Part 3 out of 5
to avail myself of your thoughtful warning against being in any way hampered.
It will give me keen pleasure to know from you, as soon as you
shall have digested the poem, that you like it.
God send you a soul full of colossal and simple chords, -- says
In another letter, of February 1, 1876, he wrote: "I will leave
the whole matter of the publication of the poem in the hands
of Mr. Thomas and yourself; only begging that the inclosed copy be the one
which shall go to the printer. The truth is, I shrank from the criticism
which I fear my poem will provoke, -- not because I think it unworthy,
but because I have purposely made it absolutely free
from all melodramatic artifice, and wholly simple and artless;
and although I did this in the full consciousness that I would thereby give it
such a form as would inevitably cause it to be disappointing
on the first reading to most people, yet I had somewhat the same feeling
(when your unexpected proposition to print first came) as when
a raw salt spray dashes suddenly in your face and makes you duck your head.
As for my own private poems, I do not even see the criticisms on them,
and am far above the plane where they could possibly reach me;
but this poem is NOT mine, it is to represent the people,
and the people have a right that it should please them."
In this letter Lanier anticipates the criticism that was sure
to come upon the poem when printed without the music.
It was at once received with ridicule in all parts of the country.
The leading critical journal of America exclaimed: "It reads
like a communication from the spirit of Nat Lee, rendered through
a bedlamite medium, failing in all the ordinary laws of sense and sound,
melody and prosody." It urged the commissioners to "save American letters
from the humiliation of presenting to the assembled world such a farrago
as this." For several weeks Lanier could not pick up a newspaper
without seeing his name held up to ridicule, the Southern papers alone,
out of purely sectional pride and with "no understanding
of the PRINCIPLES involved," coming to his rescue. The spirit in which
he received this criticism may be seen in a letter written to his brother: --
This is the sixth letter I've written since nine o'clock to-night,
and it is like saying one's prayers before going to bed,
to have a quiet word with you.
Your letter came to-day, and I see that you have been annoyed
by the howling of the critics over the Cantata. I was greatly so at first,
before I had recovered from my amazement at finding a work of art
received in this way, sufficiently to think, but now the whole matter
is quite plain to me and gives me no more thought, at all. . . .
The whole agitation has been of infinite value to me. It has taught me,
in the first place, to lift my heart absolutely above all EXPECTATION
save that which finds its fulfillment in the large consciousness
of beautiful devotion to the highest ideals in art. This enables me
to work in tranquillity.
In the second place, it has naturally caused me to make
a merciless arraignment and trial of my artistic purposes;
and an unspeakable content arises out of the revelation
that they come from the ordeal confirmed in innocence and clearly defined
in their relations with all things. . . .
The commotion about the Cantata has not been unfavorable, on the whole,
to my personal interests. It has led many to read closely
what they would otherwise have read cursorily, and I believe
I have many earnest friends whose liking was of a nature to be confirmed
by such opposition. . . .
And now, dear little Boy, may God convoy you over to the morning
across this night, and across all nights, Prays your
That the poem was misjudged cannot be denied. Lanier's defense
published in the New York "Tribune" must be taken as a justification,
in part at least, of the principles he had in mind.* It was not written
as a poem, -- and Mrs. Lanier has wisely put it as an appendix
to her edition of the poems, -- but as the words of a musical composition
to be rendered by a large orchestra and chorus. It compares, therefore,
with a lyric very much as one of the librettos of a Wagner drama
would compare with a genuine drama. It serves merely to give the ideas
which were to be interpreted emotionally through the forms of music.
Lanier knew well the requirements of an orchestra. He knew
the effect of contrasts and of short, simple words which would suggest
the deeper emotions intended by the author. He thought of Beethoven's
"large and artless forms" rather than that of formal lyric poetry.
He had heard Von Buelow conduct the Peabody Orchestra in a symphony
based on one of Uhland's poems, in which only the simple elemental words
were retained, "leaving all else to his hearers' imaginations."
This served as a model for his Cantata.
* `Music and Poetry', p. 80.
That the Cantata was a success is borne out by contemporary evidence.
