Part 1 out of 5
by Edwin Mims [American (Southern U.S.) Scholar; 1872-1959.]
[Note on text: Italicized words or phrases are capitalized.
Some obvious errors have been corrected (see notes).]
by Edwin Mims
The present volume is a biography of Lanier rather than a critical study
of his work. So far as possible, I have told the story in his own words,
or in the words of those who knew him most intimately. If I have erred
in placing undue emphasis on the early part of his career, it was intentional,
for that is the part of his life about which least is known.
I have intentionally emphasized his relation to the South, in order to avoid
a misconception that he was a detached figure. The bibliographies prepared
by Mr. Wills for the "Southern History Association" and by Mr. Callaway
for his "Select Poems of Lanier" make one unnecessary for this volume.
Of previously published material, I have been greatly indebted
to the Memorial by Mr. William Hayes Ward, the fuller sketch
by the late Professor W. M. Baskervill, and the volume of letters published
by Messrs. Charles Scribner's Sons. For new material, I am indebted,
first of all, to Mrs. Sidney Lanier, who has put me in possession,
not of the most intimate correspondence of the poet,
but of many letters written by him to his father and friends,
as well as unpublished fragments and essays. She has done all in her power
to make this volume accurate and trustworthy. Her sons,
Mr. Charles Day Lanier and Mr. Henry W. Lanier, have put me under
special obligations, the latter especially, by reading the proof
of a large part of the volume. Mr. Clifford Lanier, the poet's brother,
put at my disposal a valuable series of letters, and otherwise aided me.
I am indebted to Dr. Daniel Coit Gilman, Mrs. Edwin C. Cushman,
Judge Logan E. Bleckley, Mr. Dudley Buck, Mr. Charles Scribner,
Mrs. Isabel L. Dobbin, Mr. George Cary Eggleston, Miss Effie Johnston,
Mr. Sidney Lanier Gibson, and Miss Sophie Kirk, for placing in my hands
unpublished letters of Lanier. The following have written reminiscences
which have proved especially helpful: Dr. James Woodrow,
Professor Gildersleeve, Chancellor Walter B. Hill, Professor Waldo S. Pratt,
Mrs. Arthur W. Machen, Mrs. Sophie Bledsoe Herrick,
Mr. F. H. Gottlieb, and Mr. Charles Heber Clarke. I desire to thank
Messrs. Charles Scribner's Sons and Mrs. Lanier for permission
to quote from the letters and collected writings of Lanier;
Messrs. Doubleday, Page & Co. for permission to quote from Lanier's
"Shakspere and his Forerunners", and the editor of "Lippincott's Magazine",
for the quotations from the letters to Mr. Milton H. Northrup.
For various reasons I am under obligations to Miss Susan Hayes Ward,
Mrs. W. M. Baskervill, Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Turnbull, Mr. George S. Wills,
Mr. J. P. Breedlove of the Trinity College Library, Mr. T. J. Kiernan
of the Harvard College Library, Mr. Philip R. Uhler of the Peabody Institute,
Mr. J. H. Southgate, Mr. F. A. Ogburn, Mr. Milton H. Northrup,
Mr. J. A. Bivins, Dr. C. Alphonso Smith, and to my colleagues,
Dr. W. P. Few and Dr. W. H. Glasson.
Trinity College, Durham, N.C.,
August 12, 1905.
Chapter I. Ancestry and Boyhood
Chapter II. College Days
Chapter III. A Confederate Soldier
Chapter IV. Seeking a Vocation
Chapter V. Lawyer and Traveler
Chapter VI. A Musician in Baltimore
Chapter VII. The Beginning of a Literary Career
Chapter VIII. Student and Teacher of English Literature
Chapter IX. Lecturer at Johns Hopkins University
Chapter X. The New South
Chapter XI. Characteristics and Ideas
Chapter XII. The Last Year
Chapter XIII. The Achievement in Criticism and in Poetry
The author of the introduction to the first complete edition
of Sidney Lanier's poems -- published three years after the poet's death --
predicted with confidence that Lanier would "take his final rank
with the first princes of American song." Anticipating the appearance
of this volume, one of the best of recent lyric poets,
who had been Lanier's fellow prisoner during the Civil War,
prophesied that "his name to the ends of the earth would go."
Indeed, there was a sense of surprise to those who had read
only the 1877 edition of Lanier's poems, when his poems
were collected in an adequate and worthy edition. Since that time
the space devoted to him in histories of American literature has increased
from ten or twelve lines to as many pages -- an indication at once
of popular interest and of an increasing number of scholars and critics
who have recognized the value of his work. His growing fame
found a notable expression when his picture appeared in the frontispiece
of the standard American Anthology, along with those of Poe, Walt Whitman,
and the five recognized New England poets.
It cannot be said, however, that Lanier's rank as a poet
-- even in American, to say nothing of English literature -- is yet fixed.
He is a very uneven writer, and his defects are glaring. Some of the best
American critics -- men who have a right to speak with authority --
shake their heads in disapproval at what they call the Lanier cult.
Abroad he has had no vogue, as have Emerson and Poe and Walt Whitman.
The enthusiastic praise of the "Spectator" has been more than balanced
by the indifference of some English critics and the sarcasm of others.
Mme. Blanc's article in the "Revue des Deux Mondes", setting forth
the charm of his personality and the excellence of his poetry,
met with little response in France. In view of this divergence of opinion
among critics, it may be doubted if the time has yet come
for anything approaching a final valuation of Lanier's work.
In the later pages of this book an attempt will be made
to give a reasonably balanced and critical study of his actual achievement
in poetry and criticism.
Certainly those who have at heart the interest of American poetry
cannot but wage a feud with death for taking away one who had
just begun his career. The words of the great English threnodies
over the premature death of men of genius come involuntarily to one
who realizes what the death of Lanier meant. It is true that he lived
fourteen years longer than Keats and ten years longer than Shelley,
and that he was as old as Poe when he died; but it must be remembered that,
so far as his artistic work was concerned, the period from 1861 to 1873
was largely one of arrested development. He is one of the inheritors
of unfulfilled renown, not simply because he died young,
but because what he had done and what he had planned to do
gave promise of a much better and more enduring work. Such men
as he and Keats must be judged, to be sure, by their actual achievement;
but there will always attach to their names the glory of the unfulfilled life,
a fame out of all proportion to the work accomplished.
Poe had completed his work: limited in its range, it is all but perfect.
Lanier, with his reverence for science, his appreciation of scholarship,
his fine feeling for music, and withal his love of nature and of man,
had laid broad the foundation for a great poet's career.
The man who, at so early an age and in the face of such great obstacles,
wrote the "Marshes of Glynn" and the "Science of English Verse", and who
in addition thereto gave evidence of constant growth and of self-criticism,
would undoubtedly have achieved much worthier things in the future.
Of one thing there can be no doubt, that his personality
is one of the rarest and finest we have yet had in America,
and that his life was one of the most heroic recorded in the annals of men.
The time has passed for emphasizing unduly the pathos of Lanier's life.
He was not a sorrowful man, nor was his life a sad one. His untimely
and all but tragic death following a life of suffering and poverty,
the appeals made by admirers in behalf of the poet's family,
a few letters written to friends explaining his seeming negligence,
and a fragment or two found in his papers after death,
have been sometimes treated without their proper perspective.
A complete reading of his letters -- published and unpublished --
and of his writings, combined with the reminiscences of his friends
in Baltimore, Macon, and elsewhere, will convince any one
of the essential vigor and buoyancy of his nature. He would
have resented the expression "poor Lanier", with as much emphasis
as did Lamb the condescending epithet used by Coleridge.
He was ever a fighter, and he won many triumphs. He had the power
of meeting all oppositions and managing them, emerging into
"a large blue heaven of moral width and delight."
He was a sufferer from disease, but even in the midst of its grip upon him
he maintained his composure, cheerfulness, and unfailing good humor.
He had remarkable powers of recuperation. Writing to his father
from San Antonio in 1872, he said: "I feel to-day as if I had been
a dry leathery carcass of a man into whom some one had pumped
strong currents of fresh blood, of abounding life, and of vigorous strength.
I cannot remember when I have felt so crisp, so springy,
and so gloriously unconscious of lungs." During these
intervals of good health he was mentally alert, -- a prodigious worker,
feeling "an immortal and unconquerable toughness of fibre"
in the strings of his heart. There was something more than the cheerfulness
that attends the disease to which he was subject. There was an ardor,
an exuberance that comes only from "a lordly, large compass of soul."
As to his poverty, it must be said that few poets were ever so girt about
with sympathetic relatives and friends, and few men ever knew
how to meet poverty so bravely. He fretted at times
over the irresponsiveness of the public to his work,
but not so much as did his friends, to whom he was constantly
speaking or writing words of encouragement and hope. Criticism taught him
"to lift his heart absolutely above all expectation save that
which finds its fulfillment in the large consciousness of faithful devotion
to the highest ideals in art." "This enables me," he said,
"to work in tranquillity." He knew that he was fighting the battle
which every artist of his type had had to fight since time began.
In his intellectual life he passed through a period of storm and stress,
when he felt "the twist and cross of life", but he emerged into a state
where belief overmasters doubt and he knew that he knew.
He was cheerful in the presence of death, which he held off for eight years
by sheer force of will; at last, when he had wrested from time
enough to show what manner of man he was, he drank down the stirrup-cup
Looked at from every possible standpoint, it may be seen
that none of these obstacles could subdue his hopeful and buoyant spirit.
"He was the most cheerful man I ever knew," said Richard Malcolm Johnston.
Ex-President Gilman expressed the feeling of those who
knew the poet intimately when he said, "I have heard a lady say
that if he took his place in a crowded horse-car, an exhilarating atmosphere
seemed to be introduced by his breezy ways. . . . He always preserved
his sweetness of disposition, his cheerfulness, his courtesy,
his industry, his hope, his ambition. . . . Like a true knight errant,
never disheartened by difficulty, never despondent in the face of dangers,
always brave, full of resources, confident of ultimate triumph."
The student at Johns Hopkins University who knew him best said:
"No strain of physical wear or suffering, no pressure of worldly fret,
no amount of dealing with what are called `the hard facts of experience',
could stiffen or dampen or deaden the inborn exuberance of his nature,
which escaped incessantly into a realm of beauty, of wonder,
of joy, and of hope." Certainly the great bulk of his published lectures
and his poems bear out this impression. His brother, Mr. Clifford Lanier,
says that he would not publish some of his early poems
because they were not hale and hearty, "breathing of sanity, hope,
betterment, aspiration." "Those are the best poets," said Lanier himself,
"who keep down these cloudy sorrow songs and wait until some light comes
to gild them with comfort." And this he did.
Lanier, whose career has been here briefly suggested, makes his appeal
to various types of men and women. Enjoying the use of the Peabody Library
and living in the atmosphere of a newly created university,
he gave evidence of the modern scholar's zest for original research;
and in addition thereto displayed a spiritual attitude to literature
that is rare. The professional musician sees in him
one of the advance guard of native-born Americans who have achieved success
in some one field of musical endeavor, while a constantly increasing public,
intent upon musical culture, finds in his letters and essays
an expression of the deeper meaning of music and penetrative interpretations
of the modern orchestra. Lanier influenced to some extent
the minor poets of his era: who knows but that in some era of creative art --
which let us hope is not far off -- his subtle investigations and experiments
in the domain where music and verse converge may prove the starting point
of some greater poet's work? To the South, with which he was identified
by birth and temperament, and in whose tremendous upheaval
he bore a heroic part, the cosmopolitanism and modernness of his mind
should be a constant protest against those things that have
hindered her in the past and an incentive in that brilliant future
to which she now so steadfastly and surely moves. To all men everywhere
who care for whatsoever things are excellent and lovely and of good report
his life is a priceless heritage.
