believe in violent changes, nor do I expect them. Things in possession have a very firm grip. One of the strongest cements of society is the conviction of mankind that the state of things into which they are born is a part of the order of the universe, as natural, let us say, as that the sun should go round the earth. It is a conviction that they will not surrender except on compulsion, and a wise society should look to it that this compulsion be not put upon them. For the individual man there is no radical cure, outside of human nature itself, for the evils to which human nature is heir.
  • In the scales of the destinies brawn will never weigh so much as brain. Our healing is not in the storm or in the whirlwind, it is not in monarchies, or aristocracies, or democracies, but will be revealed by the still small voice that speaks to the conscience and the heart, prompting us to a wider and wiser humanity.

Democracy and Other Addresses (1886)

  • There is no good in arguing with the inevitable. The only argument available with an east wind is to put on your overcoat.
  • Let us be of good cheer, however, remembering that the misfortunes hardest to bear are those which never come.

Heartsease and Rue (1888)

Heartsease and Rue (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1888)
  • These pearls of thought in Persian gulfs were bred,
    Each softly lucent as a rounded moon;
    The diver Omar plucked them from their bed,
    Fitzgerald strung them on an English thread.
  • The wisest man could ask no more of Fate
    Than to be simple, modest, manly, true,
    Safe from the Many, honored by the Few;
    To count as naught in World or Church or State;
    But inwardly in secret to be great.
    • "Jeffries Wyman. Died September 4, 1874" (1874), p. 38
  • The Maple puts her corals on in May,
    While loitering frosts about the lowlands cling,
    To be in tune with what the robins sing.
  • In life's small things be resolute and great
    To keep thy muscle trained: know'st thou when Fate
    Thy measure takes, or when she'll say to thee,
    "I find thee worthy; do this deed for me"?
    • Epigram, p. 216.
  • As life runs on, the road grows strange
    With faces new, and near the end
    The milestones into headstones change,
    'Neath every one a friend.
    • "Sixty-eighth Birthday", p. 218

Quotes about Lowell

  • Most of the books published during the five-year period leading up to, during, and after the invasion of Mexico were war-mongering tracts. Euro-American settlers were nearly all literate, and this was the period of the foundational "American literature," with writers James Fenimore Cooper, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, John Greenleaf Whittier, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville all active-each of whom remains read, revered, and studied in the twenty-first century, as national and nationalist writers, not as colonialists. Although some of the writers, like Melville and Longfellow, paid little attention to the war, most of the others either fiercely supported it or opposed it...Opposition to the Mexican War came from writers who were active abolitionists such as Thoreau, Whittier, and Lowell. They believed the war was a plot of southern slave owners to extend slavery, punishing Mexico for having outlawed slavery when it became independent from Spain. However, even the abolitionists believed in the "manifest destiny of the English race," as Lowell put it in 1859, "to occupy this whole continent and to display there that practical understanding in matters of government and colonization which no other race has given such proof of possessing since the Romans."
  • The thing he loved most in the world after his country was the English tongue, of which he was an infallible master, and his devotion to which was in fact a sort of agent in his patriotism.
    • Henry James, Essays in London and Elsewhere (1893), p. 62
  • It was the great Frederick Douglass, who had a price on his head, who said “Without struggle, there is no progress.” And echoing his words was the answer of the great abolitionist poet, James Russell Lowell: “The limits of tyranny is proscribed by the measure of our resistance to it”.