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James Russell Lowell: A war supporter’s credo


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

American writers on peace and against war

James Russell Lowell: Selections on war and peace


James Russell Lowell
From The Biglow Papers

I du believe wutever trash
‘ll keep the people in blindness, –
Thet we the Mexicuns can thrash
Right inter brotherly kindness,
Thet bombshells, grape, an’ powder ‘n’ ball
Air good-will’s strongest magnets,
Thet peace, to make it stick at all,
Must be druv in with bagnets.


Ez fer the war, I go agin it, –
I mean to say I kind o’ du, –
Thet is, I mean thet, bein’ in it,
The best way wuz to fight it thru;
Not but wut abstract war is horrid, –
I sign to thet with all my heart, –
But civlyzation doos git forrid
Sometimes upon a powder-cart.


We git the licks, – we ‘re jest the grist thet ‘s put into War’s hoppers;
Leftenants is the lowest grade thet helps pick up the coppers.
It may suit folks thet go agin a body with a soul in’t,
An’ aint contented with a hide without a bagnet hole in’t;
But glory is a kin’ o’ thing I shan’t pursue no furder,
Coz thet ‘s the off’cers parquisite, – yourn ‘s on’y jest the murder.



I made one of the crowd at the last Mechanics’ Fair, and, with the rest, stood gazing in wonder at a perfect machine, with its soul of fire, its boiler-heart that sent the hot blood pulsing along the iron arteries, and its thews of steel. And while I was admiring the adaptation of means to end, the harmonious involutions of contrivance, and the never-bewildered complexity, I saw a grimed and greasy fellow, the imperious engine’s lackey and drudge, whose sole office was to let fall, at intervals, a drop or two of oil upon a certain joint. Then my soul said within me, See there a piece of mechanism to which that other you marvel at is but as the rude first effort of a child, – a force which not merely suffices to set a few wheels in motion, but which can send an impulse all through the infinite future, – a contrivance, not for turning out pins, or stitching button-holes, but for making Hamlets and Lears. And yet this thing of iron shall be housed, waited on, guarded from rust and dust, and it shall be a crime but so much as to scratch it with a pin; while the other, with its fire of God in it, shall be buffeted hither and thither, and finally sent carefully a thousand miles to be the target for a Mexican cannon-ball. Unthrifty Mother State!

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