Chapter I. Ancestry and Boyhood
Sidney Lanier was born in Macon, Ga., February 3, 1842. His parents,
Robert Sampson Lanier and Mary J. Anderson, were at that time living
in a small cottage on High street, the father a struggling young lawyer,
and the mother a woman of much thrift and piety. There were on both sides
traditions of gentility which went back to the older States
of Virginia and North Carolina, and in the case of the Laniers
to southern France and England. Lanier became very much interested
in the study of his genealogy. He was convinced by evidence
gathered from the many widely scattered branches of the family
that a single family of Laniers originally lived in France,
and that the fact of the name alone might with perfect security
be taken as a proof of kinship. On account of their nomadic habits,
due to their continual movement from place to place during two hundred years,
he found it difficult to make out a complete family history.
He was not, nor have his relatives and later investigators been,
able to find material for the study of the Laniers in their original home.
At one time he expressed a wish that President Hayes would appoint him
consul to southern France. Certainly he was at home there
in imagination and spirit from the time when as a boy he felt
the fascination of Froissart's "Chronicles".
One of the keenest pleasures he had in later life was to discover
in the Peabody Library at Baltimore a full record of the Lanier family
in England. In investigating the state of art in Elizabeth's time
he came across in Walpole's "Anecdotes of Painting" references to
Jerome and Nicholas Lanier, whose careers he followed
with his accustomed zeal and industry through the first-hand sources which
the library afforded. There is no more characteristic letter of Lanier's
than that written in 1879 to Mr. J. F. D. Lanier, giving the result
of this investigation. He there tells the story of ten Laniers
who enjoyed the personal favor of four consecutive English monarchs.
Jerome Lanier, he believed, had on account of religious persecution
fled from France to England during the last quarter of the sixteenth century
and "availed himself of his accomplishments in music to secure a place
in Queen Elizabeth's household." His son Nicholas Lanier
-- "musician, painter, engraver" -- was patronized successively
by James I, Charles I, and Charles II, wrote music
for the masks of Ben Jonson and Campion and for the lyrics of Herrick,
and was the first marshal of a society of musicians
organized by Charles I in 1626. He also wrote a cantata
called "Hero and Leander". He was the friend of Van Dyck,
who painted a portrait of Lanier which attracted the attention of Charles I
and eventually led to that painter's accession to the court.
He was sent by King Charles to Italy to make purchases for the royal gallery.
He and other members of his family lived at Greenwich and were known
as amateur artists as well as musicians. After the Restoration
five Laniers -- Nicholas, Jerome, Clement, Andrewe, and John --
were charter members of an organization of musicians established by the king
"to exert their authority for the improvement of the science
and the interest of its professors." It was a great pleasure to Sidney Lanier
to find in the diary of Pepys many passages telling of his associations
with these music-loving Laniers. "Here the best company for musique
I ever was in my life," says the quaint old annalist,
"and I wish I could live and die in it. . . . I spent the night
in an exstasy almost; and having invited them to my house a day or two hence,
we broke up."
The study of these distant relatives enjoying the favor
of successive English kings must have suggested the contrast of his own life;
but he was pleased with the fancy that their musical genius had come to him
through heredity, for it confirmed his opinion that "if a man made himself
an expert in any particular branch of human activity there would result
the strong tendency that a peculiar aptitude towards the same branch
would be found among some of his descendants."
Another Lanier in whom he was interested was Sir John Lanier,
the story of whose bravery at the battle of the Boyne, in 1690,
he first read in Macaulay's "History of England". Lanier's hope and belief
that the family would some day be able to fill the intervals
satisfactorily connecting Sir John Lanier with the musicians of the court
have not been realized, nor has any satisfactory study been made
of the coming of the Laniers to America. The best evidence of the connection
between the two families is found in a deed recorded in Prince County, Va.,
May 14, 1728, from Nicholas Lanier to Holmes Boisseau --
the name Nicholas being significant. It is certain that Thomas Lanier,
along with a large number of other Huguenots, settled in Virginia
in the early years of the eighteenth century at Manakin-town,
some twenty miles from Richmond. Some of these Huguenots,
notably the Moncures, the Maurys, the Latanes, and the Flournoys,
became connected with historic families of Virginia. There was a tradition
in the Lanier family as well as in the Washington family,
that Thomas Lanier married an aunt of George Washington,
but this has been proved to be untrue.* The Laniers were related by marriage
to the Washingtons of Surry County. They established themselves
in the middle of the eighteenth century in Brunswick and Lunenburg counties
of Virginia, as prosperous planters; they did not, however,
rank either in dignity or in wealth with the older gentry of Virginia.
In a letter written in 1877 Lanier gives in full the various branches
of the Lanier family as they separated from this point and went into
all parts of the United States. One branch joined the pioneers
who went up through Tennessee into Kentucky and thence to Indiana.
The most famous of these was Mr. J. F. D. Lanier, who played a prominent part
in the development of the railroad system of the West,
and at the time of the Civil War had become one of the leading bankers
in New York city. He was a financial adviser of President Lincoln,
and represented the government abroad in some important transactions.
He was of genuine help to Sidney Lanier at critical times
in the latter's life. His son, Mr. Charles Lanier, now a banker of New York,
was a close friend of the poet, and after his death presented busts of him
to Johns Hopkins University and the public library of Macon.
* `William and Mary Quarterly', iii, 71-74, 1895 (article by
Horace Edwin Hayden); iii, 137-139, October, 1894 (by Moncure D. Conway,
with editorial comment); iv, 35-36, July, 1895 (by the editor,
Lyon G. Tyler).
The branch of the Lanier family with which Sidney was connected,
moved from Virginia into Rockingham County, N.C. Sampson Lanier
was a well-to-do farmer -- a country gentleman, "fond of
good horses and fox hounds." Several of his sons went to
the newer States of Georgia and Alabama. Of these was Sterling Lanier,
the grandfather of the poet, who lived for a while in Athens, Ga.,
and was afterwards a hotel-keeper in Macon and Montgomery.
By the time of the Civil War he had amassed a considerable fortune.
In a letter written in 1844 from Macon we learn that he was
an ardent Methodist. His daughters were being educated
in the Wesleyan Female College in that city, his son Sidney
had sailed recently from Charleston to France, and expected to travel
through Sicily, Italy, and other parts of Europe on account of his health.
He was giving his younger sons the best education then attainable in Georgia.
His son Robert Sampson Lanier had four years before returned from
Randolph-Macon College, Virginia, and was at the time the letter was written
beginning the practice of law. He never became a lawyer of the first rank,
but he was universally esteemed for his "fine presence",
his "social gentleness", and his "persistent habit of methodical industry".
"During all of his long and active professional life,"
says the late Washington Dessau, "he never allowed anything
to interfere with his devotion to his calling as a lawyer.
No desire for office attracted him; no other business of profit or honor
ever diminished for a moment his devotion for his professional duties.
In the year 1850 he was admitted to the bar by the Supreme Court of Georgia,
and from that period down to the time of his death the name of his firm
appears in nearly every volume of the reports, indicating the wide extent
of his business. . . . As a lawyer, while not aspiring to be
a brilliant advocate, he was a most profound and able reasoner,
thoroughly versed and grounded in the knowledge of the common law,
well prepared with a knowledge of current decisions and in the learning
that grows out of them. . . . In his social intercourse
he was a gentleman of the purest and most refined type. . . .
At his own home, at the homes of others, in casual meetings,
in travel, everywhere, he always exhibited toward those who met him
an unbroken front of courtesy, gentleness, and refinement."*
* `Report of the 11th Annual Meeting of the Georgia Bar Association',
He was just such a lawyer as Lanier would have become had he remained
in that profession; indeed, son and father were very much alike. The father
was a man of "considerable literary acquirements and exquisite taste."
He was fond of Shakspere, Addison, and Sir Walter Scott,
having the literary taste of the gentlemen of the old South.
The letters written to his son show decided cultivation. They show also
that he was in thorough sympathy with his son's intellectual life.
The letter written by Lanier to his father from Baltimore in 1873
may lead one to think otherwise. Mr. Lanier was opposed,
as were most of the men of his section, to a young man's entering upon
a musical or poetic career, but more than two hundred letters
written by son to father and many from father to son prove
that their relations during the entire career of the poet
were unusually close and sympathetic. In the earlier years,
Lanier sent his poems to his father, and valued highly his criticism,
and in later years he received from him financial aid and counsel.
While Robert Sampson Lanier was at college in Virginia
he met Mary Jane Anderson, the daughter of Hezekiah Anderson,
a Virginia planter who attained success in the political life of that State.
They were married in 1840, and Sidney was their first-born.
The poet thus inherited on his mother's side Scotch-Irish blood,
an element in Southern life which has been often underestimated.
She proved to be a hard-working woman, caring little for social life,
but thoroughly interested in the religious training of her children.
Her husband, although nominally a Methodist, was not actively identified
with the church, but willingly acquiesced in the somewhat rigid
Presbyterian discipline that prevailed in the home. The children
-- Sidney, Clifford, and Gertrude -- were taught the strictest tenets
of the Calvinistic creed. When Lanier afterwards, in Baltimore,
lived a somewhat more liberal life -- both as to creed and conduct --
he wrote: "If the constituents and guardians of my childhood
-- those good Presbyterians who believed me a model
for the Sunday-school children of all times -- could have witnessed
my acts and doings this day, I know not what groans of sorrowful regret
would arise in my behalf."
The seriousness of this life was broken, however, on week days.
Southern Puritanism differed from the early New England Puritanism
in a certain affectionateness and sociability. The mother could
play well on the piano, and frequently sang with the children
hymns and popular melodies. Between the two brothers there was from the first
the most beautiful relation, as throughout the rest of their lives:
comrades in boyhood, comrades during the War, comrades in
their first literary work, and to the end. On Saturdays they went to
"the boys' hunting fields -- happy hunting grounds, redolent of hickory nuts,
scaly barks, and rose-blushing, luscious, haw apples. . . .
Into these woods, across yon marsh, we plunged every permissible Saturday
for a day among doves, blackbirds, robins, plovers, snipes, or rabbits."*
Sometimes they enjoyed fishing in the near-by brook or the larger river.
The two brothers were devoted to their sister Gertrude,
to whom Sidney referred in later years as his "vestal sister,
who had, more perfectly than all the men or women of the earth,
nay, more perfectly than any star or any dream," represented to him
"the simple majesty and the serene purity of the Winged Folk up Yonder."
* Clifford Lanier, `The Chautauquan', July, 1895.
The beauty of this simple home life cannot well be overestimated
in its influence on Lanier's later life. He had nothing of the Bohemian
in his nature. He was throughout his life fully alive to all human ties,
fulfilling every relationship, whether of son, brother, father,
husband, or friend. His other relatives -- uncles, aunts, and cousins, --
filled a large place in his early life, especially his mother's brother,
Judge Clifford Anderson, who was the law partner of Lanier's father
and afterwards Attorney-General of Georgia; and his father's sister,
Mrs. Watt, who from much travel and by association with
leading men and women of the South brought into Lanier's life
the atmosphere of a larger social world than that in which he was born.
Nor did Lanier live apart from the life in Macon. Although in later years
he felt strongly the contrast between himself and his environment,
he always spoke of his native place with the greatest affection,
and it was among Macon people that he found some of his best friends
in his adopted city. Its natural beauty appealed to him from the beginning --
the river Ocmulgee, the large forests of oak-trees stretching
in every direction, the hills above the city, for which he often yearned,
from the plains of Texas, or the flats of Florida, or the crowded streets
of Baltimore. The climate was agreeable. Describing this section,
Lanier said: "Surely, along that ample stretch of generous soil,
where the Appalachian ruggednesses calm themselves into pleasant hills
before dying quite away in the seaboard levels, a man can find
such temperances of heaven and earth -- enough of struggle with nature
to draw out manhood, with enough of bounty to sanction the struggle --
that a more exquisite co-adaptation of all blessed circumstances
for man's life need not be sought."*
* `Music and Poetry', p. 134.
