Other literary forms
Besides thirteen volumes of poetry, during his lifetime, James Russell Lowell published ten collections of essays, most of which had already been printed in periodicals. The ten collections centered on literary criticism, arising from his scholarly duties as professor of modern languages and literature at Harvard University (1855-1886), and political theory, arising from his contact with the Republican Party and his role as American ambassador to Spain (1877-1880) and England (1880-1887). The criticism—Conversations on Some of the Old Poets (1845), Among My Books (1870), My Study Windows (1871), Among My Books: Second Series (1876), The English Poets: Lessing, Rousseau (1888), Latest Literary Essays and Addresses (1891), and The Old English Dramatists (1892)—shows a fluid, informal style grounded on few theoretical principles. The early works tend toward a vaguely Romantic approach, emphasizing the authors whom Lowell found inspirational. The later volumes are more conservative, based on more formal aesthetic principles. The same movement can be detected in Lowell’s political theory. In Fireside Travels (1864) Lowell collected informal, chatty essays on Italy, Maine, and Cambridge. His Democracy and Other Addresses (1887) and Political Essays (1888) display a much more systematic approach to cultural commentary.
Since most of the thirteen volumes of poetry and ten volumes of prose were first printed in magazines and newspapers, Lowell’s primary audience was found among periodical readers and editors. He helped to shape many of the major American magazines of the nineteenth century. He was a contributing editor to short-lived literary magazines such as The Pioneer and The Dial, to abolitionist magazines such as the Pennsylvania Freeman and the National Anti-Slavery Standard, and to major publications such as The Atlantic Monthly and the North American Review. Much of the work that he did for these publications was reprinted in Early Prose Writings of James Russell Lowell (1902) and The Anti-Slavery Papers of James Russell Lowell (1902). Lowell saved some of his best prose for his personal friends, and the two-volume edition of his Letters of James Russell Lowell (1894; Charles Eliot Norton, editor) deserves to be more widely read.