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JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL, poet, critic, and essayist, was born at Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1819. Having graduated at Harvard College, he studied law, but, after a brief experience of the profession, he abandoned the courts for the more congenial walks of literature. His first volume of poetry, d Year's Life, was published in 1841. In 1844 appeared a second collection of his poems, and in 1848 a third. This latter year is a memorable one in his literary career, having witnessed the publication of some of his most famous compositions. Among these are The Vision of Sir Launful, A Fable for Critics, and The Biglow Papers, besides a fresh collection of his shorter poems. In 1855 Mr. Lowell succeeded to the chair of Belles-Lettres in Harvard College, for many years occupied by Mr. Longfellow. Since his accession to this post he has undertaken no important literary enterprises. He has, however, contributed to the magazines, and written occasional poems (e. g. the Commemoration Ode) which exhibit his powers at their best. The only volumes bearing his name issued within the last ten years are two collections of essays, My Study Windows and Among my Books. Professor Lowell is, perhaps, the most scholarly of American writers; yet he is far from sacrificing vigor to finish, and his compositions illustrate the highest American attainment in culture and style. His Fable for Critics marked a new departure in American letters, and exhibited him as a successful pioneer in a department of poetical effort which had been almost untried in this country. Its execution would do credit to the poet in his maturity; but its spirit smacked of acerbity and arrogance, and strikingly exemplified one of his characteristics, an almost finical fastidiousness, which has always prevented him from becoming a popular writer. The Biglow Papers are a unique product of American humor, and, though written with reference to a temporary condition of public sentiment, will always be admired for their graphic and faithful representations of Yankee character, and for the mingled wit and wisdom with which they abound. As an essayist, Mr. Lowell is at his best in dealing with literary topics: his essays on certain old English writers are hardly surpassed in English literature. He has been a loving student of nature as well as of books, and his essay on My Garden Acquaintance is as admirable as anything he has written. In 1872 Mr. Lowell went to Europe, where he remained two years.
MY GARDEN ACQUAINTANCE.
DR. WATTS's statement that "birds in their little nests agree," like too many others intended to form the infant mind, is very far from being true. On the contrary, the most peaceful relation of the different species to each other is that of armed neutrality. They are very jealous of neighbors. A few years ago, I was much interested in the housebuilding of a pair of summer yellow-birds. They had chosen a very pretty site near the top of a tall white lilac, within easy eyeshot of a chamber window. A very pleasant thing it was to see their little home growing with mutual help, to watch their industrious skill interrupted only by little flirts and snatches of endearment, frugally cut short by the common-sense of the tiny housewife. They had brought their work nearly to an end, and had already begun to line it with fern-down, the gathering of which demanded more distant
journeys and longer absences. But, alas! the syringa, immemorial manor of the catbirds, was not more than twenty feet away, and these "giddy neighbors" had, as it appeared, been all along jealously watchful, though silent, witnesses of what they deemed an intrusion of squatters. No sooner were the pretty mates fairly gone for a new load of lining, than
Silently they flew
"To their unguarded nest these weasel Scots
back and forth, each giving a vengeful dab at the nest in passing. They did not fall-to and deliberately destroy it, for they might have been caught at their mischief. As it was, whenever the yellow-birds came back, their enemies were hidden in their own sight-proof bush. Several times their unconscious victims repaired damages, but at length, after counsel taken together, they gave it up. Perhaps, like other unlettered folk, they came to the conclusion that the Devil was in it, and yielded to the invisible persecutions of witchcraft.