Macon was the capital of Middle Georgia, the centre of trade
for sixty miles around. There was among the citizens
an aggressive public spirit, which made it the rival in commercial life
of the older cities, Savannah and Augusta; before the War
it was a more important city than Atlanta. It was one of the first towns
to push the building of railroads; it became "the keystone of the roads
grappling with the ocean at the east and with the waters beyond the mountains
at the west." The richer planters and merchants lived on the hills
above the city -- in their costly mansions with luxuriant flower gardens --
while the professional men and the middle classes lived
in the lower part of the city. Social lines were not, however,
so sharply drawn here as in cities like Richmond or Charleston.
Middle Georgia was perhaps the most democratic section of the South.
It was a democracy, it is true, working within the limitations of slavery,*
and greatly tempered with the feudal ideas of the older States, but it was
a life which gave room for the development of well-marked individual types.
There were many Georgia "Crackers" in the surrounding country; they were
even recognized more than in other States as part of the social structure.
While still a young boy Lanier was delivery clerk in the Macon post-office,
and entertained the family at nights by "mimicry of their funny speech."
In later life he wrote dialect poems, setting forth the humor of these people,
and drew upon their speech for illustrations of philological changes
* In Macon a great many citizens had no slaves at all, and even those
who had them had only a few. In 1850 the white population was 3323,
while there were only 2352 slaves. In 1859, when the population
had grown to 8000, the proportion was maintained.
[Despite this statement by Mr. Mims, if these numbers are correct,
it would appear that Macon had a significantly higher percentage of slaves
than most areas of the South. -- A. L., 1998.]
In Macon hospitality was regarded as an indispensable, even sacred duty.
Cordiality and kindness in all the ordinary relations of men and women
made up for whatever deficiencies there were in art and literature.
Professor Le Conte, who lived in Macon during the boyhood of Lanier,
speaking of some weeks he spent there during a college vacation,
says, "Oh, the boundless hospitality of those times --
a continual round of entertainments, musicales, and evening parties, . . .
horseback rides and boat rides during the day and piano-playing, singing,
fluting, and impromptu cotillions and Virginia reels in the evening!"*
The Lanier House, a hotel owned by Sterling Lanier from 1844 to 1854,
was the centre of this social life. Here many distinguished men
were entertained and many receptions were held. The proprietor
was a typical "mine host", endeavoring to throw around his guests
some of the atmosphere of the finer Southern homes.
In 1851 President Fillmore and his Secretary of the Navy,
John P. Kennedy, visited Macon and were entertained at this hotel.
Macon was not without its cultivated people. Young ladies
studied music in New York and brought into the private life of the city
an atmosphere of musical culture. Now and then students were sent
to the universities of the East. A group of professional and business men
-- E. A. Nisbet, Washington Poe, Charles Day, Colonel Whittle,
L. Q. C. Lamar (in his earlier days) -- had the refinement and cordiality
characteristic of the old regime.
* `The Autobiography of Joseph Le Conte'.
The religious spirit ran high in Macon. While the Presbyterian church
had a better educated clergy and proportionately a greater number
of educated personages among the laity, the Methodist and Baptist churches
dominated the life of the community. Revivals that recall
the Great Awakening in New England in the time of Jonathan Edwards
were frequent. The most popular preacher in Macon -- George F. Pierce,
afterwards bishop in the Southern Methodist church --
is said to have preached the terrors of the law so plainly
that the editor of a long extinct Universalist paper said
he could smell fire and brimstone half a mile from the church.
The type of religion that prevailed was emotional, but in an earlier
stage of society it was a great barrier against immorality.
The clergy did not raise the question of the ethics of slavery,
-- on the other hand they defended it on biblical grounds, --
but they did enjoin upon masters the duty of kindness to slaves.
Many of them were not cultivated men, but they laid the foundation
for a better civilization in a stern and righteous social life
which flowered in the next generation. "The only burning issues
were sprinkling versus immersion, freewill versus predestination,"
and over these questions the churches fought with energy.
Divided though they were on many points, they agreed in resisting
the forces of modern thought that were making for a more liberal theology.
Although the people of Macon were thoroughly alive to the commercial,
social, and religious welfare of the community, they provided
no adequate school system. Lanier was schooled "in small private
one-roomed establishments, taught by a Mrs. Anderson, a Mr. Hancock,
or by that dear old eccentric dominie, `Jake' Danforth. One of these schools
stood in a grove of oak and hickory-nut trees and was called the 'Cademy.
Sidney was bright in studies, but while parsing, reading, writing,
and figuring, he was also chucking nuts from the tops of the tall trees,
sympathizing with the dainty half-angel, half-animal flying squirrels,
and drinking deep draughts of the love of nature from the cool,
* Article by Clifford Lanier, in `Gulf States Historical Magazine',
Lanier was undoubtedly influenced by the life in Macon; positively influenced
in that much of this life became a part of his own, and negatively in that
he reacted against many conditions and ideals that prevailed there.
All the time there was developing in him his own genius. He did not remember
a time when he could not play upon almost any musical instrument.
"When he was seven years old he made his first effort at music
upon an improvised reed cut from the neighboring river bank,
with cork stopping the ends and a mouth hole and six finger holes
extemporized at the side. With this he sought the woods to emulate
the trills and cadences of the song birds." Santa Claus's gift one year
took the form of a small, yellow, one-keyed flute, on which simple instrument
he would "practice with the passion of a virtuoso." Like Schumann,
he organized an orchestra among his friends and young playmates.
Simultaneously he was receiving his first initiation into
the joy of literature. He would frequently retire from playing
with his brother and other companions to the library of his father,
where he followed with absorbing interest the stories of Sir Walter Scott,
the romances of Froissart, the adventures of Gil Blas, and other stories that
his boyish mind delighted in. He was already producing among his playmates
a sense of the distinction of his personality, that caused them
to reverence him as one above them.
Chapter II. College Days
January 6, 1857, Lanier entered the sophomore class in Oglethorpe University,
situated at Midway, Ga. -- two miles from Milledgeville, which was then
the capital of the State. It would be difficult to imagine a greater contrast
than that between the sleepy town of Milledgeville and progressive Macon,
or between Oglethorpe and the better colleges of the South
at the present time. The essentially primitive life of the college
is seen in an act which was passed by the legislature
making it unlawful for any person to "establish, keep, or maintain
any store or shop of any description for vending any species of merchandise,
groceries or confectioneries within a mile and a half of the University."
It was a denominational college established by the Presbyterian Church,
and belonged to the synods of South Carolina and Georgia.
Like many other denominational colleges throughout the South,
it arose in response to a demand that attention should be given in education
to the cultivation of a strong religious faith in the minds of students.
The older State universities were supposed to be dominated
by the aristocratic class and by political parties, and there was
a tendency in them towards a more liberal view of religion than comported with
an orthodox faith. The origin of the denominational colleges
was similar to that of Princeton and the smaller colleges of New England.
Many of them, with small endowments and a small number of men in the faculty,
did much to foster intellectual as well as spiritual growth;
their place in the history of Southern life has not been fully appreciated.
Before the public-school system of later days was established,
they did much to educate the masses of the people.
Oglethorpe, at the time when Lanier became a student,
was presided over by Rev. Samuel K. Talmage, originally of New Jersey,
a graduate of Princeton and a tutor there for three years.
He was a warm personal friend of Alexander H. Stephens,
and was known throughout Georgia as a preacher of much power,
"foremost in the councils of his church." Another member of the small faculty
was Charles W. Lane, of the department of mathematics,
of whom one of his friends wrote that he was "the sunniest, sweetest Calvinist
that ever nestled close to the heart of Arminians and all else who loved
the Master's image when they saw it. His cottage at Midway was a Bethel;
it was God's house and heaven's gate."
The piety of such men confirmed in Lanier a natural religious fervor.
But the man who was destined to have a really formative influence over him
was James Woodrow, of the department of science. A native of England
and during his younger days a citizen of Pennsylvania, he had studied
at Lawrence Scientific School under Agassiz, and had just returned
from two years' study in Germany when Lanier came under his influence.
Circumstances were such that he never became an investigator
in his special line of work, but he was a thorough scholar
who kept abreast with the knowledge of his subject. He afterwards became
professor of science in the Presbyterian Theological Seminary at
Columbia, S.C., and later the president of the University of South Carolina.
In 1873 and 1874 he was the champion of science against those
who called the church "to rise in arms against Physical Science
as the mortal enemy of all the Christian holds dear, and to take no rest
until this infidel and atheistic foe has been utterly destroyed."*
Dr. Woodrow maintained that the science of theology, as a science,
is equally human and uninspired with the science of geology.
He cited illustrations from the long warfare of science and theology
to show that the church would make a great mistake if it attempted
to shut off the human intellect from the search of truth
as reverent investigators in the realms of geology and biology might find it.
Comparing scientific truth to a great ocean, he speaks of
an opponent of science as "brandishing his mop against each succeeding wave,
pushing it back with all his might, but the ocean rolls on,
and never minds him; science is utterly unconscious of his opposition."
This point of view, maintained even to the point of accepting
the theory of evolution, led eventually to his trial and condemnation
by the Southern Presbyterian Church. Throughout the whole controversy
he maintained a calm and moderate temper and never abated in the least
his acceptance of the fundamental ideas of the Christian religion.
Such a man, coming into the life of Lanier at a formative period,
influenced him profoundly. He set his mind going in the direction
which he afterwards followed with great zest, the value of science
in modern life and its relation to poetry and religion.
He also revealed to him the meaning of genuine scholarship.
* `An Examination of Certain Recent Assaults on Physical Science'.
By James Woodrow. Columbia, 1873.
Teacher and pupil became intimate friends. In a letter addressed
to the writer, Professor Woodrow says: "When he graduated
I caused him to be appointed tutor in the University,
so that I became better acquainted with him, and liked him better and better.
I was professor of natural science, and often took him to ramble with me,
observing and studying whatever we saw, but also talking about everything
either of us cared for. About the same time I was licensed to preach,
and spent my Saturdays and Sundays in preaching to feeble churches
and in schoolhouses, court houses, and private houses,
within forty or more miles of the college; trying to make
my Sunday night services come within twenty-five miles of home,
so that I could drive to the college in time for my Monday morning
sunrise lecture. Every now and then I would invite Lanier to go with me.
During such drives we were constantly engaged without interruption
in our conversation. In these ways, and in listening frequently
to his marvelous flute-playing, we were much together.
We were both young and fond of study."
The first letter written by Lanier to his father from college announces
his admission to the sophomore class: "I have just done
studying to-night my first lesson, to wit, forty-five lines of Horace,
which I `did' in about fifteen minutes." Other letters show
that he was a very hard student and intensely conscientious.
At one time having violated one of his father's regulations, that he was not
under any circumstances to borrow money from his college mates, he wrote:
"My father, I have sinned. With what intensity of thought,
with what deep and earnest reflection have I contemplated this lately!
My heart throbs with the intensity of its anguish. . . .
If by hard study and good conduct I can atone for that,
God in heaven knows that I shall not be found wanting. . . .
Not a night passes but what the supplication, God bless my parents,
ascends to the great mercy seat." At another time he writes
for the following books: Olmsted's Philosophy, Blair's Rhetoric,
Cicero de Oratore, and an Analytical Geometry. He already has
some Greek tragedies which he is to study. Contemplating his junior year,
he writes: "I feel quite enthusiastic on the subject of studying. . . .
The very name of Junior has something of study-inspiring and energy-exciting
Lanier pursued the limited curriculum of the college
with zeal and with mastery. From his letters it is seen that he read
such of the Greek and Latin classics as were generally studied
in American colleges at that time. He mastered mathematics
beyond any man of his class, and became interested in philosophy and science.