The very paper which had criticised Lanier most severely said, in giving
an account of the opening exercises, "The rendering of Lanier's Cantata
was exquisite, and Whitney's bass solo deserves to the full all the praise
that has been heaped upon it." Ex-President Gilman thus writes of the effect
produced on the vast audience assembled in Philadelphia:
"As a Baltimorean who had just formed the acquaintance of Lanier
(both of us being strangers at that time in a city we came to love
as a most hospitable and responsive home), -- I was much interested
in his appointment. It was then true, though Dr. Holmes had not yet said it,
that Baltimore had produced three poems, each of them the best of its kind:
the `Star-Spangled Banner' of Key, `The Raven', of Poe,
and `Maryland, My Maryland', by Randall. Was it to produce
a fourth poem as remarkable as these? Lanier's Cantata appeared
in one of the daily journals, prematurely. I read it as one reads
newspaper articles, with a rapid glance, and could make no sense of it.
I heard the comments of other bewildered critics. I read the piece
again and again and again, before the meaning began to dawn on me.
Soon afterwards, Lanier's own explanation, and the dawn became daylight.
The ode was not written `to be read'. It was to be sung --
and sung, not by a single voice, with a piano accompaniment,
but in the open air, by a chorus of many hundred voices,
and with the accompaniment of a majestic orchestra, to music
especially written for it by a composer of great distinction.
The critical test would be its rendition. From this point of view
the Cantata must be judged.
"I remember well the day of trial. The President of the United States,
the Emperor of Brazil, the governors of States, the judges
of the highest courts, the chief military and naval heroes,
were seated on the platform in the face of an immense assembly.
There was no pictorial effect in the way they were grouped.
They were a mass of living beings, a crowd of black-coated dignitaries,
not arranged in any impressive order. No cathedral of Canterbury,
no Sanders Hall, no episcopal or academic gowns. The oratory
was likewise ineffective. There were loud voices and vigorous gestures,
but none of the eloquence which enchants a multitude.
The devotional exercises awakened no sentiment of reverence.
At length came the Cantata. From the overture to the closing cadence
it held the attention of the vast throng of listeners,
and when it was concluded loud applause rang through the air.
A noble conception had been nobly rendered. Words and music,
voices and instruments, produced an impression as remarkable as
the rendering of the Hallelujah Chorus in the nave of Westminster Abbey.
Lanier had triumphed. It was an opportunity of a lifetime
to test upon a grand scale his theory of verse. He came off victorious."*
* `South Atlantic Quarterly', April, 1905.
The most important thing, however, about the writing of the Cantata
was that it gave expression to a strong faith in the nation as felt by one
who had been a Confederate soldier. The central note of the poem
is the preservation of the Union. In spite of all the physical obstacles
that had hindered the early settlers, in spite of the distinct individualities
of the various people of the sections, in spite of sectional misunderstandings
which had led in the process of time to a bloody civil war,
the nation had survived. All of these had said, "No, thou shalt not be."
Now praise to God's oft-granted grace,
Now praise to man's undaunted face,
Despite the land, despite the sea,
I was: I am: and I shall be.
Lanier desired, however, to avoid anything like spread-eagleism,
and so after the chorus of jubilation just quoted, there is a note of doubt
as to how long the nation will last. The answer, sung by the Boston soloist,
Myron D. Whitney, was particularly impressive: --
Long as thine Art shall love true love,
Long as thy Science truth shall know,
Long as thine Eagle harms no Dove,
Long as thy Law by law shall grow,
Long as thy God is God above,
Thy Brother every man below,
So long, dear Land of all my love,
Thy name shall shine, thy fame shall glow!
Soon after finishing the Centennial Cantata, Lanier started upon
a much longer centennial poem which, as the "Psalm of the West",
was published in "Lippincott's Magazine", June, 1876,
and for which he received $300. "By the grace of God,"
he writes to Bayard Taylor, April 4, 1876, "my centennial Ode is finished.
I now only know how divine has been the agony of the last three weeks,
during which I have been rapt away to heights where all my own purposes
as to a revisal of artistic forms lay clear before me,
and where the sole travail was of choice out of multitude."
This poem was written with the idea of a symphony in his mind.
One of the last things he planned was to write the music for it.
