John Livingston Lowes

John Livingston Lowes (December 20, 1867, Decatur, Indiana – August 15, 1945, Boston, Massachusetts) was an American scholar and critic of English literature, specializing in Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Geoffrey Chaucer.


Lowes earned a B.A. from Washington and Jefferson College in 1888 and did postgraduate work in Germany and at Harvard University. He taught mathematics at Washington and Jefferson College until 1891 when he received his M.A.[1]

From 1909 to 1918 he worked as an English professor at Washington University in St. Louis, where he also served as dean of arts and sciences. From 1918 to 1939 he taught English at Harvard. In 1919 he was the Lowell Institute lecturer and the author of Convention and Revolt in Poetry. His grandfather was David Elliott, who had served as President of Washington College.[2]

Lowes died in Boston, Massachusetts, aged 77.



Lowes' most famous work is The Road to Xanadu: A Study in the Ways of the Imagination (Houghton Mifflin, 1927), which examines the sources of Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan. Using Coleridge's notebook and other papers at the Bristol Library, Lowes put together a list of books that the poet read before and during the time he composed his poems. The trick was to connect images and ideas in the poems to images and ideas in Coleridge's reading. Though later critics have disputed both Lowes' findings and method, The Road to Xanadu [3] according to Toby Litt, an English author, it is 'a book of a lifetime': "Its argument, that Coleridge had one of the most extraordinary minds the world has ever seen, is there on every page"; it "is one of the books which helped me understand what writing is." [4]


Lowes' book on Chaucer (1934),[5] building on the work of George Lyman Kittredge, treats the poet not just as the "father of English poetry" but as, along with Shakespeare and Milton, English literature's greatest poet. The book greatly influenced E. Talbot Donaldson and other eminent mid-20th-century Chaucerians.

Critiques and other writingsEdit

  • The Prologue to the Legend of Good Women Considered in Its Chronological Relations was published by Lowes in 1905
  • Convention and Revolt in Poetry following up in 1919 with his major critique on Free Verse and poetry
  • Of Reading Books - Four Essays followed in 1929 and
  • Selected Poems of Amy Lowell as editor in 1928 with
  • Essays in appreciation - first published in 1936 and
  • A Leaf from the 1611 King James Bible in 1937


  1. ^ The Phi Gamma Delta. Board of Trustees of the Fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta. 1912. p. 408.
  2. ^ Coleman, Helen Turnbull Waite (1956). Banners in the Wilderness: The Early Years of Washington and Jefferson College. University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 127. OCLC 2191890.
  3. ^ Lowes, Livinston John , The Road to Xanadu MacMillan 1978 ISBN 9780330252706
  4. ^ Book of a Lifetime: The Road to Xanadu, Litt, Toby The Independent 29 February 2008
  5. ^ Lowes, Livinston John, Chaucer Read Books 2008 ISBN 9781443781251

External linksEdit