James Russell Lowell Quotes

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About James Russell Lowell

James Russell Lowell (22 February 1819 – 12 August 1891) was an American Romantic poet, critic, satirist, writer, diplomat, and abolitionist.

Born: February 22nd, 1819

Died: August 12th, 1891

Categories: American poets, Abolitionists, Critics, Diplomats, Satirists, Romantic poets, 1890s deaths

Quotes: 159 sourced quotes total (includes 1 about)

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Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,— Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown, Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.
In life's small things be resolute and great To keep thy muscle trained: know'st thou when Fate Thy measure takes, or when she'll say to thee, "I find thee worthy; do this deed for me"?
Not failure, but low aim, is crime.
Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side.
One thorn of experience is worth a whole wilderness of warning.
James Russell Lowell
• Shakespeare once more.
• Source: Wikiquote: "James Russell Lowell" (Quotes, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919): John R. Bartlett, Among my Books. First Series.)
Mishaps are like knives, that either serve us or cut us, as we grasp them by the blade or the handle.
Every man feels instinctively that all the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action.
As life runs on, the road grows strange With faces new, and near the end The milestones into headstones change, 'Neath every one a friend.
Earth’s noblest thing, — a woman perfected.
Solitude is as needful to the imagination as society is wholesome for the character.
Solitude is as needful to the imagination as society is wholesome for the character.
Be noble! and the nobleness that lies In other men, sleeping but never dead, Will rise in majesty to meet thine own.
There is no good in arguing with the inevitable. The only argument available with an east wind is to put on your overcoat.
Who speaks the truth stabs Falsehood to the heart.
Endurance is the crowning quality, And patience all the passion of great hearts.
Now the heart is so full that a drop overfills it; We are happy now because God wills it.
The snow had begun in the gloaming, And busily all the night Had been heaping field and highway With a silence deep and white.
The only faith that wears well and holds its color in all weathers, is that which is woven of conviction and set with the sharp mordant of experience.
Though the cause of Evil prosper, yet ’tis Truth alone is strong, And, albeit she wander outcast now, I see around her throng Troops of beautiful, tall angels, to enshield her from all wrong.
New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth; They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth Lo, before us gleam her camp-fires! we ourselves must Pilgrims be, Launch our Mayflower, and steer boldly through the desperate winter sea, Nor attempt the Future’s portal with the Past’s blood-rusted key.
Count me o'er earth's chosen heroes, — they were souls that stood alone, While the men they agonized for hurled the contumelious stone, Stood serene, and down the future saw the golden beam incline To the side of perfect justice, mastered by their faith divine, By one man's plain truth to manhood and to God's supreme design.
We kind o' thought Christ went agin war an' pillage.
A wise skepticism is the first attribute of a good critic.
Blessed are they who have nothing to say, and who cannot be persuaded to say it.
James Russell Lowell
• Speech at the banquet for Grand Duke Alexis, 11 November 1871 at the Revere House Hotel in Boston, p. 102 books.google
• Cf. George Eliot 1879: Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact
• Source: Wikiquote: "James Russell Lowell" (Quotes)
There comes Poe, with his raven, like Barnaby Rudge, Three-fifths of him genius and two-fifths sheer fudge.
Talent is that which is in a man's power; genius is that in whose power a man is.
Let us be of good cheer, however, remembering that the misfortunes hardest to bear are those which never come.
Dear common flower, that grow'st beside the way, Fringing the dusty road with harmless gold, First pledge of blithesome [[May], Which children pluck, and, full of pride uphold.
No man is born into the world whose work Is not born with him. There is always work, And tools to work withal, for those who will; And blessed are the horny hands of toil.
Is true Freedom but to break Fetters for our own dear sake, And, with leathern hearts, forget That we owe mankind a debt? No! true freedom is to share All the chains our brothers wear, And, with heart and hand, to be Earnest to make others free!
They are slaves who fear to speak For the fallen and the weak; They are slaves who will not choose Hatred, scoffing, and abuse, Rather than in silence shrink From the truth they needs must think; They are slaves who dare not be In the right with two or three.
Folks never understand the folks they hate.
His heart kep' goin' pity-pat, But hern went pity-Zekle.
She doeth little kindnesses Which most leave undone, or despise.
There is no price set on the lavish summer, And June may be had by the poorest comer.
There is nothing so desperately monotonous as the sea, and I no longer wonder at the cruelty of pirates.
Nature, they say, doth dote, And cannot make a man Save on some worn-out plan, Repeating us by rote.
They came three thousand miles, and died, To keep the Past upon its throne; Unheard, beyond the ocean tide, Their English mother made her moan.
