The London "Times" on Lowell

by Edwin Watts Chubb

The London Times, sometimes nicknamed the Thunderer, was for many years the most influential paper in the world. Emerson in his English Traits says, "No power in England is more felt, more feared, or more obeyed." In view of the high position of this paper it is a matter of interest to our American students of literature to read what this paper had to say on the death of Lowell.

Here follows the larger part of the editorial from the Times:

The death of Mr. Lowell will probably be more keenly and widely felt in England than would be that of any other American, or, indeed, of any other man who was not a fellow-countryman of our own. To very many in England it will be counted as a grave personal loss; and thousands more will miss in him one whom through his writings they had admired, felt with, laughed with, as with a friend. For a long time past, in fact ever since he quitted the Legation, his long annual visits to London have been regarded by a wide circle as one of the events of the year, and he himself as one of the most valued guests. We had hoped that this last June would again see him in his old London haunts, bright, genial, interesting as ever; but a cruel fate decided that this was not to be, and neither the Old World nor the New should know him more. Never a strong man, he has succumbed, at a ripe age, it is true, but prematurely, as all will think who knew how fresh his intelligence and his sympathies were to the last. With him there passes away one of the very few Americans who were the equals of any son of the Old World—of any Frenchman or any Englishman—in that indefinable mixture of qualities, which we sum up for want of a better word, under the name of culture. How did he arrive at it? The answer is, by natural gifts, by constant play of mind with mind in talk, and by reading. On those who casually met Mr. Lowell in society, he certainly did not make the impression of a book-worm, or of a man to whom books were indispensable; but none the less is it true that whenever official business was not too heavy, he invariably read for a minimum of four hours a day. This did not include the time that he gave to ephemeral literature; it was the time that he spent in the serious reading of books, generally old books. How many of us, not professed students, can show a record as good, or half as good? He read quickly, too, in various languages, his favorites being the English of the Elizabethans, Spanish, old French, and modern French. His excellent memory and wonderful assimilative power built up this reading into the mental endowments that all the world admired.

When Mr. Lowell came to England as the representative of the United States under the last Republican administration, London felt a sympathetic curiosity as to the author of the famous Biglow Papers and of so much excellent prose criticism. In a very short time the feeling warmed into admiration and friendship. The official world spoke well of the way in which the new minister performed his duties—generally not very heavy, but always demanding tact and prudence—of his position as minister. Menacing sounds, indeed, began to be heard from across the ocean, when the Irish Fenians, who control so much of the press of the United States, began to raise the cry that Mr. Lowell sacrificed the interests of their dynamitard friends to a brutal British government; but, as the Washington officials took no notice, nobody here paid much attention to the matter. In social life, the new minister began to be a power. He went everywhere—to the houses of the great, to the houses of the men of letters, and to places where such people most do congregate. His talk was excellent give-and-take. He was neither a professional anecdotist, like another famous American talker, Mr. Chauncey Depew, nor a man on the watch for something to disagree with, like Mr. Blaine, nor even, as was his admirable successor, Mr. Phelps, a man of long silences broken by flashes of humor. Mr. Lowell seemed to know everything and have his knowledge always to hand; he was quick in repartee; he mixed anecdote with reflection in the happiest manner; he laughed at others' jests, and they laughed at his. Still, one had to be a little careful with him, for there were points on which he was extremely sensitive. Nobody, for example, must talk in his presence of Americanisms, or hint that the standard of language and literature observed in America showed any deflection from the best standard of the race....

On one occasion Mr. Lowell was sorely tempted to make his permanent home here. Just about the time of his ceasing to be minister, he was seriously sounded as to his willingness to be nominated to the new post of professor of English language and literature at Oxford. Had he consented to stand, not even a board determined to sink literature in philology could have passed over his claims. But he declined, for two reasons. There were claims of family, over in Massachusetts, and, greatly as he loved the mental atmosphere of England, he thought it his duty not to accept a definitely English post. And the sense of duty is strong in that old Puritan stock from which he sprang.

... But the distinguishing feature of Mr. Lowell was his adding to these high literary gifts the strong practical side which made of him a social power and a diplomatist. Naturally, such a man made a mark by his speeches, and happy was the audience, at the unveiling of a monument or at a literary dinner, that had the privilege of listening to Mr. Lowell. Seldom in England, where this kind of speaking is not cultivated as an art, have we witnessed such a perfect union of self-possession, sense, and salt. The speech on Henry Fielding, the speech in which he compared the sound of London to "the roaring loom of time," the address on Democracy—to mention but a few—will not be easily forgotten. Nor will those who had the privilege of experiencing it, in however slight a degree, forget the sweet affectionateness which, in spite of an occasional irritability and over-sensitiveness, was at the root of Mr. Lowell's character. Corrupt politicians disliked him and feared the barbed arrows of his indignant wit; but he goes to the grave mourned by all that is best in America, and he takes with him the heart-felt regard as well as the admiration, of this elder branch of our common English race.