The robins, by constant attacks and annoyances, have succeeded in driving off the blue-jays who used to build in our pines, their gay colors and quaint noisy ways making them welcome and amusing neighbors. I once had the chance of doing a kindness to a household of them, which they received with very friendly condescension. I had had my eye for some time upon a nest, and was puzzled by a constant fluttering of what seemed full-grown wings in it whenever I drew nigh. At last I climbed the tree, in spite of angry protests from the old birds against my intrusion. The mystery had a very simple solution. In building the nest, a long piece of packthread had been somewhat loosely woven in. Three of the young had contrived to entangle themselves in it, and had become full-grown without being able to launch themselves upon the air. One was unharmed; another had so tightly twisted the cord about its shank that one foot was curled up and seemed paralyzed; the third, in its struggles to escape, had sawn through the flesh of the thigh and so much harmed itself that I thought it humane to put an end to its misery. When I took out my knife to cut their hempen bonds, the heads of the family seemed to divine my friendly intent. Suddenly ceasing their cries and threats, they perched quietly within reach of my hand, and watched me in my work of manumission. This, owing to the fluttering terror of the prisoners, was an affair of some delicacy; but erelong
I was rewarded by seeing one of them fly away to a neighboring tree, while the cripple, making a parachute of his wings, came lightly to the ground, and hopped off as well as he could with one leg, obsequiously waited on by his elders. A week later I had the satisfaction of meeting him in the pine-walk, in good spirits, and already so far recovered as to be able to balance himself with the lame foot. I have no doubt that in his old age he accounted for his lameness by some handsome story of a wound received at the famous Battle of the Pines, when our tribe, overcome by numbers, was driven from its ancient camping-ground. Of late years the jays have visited us only at intervals; and in winter their bright plumage, set off by the snow, and their cheerful cry, are especially welcome. They would have furnished Æsop with a fable, for the feathered crest in which they seem to take so much satisfaction is often their fatal snare. Country boys make a hole with their finger in the snow-crust just large enough to admit the jay's head, and, hollowing it out somewhat beneath, bait it with a few kernels of corn. The crest slips easily into the trap, but refuses to be pulled out again, and he who came to feast remains a prey.
Twice have the crow-blackbirds attempted a settlement in my pines, and twice have the robins, who claim a right of pre-emption, so successfully played the part of border-ruffians as to drive them away, to my great regret, for they are the best substitute we have for rooks. At Shady Hill (now, alas! empty of its so long loved household) they build by hundreds, and nothing can be more cheery than their creaking clatter (like a convention of old-fashioned tavern-signs) as they gather at evening to debate in mass meeting their windy politics, or to gossip at their tent-doors over the events of the day. Their port is grave, and their stalk across the turf as martial as that of a secondrate ghost in Hamlet. They never meddled with my corn, so far as I could discover.
For a few years I had crows, but their nests are an irresistible bait for boys, and their settlement was broken up. They grew so wonted as to throw off a great part of their shyness, and to tolerate my near approach. One very hot day I stood for some time within twenty feet of a mother and three children, who sat on an elm bough over my head, gasping in the sultry air, and holding their wings half spread for coolness. All birds during the pairing season become more or less sentimental, and murmur soft nothings in a tone very unlike the grinding-organ repetition and loudness of their habitual song. The
crow is very comical as a lover, and to hear him trying to soften his croak to the proper Saint Preux standard has something the effect of a Mississippi boatman quoting Tennyson. Yet there are few things to my ear more melodious than his caw of a clear winter morning as it drops to you filtered through five hundred fathoms of crisp blue air. The hostility of all smaller birds makes the moral character of the crow, for all his deaconlike demeanor and garb, somewhat questionable. He could never sally forth without insult. The golden robins, especially, would chase him as far as I could follow with my eye, making him duck clumsily to avoid their importunate bills. I do not believe, however, that he robbed any nests hereabouts, for the refuse of the gas-works, which, in our free-and-easy community, is allowed to poison the river, supplied him with dead alewives in abundance. I used to watch him making his periodical visits to the salt-marshes and coming back with a fish in his beak to his young savages, who, no doubt, like it in that condition which makes it savory to the Kanakas and other corvine races of men.
A STRANGER came one night to Yussouf's tent,
I come to thee for shelter and for food,
To Yussouf, called through all our tribes 'The Good.''
"This tent is mine," said Yussouf, "but no more
Our tents his glorious roof of night and day,
So Yussouf entertained his guest that night,
That inward light the stranger's face made grand, Which shines from all self-conquest; kneeling low, He bowed his forehead upon Yussouf's hand,
Sobbing: O Sheik, I cannot leave thee so;
"Take thrice the gold," said Yussouf, "for with thee
Into the desert, never to return,
My one black thought shall ride
away from me;
First-born, for whom by day and night I yearn,
I HAD a little daughter,
I know not how others saw her,
And the light of the heaven she came from
And as many changes took,
To what can I liken her smiling
How it leaped from her lips to her eyelids,