The poem as a whole is a musical rhapsody rather than a self-contained
work of art. Although there are fancies and obscurities,
the general theme, the magnificent opening lines, and the Columbus sonnets,
with here and there lines of imaginative power, make it noteworthy.
The poem is a passionate assertion of the triumph of freedom in America, --
freedom, the Eve of this tall Adam of lands.
Her shalt thou clasp for a balm to the scars of thy breast,
Her shalt thou kiss for a calm to thy wars of unrest,
Her shalt extol in the psalm of the soul of the West.
Freedom with all its dangers is the precious heritage of Americans.
"For Weakness, in freedom, grows stronger than Strength with a chain."
With the aid of the God of the artist the poet reviews
the history of the past, beginning with the time when in this continent
"Blank was king and Nothing had his will." The coming of the Northmen,
the discovery of the land by Columbus, the voyage of the Mayflower,
-- ship of Faith's best hope, -- the battle of Lexington,
the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the opening up
of the West, are all chanted in unrestrained poetry. The Civil War
is described as a tournament: --
Heartstrong South would have his way,
Headstrong North hath said him nay.
They charged, they struck; both fell, both bled;
Brain rose again, ungloved;
Heart fainting smiled and softly said,
`My love to my Beloved.'
Heart and brain! no more be twain;
Throb and think, one flesh again!
Lo! they weep, they turn, they run;
Lo! they kiss: Love, thou art one.
The poem closes as it began, with the triumphant vision of the future: --
At heart let no man fear for thee:
Thy Past sings ever Freedom's song,
Thy Future's voice sounds wondrous free;
And Freedom is more large than Crime,
And Error is more small than Time.
The significance of the national spirit in these two poems may be seen
only when it is looked at from the standpoint of the sectionalism
that prevailed in the South and in the North. At the very time
when Lanier was writing them, men in Congress were giving
exhibitions of partisanship and prejudice that threatened
to make of the Centennial a farce. "The fate of the Centennial bill
in Congress," he writes to Dudley Buck, "reveals -- in spite of its passage --
a good deal of opposition. All this will die out in a couple of months,
and THEN every one will be in a temper to receive a poem of reconciliation.
I fancy that to print the poem NOW will be much like making a dinner speech
before the wine has been around." Indeed, there were few men in America
at this time who really understood the significance of the national spirit.
Southern men, smarting under reconstruction governments and bitter with
the prejudice engendered by the war, had not been able, except in rare cases,
to rise to a national point of view. The sectional spirit was ready
to break out at any time. It was but natural. In the Centennial year
a speaker at the University of Virginia said: "Not space, or time,
or the convenience of any human arm, can reconcile institutions
for the turbulent fanatic of Plymouth Rock and the God-fearing Christian
of Jamestown. . . . You may assign them to the closest territorial proximity,
with all the forms, modes, and shows of civilization,
but you can never cement them into the bonds of brotherhood."
On the other hand, the leading public men of the North,
while protesting their love of the Union and naturally believing in the Union,
which Northern armies had saved, had little of the spirit
of a sympathetic realization of the South's problem and her condition.
Only in a few large-minded publicists, and in editors like Godkin
and poets like Lowell and Walt Whitman, did the national spirit prevail.
Lanier came forward, therefore, at a critical time to express
his passionate faith in the future of the American Union.
He was not the only Southerner, however, who felt this way. His two friends,
Senators Morgan of Alabama and Lamar of Mississippi (formerly of Georgia),
had been stout upholders of the national idea in Congress.
As early as 1873 Lamar had paid a notable tribute to Charles Sumner.
He had risen to the point where he could see the whole struggle
against slavery and against secession from Sumner's standpoint.
At the conclusion of his remarkable address he said: "Bound to each other
by a common constitution, destined to live together under a common government,
shall we not now at last endeavor to grow TOWARD each other once more
in heart, as we are already indissolubly linked in fortunes? . . .
Would that the spirit of the illustrious dead whom we lament to-day
could speak from the grave to both parties to this deplorable discord
in tones which should reach every heart throughout this broad territory:
My countrymen! KNOW one another, and you will LOVE one another."