In vain we call old notions fudge, And bend our conscience to our dealing; The Ten Commandments will not budge, And stealing will continue stealing.
In vain we call old notions fudge, And bend our conscience to our dealing; The Ten Commandments will not budge, And stealing will continue stealing.
James Russell Lowell
• Motto of the American Copyright League. (Written Nov. 20, 1885).
• Source: Wikiquote: "James Russell Lowell" (Quotes, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919): John R. Bartlett)
She thought no v'ice hed sech a swing Ez hisn in the choir; My! when he made Ole Hunderd ring She knowed the Lord was nigher.
If there breathe on earth a slave, Are ye truly free and brave? If ye do not feel the chain, When it works a brother's pain, Are ye not base slaves indeed, Slaves unworthy to be freed?
You've gut to git up airly Ef you want to take in God.
The very room, coz she was in, Seemed warm from floor to ceilin' ''
No man can produce great things who is not thoroughly sincere in dealing with himself.
It is by presence of mind in untried emergencies that the native metal of a man is tested.
Puritanism, believing itself quick with the seed of religious liberty, laid, without knowing it, the egg of democracy.
It is by presence of mind in untried emergencies that the native metal of a man is tested.
Here was a type of the true elder race, And one of Plutarch's men talked with us face to face.
Truly there is a tide in the affairs of men; but there is no gulf-stream setting forever in one direction.
Zekle crep' up quite unbeknown An' peeked in thru' the winder, An there sot Huldy all alone, 'ith no one nigh to hender.
There is no better ballast for keeping the mind steady on its keel, and saving it from all risk of crankiness, than business.
His words were simple words enough, And yet he used them so, That what in other mouths was rough In his seemed musical and low.
God makes sech nights, all white an' still, Fur'z you can look or listen, Moonshine an' snow on field an' hill, All silence an' all glisten.
Things always seem fairer when we look back at them, and it is out of that inaccessible tower of the past that Longing leans and beckons.
Our slender life runs rippling by, and glides Into the silent hollow of the past; What is there that abides To make the next age better for the last?
It was in making education not only common to all, but in some sense compulsory on all, that the destiny of the free republics of America was practically settled.
Ye come and go incessant; we remain Safe in the hallowed quiets of the past; Be reverent, ye who flit and are forgot, Of faith so nobly realized as this.
These pearls of thought in Persian gulfs were bred, Each softly lucent as a rounded moon; The diver Omar plucked them from their bed, Fitzgerald strung them on an English thread.
There is no work of genius which has not been the delight of mankind, no word of genius to which the human heart and soul have not sooner or later responded.
These pearls of thought in Persian gulfs were bred, Each softly lucent as a rounded moon; The diver Omar plucked them from their bed, FitzGerald strung them on an English thread.
And I honor the man who is willing to sink Half his present repute for the freedom to think, And, when he has thought, be his cause strong or weak, Will risk t'other half for the freedom to speak, Caring naught for what vengeance the mob has in store, Let that mob be the upper ten thousand or lower.
Truth, after all, wears a different face to everybody, and it would be too tedious to wait till all were agreed. She is said to lie at the bottom of a well, for the very reason, perhaps, that whoever looks down in search of her sees his own image at the bottom, and is persuaded not only that he has seen the goddess, but that she is far better looking than he had imagined.
And what is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days; Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune, And over it softly her warm ear lays: Whether we look, or whether we listen, We hear life murmur, or see it glisten; Every clod feels a stir of might, An instinct within it that reaches and towers, And, grasping blindly above it for light, Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers.
The nurse of full-grown souls is solitude.
Our Pilgrim stock wuz pithed with hardihood.
An umbrella is of no avail against a Scotch mist.
The surest plan to make a Man Is, think him so.
Earth's biggest country 's gut her soul, An' risen up earth's greatest nation.
A reading-machine, always wound up and going, He mastered whatever was not worth the knowing.
What a sense of security in an old book which Time has criticized for us!
What a sense of security in an old book which Time has criticised for us!
Nature fits all her children with something to do, He who would write and can't write, can surely review.
Under the yaller pines I house, When sunshine makes 'em all sweet-scented, An' hear among their furry boughs The baskin' west-wind purr contented.
When I was a beggarly boy, And lived in a cellar damp, I had not a friend nor a toy, But I had Aladdin's lamp.
They come transfigured back, Secure from change in their high-hearted ways, Beautiful evermore, and with the rays Of morn on their white Shields of Expectation!
Not only around our infancy Doth heaven with all its splendors lie; Daily, with souls that cringe and plot, We Sinais climb and know it not.
