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He had the ability to produce beauty from the simplest materials. Once, for instance, he chose a time-worn subject, he made a time-worn comparison, he used in his fifteen lines of verse but fifty-six different words, all everyday words and five sixths of them monosyllables; and with such materials he composed his Rainy Day! His writings are so smooth and graceful that one sometimes overlooks their strength. Evangeline, for instance, is "A Tale of Love in Acadie," but it is also a picture of indomitable purpose and unfaltering resolution. Miles Standish is more than a charming Puritan idyl, centring in an archly demure, "Why don't you speak for yourself, John?" It is a maiden's fearless obedience to the voice of her heart, and a strong man's noble conquest of himself. The keynote of much of Longfellow's lyric verse is his sympathy. When sorrow came to him, his pity did not centre in himself, but went out into the world to all who suffered. In the midst of his own grief, he wrote:
There is no fireside, howsoe'er defended,
"Read me that poem," said a bereaved mother, "for Longfellow understood." That is why Longfellow is great. In his Hiawatha he introduced a Finnish metre ; in Evangeline he first succeeded in using the classic hexameter in English. Thus he gave new tools to the wrights of English verse; but it was a far greater glory to be able to speak directly to the hearts of the people. This gift, together with his pure and blameless life, won for him an affection so peculiarly reverent that, even while he lived, thousands of his readers spoke his name with the tenderness of accent oftenest given to those who are no longer among us. Happy is the man who wins both fame and love!
33. James Russell Lowell, 1819-1891. A big, roomy house, fields, woods, pastures, libraries, a college at hand, older brothers and sisters, a father and mother of education and refinement, such were the surroundings of Lowell's early life. The Vision of Sir Launfal
When the time for college had come, there were difficulties. The boy was ready to read every volume not required by the curriculum, and to keep every rule except those invented by the faculty. When graduation time drew near, his parents were in Rome. Some one hastened to tell them that their son had been rusticated to Concord for six weeks and had also been chosen class poet. "Oh, dear!" exclaimed the despairing father,
"James promised me that he would quit writing poetry and go to work."
Fortunately for the lovers of good poetry, "James did not keep his word. He struggled manfully to become a lawyer, but he could not help being a poet. Just ten years after graduating, he brought out in one short twelvemonth three significant poems. The first was The Vision of Sir Launfal, with its loving outburst of sympathy with nature. He knew well how the clod Groping blindly above it for light,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers.
A Fable for
Sir Launfal, too, climbs to a soul, for the poem is the
Ez fer war, I call it murder;
he strikes a blow that has something of the keenness of the sword and the weight of the cudgel.
These three poems indicate the three directions in
which Lowell did his best work; for he was poet, critic, and reformer, -sometimes all three in one. In such poems as The Present Crisis, that stern and solemn arraignment of his countrymen, there is as much of earnest protest as of poetry. So in The Dandelion, his "dear, common flower reveals to him not only its own beauty, but the thought that every human heart is sacred.
Lowell's lyrics are only a small part of his work; for he took the place of Longfellow at Harvard, he edited Scope of the Atlantic and the North American Review; his work. he wrote many magazine articles on literary and political subjects; he delivered addresses and poems, the noble Commemoration Ode ranking highest of all; and he was minister, first to Spain, and then to England. In his prose writings one is almost overwhelmed with the wideness of his knowledge, yet there is never a touch of pedantry. He always writes as if his readers were as much at home in the world of books as himself. The serious thought is ever brightened by gleams of humor, flashes of wit. When we take up one of his writings, it will "perchance turn out a song, perchance turn out a sermon." It may be full of strong and manly thought, and it may be all a-whirl with rollicking merriment; but whatever else it is, it will be sincere and honest and interesting. It is easier to label and classify the man who writes in but one manner, and it may be that he wins a surer fame; but we should be sorry indeed to miss either scholar, critic, wit, or reformer from the work of the poet Lowell.
34. Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1809-1894. On the page for August in a copy of the old Massachusetts Register for 1809, the twenty-ninth day is marked, and at the bottom of the page is a foot-note, "Son b." In
this laconic fashion was noted the advent of the physician-novelist-poet. He had also a chance of becoming a clergyman and a lawyer; for his father favored the one profession, and he himself gave a year's study to the other. It was while he was poring over Blackstone that the order was given to break up the old battleship Constitution. Then it was that he wrote Old Ironsides. The poem was printed on handbills. sides, They were showered about the streets of Washington, and the Secretary of the Navy revoked his order. Holmes was twenty-one. The question of a profession was still unsettled. Finally he decided to be a physician; but, as he said, “The man or woman who has tasted type is sure to return to his old indulgence sooner or later." In Holmes's case, it was sooner, for he had hardly taken his degree before the Poems, publishers were advertising a volume of his poems. Here were My Aunt, The September Gale, and best of all, The Last Leaf, the verses that one reads with a smile on the lips and tears in the eyes.
The young physician's practice did not occupy much of his time, chiefly because he wrote poetry and made witty remarks. These were a delight to the well folk, but the sick people were a little afraid of a doctor whose interest and knowledge were not limited to pills and powders. Moreover, the man who lay ill of a fever could not forget that the brilliant young M. D. had said jauntily of his slender practice, "Even the smallest fevers thankfully received." Soon an invitation came to teach anatomy at Dartmouth; and, a few years later, to teach the same subject at Harvard. Holmes was successful in both places; for with all his love of literature, he had a genuine devotion to his profession. He wrote much on medical subjects, and three times his essays