In 1876 he made an extended argument for the Centennial bill,
an eloquent plea AGAINST the old States'-rights arguments. "He poured out,"
says his biographer, "an exposition of nationalism and constitutionalism
which equaled in effect one of Webster's masterpieces."
"As a representative of the South," Lamar said at a later time,
"I felt myself, with my Southern associates, to be a joint heir
of a mighty and glorious heritage of honor and responsibility."
It was in this spirit and to voice the better sentiment of the South,
that Lanier eagerly responded to the invitation to write
the Centennial poems. He had fought with valor in the Confederate armies,
hoping to the last that they would be victorious. He had suffered
all the poverty and humiliation of reconstruction days,
but he had risen out of sectionalism into nationalism. It is a striking fact
that the two poets who are the least sectional of all American poets
-- for even Lowell never saw Southern life and Southern problems
from a national point of view -- were Walt Whitman and Lanier,
the only two poets of first importance who took part in the Civil War.
It is also significant, that in Lanier's "Psalm of the West"
we have a Southerner chanting the glory of freedom, without any chance
of having the slavery of a race to make the boast a paradox.
"Corn", "The Symphony", and the "Psalm of the West", with a few shorter poems,
were published in a volume in the fall of 1876 (the volume bore
the date 1877, however). Reserving the discussion of the merits of the volume
for a future chapter, I wish now to give some idea of Lanier's widening
acquaintance with men of culture and of letters. The first man of prominence
to herald him as a new poet was, as has been seen, Mr. Gibson Peacock.
The correspondence between them is well known to all students of Lanier.*
Mr. Peacock "had read widely the best English literature, was familiar with
the modern languages, had traveled far in this country and in Europe,
and had cultivated himself not less in dramatic criticism than in books."
He brought to Lanier financial aid at critical times in his life;
but more than that, his home in Philadelphia was as a second home to the poet
in those years before he had settled in Baltimore, when,
as he wrote Hayne, he was "as homeless as the ghost of Judas Iscariot."
Mrs. Peacock -- a good linguist, a highly skilled musician,
and withal a most magnetic personality -- joined with her husband
in his hearty friendship for the newly discovered poet.
She was the daughter of the Marquis de la Figaniere,
Portuguese minister to this country. In their home were entertained
all the first-rate artistic people who came to Philadelphia,
such as Salvini, Charlotte Cushman, Bayard Taylor, and others.
It was a home in which music and literature were highly honored,
and here Lanier met some of the most interesting people then living
in Philadelphia, such as John Foster Kirk, editor of "Lippincott's Magazine",
Charles Heber Clarke -- "big, heartsome, `Max Adeler'" -- and others.
* See `Letters'.
Soon after meeting Mr. Peacock and his wife, Lanier was sought out
by Charlotte Cushman on one of her trips to Baltimore.
She had been much interested in reading "Corn", and was so attracted
by the personality of the author (as he was by her),
that an intimate friendship sprang up between them, growing in intensity
until her death, February 18, 1876. She had but recently been greeted
with a great ovation in New York city, at a meeting in which Joseph Jefferson
had represented the stage and Bryant and Stoddard the realm of letters.
The ovation was repeated in the cities of Boston and Philadelphia.
"Though coming into the circle of her friendships during the latter years
of her life, when she had become famous throughout the English-speaking world,
Lanier won for himself there a warm and high place," says her biographer.
There was much to attract the two to each other. Both had
the highest ideals of their art; for to Miss Cushman as to Lanier,
art was a sacred thing. "I know," she said, "He does not fail
to set me his work to do and help me to do it and help others to help me."
Furthermore, they were both sufferers from an incurable malady,
and both victors over it in a certain serene spirit which
transcended suffering. Her words are paralleled by many of Lanier's:
"I know my enemy; he is ever before me and he must conquer,
but I cannot give up to him; I laugh in his face and try to be jolly --
and I am! I declare I am even when he presses me hardest."
She talked much with him of the great men she had known and discussed with him
the ideals of art.
Lanier threw himself into this friendship with characteristic ardor.
He gave her the manuscript copies of his poems and dedicated
the first volume to her, greeting her as "Art's artist, Love's dear woman,
Fame's good queen." During 1875 he wrote many letters to her,
letters full of chivalry and love and humility. Some of these
tell the story of his life during the months of 1875 so well,
and are at the same time so characteristic, that I quote: --
Brunswick, Ga., June 17, 1875.
