James Russell Lowell

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Lowell, James Russell (22 February 1818 - 12 August 1891)

Lowell was born in Massachusetts, the son of a Unitarian minister, Charles Lowell. He earned his B.A. in 1838 and his L.L.B. in 1840 from Harvard, then became a professor of modern languages at Harvard, teaching there for nearly 20 years.

While a minister to London from 1877 to 1885, he influenced European opinion as to the growing stature of American letters and institutions.

A Fable for Critics (1848), The Bigelow Papers (1848 and 1867), and The Vision of Sir Launfal (1848) are among his best works. Also, he was an editor of The North American Review and was the first editor of Atlantic Monthly (1857–1861).

Lowell ("And what is so rare as a day in June?") comprised one of the "Fireside Poets" with Longfellow, Whittier and Holmes.

“Toward no crimes,” Lowell once wrote, “have men shown themselves so cold-bloodedly cruel as in punishing differences of belief.” He also declared, “It seems to me that the bane of our country is a profession of faith either with no basis of real belief, or with no proper examination of the grounds on which the creed is supposed to rest.

Although Lowell's poetry contains religious views that were conventionally 19th century Unitarian, rationalist biographer Joseph McCabe suggests that, based on his later remarks, Lowell became agnostic. In Democracy and Addresses, Lowell advised: "There is no good in arguing with the inevitable. The only argument available with an east wind is to put on your overcoat."

McCabe found that Lowell did not believe in a future life and, when Howells asked him whether he still believed in “a moral government of the universe,” Lowell replied evasively that “the scale is so vast and we see so little of it,” an admission of his agnosticism.