His alert mind and energy enabled him to take at once a position of leadership
in the college. He joined a secret literary society,
of which he wrote to his father: "I have derived more benefit from that,
than any one of my collegiate studies. We meet together in a nice room,
read compositions, declaim, and debate upon interesting subjects."
His contact with these specially intimate friends was a thoroughly
healthy one. He took part in their sports and mischief-making
as well as in their more serious pastimes. "I shall never forget,"
says one of his companions, "those moonlight nights at old Oglethorpe,
when, after study hours, we would crash up the stairway and get out
on the cupola, making the night merry with music, song, and laughter.
Sid would play upon his flute like one inspired, while the rest of us
would listen in solemn silence."
Besides being a faithful student, Lanier was an omnivorous reader
in the wide fields of English literature, sharing his tastes
with some of his companions who with him lived in "an atmosphere
of ardent and loyal friendship." "I can recall," says Mr. T. F. Newell,
his classmate and room-mate,* "those Attic nights, for they
are among the dearest and tenderest recollections of my life,
when with a few chosen companions we would read from some treasured volume,
it may have been Tennyson or Carlyle or Christopher North's
`Noctes Ambrosianae', or we would make the hours vocal with music and song;
those happy nights, which were veritable refections of the gods. . . .
On such occasions I have seen him walk up and down the room and with his flute
extemporize the sweetest music ever vouchsafed to mortal ear.
At such times it would seem as if his soul were in a trance,
and could only find existence, expression, in the ecstasy of tone,
that would catch our souls with his into the very seventh heaven of harmony.
Or, in merry mood, I have seen him take a banjo, for he could play
on any instrument, and as with deft fingers he would strike
some strange new note or chord, you would see his eyes brighten,
he would begin to smile and laugh as if his very soul were tickled,
while his hearers would catch the inspiration, and an old-fashioned
`walk-round' and `negro breakdown', in which all would participate,
would be the inevitable result. At other times, with our musical instruments,
we would sally forth into the night and 'neath moon and stars
and under `Bonny Bell window panes' -- ah, those serenades!
were there ever or will there ever be anything like them again? --
when the velvet flute notes of Lanier would fall pleasantly upon the night."
* Quoted from Baskervill's `Southern Writers', p. 149.
Speaking further of his reading and of the way in which he shared his delight
with others, the same writer says: "I recall how he delighted in
the quaint and curious of our old literature. I remember that it was he
who introduced me to that rare old book, Burton's `Anatomy of Melancholy',
whose name and size had frightened me as I first saw it on the shelves,
but which I found to be wholly different from what its title would indicate;
and old Jeremy Taylor, `the poet-preacher'; and Keats's `Endymion',
and `Chatterton', the `marvelous boy who perished in his pride.'
Yes, I first learned the story of the Monk Rowley and his wonderful poems
with Lanier. And Shelley and Coleridge and Christopher North,
and that strange, weird poem of `The Ettrick Shepherd' of `How Kilmeny
Came Hame', and a whole sweet host and noble company, `rare and complete'.
Yes, Tennyson, with his `Locksley Hall' and his `In Memoriam' and his `Maud',
which last we almost knew by heart. And then old Carlyle,
with his `Sartor Resartus', `Hero-Worship', `Past and Present',
and his wonderful book of essays, especially the ones on Burns and Jean Paul,
`The Only'. Without a doubt it was Carlyle who first enkindled in Lanier
a love of German literature and a desire to know more of the language."
His flute-playing and extensive reading did not prevent Lanier
from graduating at the head of his class in July, 1860.*
His oration was on the ambitious subject, "The Philosophy of History".
One of the most important events in his early life was the vacation
following his graduation. His grandfather had bought
in the mountains of East Tennessee, at Montvale Springs, a large estate,
on which had been built a beautiful hotel. During the summer
his children and grandchildren -- some twenty-five in all -- visited him.
Here they enjoyed the pleasures of hunting, fishing, and social life.
There were many visitors from the Southern States to this
"Saratoga of the South". "What an assemblage of facilities for enjoyment,"
Lanier writes, "I have up here in the mountains, -- kinsfolk, men friends,
women friends, books, music, wine, hunting, fishing, billiards,
tenpins, chess, eating, mosquitoless sleeping, mountain scenery,
and a month of idleness." This experience, somewhat idealized,
is the basis of the first part of "Tiger Lilies". Here Lanier
had the opportunity of seeing at its best the life of the old South
just before it vanished in the cataclysm of the Civil War.
Of that life he afterwards wrote: "Nothing can be more pitiable than that
at the time when this amiable outcome of the old Southern civilization
became known to the world at large, it became so through being laid bare
by the sharp spasm of civil war. There was a time when all our eyes and faces
were distorted with passion; none of us either saw or showed true.
Thrice pitiable, one says again, that the fairer aspects of a social state,
which though neither perfect as its violent friends preached,
nor satanic as its violent enemies denounced, yet gave rise
to so many beautiful relations of honor and fidelity, should have now
gone to the past, to remain illuminated only by the unfavorable glare
of accidentally associated emotions in which no man can see clearly."**
* He was out of college the year 1858-9, being clerk in the Macon post-office.
The college records show that he received the highest marks
in his senior year, but shared the honors of graduation with one
whose record for the entire course was equal to his.
** `Florida: Its Scenery, Climate, and History', p. 232.
But while Lanier was thoroughly identified with this life,
he was at the time dreaming of a career which was not fostered by it --
a career in which music and poetry should be the dominating figures.
The scene in the first book of "Tiger Lilies" of a band of friends
gathered on the balcony of John Sterling's house -- a palace of art
reared by Lanier's imagination in the mountains of East Tennessee --
is strictly autobiographical. As they watch the sunset over the valley,
the rich notes of violin, flute, and piano blend with the beauty of nature;
the future of music is the theme and poetry the comment.
The various characters of that immature romance quote from Emerson, Carlyle,
and Richter. As they talk upon the theme so dear to their imagination
twilight comes. "And so the last note floated out over the rock,
over the river, over the twilight to the west."
With something of the power of Charles Egbert Craddock,
Lanier writes in the same book of the mountain scenery of that region:
"Here grow the strong sweet trees, like brawny men with virgins' hearts.
Here wave the ferns, and cling the mosses and clamber the reckless vines.
Here, one's soul may climb as upon Pisgah, and see one's land of peace,
seeing Christ who made all these beautiful things."
Again, it is "the trees that ever lifted their arms toward heaven,
obeying the injunction of the Apostle, `praying always', --
the great uncomplaining trees, whose life is surely the finest of all lives,
since it is nothing but a continual growing and being beautiful."
He describes a moonlight night on the mountains: "All this time
the grace of moonlight lay tenderly upon the rugged majesty of the mountains,
as if Desdemona placed a dainty white hand upon Othello's brow.
All this time the old priestly oaks lifted yearning arms toward the stars,
and a mighty company of leaf-chapleted followers, with silent reverence,
joined this most pathetic prayer of these dumb ministers of the hills."
After this enchanting and inspiring experience, he returned to Oglethorpe
as tutor: it was to be a year of hard work, especially in Greek.
He described himself at this period as "a spare-built boy,
of average height and underweight, mostly addicted to hard study,
long reveries, and exhausting smokes with a German pipe."
He did much miscellaneous reading and was busy with "hints and fragments
of a poetical, musical conception, -- a sort of musical drama
of the peasant uprising in France, called the Jacquerie,"
which continued to interest him during the remainder of his life,
but which remained unfinished at his death. If he wrote any poetry,
it has not been preserved. His brother is of the opinion
that his earliest efforts were Byronesque, if not Wertheresque.
"I have his first attempt at poetry," he says; "it is characteristic,
it is not suggestive of swallow flights of song, but of an eaglet
peering up toward the empyrean." His mind at this time
turned more especially in the direction of music. He jots down
in one of his note-books: "The point which I wish to settle
is merely by what method shall I ascertain what I am fit for
as preliminary to ascertaining God's will with reference to me;
or what my inclinations are, as preliminary to ascertaining
what my capacities are -- that is, what I am fit for.
I am more than all perplexed by this fact: that the prime inclination --
that is, natural bent (which I have checked, though) of my nature is to music,
and for that I have the greatest talent; indeed, not boasting,
for God gave it me, I have an extraordinary musical talent,
and feel it within me plainly that I could rise as high as any composer.
But I cannot bring myself to believe that I was intended for a musician,
because it seems so small a business in comparison with other things which,
it seems to me, I might do. Question here: `What is the province of music
in the economy of the world?'"
But the really practical plan that formed itself in Lanier's mind
was that of study in a German university, as preliminary to a professorship
in an American college, which might in turn give opportunity
for creative work. Young Southerners from the University of Virginia
-- such as Basil Gildersleeve and Thomas R. Price -- had already begun
their pilgrimages to the German universities. The situation in Lanier's case
is an exact parallel to that of Longfellow at Bowdoin College,
and one cannot but wonder what would have been Lanier's future
if circumstances had allowed him to follow out the career here indicated.
The best account given of him at this time is that of a young Northerner
who was teaching in an academy at Midway: --
"It was during the four months immediately preceding the outbreak of the war
that a kind Fate brought me into contact and companionship with Sidney Lanier.
We occupied adjoining rooms at Ike Sherman's boarding-house and ate
at the same table. Myself a young fellow just out of a Northern college,
boasting the same number of years, conducting a boys' academy
in the shadow of Oglethorpe, there was between us a bond of sympathy
which led to a friendship interrupted only by the Civil War and broken only
by his untimely death. Many a stroll and talk we had together
among the moaning pines, beguiled by the song of the mocking-bird.
Together we called on the young ladies of Midway, -- as this
little college community was known, -- together joined in serenades,
in which his flute or guitar had the place of honor, played chess together,
and together dreamed day-dreams which were never to be realized.
Contemporary testimony to my joy in his companionship is borne
in frequent references thereto in my private correspondence of those days.
`Several students,' says a New Year's letter to a Northern friend,
`room in the hotel, as well as a young and very intellectual tutor,
right back of me, which makes it very pleasant.' In a later letter:
`The tutor is a brick. I am much pleased with him and anticipate
much pleasure in his company.' As to his plans for the future:
`The tutor -- Lanier -- is studying for a professorship;
is going to remain here about two years, then go to Heidelberg, Germany,
remain about two years, come back, and take a professorship somewhere.'
It is needless to add that the destroying angel of war wrecked ruthlessly
all these beautiful ambitions.
"Lanier's passion for music asserted itself at every opportunity.
His flute and guitar furnished recreation for himself
and pleasant entertainment for the friends dropping in upon him.
As a master of the flute he was said to be, even at eighteen,
without an equal in Georgia. `Tutor Lanier,' I find myself recording
at the time, `is the finest flute-player you or I ever saw.
It is perfectly splendid -- his playing. He is far famed for it.
His flute cost fifty dollars, and he runs the notes as easily
as any one on the piano. Description is inadequate.'"*
* "Recollections and Letters of Sidney Lanier", by Milton H. Northrup.
`Lippincott's Magazine', March, 1905.
Before he was twenty years old, then, the master passions of Lanier's soul
-- scholarship, music, and to a less degree poetry -- had asserted themselves.
He had a right to look forward to a brilliant future.
Chapter III. A Confederate Soldier
From his dreams of music and poetry and from the ideal he had formed
of study at Heidelberg, Lanier was awakened by the guns of Fort Sumter
and by the agitation everywhere in Georgia. At Milledgeville he heard
some of the great speeches made for and against secession,
for, from November to January, the conflict throughout the State
and especially in the capital was a severe one. He himself,
like his father, hoped that the Union might be preserved,
but the forces of discord could not be stayed. The people of Macon,
on November 8, 1860, passed a declaration of independence,
setting forth their grievances against the North. When secession
was declared in Charleston on December 1, a hundred guns were fired
amidst the ringing of bells and the shouts of the people.