It is only seldom, dear Miss Cushman, that I can bring myself
to such a point of daring as to ask that you will stretch out your tired arms
merely to take one of my little roses, -- you whose hands are already filled
with the best flowers this world can grow.
Does she not (I say to myself) find them under her feet and wear them
about her brows; may she not walk on them by day and lie on them by night,
nay, does not her life stand rooted in men's regard like one pistil
in a great lily?
But sometimes I really cannot help making love to you,
just for one little intense minute; there is a certain Communistic temper
always adhering in true love which WILL occasionally break out
and behead all the Royal Proprieties and hang Law to the first lamp-post:
it is even now so, my heart is a little '93, `aux armes!'
Where is this minister that imprisons us, away from our friends,
in the Bastile of Separation, let him die, -- and as for Silence,
that luxurious tyrant that collects all the dead for his taxes,
behold, I am even now pricking him to a terrible death
with the point of this good pen.
When one is in a state of insurrection, one makes demands:
mine is that you write me, dear friend, if you are quite recovered
from the fatigues of Baltimore and of Boston, and if you have not
nourished yourself to new strength in feeding upon the honeys
the people brought you there so freely.
. . . . .
Copies of "The Symphony" have been ordered sent to you and Miss Stebbins,
and I have the MS. copy which you desired, ready to transmit to you.
You will be glad to know that "The Symphony" has met with favor.
The "Power of Prayer" in "Scribner's" for June -- although the editor
cruelly mutilated the dialect in some places, turning, for instance, "Marster"
(which is pure Alabama negro) into Mah'sr (which is only Dan Bryant negro,
and does not exist in real life) -- has gone all over the land,
and reappears before my eyes in frequent heart-breaking yet comical disguises
of misprints and disfigurements. Tell me; OUGHT one to be a little ashamed
of writing a dialect poem, -- as at least one newspaper has hinted?
And did Robert Burns prove himself no poet by writing mostly in dialect?
And is Tennyson's "Death of the North Country Farmer"
-- certainly one of the very strongest things he ever wrote --
not a poem, really?
Mr. Peacock's friendship, in the matter of "The Symphony", as indeed
in all others, has been wonderful, a thing too fine to speak of in prose.
To-morrow I go to Savannah, and hope to find there a letter
from Miss Stebbins. Tell me of her, when you write: and tell HER, from me,
how truly and faithfully I am her and
Philadelphia, Pa., July 31, 1875.
It was so good of you, my dear friend, to write me in the midst
of your suffering, that it amounts to a translation of pain
into something beautiful; and with this thought I console myself for the fear
lest your exertion may have caused you some pang that might have been spared.
I long to hear from you; though Miss Stebbin's letter brought me
a good account from your physician about you. If tender wishes
were but medicinal, if fervent aspirations could but cure,
if my daily upward breathings in your behalf were but as powerful
as they are earnest, -- how perfect would be your state!
I have latterly been a shuttlecock betwixt two big battledores --
New York and Florida. I scarcely dare to recall how many times
I have been to and fro these two States in the last six weeks.
It has been just move on, all the time: car dust, cinders,
the fumes of hot axle grease, these have been my portion; and between them
I have almost felt sometimes as if my soul would be asphyxiated.
But I now cease to wander for a month, with inexpressible delight.
To-morrow I leave here for Brooklyn, where I will be engaged in hard labor
for a month, namely, in finishing up the Florida book. . . .
I am very glad to find my "Symphony" copied in full in Dwight's
"Journal of Music": and I am sure you will care to know that the poem
has found great favor in all parts of the land. I have the keenest desire
to see some English judgment on this poem; but not the least idea
how to compass that end. Can you make me any suggestion in that behalf?
I am full curious to hear you talk about Tennyson's "Queen Mary".
Nothing could be more astonishing than the methods of treatment
with which this production has been disposed of, in the few criticisms
I have seen upon it. One critic declared that it was a good poem
but no drama; another avers decidedly that it is a fine drama, but not a poem;
while the "Nation" man thinks that it is neither a poem nor a drama,
but a sort of didactic narrative intended to be in the first place British,
and, in the second place, a warning against the advancing powers
of the Catholic Church. There is but a solitary thread of judgment in common
among these criticisms.