Ez fer war, I call it murder— There you hev it plain an' flat; I don't want to go no furder Than my Testyment fer that.
It may be glorious to write Thoughts that shall glad the two or three High souls, like those far stars that come in sight Once in a century.
In creating, the only hard thing's to begin; A grass-blade's no easier to make than an oak, If you've once found the way you've achieved the grand stroke.
The birch, most shy and lady-like of trees, Her poverty, as best she may, retrieves, And hints at her foregone gentilities With some saved relics of her wealth of leaves.
The soil out of which such men as he are made is good to be born on, good to live on, good to die for and to be buried in.
The soil out of which such men as he are made is good to be born on, good to live on, good to die for and to be buried in.
Gineral C. is a dreffle smart man; He’s ben on all sides thet give places or pelf; But consistency still wuz a part of his plan,— He’s ben true to one party, an’ thet is himself.
The little that we do Is but half-nobly true; With our laborious hiving What men call treasure, and the gods call dross, Life seems a jest of Fate's contriving, Only secure in every one's conniving, A long account of nothings paid with loss.
The Holy Supper is kept, indeed, In whatso we share with another's need,— Not that which we give, but what we share,— For the gift without the giver is bare; Who bestows himself with his alms feeds three,— Himself, his hungering neighbor, and me.
Then to side with Truth is noble when we share her wretched crust, Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and 't is prosperous to be just; Then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside, Doubting in his abject spirit, till his Lord is crucified.
It's 'most enough to make a deacon swear.
Bad work follers ye ez long's ye live.
To win the secret of a weed’s plain heart.
The traitor to Humanity is the traitor most accurst.
Before Man made us citizens, great Nature made us men.
This goin' ware glory waits ye haint one agreeable feetur.
Like streams that keep a summer mind Snow-hid in Jenooary.
The one thet fust gits mad 's 'most ollers wrong.
Aspiration sees only one side of every question; possession many.
I don't believe in princerple, But oh I du in interest.
Soft-heartedness, in times like these, Shows sof'ness in the upper story.
A wise scepticism is the first attribute of a good critic.
James Russell Lowell
• Shakespeare once more.
• Source: Wikiquote: "James Russell Lowell" (Quotes, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919): John R. Bartlett, Among my Books. First Series.)
The thing we long for, that we are For one transcendent moment.
'T was kin' o' kingdom-come to look On sech a blessed cretur.
All kin' o' smily round the lips, An' teary round the lashes.
Darkness is strong, and so is Sin, But surely God endures forever.
Ez to my princerples, I glory In hevin' nothin' o' the sort.
All thoughts that mould the age begin Deep down within the primitive soul.
A marciful Providunce fashioned us holler O' purpose thet we might our principles swaller.
But John P. Robinson, he Sez they did n't know everythin' down in Judee.
One day with life and heart Is more than time enough to find a world.
Though old the thought and oft expressed, 'Tis his at last who says it best.
Great truths are portions of the soul of man; Great souls are portions of eternity.
Two meanings have our lightest fantasies, — One of the flesh, and of the spirit one.
My gran'ther's rule was safer 'n 'tis to crow: Don't never prophesy — onless ye know.
Sentiment is intellectualized emotion, — emotion precipitated, as it were, in pretty crystals by the fancy.
The clear, sweet singer with the crown of snow Not whiter than the thoughts that housed below.
For though he builds glorious temples, 'tis odd He leaves never a doorway to get in a god.
An appeal to the reason of the people has never been known to fail in the long run.
Ef you want peace, the thing you've gut tu du Is jes' to show you're up to fightin', tu.
No, never say nothin' without you're compelled tu, An' then don't say nothin' thet you can be held tu.
No, never say nothin' without you're compelled tu, An' then don't say nothin' thet you can be held tu.
Our papers don't purtend to print on'y wut Guv'ment choose, An' thet insures us all to git the very best o' noose.
Laborin' man an' laborin' woman Hev one glory an' one shame; Ev'y thin' thet's done inhuman Injers all on 'em the same.
I first drew in New England's air, and from her hardy breast Sucked in the tyrant-hating milk that will not let me rest.
James Russell Lowell
• "On the Capture of Certain Fugitive Slaves Near Washington", Boston Courier, 19 July 1845; anthologized in Poems (1848)
• Source: Wikiquote: "James Russell Lowell" (Quotes)
It ain't by princerples nor men My preudunt course is steadied— I scent wich pays the best, an' then Go into it baldheaded.
The Maple puts her corals on in May, While loitering frosts about the lowlands cling, To be in tune with what the robins sing.
