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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 75 pages of information about The Vision of Sir Launfal.

A SKETCH OF THE LIFE OF JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL

I.

Elmwood.

About half a mile from the Craigie House in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on the road leading to the old town of Watertown, is Elmwood, a spacious square house set amongst lilac and syringa bushes, and overtopped by elms.  Pleasant fields are on either side, and from the windows one may look out on the Charles River winding its way among the marshes.  The house itself is one of a group which before the war for independence belonged to Boston merchants and officers of the crown who refused to take the side of the revolutionary party.  Tory Row was the name given to the broad winding road on which the houses stood.  Great farms and gardens were attached to them, and some sign of their roomy ease still remains.  The estates fell into the hands of various persons after the war, and in process of time Longfellow came to occupy Craigie House.  Elmwood at that time was the property of the Reverend Charles Lowell, minister of the West Church in Boston, and when Longfellow thus became his neighbor, James Russell Lowell was a junior in Harvard College.  He was born at Elmwood, February 22, 1819.  Any one who will read An Indian Summer Reverie will discover how affectionately Lowell dwelt on the scenes of nature and life amidst which he grew up.  Indeed, it would be a pleasant task to draw from the full storehouse of his poetry the golden phrases with which he characterizes the trees, meadows, brooks, flowers, birds, and human companions that were so near to him in his youth and so vivid in his recollection.  In his prose works also a lively paper, Cambridge Thirty Years Ago, contains many reminiscences of his early life.

To know any one well it is needful to inquire into his ancestry, and two or three hints may be given of the currents that met in this poet.  On his father’s side he came from a succession of New England men who for the previous three generations had been in professional life.  The Lowells traced their descent from Percival Lowell,—­a name which survives in the family,—­of Bristol, England, who settled in Newbury, Massachusetts, in 1639.  The great-grandfather was a minister in Newburyport, one of those, as Dr. Hale says, “who preached sermons when young men went out to fight the French, and preached sermons again in memory of their death when they had been slain in battle.”  The grandfather was John Lowell, a member of the Constitutional Convention of Massachusetts in 1780.  It was he who introduced into the Bill of Rights a phrase from the Bill of Rights of Virginia, “All men are created free and equal,” with the purpose which it effected of setting free every man then held as a slave in Massachusetts.  A son of John Lowell and brother of the Rev. Charles Lowell was Francis Cabot Lowell, who gave a great impetus to New England

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