At night there was a procession of fifteen hundred people
with banners and transparencies.* When on January 16 the Georgia convention
voted to secede from the Union, Milledgeville was in "rapturous commotion".
"Tears of joy fell from many eyes, and words of congratulation were uttered
by every tongue. The artillery from the capitol square thundered forth
the glad tidings, and the bells of the city pealed forth the joyous welcome
to the new-born Republic."
* Butler's `History of Macon'.
Lanier afterwards, in "Tiger Lilies", described the war fever
as it swept over the South. "An afflatus of war was breathed upon us.
Like a great wind it drew on, and blew upon men, women, and children.
Its sound mingled with the serenity of the church organs and arose with
the earnest words of preachers praying for guidance in the matter.
It sighed in the half-breathed words of sweethearts,
conditioning impatient lovers with war services. It thundered splendidly
in the impassioned appeals of orators to the people.
It whistled through the streets, it stole into the firesides,
it clinked glasses in bar-rooms, it lifted the gray hairs of our wise men
in conventions, it thrilled through the lectures in college halls,
it rustled the thumbed book leaves of the schoolrooms. This wind blew upon
all vanes of all the churches of the country and turned them one way, --
toward war. It blew, and shook out as if by magic a flag whose device
was unknown to soldier or sailor before, but whose every flap and flutter
made the blood bound in our veins. . . . It arrayed the sanctity
of a righteous cause in the brilliant trappings of military display. . . .
It offered tests to all allegiances and loyalties, -- of church, of state;
of private loves, of public devotion; of personal consanguinity,
of social ties."*
* `Tiger Lilies', p. 119.
It does not fall within the province of this book to discuss the issues
that led to the Civil War, -- the questions of secession and slavery.
In 1861 they had ceased to be debated in the halls of Congress;
all the Southern people were being merged into a unit.
Ardent opponents of secession, like Alexander H. Stephens,
threw in their lot with the new Confederacy; States like Virginia,
which hesitated to disrupt a Union with which they had had so much to do,
were as enthusiastic as the more ardent Southern States;
old men vied with young men in their military ardor.
Scotch-Irish opponents of slavery marched side by side with the Cavaliers,
to whom slavery was the very corner-stone of a feudal aristocracy.
The fact is, the whole South was animated by a passion for war.
To young men like Lanier the Southern cause was one of liberty,
of resistance to despotism and fanaticism, of the protection of homes.
He who would understand their point of view must read such war lyrics as
"Maryland, My Maryland" and Timrod's "Ethnogenesis", or enter sympathetically
into the lives of that youthful band of Confederate soldiers all of whom
were afterwards to become distinguished in the field of letters, --
Timrod, Hayne, Cable, Maurice Thompson, and Lanier.
It was not given to many men on either side to divine
the true issues of the war. Lanier afterwards rejoiced
in the overthrow of slavery, and knew that it was the belief
in the soundness and greatness of the American Union
among the millions of the North and of the great Northwest
which really conquered the South. "As soon as we invaded the North," he said,
"and arrayed this sentiment against us, our swift destruction followed."
In a note-book of 1867 he pointed out with touches of humor
the folly of many of the ideas formerly held by himself and other Southerners.
He is writing an essay on the Devil's Bombs, "some half-dozen of which
were exploded between the years 1861 and 1865 over the Southern portion
of North America with widespread and somewhat sad results: namely,
a million of men slain and maimed; a million of widows and orphans created;
several billions of money destroyed; several hundred thousand
of ignorant schoolboys who could not study on account of the noise
made by the shells; and a large miscellaneous mass of poverty, starvation,
recklessness, and ruin precipitated so suddenly upon the country
that many were buried beneath it beyond hope of being extricated."
This universal tragedy he attributes in part to the conceit
of the Southern people. He himself became "convinced of his ability
to whip at least five Yankees. The author does not know now and did not then,
by what course of reasoning he arrived at this said conviction;
in the best of the author's judgment he did not reason it out at all,
rather absorbed it, from the press of surrounding similar convictions.
The author, however, was also confident, not only that he personally
could whip five Yankees, but ANY Southern boy could do it.
The whole South was satisfied it could whip five Norths. The newspapers said
we could do it; the preachers pronounced anathemas against the man
that didn't believe we could do it; our old men said at the street corners,
if they were young they could do it, and by the Eternal, they believed
they could do it anyhow (whereat great applause and `Hurrah for ole Harris!');
the young men said they'd be blanked if they couldn't do it,
and the young ladies said they wouldn't marry a man who couldn't do it.
This arrogant perpetual invitation to draw and come on,
this idea which possessed the whole section, which originated
no one knows when, grew no one knows how, was a devil's own bombshell,
the fuse of which sparkled when Mr. Brooks struck Mr. Sumner upon the head
with a cane.
"Of course we laugh at it NOW, -- laugh in the hope that our neighbors
will attribute the redness of our cheeks to that and not to our shame. . . .
The conceit of an individual is ridiculous because it is powerless. . . .
The conceit of a whole people is terrible, it is a devil's bombshell,
surcharged with death, plethoric with all foul despairs and disasters."
So Lanier spoke in the sober maturity of his manhood of the great tragedy
through which he with his section passed. But during the war
there was but one idea in his mind, and that was that he might take part
in the establishment of a Confederacy. He dreamed with his people
of a nation that might be the embodiment of all that was fine
in government and in society, that the "new Confederacy was to enter upon
an era of prosperity such as no other nation, ancient or modern,
had ever enjoyed, and that the city of Macon, his birthplace and home,
was to become a great art centre." In this hope, soon after finishing
the year's work at Oglethorpe,* he volunteered for service
and went to Virginia to join the Macon Volunteers, who had left Georgia
early in April -- the first company that went out of the State to Virginia.
It was an old company that had won distinction in the Mexican War,
and was the special pride of the city of Macon. The company was
stationed for several months near Norfolk, where Lanier experienced
some of the joys of city life in those early days when war was largely
a picnic -- a holiday time it was -- "the gay days of mandolin and guitar
and moonlight sails on the James River."
* The faculty and students almost to a man enlisted in the army;
and the college buildings were afterwards used for barracks and hospitals.
President Talmage lost his mind by reason of the conflict between
his affection for his native and for his adopted section.
In the main, however, they played "Marsh-Divers and Meadow-Crakes",
their principal duties being to picket the beach, and their
"pleasures and sweet rewards-of-toil consisting in agues which played dice
with our bones, and blue-mass pills that played the deuce with our livers."*
The company was sent in 1862 to Wilmington, N.C., where they experienced
a pleasant change in the style of fever, "indulging for two or three months,"
continues Lanier, "in what are called the `dry shakes of the sand hills',
a sort of brilliant, tremolo movement, brilliantly executed upon
`that pan-pipe, man', by an invisible but very powerful performer."
From here, where they were engaged in building Fort Fisher,
they were called to Drewry's Bluff; and from there to the Chickahominy,
participating in the seven days' fighting around Richmond. Just before
the battle of Malvern Hill they marched all night through drenching rain,
over torn and swampy roads. These were the only important battles in which
Lanier took part. Soon afterwards he was in a little gunboat fight or two
on the south bank of the James River. On August 26 they were sent
to Petersburg to rest. While there he enjoyed the use of the city library.
He and his brother and two friends were transferred to the signal corps,
which was considered at that time the most efficient in the Southern army,
and, becoming soon proficient in the system, attracted the attention
of the commanding officer, who formed them into a mounted field squad
and attached them to the staff of Major-General French.
"Often Lanier and a friend," says the latter officer,
"would come to my quarters and pass the evenings with us,
where the `alarums of war' were lost in the soft notes of their flutes,
for Lanier was an excellent musician."** Lanier tells in a letter
written to his father at that time of four Georgia privates with one general,
six captains, and one lieutenant, serenading the city.
* The account of Lanier's war experiences is based on the poet's
letters to Northrup, the reminiscences of Clifford Lanier,
Lanier's unpublished letters to his father, `Tiger Lilies',
and the `Official Records of the War of the Rebellion'.
** `A History of Two Wars', by Samuel G. French.
One of the most precious memories of Lanier's war career
was that of General Lee attending religious services in Petersburg.
The height of every Confederate soldier's ambition was to get
a glimpse of the beloved general, who was the idol of his soldiers.
Lanier reverenced him as one of the greatest of men. In later years
he gave his ideal of what a great musician ought to be. "A great artist,"
he said, "should have the sensibility and expressive genius of Schumann,
the calm grandeur of Lee, and the human breadth of Shakespeare, all in one."
In his "Confederate Memorial Address" he speaks of Lee as "stately in victory,
stately in defeat; stately among the cannon, stately among the books;
stately in solitude, stately in society; stately in form, in soul,
in character, and in action." Fortunately he had the chance to see him
under specially interesting circumstances. He afterwards related the incident
to the Confederate veterans in Macon: "The last time that I saw
with mortal eyes -- for, with spiritual eyes, many, many times
have I contemplated him since -- the scene was so beautiful,
the surroundings were so rare, nay, time and circumstance did so fitly
frame him, as it were, that I think the picture should not be lost. . . .
It was at fateful Petersburg, on one glorious Sunday morning,
whilst the armies of Grant and Butler were investing
our last stronghold there. It had been announced, to those who happened
to be stationed in the neighborhood of General Lee's headquarters,
that religious services would be conducted on that morning
by Major-General Pendleton. At the appointed time I strolled over
to Dunn's Hill, where General Lee's tent was pitched,
and found General Pendleton ensconced under a magnificent tree,
and a small party of soldiers, with a few ladies from the dwelling near by,
collected about him. In a few moments, General Lee appeared
with his camp chair, and sat down. The services began.
That terrible battery, Number Five, was firing, very slowly,
each report of the great guns making the otherwise profound silence
still more profound. I sat down on the grass and gazed,
with such reverence as I had never given to mortal man before,
upon the grand face of General Lee. He had been greatly fatigued
by loss of sleep.
"As the sermon progressed, and the immortal words of Christian doctrine came
to our hearts and comforted us, sweet influences born of the liberal sunlight
which lay warm upon the grass, of the moving leaves and trembling flowers,
seemed to steal over the General's soul. Presently his eyelids
gradually closed, and he fell gently asleep. Not a muscle of him stirred,
not a nerve of his grand countenance twitched; there was
no drooping of the head, nor bowing of the figure. . . .
As he slumbered so, sitting erect, with arms folded upon his chest,
in an attitude of majestic repose, such as I never saw assumed
by mortal man before; as the large and comfortable word
fell from the preacher's lips; as the lazy cannon of the enemy anon
hurled a screaming shell to within a few hundred yards of where we sat,
as finally a bird flew into a tree overhead and sat and piped
small blissful notes in unearthly contrast with the roar of the war engines;
it seemed to me as if the present earth floated off through the sunlight,
and the antique earth returned out of the past, and some majestic god
sat on a hill, sculptured in stone, presiding over a terrible yet sublime
contest of human passion."
A pleasant interlude in Lanier's soldier life was a two weeks' visit
to Macon in the spring of 1863. The city had not yet felt
any of the calamities of war, although high prices prevailed.
Mrs. Clay, wife of Senator Clement C. Clay, was a visitor in the city
at that time, waiting for a summons to join her husband in Richmond.
She writes, in recalling those days: "Spring was in its precious beauty.
Gardens glowed with brilliant blossoms. Thousands of fragrant odors mingled
in the air, the voices of myriad birds sang about the foliaged avenues."*
It was then that Lanier met Miss Mary Day, at the home of their friend,
Miss Lamar. Her father was a prominent business man in Macon. She had lived
for the first few years of her life in Macon, but had been since 1851
studying music in New York, and living with cultivated people
at Saratoga and West Point. In an atmosphere of romance, music, and love
Lanier spent his vacation.