To say why gals acts so or so, Or don't, 'ould be persumin'; Mebby to mean yes an' say no Comes nateral to women.
Of my merit On thet pint you yourself may jedge; All is, I never drink no sperit, Nor I haint never signed no pledge.
I du believe with all my soul In the gret Press's freedom, To pint the people to the goal An' in the traces lead 'em.
From lower to the higher next, Not to the top, is Nature’s text; And embryo Good, to reach full stature, Absorbs the Evil in its nature.
He stood a spell on one foot fust Then stood a spell on t' other, An' on which one he felt the wust He could n't ha' told ye nuther.
Wut's words to them whose faith an' truth On war's red techstone rang true metal; Who ventered life an' love an' youth For the gret prize o' death in battle?
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.
James Russell Lowell
• Before the U. S. Senate Committee on Patents, Jan. 29, 1886.
• Source: Wikiquote: "James Russell Lowell" (Quotes, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919): John R. Bartlett)
For a cap and bells our lives we pay, Bubbles we earn with a whole soul's tasking: 'Tis heaven alone that is given away, 'Tis only God may be had for the asking.
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.
It is curious how tyrannical the habit of reading is, and what shifts we make to escape thinking. There is no bore we dread being left alone with so much as our own minds.
The thing he loved most in the world after his country was the English tongue, of which he was an infallible master, and his devotion to which was in fact a sort of agent in his patriotism.
Along A River-Side, I Know Not Where, I walked one night in mystery of dream; A chill creeps curdling yet beneath my hair, To think what chanced me by the pallid gleam Of a moon-wraith that waned through haunted air.
The wisest man could ask no more of Fate Than to be simple, modest, manly, true, Safe from the Many—honored by the Few; To count as naught in World or Church or State; But inwardly in secret to be great.
There comes Emerson first, whose rich words, every one, Are like gold nails in temples to hang trophies on; Whose prose is grand verse while his verse the Lord knows Is some of it pr— No, 't is not even prose!
The wisest man could ask no more of Fate Than to be simple, modest, manly, true, Safe from the Many — honored by the Few; To count as naught in World or Church or State; But inwardly in secret to be great.
God, give us Peace! not such as lulls to sleep, But sword on thigh and brow with purpose knit! And let our Ship of State to harbor sweep, Her ports all up, her battle lanterns lit, And her leashed thunders gathering for their leap.
God, give us Peace! not such as lulls to sleep, But sword on thigh and brow with purpose knit! And let our Ship of State to harbor sweep, Her ports all up, her battle lanterns lit, And her leashed thunders gathering for their leap.
Their problem was how to adapt English principles and precedents to the new conditions of American life, and they solved it with singular discretion. They put as many obstacles as they could contrive, not in the way of the people's will, but of their whim.
The child is not mine as the first was, I cannot sing it to rest, I cannot lift it up fatherly And bliss it upon my breast; Yet it lies in my little one's cradle And sits in my little one's chair, And the light of the heaven she's gone to Transfigures its golden hair.
In the scales of the destinies brawn will never weigh so much as brain. Our healing is not in the storm or in the whirlwind, it is not in monarchies, or aristocracies, or democracies, but will be revealed by the still small voice that speaks to the conscience and the heart, prompting us to a wider and wiser humanity.
But life is sweet, though all that makes it sweet Lessen like sound of friends’ departing feet; And Death is beautiful as feet of friend Coming with welcome at our journey’s end. For me Fate gave, whate’er she else denied, A nature sloping to the southern side; I thank her for it, though when clouds arise Such natures double-darken gloomy skies.
But life is sweet, though all that makes it sweet Lessen like sound of friends' departing feet; And Death is beautiful as feet of friend Coming with welcome at our journey's end. For me Fate gave, whate'er she else denied, A nature sloping to the southern side; I thank her for it, though when clouds arise Such natures double-darken gloomy skies.
Their children learned the lesson of compromise only too well, and it was the application of it to a question of fundamental morals that cost us our civil war. We learned once for all that compromise makes a good umbrella but a poor roof; that it is a temporary expedient, often wise in party politics, almost sure to be unwise in statesmanship.
How little inventiveness there is in man, Grave copier of copies, I give thanks For a new relish, careless to inquire My pleasure's pedigree, if so it please, Nobly, I mean, nor renegade to art. The Grecian gluts me with its perfectness, Unanswerable as Euclid, self-contained, The one thing finished in this hasty world, Forever finished, though the barbarous pit, Fanatical on hearsay, stamp and shout As if a miracle could be encored.
