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the training of three centuries has humanized all the narrowness and acerbity into the graces of humor and culture. Yet the aggressive moral temper is still in the blood. It is one of his most conspicuous traits that from youth to old age,
"he dares to be,
In the right with two or three."
Not only in his enthusiastic youth, but in one of his last public efforts, his address before the Congressional Committee in behalf of International Copyright, we find the true ring: "I believe that righteousness exalteth a nation. I believe that this is a question of righteousness. I do not wish to argue that point too far, because that is considered too ideal. That is my view. If I were asked what book is better than a cheap book, I should answer that there is one book better than a cheap book, and that is a book honestly come by."
Any one of Lowell's gifts would have been enough to make him famous. "But his supreme distinction was of character," says Professor Norton. "It was not as poet, or student, or thinker, or in any other limited relation of life, that those who knew him regarded him; but as the large-natured, large-hearted, true, wise, and generous man, whose gifts and genius
seemed rather the delightful accidents than the essentials of his vigorous and unique personality.".
1819. Birth, February 22.
1834-38. At Harvard College.
Graduation from the Harvard Law School.
1841. First volume of poems, A Year's Life.
1843. Editor of the Pioneer with Robert Carter.
1844. Marriage to Maria White. (Mrs. Lowell died in 1853.) Legend of Brittany, and other poems.
1845. First prose volume, Conversations on Some of the Old Poets.
1848. Fable for Critics, Vision of Sir Launfal, Biglow Papers (First Series).
1851. First visit to Europe.
1855. Lectures before the Lowell Institute. Election to the Chair of Modern Languages at Harvard College.
Marriage to Frances Dunlap.
Editor of Atlantic Monthly.
1861-66. Biglow Papers (Second Series).
1863-72. Editor of North American Review with C. E. Norton.
1865. Commemoration Ode, read at Harvard Memorial Service, July 21.
1869. Under the Willows.
1870. The Cathedral; Among My Books; Second Series,
The Vision of Sir Launfal was written in 1848, the year which gave to the world the Biglow Papers and A Fable for Critics. It may justly be regarded as Lowell's typical poem; for it unites his chief sources of inspiration, delight in the older literature of his race, love of nature, devotion to humanity, and fervor for spiritual truth. The poem was composed in about forty-eight. hours, during which the poet scarcely ate or slept, and is wonderfully spontaneous throughout, an inspired improvisation, as is suggested by the opening figure of the "musing organist.”
The subject of the vision may have been suggested by the "Sir Galahad" of Tennyson, whose Holy Grail was not then written; but Lowell's whole treatment of the legend is original. He is the first to connect the name of Sir Launfal with the quest of
the Holy Grail. Though this knight is the subject of a poem written by Thomas Chestre (who lived in the reign of Henry VI.), entitled Sir Launfal, One of Arthur's Knights, the only quality which the hero of this poem possesses in common with Lowell's, is generosity.
In a note appended to the poem we find the following hint of the poet's purpose:
"The plot (if I may give that name to anything so slight) of the following poem is my own, and, to serve its purposes, I have enlarged the circle of competition in search of the miraculous cup in such a manner as to include not only other persons than the heroes of the Round Table, but also a period of time subsequent to the date of King Arthur's reign."
For in spite of its feudal setting, the spiritual tone of Lowell's poem is modern it is social and democratic as opposed to the individualism of mediæval Christianity. Tennyson has given to the Idylls of the King a moral significance, by making them shadow forth the war between 66 sense and soul". that struggle of the individual for spiritual life which belongs to all time, yet harmonizes especially with the monastic ideals of the early church. But Lowell, turning from that noble effort for humanity, the Biglow Papers, felt that the great moral question of the day was man's relation to his fellow man rather than
the spiritual exaltation that in the olden time sent a knight to spend his remaining days in a cloister. In the fervor of this conviction he wrought into the very woof of the "misty legend" the ideal spiritual vision of "the brotherhood of man." In thus making charity rather than chastity the condition of success in the search, he has departed from the legend. Yet, in making the import of the vision as universal as Christianity itself, the artist avoids all incongruity between the spiritual teaching and its feudal background.
The message of Sir Launfal's Vision is undoubtedly a noble one. And most critics agree with Aristotle that truth and high seriousness are essential qualities of great poetry. In estimating the work of any poet, however, we must consider not only substance but form, for truth may be stated in prose and appeal only to the intellect. But charm is needed to make the poem a masterpiece. This charm lies in the beauty of the pictures or imagery, and in the movement and music of the verse. "Poetry should," says Coleridge, "by its imagery elicit truth at a flash; it should move our feeling and awaken our affections."
In Sir Launfal's Vision musical words and majestic thought are embodied in the most vivid pictures, The contrasting views of winter and summer