The couple, however, faced much hardship. They had four children but three (Blanche, Rose, and Walter) died within a couple years of their birth. Only his daughter Mabel survived into adulthood. But Mabel's mother did not live to see her grow up. Maria White Lowell died in October 1853; she was 32.
Lowell was struck with an overwhelming grief. Cutting himself off from others, he sheltered himself at Elmwood, the family estate in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He lived with his father (now deaf) and his sister (who often went days without speaking a word). His private diaries from this period are riddled with the initials of his dead wife. On March 10, 1854, for example, he wrote: "Dark without & within. M.L. M.L. M.L."
Lowell's friends helped him publish a posthumous collection of Maria White's poems, including this sonnet:
I love thee — not because thy love for me,
Like a great sunrise, did o'ervault my day
With purple light, and wrought upon my way
The morning dew in fresh emblazonry;
Nor that thou seest all I fain would be,
And thus dost call me by mine angel's name,
While still my woman's heart beats free of blame
Beneath the shelter of thy charity.
Oh, no! for wearily upon my soul
Would weigh thy golden crown of unbought praise,
Did I not look beyond the hour's control,
To where those fruits of perfect virtue raise
Their bloom, that thou erewhile, with prophet eyes,
Didst name mine own, in groves of paradise.
*The gravestone pictured above marks the burial place at Mount Auburn Cemetery of Maria White Lowell, James Russell Lowell, and his second wife Frances Dunlap. And if you think this journal entry is dark, wait until you hear about the incident with the pistol...