* `A Belle of the Fifties', p. 194.
On their return to the Virginia battlefields the two brothers
were accompanied by Mrs. Clay and her sister-in-law. Mrs. Clay had been
a popular belle in Washington in the fifties, and was well acquainted
with leading men and women throughout the country. She had heard and met
in social circles Charlotte Cushman, Jenny Lind, Thackeray, Lord Napier,
and other notabilities. Lanier, eager always to hear of the larger world
outside of his own limited life, was much attracted by
her reminiscences of well-known men and women. Returning to Suffolk, Va.,
Clifford Lanier wrote to her: "What a transition is this --
from the spring and peace of Macon to this muddy and war-distracted country!
Going to sleep in the moonlight and soft air of Italy, I seem to have waked
embedded in Lapland snow." Sidney wrote: "Have you ever wandered,
in an all night's dream, through exquisite flowery mosses,
through labyrinthine grottoes, `full of all sparkling and sparry loveliness',
over mountains of unknown height, by abysses of unfathomable depth,
all beneath skies of an infinite brightness caused by no sun;
strangest of all, -- wandered about in wonder, as if you had lived an eternity
in the familiar contemplation of such things? If you have dreamed,
thought, and felt so, you can realize the imbecile stare
with which I gaze on all of this life which goes on around me here.
Macon was my two weeks' dream."*
* `A Belle of the Fifties', p. 200.
During 1863 and a large part of 1864 the two brothers served
as scouts in Milligan's Corps along the James River. The duties were
unusually dangerous and onerous, from the fact that their movements
had to be concealed, and that they were in constant danger of being captured.
In this work of hard riding Lanier displayed a cool and collected courage;
he was untiring in his energy, prudent and cautious.
Notwithstanding the dangers and hardships, he looked upon the period of life
at Fort Boykin on Burwell's Bay -- their headquarters --
as "the most delicious period of his life in many respects."
Writing of it later he said: "Our life was as full of romance
as heart could desire. We had a flute and a guitar, good horses,
a beautiful country, splendid residences inhabited by friends who loved us,
and plenty of hairbreadth 'scapes from the roving bands of Federals
who were continually visiting that Debatable Land. . . .
Cliff and I never cease to talk of the beautiful women, the serenades,
the moonlight dashes on the beach of fair Burwell's Bay,
and the spirited brushes of our little force with the enemy."*
* Letter to Northrup, June 11, 1866.
This is the period of his life which he describes in the second part
of "Tiger Lilies". His brother Clifford also made it the basis of his novel,
"Thorn-Fruit". The effect produced by the young poet and musician
on the people who lived in the stately mansions along the James River
has been told by one who knew him well at this time: "The two brothers
were inseparable; slender, gray-eyed youths, full of enthusiasm,
Clifford grave and quiet, Sidney, the elder, playful with
a dainty mirthfulness. . . . How often did we sit on the moonlight nights
enthralled by the entranced melodies of his flute! Always the longing
for the very highest pervaded his life, and child though I was,
in listening to him as he paced the long galleries of my old home,
or as we rode in the sweet green wood, I felt even then that we sat
`in the aurora of a sunrise which was to put out all the stars.'"*
* `Southern Bivouac', May, 1887.
This period of his army life is important also from the fact
that here at Fort Boykin he definitely began to contemplate
a literary life as his probable vocation. He was studying hard,
reading English poetry, and writing to his father to "seize at any price"
editions of the German poets, Uhland, Lessing, Schelling, and Tieck.
Thus at a time when other Southerners were, as Professor Gildersleeve
has said, getting out their classics to reread them, Lanier was voyaging into
strange fields of thought alone. Once, when the little camp was captured,
he lost several of his choicest treasures, -- a volume containing
the poems of Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats, a German glossary, Heine's poems,
and "Aurora Leigh". In a letter to his father, January 18, 1864,
he says: "Gradually I find that my whole soul is merging itself
into this business of writing, and especially of writing poetry.
I am going to try it; and am going to test, in the most rigid way I know,
the awful question whether it is my vocation." He sends his father
a number of poems, that they may be criticised. He has a sense of his own
deficiencies as a writer, -- deficiencies which he never fully overcame, --
for he writes: "I have frequently noticed in myself a tendency
to a diffuse style; a disposition to push my metaphors too far,
employing a multitude of words to heighten the patness of the image,
and so making of it a CONCEIT rather than a metaphor,
a fault copiously illustrated in the poetry of Cowley, Waller, Donne,
and others of that ilk."
The tendency is seen in a poem written at Boykin's Bluff
on, perhaps, his twenty-first birthday. Notable also
is the sense of the dawn of manhood: --
So Boyhood sets: comes Youth,
A painful night of mists and dreams,
That broods till Love's exquisite truth,
The star of a morn-clear manhood, beams.
In this dawn of his manhood -- not yet morn-clear, however, --
he began "Tiger Lilies", writing those parts having to do with his experience
in the mountains, some passages of which have already been quoted.
But Lanier's literary career was not to be begun as soon as he hoped.
He was, in August, 1864, transferred to Wilmington, N.C., where he became
a signal officer on the blockade-runners. Wilmington was the port which,
late in the war, was the scene of the most brilliant successes
of these swift vessels and the most strenuous efforts of the blockaders.
"Long after every other port was closed, desperate, but wary sea pigeons
would evade the big and surly watchers on the coast . . . and ho!
for the open sea." This was a service of keen excitement and constant danger,
demanding a clear head and iron nerves. In the latter part of 1864
it became more and more difficult for the blockade-runners to make their way
to Bermuda. On November 2, a stormy night, Lanier was a signal officer
on the Lucy, which made its way out of the harbor, but fourteen hours later
was captured in the Gulf Stream by the Federal cruiser Santiago-de-Cuba.
He was taken to Point Lookout prison, where he spent four months
of dreary and distressing life. To this prison life Lanier always attributed
his breakdown in health. In "Tiger Lilies" he afterwards attempted
to give a description of the prison and the life led by prisoners, but turned
with disgust from the harrowing memories. The few pages he did write
serve as a counterpart to Walt Whitman's strictures on Southern prisons
in his "Specimen Days in America".
And yet, under these loathsome conditions he read German poetry,
translating Heine's "The Palm and the Pine" and Herder's "Spring Greeting".
Here, too, he found comfort for himself and his companions
in the flute which he had carried with him during the entire war.
One of his comrades gives the following account of Lanier's playing:
"Late one evening I heard from our tent the clear sweet notes of a flute
in the distance, and I was told that the player was a young man from Georgia
who had just come among us. I forthwith hastened to find him out,
and from that hour the flute of Sidney Lanier was our daily delight.
It was an angel imprisoned with us to cheer and console us. Well I remember
his improvisations, and how the young artist stood there in the twilight.
(It was his custom to stand while he played.) Many a stern eye
moistened to hear him, many a homesick heart for a time forgot its captivity.
The night sky, clear as a dewdrop above us, the waters of the Chesapeake
far to the east, the long gray beach and the distant pines,
seemed all to have found an interpreter in him.
"In all those dreary months of imprisonment, under the keenest
privations of life, exposed to the daily manifestations of want and depravity,
sickness and death, his was the clear-hearted, hopeful voice that sang
what he uttered in after years."
The purity of Lanier's soul was never better attested than in a letter
written by a fellow-prisoner, Mr. John B. Tabb, to Charles Day Lanier,
the oldest son of the poet, trying to impress upon his mind
the character of his father as exhibited in this prison life at Point Lookout:
"To realize what our surroundings were, one must have lived in a prison camp.
There was no room for pretense or disguise. Men appeared
what they really were, noble or low-minded, pure or depraved;
and there did one trait of your father's character single him out.
In all our intercourse I can remember no conversation or word of his
that an angel might not have uttered or listened to. Set this down
in your memory. . . . It will throw light upon other points,
and prove the truth of Sir Galahad's words, `My strength is as
the strength of ten, because my heart is pure.'"
Lanier secured his release from prison through some gold
which a friend of his had smuggled into the prison in his mouth.
He came out "emaciated to a skeleton, down-hearted for want of news from home,
down-headed for weariness." On his voyage to Fortress Monroe
an incident occurred which, although told in somewhat overwrought language,
is a fitting climax to his career as a soldier.
The story of his rescue from death, says Baskervill, is graphically told
by the lady herself who was the good Samaritan on this occasion.
"She was an old friend from Montgomery, Ala., returning from New York
to Richmond; and her little daughter, who had learned to call him Brother Sid,
chanced to hear that he was down in the hold of the vessel dying.
On application to the colonel in command permission was promptly given to her
to minister to his necessity, and she made haste to go below.
`Now my friends in New York,' continued she, `had given me
a supply of medicines, for we had few such things in Dixie,
and among the remedies were quinine and brandy. I hastily took
a flask of brandy, and we went below, where we were led to the rude stalls
provided for cattle, but now crowded with poor human wretches.
There in that horrible place dear Sidney Lanier lay wrapped in an old quilt,
his thin hands tightly clenched, his face drawn and pinched,
his eyes fixed and staring, his poor body shivering now and then
in a spasm of pain. Lilla fell at his side, kissing him and calling:
`Brother Sid, don't you know me? Don't you know your little sister?'
But no recognition or response came from the sunken eyes.
I poured some brandy into a spoon and gave it to him.
It gurgled down his throat at first with no effort from him to swallow it.
I repeated the stimulant several times before he finally revived.
At last he turned his eyes slowly about until he saw Lilla,
and murmured: `Am I dead? Is this Lilla? Is this heaven?' . . .
To make a long story short, the colonel assisted us
to get him above to our cabin. I can see his fellow prisoners now
as they crouched and assisted to pass him along over their heads,
for they were so packed that they could not make room to carry him through.
Along over their heads they tenderly passed the poor, emaciated body,
so shrunken with prison life and benumbed with cold. We got him
into clean blankets, but at first he could not endure the pain from the fire,
he was so nearly frozen. We gave him some hot soup and more brandy,
and he lay quiet till after midnight. Then he asked for his flute
and began playing. As he played the first few notes, you should have heard
the yell of joy that came up from the shivering wretches down below,
who knew that their comrade was alive. And there we sat entranced about him,
the colonel and his wife, Lilla and I, weeping at the tender music,
as the tones of new warmth and color and hope came like liquid melody
from his magic flute."*
* `Southern Writers', p. 169.
Thus closes his war period. His name does not appear
in any of the official records, but no private soldier
had a more varied experience.* One scarcely knows which to admire most, --
the soldier, brave and knightly, the poet, preparing his wings for a flight,
or the musician, inspiriting his fellow-soldiers in camp and in prison.
* It is said that he refused promotion several times in order to be
with his brother. In a memorandum on the photograph herewith presented
he refers to himself as "captain" in the late Confederate army.
I have been unable to reconcile these statements.
[Photograph not included in this ASCII edition. -- A. L.]
Chapter IV. Seeking a Vocation
Lanier reached Macon March 15, after a long and painful journey
through the Carolinas. Immediately upon his arrival, losing the stimulus
which had kept him going so long, he fell dangerously ill,
and remained so for nearly two months. Early in May,
just as he was convalescing, General Wilson captured Macon,
and Jefferson Davis and Clement C. Clay were brought to the Lanier House,
whence they were to start on their way as prisoners to Fortress Monroe.
Clifford Lanier reached home May 19. He had, after the blockade was closed
at Wilmington, gone to Cuba. From there he sailed to Galveston
and walked thence to Macon. He arrived just in time to see his mother,
who a few days after died of consumption. She had kept herself
alive for months by "a strong conviction, which she expressed again and again,
that God would bring both her boys to her before she died." Sidney spent
the summer months with his father and his sister, ministering to them
in their sorrow. In September he began to tutor on a large plantation
nine miles from Macon. With thirty classes a day and failing health,
he whose brain was "fairly teeming with beautiful things"
was shut up to the horrible monotony of the "tear and tret" of the schoolroom.
