Chosön, the Land of the Morning Calm; a Sketch of Korea


Percival Lowell was born in 1855 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, into a distinguished New England family. His brother, Abbott Lawrence Lowell (1856–1943), was president of Harvard University; his sister, Amy Lowell (1874–1925), an important poet and critic. Lowell studied mathematics at Harvard and, after graduation, spent six years in business, managing a family-owned cotton mill. In the spring of 1883, he made his first trip to Japan. In August of that year, he was asked by the United States Legation in Tokyo to serve as secretary and counselor to the Korean Special Mission to the United States, the first mission from Korea to a Western country. Lowell accepted the offer and, as he later wrote, soon “entered my native land as a foreigner.” The Koreans were pleased with his services and, at the conclusion of their mission, invited Lowell to accompany them back to Korea. He remained in Korea for only about two months, but his stay provided the basis for Choson, the Land of the Morning Calm, in which he described the geography, people, and culture of a country still little known in the West. Lowell spent most of the next decade in the Far East, where he wrote several books and mastered both Japanese and Korean. In the fall of 1893, he returned to the United States, where he took up astronomy and founded, in 1894, the Lowell Observatory of Flagstaff, Arizona. His most important scientific contribution was to posit, in 1914, the existence of a trans-Neptunian planet, sixteen years before an astronomer at the Lowell Observatory discovered the planet that came to be called Pluto.

Last updated: July 9, 2015