There is no good in arguing with the inevitable. The only argument available with an east wind is to put on your overcoat. And in this case, also, the prudent will prepare themselves to encounter what they cannot prevent. Some people advise us to put on the brakes, as if the movement of which we are conscious were that of a railway train running down an incline. But a metaphor is no argument, though it be sometimes the gunpowder to drive one home and imbed it in the memory.
I hear America sometimes playfully accused of sending you all your storms, and am in the habit of parrying the charge by alleging that we are enabled to do this because, in virtue of our protective system, we can afford to make better bad weather than anybody else. And what wiser use could we make of it than to export it in return for the paupers which some European countries are good enough to send over to us who have not attained to the same skill in the manufacture of them?
The democratic theory is that those Constitutions are likely to prove steadiest which have the broadest base, that the right to vote makes a safety - valve of every voter, and that the best way of teaching a man how to vote is to give him the chance of practice. For the question is no longer the academic one, "Is it wise to give every man the ballot?" but rather the practical one, "Is it prudent to deprive whole classes of it any longer?" It may be conjectured that it is cheaper in the long run to lift men up than to hold them down, and that the ballot in their hands is less dangerous to society than a sense of wrong in their heads.
He's true to God who's true to man.
The question of common sense is always "What is it good for?"—a question which would abolish the rose and be answered triumphantly by the cabbage.
Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how; Everything is happy now, Everything is upward striving; 'Tis as easy now for the heart to be true As for grass to be green or skies to be blue,— 'Tis the natural way of living: Who knows whither the clouds have fled? In the unscarred heaven they leave no wake; And the eyes forget the tears they have shed, The heart forgets its sorrow and ache; The soul partakes the season's youth, And the sulphurous rifts of passion and woe Lie deep 'neath a silence pure and smooth, Like burnt-out craters healed with snow.
Few people take the trouble of trying to find out what democracy really is. Yet this would be a great help, for it is our lawless and uncertain thoughts, it is the indefiniteness of our impressions, that fill darkness, whether mental or physical, with spectres and hobgoblins. Democracy is nothing more than an experiment in government, more likely to succeed in a new soil, but likely to be tried in all soils, which must stand or fall on its own merits as others have done before it. For there is no trick of perpetual motion in politics any more than in mechanics.
I do not believe in violent changes, nor do I expect them. Things in possession have a very firm grip. One of the strongest cements of society is the conviction of mankind that the state of things into which they are born is a part of the order of the universe, as natural, let us say, as that the sun should go round the earth. It is a conviction that they will not surrender except on compulsion, and a wise society should look to it that this compulsion be not put upon them. For the individual man there is no radical cure, outside of human nature itself, for the evils to which human nature is heir.
I have hinted that what people are afraid of in democracy is less the thing itself than what they conceive to be its necessary adjuncts and consequences. It is supposed to reduce all mankind to a dead level of mediocrity in character and culture, to vulgarize men's conceptions of life, and therefore their code of morals, manners, and conduct — to endanger the rights of property and possession. But I believe that the real gravamen of the charges lies in the habit it has of making itself generally disagreeable by asking the Powers that Be at the most inconvenient moment whether they are the powers that ought to be. If the powers that be are in a condition to give a satisfactory answer to this inevitable question, they need feel in no way discomfited by it.
He must be a born leader or misleader of men, or must have been sent into the world unfurnished with that modulating and restraining balance-wheel which we call a sense of humor, who, in old age, has as strong a confidence in his opinions and in the necessity of bringing the universe into conformity with them as he had in youth. In a world the very condition of whose being is that it should be in perpetual flux, where all seems mirage, and the one abiding thing is the effort to distinguish realities from appearances, the elderly man must be indeed of a singularly tough and valid fibre who is certain that he has any clarified residuum of experience, any assured verdict of reflection, that deserves to be called an opinion, or who, even if he had, feels that he is justified in holding mankind by the button while he is expounding it.
The framers of the American Constitution were far from wishing or intending to found a democracy in the strict sense of the word, though, as was inevitable, every expansion of the scheme of government they elaborated has been in a democratical direction. But this has been generally the slow result of growth, and not the sudden innovation of theory; in fact, they had a profound disbelief in theory, and knew better than to commit the folly of breaking with the past. They were not seduced by the French fallacy that a new system of government could be ordered like a new suit of clothes. They would as soon have thought of ordering a new suit of flesh and skin. It is only on the roaring loom of time that the stuff is woven for such a vesture of their thought and experience as they were meditating. They recognized fully the value of tradition and habit as the great allies of permanence and stability. They all had that distaste for innovation which belonged to their race, and many of them a distrust of human nature derived from their creed.

End James Russell Lowell Quotes