He spent the winter at Point Clear on Mobile Bay, where he was
greatly invigorated by the sea breezes and the air of the pine forests.
After these months of sorrow and struggle he settled in Montgomery, Ala.,
as clerk in the Exchange Hotel, the property of his grandfather
and his uncles. His first feeling as he faces the new conditions
which he is trying to explain to Northrup, his Northern friend,
is one of bewilderment, -- the immense distance between
the beginning and the end of the war: --
"So wild and high are the big war-waves dashing between '61 and '66,
as between two shores, that, looking across their `rude, imperious surge',
I can scarcely discern any sight or sound of those old peaceful days
that you and I passed on the `sacred soil' of M----.
The sweet, half-pastoral tones that SHOULD come from out that golden time,
float to me mixed with battle cries and groans. It was our glorious spring:
but, my God, the flowers of it send up sulphurous odors,
and their petals are dabbled with blood.
"These things being so, I thank you, more than I can well express,
for your kind letter. It comes to me, like a welcome sail,
from that old world to this new one, through the war-storms.
It takes away the sulphur and the blood-flecks, and drowns out
the harsh noises of battle. The two margins of the great gulf
which has divided you from me seem approaching each other:
I stretch out my hand across the narrowing fissure,
to grasp yours on the other side. And I wish, with all my heart,
that you and I could spend this ineffable May afternoon
under that old oak at Whittaker's and `talk it all over'."*
* This and the following letter were printed in `Lippincott's Magazine',
March, 1905. A few changes are made to conform to the original copies.
In another letter (June 29, 1866) he encloses a photograph and comments on
the life in Montgomery: --
"The cadaverous enclosed is supposed to represent the face of your friend,
together with a small portion of the Confederate gray coat in which enwrapped
he did breast the big wars.
"I have one favor to entreat; and that is, that you will hold in consideration
the very primitive state of the photographic art in this section,
and believe that my mouth is not so large, by some inches,
as this villainous artist portrays it.
"I despair of giving you any idea of the mortal stagnation which paralyzes
all business here. On our streets, Monday is very like Sunday:
they show no life, save late in the afternoon, when the girls come out,
one by one, and shine and move, just as the stars do an hour later.
I don't think there's a man in town who could be induced
to go into his neighbor's store and ask him how's trade;
for he would have to atone for such an insult with his life.
Everything is dreamy, and drowsy, and drone-y. The trees stand like statues;
and even when a breeze comes, the leaves flutter and dangle idly about,
as if with a languid protest against all disturbance of their perfect rest.
The mocking-birds absolutely refuse to sing before twelve o'clock at night,
when the air is somewhat cooled: and the fireflies flicker more slowly
than I ever saw them before. Our whole world here yawns,
in a vast and sultry spell of laziness. An `exposition of sleep'
is come over us, as over Sweet Bully Bottom; we won't wake till winter.
Himmel, my dear Boy, you are all so alive up there, and we are all
so dead down here! I begin to have serious thoughts of emigrating
to your country, so that I may live a little. There's not enough
attrition of mind on mind here, to bring out any sparks from a man."
Into this strange new world -- "the unfamiliar avenue of a new era" --
Lanier passed with unfaltering courage. He was to show that
"fortitude is more manly than bravery, for noble and long endurance
wins the shining love of God; whereas brilliant bravery is momentary,
is easy to the enthusiastic, and only dazzles the admiration
of the weak-eyed." Did any young man ever have to begin life
under more disadvantageous circumstances? Cherishing in his heart
the ideal long since formed of the scholar's or the artist's life,
he looked around on the blankest world one could imagine.
It is perhaps in a later letter to Bayard Taylor that Lanier came nearest
to expressing the situation that confronted him at the end of the war.
"Perhaps you know that with us of the younger generation of the South,
since the war, pretty much the whole of life has been merely not dying."
Added to his own poverty and sickness, was that of his family.
His grandfather had been compelled to leave his estate in East Tennessee
in 1863, and was now in old age deprived of his negroes and much of
his land and money. His father, weighed down with sorrow, had to take up
the practice of law from the start. Some members of his family,
"who used to roll in wealth, are every day," he writes, "with their own hands
plowing the little patch of ground which the war has left them,
while their wives do their cooking and washing."
Moreover, the entire South -- and to those who had shared
the hopes of a Southern republic it was still the land they loved --
was in a state of despair. Middle Georgia had lost through Sherman's
march to the sea $100,000,000.* In the wake of Sherman's armies
Richard Malcom Johnston had lost his estate of $50,000,
Maurice Thompson's home was in ashes, and Joel Chandler Harris,
who had begun life on the old Turner plantation under such favorable auspices,
was forced to seek an occupation in New Orleans. Only those
who lived through that period or who have imaginatively reproduced it,
can realize the truth of E. L. Godkin's statement: "I doubt much
if any community in the modern world was ever so ruthlessly brought
face to face with what is sternest and hardest in human life."
It was not simply the material losses of the war, -- these have often
been commented on and statistics given, -- it was the loss of libraries
like those of Simms and Hayne, the burning of institutions of learning
like the University of Alabama, the closing of colleges,
like Lanier's own alma mater. It was the passing away of a civilization
which, with all its faults, had many attractive qualities --
a loss all the more apparent at a time when a more democratic civilization
had not yet taken its place. The South was
Wandering between two worlds -- one dead,
The other powerless to be born.
Even States like Georgia, which soon showed signs of recuperation
and rejuvenation, suffered with their more unfortunate sisters,
South Carolina and Louisiana, where the ravages of war were terrific.
There was confusion in the public mind -- uncertainty as to the future.
The memories of these days are suggested here, not for the purpose
of awakening in any mind bitter memories, but that some idea may be given
of the tremendous obstacles that confronted a young man like Lanier.
* Rhodes's `History of the United States', v, 22.
It is no wonder that under these circumstances men went to other countries,
and that some of those who did not go cherished the project
of transporting the people of various States to other lands,
where the spirit of the civilization that had passed away might be preserved.*
Many men whose names are now lost passed out to the States of the West.
Business men, scholars, and men of all professions, who have since
become famous in other States, were as complete a loss to the South
as those who died on the battlefield. And when to all these are added
the men and women who died broken-hearted at the losses of war,
some idea may be conceived of the disadvantages under which
the South began her work.
* See the `Life and Letters of R. L. Dabney', for a plan in which
many Virginians were interested.
The work of those men who remained in the South and set about
to inaugurate a new era cannot be too highly estimated, -- a work made
all the more difficult by strong men who resisted the march of events,
and who refused to accept the conditions that then prevailed.
The readjustment came soon to more men than some have thought.
Lanier, writing in 1867, before the pressure of reconstruction government
had been felt, said, in commenting on the growing lack of restraint
in modern political life: "At the close of that war, three armies
which had been fighting on the Southern side, and which numbered probably
forty thousand men, were disbanded. These men had for four years been
subjected to the unfamiliar and galling restrictions of military discipline,
and to the most maddening privations. . . . At the same time
four millions of slaves, without provisions and without prospect of labor
in a land where employers were impoverished, were liberated. . . .
The reign of law at this thrilling time was at an end.
The civil powers of the States were dead; the military power of the conquerors
was not yet organized for civil purposes. The railroad and the telegraph,
those most efficient sheriffs of modern times, had fallen in the shock of war.
All possible opportunities presented themselves to each man who chose
to injure his neighbor with impunity. The country was sparsely settled,
the country roads were intricate, the forests were extensive and dense,
the hiding-places were numerous and secure, the witnesses
were few and ignorant. Never had crime such fair weather for his carnival.
Serious apprehensions had long been entertained by the Southern citizens
that in the event of a disastrous termination of the war,
the whole army would be frenzied to convert itself, after disintegration,
into forty thousand highwaymen. . . . Moreover, the feuds between
master and slave, alleged by the Northern parties in the contest
to have been long smouldering in the South, would seize this opportunity
to flame out and redress themselves. Altogether, regarding humanity
from the old point of view, there appeared to many wise citizens
a clear prospect of dwelling in [the] midst of a furious pandemonium
for several years after an unfavorable termination of the war;
but was this prospect realized? Where were the highway robberies,
the bloody vengeances, the arsons, the rapine, the murders,
the outrages, the insults? They WERE, not anywhere. With great calmness
the soldier cast behind him the memory of all wrongs and hardships
and reckless habits of the war, embraced his wife, patched his cabin-roof,
and proceeded to mingle the dust of recent battles yet lingering on his feet
with the peaceful clods of his cornfield. What restrained these men?
Was it fear? The word cannot be spoken. Was he who had breasted the storms
of Gettysburg and Perryville to shrink from the puny arm of a civil law
that was more powerless than the shrunken muscle of Justice Shallow?
And what could the negro fear when his belief and assurance were
that a conquering nation stood ready to support him in his wildest demands?
It was the spirit of the time that brought about these things. . . .
A thousand Atlantic Cables and Pacific Railroads would not have contributed
cause for so earnest self-gratulation as was afforded by this one feature
in our recent political convulsion."*
* `Retrospects and Prospects', p. 29.
Many Southerners were ready, like Lee, to forget the bitterness
and prejudice of the war -- all but the hallowed memories.
Lanier, at the close of a fanciful passage on the blood-red flower of war
which blossomed in 1861, said: --
"It is supposed by some that the seed of this American specimen (now dead)
yet remain in the land; but as for this author (who, with many friends,
suffered from the unhealthy odors of the plant), he could find it in his heart
to wish fervently that these seed, if there be verily any,
might perish in the germ, utterly out of sight and life and memory
and out of the remote hope of resurrection, forever and forever,
no matter in whose granary they are cherished!"*
* `Tiger Lilies', p. 116.
In this spirit Lanier began his work in Montgomery, Ala. As has been seen,
he had extended the hand of fellowship to his Northern friend,
thus laying the basis for the spirit of reconciliation
afterwards so dominant in his poetry. Uncongenial as was his work,
he went about it with a new sense of the "dignity of labor".
His aunt, Mrs. Watt, who had in the more prosperous times before the war
traveled much in the North, and had graced the brilliant scenes
of the opening of the Confederate Congress in Montgomery,
becoming the intimate friend of Jefferson Davis and Stephens,
now threw around her nephews -- Clifford was also working in the hotel --
the charm of the olden days. They found pleasure in social life:
close to Montgomery lived the Cloptons and Ligons, who on their plantations
enjoyed the gifts of "Santa Claus Cotton", just after the war.
Lanier writes to his sister, September 26, 1866: "I have just
returned from Tuskegee, where I spent a pleasant week. . . .
They feted me to death, nearly. . . . Indeed, they were all
so good and so kind to me, and the fair cousins were so beautiful,
that I came back feeling as if I had been in a week's dream of fairyland."
The two brothers, eager for more intellectual companionship,
organized a literary club, for the meetings of which
Sidney prepared his first literary exercises after the war.
He played the pipe-organ in the Presbyterian church in Montgomery.
He writes to a friend about some one who was in a state of melancholy:
"She is right to cultivate music, to cling to it; it is the only REALITY
left in the world for her and many like her. It will revolutionize the world,
and that not long hence. Let her study it intensely, give herself to it,
enter the very innermost temple and sanctuary of it. . . .
The altar steps are wide enough for all the world." To another friend
he writes at the same time: "Study Chopin as soon as you become able
to play his music; and get his life by Liszt. 'T is the most enjoyable book
you could read."
Most of the leisure time of the brothers, however, was spent in literary work,
with even more ardor than while they had plenty of time to devote to it.
