October 24, 2010

Lowell in a Chatty Mood

The October 24, 1886 issue of the New York World included an article focused on James Russell Lowell, then Minister to the Court of St. James in England. The interview with the aging poet-turned diplomat was titled "Lowell in a Chatty Mood."

The author of the article, Julian Hawthorne (pictured below), was an up-and-coming writer, perpetually in the shadow of his father Nathaniel Hawthorne. Years earlier, Lowell had tutored him in German while at Harvard; Julian dropped out without graduating

Hawthorne reported in his article that Lowell thought the House of Lords was made up of fools, and that the Prince of Wales was "immensely fat." As for English writing, Lowell was completely uninterested: "I have not followed it," he said. Upon being told that Thomas Hardy was "very good," Lowell began to read one of his books. "I did not get on with it," he said. "Afterwards, I met him; he is small and unassuming in appearance — does not look like the genius of tradition." Hardy was not amused.

Henry James wrote privately that he knew Hawthorne had played an "infamous trick", leaving him "the basest cad" and deserving of a flogging. Lowell denied much of what Hawthorne reported and claimed that the whole interview was off the record. He also worried that the article made him seem like "a toothless old babbler." In fact, Lowell printed a reply only a few days later in the World. "The reporter has made me say the reverse of what I really must have said and of what is the truth." James was disappointed by Lowell's relatively calm dismissal of the incident. "His protest, however," wrote James, "ought to have been sharper."

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