Among My Books, First Series

James Russell Lowell
Among My Books, First Series

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Title: Among My Books First Series
Author: James Russell Lowell
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First Series
* * * * *
To F.D.L.
Love comes and goes with music in his feet, And tunes young pulses to
his roundelays; Love brings thee this: will it persuade thee, Sweet, That
he turns proser when he comes and stays?
* * * * *
* * * * *
Benvenuto Cellini tells us that when, in his boyhood, he saw a
salamander come out of the fire, his grandfather forthwith gave him a
sound beating, that he might the better remember so unique a prodigy.
Though perhaps in this case the rod had another application than the
autobiographer chooses to disclose, and was intended to fix in the
pupil's mind a lesson of veracity rather than of science, the testimony to
its mnemonic virtue remains. Nay, so universally was it once believed
that the senses, and through them the faculties of observation and

retention, were quickened by an irritation of the cuticle, that in France
it was customary to whip the children annually at the boundaries of the
parish, lest the true place of them might ever be lost through neglect of
so inexpensive a mordant for the memory. From this practice the older
school of critics would seem to have taken a hint for keeping fixed the
limits of good taste, and what was somewhat vaguely called classical
English. To mark these limits in poetry, they set up as Hermae the
images they had made to them of Dryden, of Pope, and later of
Goldsmith. Here they solemnly castigated every new aspirant in verse,
who in turn performed the same function for the next generation, thus
helping to keep always sacred and immovable the ne plus ultra alike of
inspiration and of the vocabulary. Though no two natures were ever
much more unlike than those of Dryden and Pope, and again of Pope
and Goldsmith, and no two styles, except in such externals as could be
easily caught and copied, yet it was the fashion, down even to the last
generation, to advise young writers to form themselves, as it was called,
on these excellent models. Wordsworth himself began in this school;
and though there were glimpses, here and there, of a direct study of
nature, yet most of the epithets in his earlier pieces were of the
traditional kind so fatal to poetry during great part of the last century;
and he indulged in that alphabetic personification which enlivens all
such words as Hunger, Solitude, Freedom, by the easy magic of an
initial capital.
"Where the green apple shrivels on the spray, And pines the unripened
pear in summer's kindliest ray, Even here Content has fixed her smiling
reign With Independence, child of high Disdain. Exulting 'mid the
winter of the skies, Shy as the jealous chamois, Freedom flies, And
often grasps her sword, and often eyes."
Here we have every characteristic of the artificial method, even to the
triplet, which Swift hated so heartily as "a vicious way of rhyming
wherewith Mr. Dryden abounded, imitated by all the bad versifiers of
Charles the Second's reign." Wordsworth became, indeed, very early
the leader of reform; but, like Wesley, he endeavored a reform within
the Establishment. Purifying the substance, he retained the outward
forms with a
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