I cannot tell you with how much delight I read the account of Sidney Dobell,
nor with how much loving recognition I took into my heart
all the extracts from his poems given in the review. I am going to read
all his poems when my little holiday comes, I hope in September,
and I will send you then some organized and critical thanks
for having introduced me to so noble and beautiful a soul. . . .
As for you, my dear Queen Catherine, may this velvety night
be spread under your feet even as Raleigh's cloak was spread
for HIS queen's, so that you may walk dry shod as to all pain
over to the morning, -- prays
Your faithful Sidney Lanier.
195 Dean St., Brooklyn, N.Y.,
August 15, 1875.
I did not dream, my dear friend, of giving you anything
in the least approaching the nature of a worry, -- in asking you
for a suggestion as to the best method of piercing the British hearts of oak;
and you must not "think about it" as you declare you are going to do --
for a single minute. Indeed, I had, in mentioning it to you,
no more definite idea in my head than that perhaps you might know somebody
who knew somebody that knew somebody that . . . etc., etc., ad infinitum
. . . that might . . . and then my idea of what the somebody was to do,
completely faded into vague nothing.
It isn't WORTH thinking about, to you; and I have not the least doubt
that what I want will finally come, in just such measure as I shall deserve.
The publishers have limited me in time so rigorously,
quoad the Florida book, that I will have to work night and day
to get it ready. I do not now see the least chance for a single day
to devote to my own devices before the fifth or sixth of September.
And I do SO long to see you and Miss Stebbins!
Out of the sombre depths of a bottomless sea of Florida statistics
in which I am at this present floundering, pray accept, my liege Queen,
in art as in friendliness, all such loyal messages and fair reports
compacted of love, as may come from so dull a waste of waters;
graciously resting in your mind upon nothing therein
save the true faithful allegiance of your humble knight and subject,
In November, 1875, he visited her for a week at the Parker House in Boston.
Though she was at that time critically ill, she was "fairly overflowing
with all manner of tender and bright and witty sayings."
"Each day," he wrote, "was crowded with pleasant things which
she and her numerous friends had prepared for me." On this visit to Boston
Lanier spent two "delightful afternoons" with Lowell and Longfellow.
Of this visit Lowell afterwards wrote President Gilman:
"He was not only a man of genius with a rare gift for the happy word,
but had in him qualities that won affection and commanded respect.
I had the pleasure of seeing him but once, when he called on me
`in more gladsome days', at Elmwood, but the image of his shining presence
is among the friendliest in my memory."
Lanier returned from Boston and on New Year's day sent a greeting
to Miss Cushman. It is quoted as an illustration of Lanier's
considerate regard for his friends, which expressed itself in many
delicate ways, especially on anniversaries and special seasons of the year.
It is an Elizabethan sonnet in prose: --
If this New Year that approaches you (more happy than I, who cannot)
did but know you as well as I (more happy than he, who does not)
he would strew his days about you even as white apple-blossoms
and his nights as blue-black heart's-ease; for then he should be
your true faithful-serving lover -- as am I -- and should desire
-- as I do -- that the general pelting of time might become to you
only a tender rain of such flowers as foretell fruit and of such
as make tranquil beds.
But though I cannot teach this same New Year to be the servant
of my fair wishes, I can persuade him to be the bearer of them; and I trust
he and these words will come to you together; giving you such report,
and so freshly from my heart, as shall confirm to you that my message,
though greatly briefer than my love, is yet greatly longer than I would
the interval were, which stands betwixt you and your often-longing,
Another friend that Mr. Peacock interested in Lanier was Bayard Taylor,
who was the means of bringing the poet into the world of letters,
and became one of the most inspiring influences in his life.
Taylor had been a very prominent figure in the literary world
for over twenty-five years, as author, translator, traveller,
diplomatist, and lecturer. To meet him was like the fulfillment of a dream
to a man who had lived all his life outside of literary circles,
and Taylor's encouraging words to Lanier were "as inspiriting as those from
a strong swimmer whom one perceives far ahead, advancing calmly and swiftly."
