June 4, 2010

Lowell: I will like it and therefore I do

James Russell Lowell had a storied career while a student at Harvard College. He enrolled at age 15 and was soon in trouble — a state he held for most of his time there. His sophomore year, for example, he was absent from the required chapel attendance 14 times and from classes 56 times. As he prepared to graduate, he admitted, "During Freshman year, I did nothing, during Sophomore year I did nothing, during Junior year I did nothing, and during Senior I have thus far done nothing in the way of college studies."

Shortly before graduating, Lowell was elected class poet. However, he was suspended and was not allowed to participate in his graduation exercises. Part of the problem was that Lowell did not know what to do with his life, something of a concern for the son of an old and respected New England family. He "settled" on going back to school to study law.

However, when Lowell met Maria White, his uncertainty (and his bad behavior) had to stop. Her father, the wealthy Abijah White, insisted his daughter's betrothed find gainful employment. Lowell hit the books hard. On June 4, 1839, he wrote to a friend:  "I begin to like the law. And therefore it is quite interesting. I am determined that I will like it and therefore I do." In the same letter, Lowell also included a few lines from his poem on "Consistency" that sort of poked fun at his earlier hesitance:

He is a fool who would thy faith deride
  If youth's opinions change before life's close.
Doth not thy shade fall on a different side
  When the sun sets than when his light first rose?

About a year later, Lowell was admitted to the bar. He did not practice law for very long before changing his career path entirely.

1 comment:

  1. Who would have thought that the young James Russell Lowell was such a slacker?! Great photo of him, though. Geez, Poe may have had his collegiate issues, like gambling (which he claimed he had to do since John Allan didn't provide him with sufficient funds to attend school), but he was serious about his studies, both at UVA and West Point.