By May 12 Clifford had finished his novel, "Thorn-Fruit", and Sidney
was at work on "Tiger Lilies", the novel begun at Burwell's Bay in 1863
and retouched at different times since then. They were planning, too,
a volume of poems, although with the exception of their father
they had not been able "to find a single individual who sympathized
in such a pursuit enough to warrant them in showing him their production, --
so scarce is general cultivation here; but," Sidney adds, "we work on,
and hope to become at least recognized as good orderly citizens
in the fair realm of letters yet." Indeed, they planned to go North
in the fall "with bloody literary designs on some hapless publisher."*
* Letters to Northrup.
In order to find out what was going on in the world of letters,
Lanier subscribed to the "Round Table", which was then
an important weekly paper of New York -- indeed, it was more like
the London "Spectator" than any paper ever published on this side the water --
a journal, said the New York "Times", which "has the genius and learning
and brilliancy of the higher order of London weeklies,
and which at the same time has the spirit and instincts of America."
Moncure D. Conway was at that time writing letters of much interest
from England and Justin Winsor from Cambridge, while Howells, Aldrich,
Stedman, and Stoddard were regular contributors. The reviews of books
were thoroughly cosmopolitan, and the editorials setting forth
the interpretation of contemporary events were characterized
by sanity and breadth.
In addition to the fact that Lanier's first poems were published
in this journal,* it is to be noted that it exerted considerable influence
over him -- especially in two directions. Its broad national policy
-- more sympathetic than that of the "Nation" even -- was evidence to him
that there were Northern people who were magnanimous in their attitude
to Southern problems. He was especially impressed with an editorial
on the "Duties of Peace" (July 7, 1866) as "the most sensible discussion"
he had seen of the whole situation. In it were these striking words:
"The people of the South are our brothers, bone of our bone
and flesh of our flesh. They have courage, integrity, honor,
patriotism, and all the manly virtues as well as ourselves. . . .
Can we realize that our duty now is to heal, not to punish? . . .
Consider their dilapidated cities, their deserted plantations,
their impoverished country, their loss of personal property
by thousands of millions; far more than this, their buried dead
and desolate hearts. . . . No one with a heart can realize
the truth of their condition without feeling that the punishment
has been terrific. We should address ourselves to the grave task of restoring
the disrupted relations of the two sections by acts of genuine kindness,
truthfulness, fairness, and love. . . . In a word, let the era of blood
be followed by another era of good feeling." The whole editorial
is in accordance with the previously announced policy of the paper:
"The Rebellion extinguished, the next duty is to extinguish
the sectional spirit, and to seek to create fraternal feeling
among all the States of the Union."
* "In the Foam", "Barnacles", "The Tournament", "Resurrection",
"Laughter in the Senate" (not in his collected poems), "A Birthday Song",
"Tyranny", and "Life and Song" were published in the `Round Table'
during 1867 and 1868.
["Laughter in the Senate" is in later editions of his collected poems,
In discussing literary questions the "Round Table" showed the same
national spirit, manifesting a healthy interest in those few Southern writers
who were left after the deluge. The words found in two editorials,
calling for a more vigorous and original class of writers,
must have appealed to Lanier. An editorial, May 12, 1866,
entitled a "Plain Talk with American Writers", said:
"In fact the literary field was never so barren, never so utterly
without hope or life. . . . The era of genius and vigor that seemed
ready to burst upon us only a few months ago has not been fulfilled.
There is a lack of boldness and power. Men do not seem to strike out
in new paths as bravely as of old. . . . We have very little strong,
original writing. Who will waken us from this sleep?
Who will first show us the first signs of a genuine literary reviving?"
And again, July 14, 1866, "We look to see young men coming forward
who shall inaugurate a better literature. . . . If ever there was a time
when a magnificent field opened to young aspirants for literary renown,
that time is the present. Every door is wide open. . . .
All the graces of poesy and art and music stand waiting by,
ready to welcome a bold new-comer. . . . Who will come forward and inaugurate
a new era of bold, electrical, impressive writing?"
With some such ambition as this in his mind, Lanier gave up
his work in Montgomery in the spring of 1867 and went to New York
with the completed manuscript of "Tiger Lilies".* He was there for more
than a month, finally arranging for its publication with Hurd & Houghton,
the predecessors of the present firm of Houghton, Mifflin & Co. He was
enabled to publish his book by the generous help of Mr. J. F. D. Lanier.
Some of his experiences on this, his first visit to the metropolis,
are significant. He is somewhat dazed by the life of the big city.
"I tell you," he writes to a friend, "the Heavens are alien to this town,
and if it were anybody else but the Infinite God that owned them,
he wouldn't let them bend so blue over here." In a letter
to his father, April 16, he describes the view of the city
from Trinity Church steeple and tells a characteristic incident:
"The grand array of houses and ships and rivers and distant hills
did not arrest my soul as did the long line of men and women,
which at that height seemed to writhe and contort itself
in its narrow bed of Broadway as in a premature grave. . . .
I have not seen here a single eye that knew itself to be in front of a heart
-- but one, and that was a blue one, and a child owned it.
'T was the very double of Sissa's [the name for his sister] eye,
so I had no sooner seen it than I made love to it, with what success
you will hear. On Saturday I dined with J. F. D. Lanier.
We had only a family party. . . . Last and best little Kate Lanier,
eight years old, pearly cheeked, blue eyed, broad of forehead,
cherried i' the lip. About the time that the champagne came on
I happened to mention that I had been in prison during the war.
* William Gilmore Simms was there at about the same time
trying to get started again in his literary work, and Edward Rowland Sill
was making his first venture into the literary world.
"`Poor fellow!' says little Katie, `and how did the rebels treat you?'
"`Rebels,' said I, `I am a rebel myself, Kate!'
"`What!' she exclaimed, and lifted up her little lilies
(when I say lilies I mean hands), and peered at me curiously
with all her blue eyes astare. `A live Reb!'
"This phrase in Katie's nursery had taken the time-honored place of bugaboos,
and hobgoblins, and men under the bed. She could not realize that I,
a smooth-faced, slender, ordinary mortal, in all respects like a common man,
should be a live reb. She was inclined to hate me, as in duty bound.
"I will not describe the manner of the siege I laid to her:
suffice it that when I rose to take leave, Katie stood up before [me],
and half blushed, and paused a minute.
"With a coquetry I never saw executed more prettily, `I know,' said she,
`that you are dying for a kiss, and you're ashamed to ask for it.
You may take one.' . . . And so in triumph, and singing poems
to all blue eyes, I said good night."
Leaving "Tiger Lilies" in the hands of the publishers, he returned to Macon,
where in September we find him reading the proof of the same.
The novel appeared in October and was reviewed somewhat at length
in the "Round Table".* The review refers to Lanier as
"the author of some quaint and graceful verses published from time to time
in the `Round Table'." "His novel goes a long way to confirm the good opinion
which his poems suggested. We have, indeed, seldom read a first book
more pregnant with promise, or fuller of the faults which,
more surely than precocious perfection, betoken talent. . . .
His errors seem to be entirely errors of youth and in the right direction."
"Exuberance is more easily corrected than sterility."
"His dialogue reads too often like a catalogue `raisonne' of his library."
The critic finds traces of a scholarly and poetic taste, but withal
a straining after novelty and "an affectation of quaintness so marked
as to be often unpleasant." He objects to long abstract disquisitions
on metaphysics and music. He commends it, however, for being "unmarred
by the bad taste of its contemporaries in fanning a senseless and profitless
* `Round Table', December 14, 1867.
With this review the reader of "Tiger Lilies" at the present time must agree.
It is seldom that one finds a bit of contemporary criticism
that hits the mark so well as this. As a story it is a failure --
the plot is badly managed and the work is strikingly uneven.
Lanier was aware of its defects, and yet pointed out its value
to any student of his life. In a letter to his father from Montgomery,
July 13, 1866, he says: "I have in the last part adopted almost exclusively
the dramatic, rather than the descriptive, style which reigns
in the earlier portions, interspersed with much high talk.
Indeed, the book which I commenced to write in 1863 and have touched
at intervals until now, represents in its change of style almost precisely
the change of tone which has gradually been taking place in me all the time.
So much so, that it has become highly interesting to me: I seem to see
portions of my old self, otherwise forgotten, here preserved."
The note sounded in the preface is characteristic. He professes
"a love, strong as it is humble, for what is beautiful
in God's Nature and in man's Art." He utters a plea against
"the horrible piquancies of quaint crimes and of white-handed criminals,
with which so many books have recently stimulated the pruriency of men;
and begs that the following pages may be judged only as registering
a faint cry, sent from a region where there are few artists
to happier lands that own many; calling on these last for more sunshine
and less night in their art, more virtuous women and fewer Lydian Guelts,
more household sweetness and less Bohemian despair, clearer chords
and fewer suspensions, broader quiet skies and shorter grotesque storms;
since there are those, even here in the South, who still love beautiful things
with sincere passion."
The story may be briefly indicated. The background of the first book is,
as has been seen, the mountain scenery of East Tennessee.
A party of hunters -- including Philip Sterling and Paul Ruebetsahl,
two young transcendentalists -- are on a stand waiting for deer.
Philip Sterling -- with "large gray poet's eyes, with a dream in each
and a sparkle behind it" -- is living in the mountains
with his father John Sterling and his sister Felix --
their home a veritable palace of art. Ruebetsahl is from Frankfort, Germany,
whence he brings an enthusiasm for music and philosophy,
into which he inducts his newly found friends. Another companion
is John Cranston, a Northerner who had also lived in Frankfort,
where he had often been compared to Goethe in his youth.
He had Lucifer eyes, he spoke French and German; he "walked like a young god,
he played people mad with his violin." These lovers of music and poetry
furnish much amusement to the native mountaineers, one of whom,
Cain Smallin, becomes one of the prominent characters
in the latter part of the book. It is worthy of note
that in this character and his brother, who turns out to be a villain,
Lanier anticipated some of the sketches by Charles Egbert Craddock.
The merry party of hunters retire to Sterling's house, where they enjoy
the blessings of good friendship and of music and high thought.
They, with other friends from all parts of the South,
plan a masquerade party, in which they represent the various characters
of Shakespeare's plays and the knights of the Round Table.
After a scene of much merriment and good humor, Cranston and Ruebetsahl
fight a duel -- both of them being in love with Felix Sterling,
each knowing the other's history at Frankfort. In the mean time
Ottilie with her maid comes from Germany to Chilhowee.
She was formerly the lover of Ruebetsahl, and was betrayed by Cranston.
She becomes identified with the Sterling family, she herself being a musician,
and naturally finding her place among these music-loving people.
The first book is filled with "high talk" on music, poetry,
philosophy, and nature. These conversations and masquerade parties, however,
are interrupted by war. The author omits the breaking out of the war
and the first three years of it. The action is resumed at Burwell's Bay,
where we meet the hero again with "a light rifle on his shoulder,
with a good horse bounding along under him, with a fresh breeze that had in it
the vigor of the salt sea and the caressing sweetness of the spring
blowing upon him." With him are "five friends, tried in the tempests of war,
as well as by the sterner tests of the calm association of inactive
camp life." The story here is strictly autobiographical, and is filled
with some stirring incidents taken from Lanier's life as a scout.
Perhaps the most striking scene in the book is the one in which Cain Smallin
finds out that his brother is a deserter. Never did Lanier come so near
creating a scene of real dramatic power.* "We was poor.
We ain't never had much to live on but our name, which it was as good as gold.
And now it ain't no better'n rusty copper; hit'll be green and pisenous.
An' whose done it? Gorm Smallin! My own brother, Gorm Smallin!"
When he finds his brother he says to him: "Ef ye had been killed
in a fa'r battle, I mought ha' been able to fight hard enough for both of us;
for every time I cried a-thinkin' of you, I'd ha' been twice as strong,
an' twice as clear-sighted as I was buffore. But -- sich things as these
burns me an' weakens me and hurts my eyes that bad that I kin scarcely
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