Taylor, on the other hand, was glad to extend the young poet's acquaintance
among those whom he had a right to know. Through him Lanier attended
the Goethe celebration, August 28, 1875, and was admitted to the Century Club,
of which Bryant was at that time president, and where Taylor,
Stoddard, Stedman, and "many other good fellows" frequently met.
What this meant to Lanier is shown in the following quotation: --
"As to pen and ink, and all toil, I've been almost suppressed by
continued illness. I can't tell you how much I sigh for some quiet evenings
at the Century, where I might hear some of you talk about the matters I love,
or merely sit and think in the atmosphere of the thinkers.
I fancy one can almost come to know the dead thinkers too well:
a certain mournfulness of longing seems sometimes to peer out
from behind one's joy in one's Shakespeare and one's Chaucer, --
a sort of physical protest and yearning of the living eye for its like.
Perhaps one's friendship with the dead poets comes indeed to acquire
something of the quality of worship, through the very mystery
which withdraws them from us and which allows no more messages from them,
cry how we will, after that sudden and perilous Stoppage.
I hope those are not illegitimate moods in which one sometimes desires
to surround one's self with a companionship less awful,
and would rather have a friend than a god."*
* `Letters', p. 171.
Mr. Stedman has recorded his impression of Lanier as he met him
at Bayard Taylor's: "I saw him more than once in the study
of our lamented Deucalion, -- the host so buoyant and sympathetic,
the Southerner nervous and eager, with dark hair and silken beard,
features delicately moulded, pallid complexion, and hands of the slender,
white, artistic type." The friendship between Lanier and Taylor
was no less cherished by the older poet. He rejoiced to recognize in Lanier
"a new, TRUE poet -- such a poet as I believe you to be --
the genuine poetic nature, temperament, and MORALE."
He was heartily glad to welcome him into the fellowship of authors.
He gave him some valuable criticism as to the details of his work,
and encouraged him by showing him that the struggle through which
he was passing was identical with his own. He, too, had to resort
to pot-boiling and hack work of all kinds, and he had also been
severely criticised by the same men who now criticised Lanier.
So he closed many of his letters with the inspiriting words:
"Be of good cheer! On! be bold!" The friendship which began
as a literary friendship soon developed on Taylor's part,
as well as Lanier's, into one of deep personal regard. Taylor recognized,
as did every other man who came in personal touch with Lanier,
the charm and the fineness of his personality.
By the summer of 1876 Lanier had thus established himself
as a promising man of letters. He had not only written poetry that
had attracted attention, but he had found a place among a group of artists
who recognized the value of his work and the charm of his personality.
When Charlotte Cushman died, he had the promise that he would be employed
by her family to write her life. Upon the basis of this promise he brought
his family North, and they settled down at Chadd's Ford, Pennsylvania.
Soon afterwards, however, he received the disappointing news
that Miss Stebbins, on account of ill health, could not fulfill her part
of the contract, namely, to go over the correspondence of Miss Cushman.
This was a severe blow to him, and probably had something to do
with his breakdown in health. He spent several weeks at Mr. Peacock's
in Philadelphia, attended by the best physicians in the city.
He was planning to go back to Baltimore to resume his place
in the orchestra, when he was told that he must go at once to Florida
if he wished to save his life. He went, attended by his wife,
and they spent the winter there and the spring in Brunswick and Macon.
The letters written by him to Mr. Peacock and Bayard Taylor
are among the best he ever wrote, full as they are of sunshine and hope.
A few extracts are given:* --
* `Letters', passim.
"I have found a shaggy gray mare upon whose back I thrid
the great pine forests daily, much to my delight. Nothing seems
so restorative to me as a good gallop."
"What would I not give to transport you from your frozen sorrows
instantly into the midst of the green leaves, the gold oranges,
the glitter of great and tranquil waters, the liberal friendship of the sun,
the heavenly conversation of robins and mocking-birds and larks,
which fill my days with delight!"
"In truth I `bubble song' continually during these heavenly days,
and it is as hard to keep me from the pen as a toper from his tipple."
