The Museum Collection

James Russell Lowell Letter to Editor of Graham's Magazine

ID #: 637e
Creator: James Russell Lowell
Date: August 14, 1841
Format: letter
Source: Gift of James E. Rindfleisch
Collection: Poe Foundation, Inc.
Place of Publication:
Publish Date:


James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) was a poet and, at one point, a friend of Edgar Allan Poe. It was Lowell who first published Poe's story "The Tell-Tale Heart" in his magazine The Pioneer, and, in 1845, Lowell wrote a complimentary sketch of Poe's life for Graham's Magazine, a journal which had been edited a few years earlier by Poe.

In the present letter to Graham's editor C.J. Peterson, dated August 14, 1841, Lowell writes that he is sumbitting "a little ballad in which I have embodied many of the fears that haunted me in childhood in the vast, old-fashioned house in which I was brought up. It has nothing in it supernatural yet it comes as near it as near it as may be."

In 1843, Poe described Lowell in the Saturday Museum as "a man whose genius and originality is at once the praise and wonder of his countrymen." Two years later, their relationship soured.

Of Lowell's A Fable for Critics (which ridiculed Poe and other authors) Poe wrote six years later, "We are quite sure that it could not have been worse. So much for 'common sense,' in Mr. Lowell's understanding of the term. Mr. L. should not have meddled with the anapstic rhythm: it is exceedingly awkward in the hands of one who knows nothing about it and who will persist in fancying that he can write it by ear. Very especially, he should have avoided this rhythm in satire, which, more than any other branch of Letters, is dependent upon seeming trifles for its effect. Two-thirds of the force of the 'Dunciad' may be referred to its exquisite finish; and had 'The Fable for the Critics' been, (what it is not,) the quintessence of the satiric spirit itself, it would nevertheless, in so slovenly a form, have failed. As it is, no failure was ever more complete or more pitiable. By the publication of a book at once so ambitious and so feeble --so malevolent in design and so harmless in execution -- a work so roughly and clumsily yet so weakly constructed -- so very different, in body and spirit, from anything that he has written before -- Mr. Lowell has committed an irrevocable faux pas and lowered himself at least fifty per cent in the literary public opinion."

Lowell's autograph has been cut out of the letter, apparently by an autograph collector.