Biglow Papers

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Amy Lowell (1874—1925) American poet


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Two series of satirical verses in Yankee dialect by Lowell, the first written in opposition to the Mexican War and the second in support of the North during the Civil War. The first of the verses appeared in The Boston Courier (1846), and the first series was published in book form in 1848, while the second appeared in the Atlantic Monthly during the Civil War and was collected in 1867. Both are purportedly written by the young New England farmer Hosea Biglow, and edited with a complicated pseudo-critical apparatus by Homer Wilbur, “Pastor of the First Church in Jaalam.”

Of the nine “letters” in the first series, three represent versified epistles from Hosea's friend Birdofredom Sawin, “Private in the Massachusetts Regiment,” who swallows the propaganda of “manifest destiny” but comes to disappointment and disillusion. (“Nimepunce a day fer killin' folks comes kind o' low fer murder.”) The remaining six are Hosea's satirical portrait of a recruiting sergeant; his satire of a hypocritical politician, “What Mr. Robinson Thinks”; his parody of an address by a State Street stump speaker; “The Debate in the Sennit,” burlesquing a speech by Calhoun; the pusillanimous “Pious Editor's Creed”; and the declaration of principles by a supposed presidential candidate, which leaves him uncommitted, “frontin' South by North.”

The second series, with a critical introduction over Lowell's signature, includes “The Courtin',” a humorous narrative in dialect verse, and 11 satirical “letters,” including two from Birdofredom Sawin, now resident in the South and gulled by Confederate propaganda; “Mason and Slidell: A Yankee Idyll”; malicious burlesque speeches by Jefferson Davis and a hypocritical man of wealth, “Honourable Preserved Doe”; an appeal to sentiment, “Sunthin' in the Pastoral Line”; a demand that the Confederate “system” be crushed (“Conciliate? it jest means be kicked”); “Kettleopotomachia,” macaronic Latin verses by Parson Wilbur; an idyllic depiction of the approaching peace; and a view of Reconstruction, “Mr. Hosea Biglow's Speech in March Meeting.”

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

James Russell Lowell (1819—1891) American poet and critic

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