"I have at command a springy mare, with ankles like a Spanish girl,
upon whose back I go darting through the green overgrown woodpaths,
like a thrasher about his thicket. The whole air feels full of fecundity:
as I ride I am like one of those insects that are fertilized on the wing, --
every leaf that I brush against breeds a poem. God help the world
when this now-hatching brood of my Ephemerae shall take flight
and darken the air."
"I long to be steadily writing again. I am taken with a poem
pretty nearly every day, and have to content myself with making
a note of its train of thought on the back of whatever letter
is in my coat-pocket. I don't write it out, because I find my poetry now
wholly unsatisfactory in consequence of a certain haunting impatience
which has its root in the straining uncertainty of my daily affairs;
and I am trying with all my might to put off composition of all sorts
until some approach to the certainty of next week's dinner
shall remove this remnant of haste, and leave me that repose
which ought to fill the artist's firmament while he is creating."
They returned to the North in June and spent another summer at Chadd's Ford,
-- a place of great natural beauty. "As for me," says Lanier,
"all this loveliness of wood, earth, and water makes me feel as if I could do
the whole Universe into poetry; but I don't want to write anything large
for a year or so. And thus I content myself with throwing off
a sort of spray of little songs, whereof the magazines now have several."
Notwithstanding his illness, then, the year ending with September, 1877,
was one of marked productivity. He wrote "Waving of the Corn",
"Under the Cedarcroft Chestnut", "From the Flats", "The Mocking-Bird",
"Tampa Robins", "The Bee", "A Florida Sunday", "The Stirrup-Cup",
"To Beethoven", "The Dove", "The Song of the Chattahoochee",
and "An Evening Song". He was in a fair way to realize his ambition
with regard to poetry. Again, however, he was to be deflected
from his course, but at the same time to find "fresh woods and pastures new".
Chapter VIII. Student and Teacher of English Literature
When Lanier returned from Florida he tried to get various positions
which might enable him to secure a livelihood. A lectureship
at Johns Hopkins University, -- about which President Gilman
had talked with him in 1876 -- a librarian's position in the Peabody Library,
and a place in some of the departments of the government in Washington, --
all these were sought for in vain. One of the saddest commentaries
on the condition of political life in the seventies is that Lanier
was not able to secure even a clerkship in any department.
The days of civil service reform and the time when a commissioner
of civil service would urge the application for government positions
by Southern men had not yet come. "Inasmuch," Lanier says in a letter
to Mr. Gibson Peacock, June 13, 1877, "as I had never been a party man
of any sort, I did not see with what grace I could ask any appointment;
and furthermore I could not see it to be delicate, on general principles,
for me to make PERSONAL application for any particular office. . . .
My name has been mentioned to Mr. Sherman (and to Mr. Evarts, I believe)
by quite cordially disposed persons. But I do not think
any formal application has been entered, -- though I do not know.
I HOPE not; for then the reporters will get hold of it, and I scarcely know
what I should do if I could see my name figuring alongside
of Jack Brown's and Foster Blodgett's and the others of my native State."*
It was the same year in which Bayard Taylor was nominated
as minister to Germany and Lowell as minister to Spain, but Lanier
could not obtain a consulate to France or even the humblest position,
"seventy-five dollars a month and the like," in any department in Washington.
* `Letters', p. 43.
Under these circumstances he wrote what are perhaps the most pathetic words
in all his letters. "Altogether," he says, "it seems as if
there wasn't any place for me in this world, and if it were not for May
I should certainly quit it, in mortification at being so useless."*
He did not remain in this mood long, however. He settled in Baltimore
with his family in November, 1877, in four rooms arranged
somewhat as a French flat, and a little later in a cottage,
about which he writes enthusiastically to his friends.
There is no better illustration of his playfulness and his ability
to get the most out of everything than his letter to Gibson Peacock: --
* `Letters', p. 46.
33 Denmead St., Baltimore, Md.,
January 6, 1878.
The painters, the whitewashers, the plumbers, the locksmiths,
the carpenters, the gas-fitters, the stove-put-up-ers, the carmen,
the piano-movers, the carpet-layers, -- all these have I seen, bargained with,
reproached for bad jobs, and finally paid off: I have also coaxed my landlord
into all manner of outlays for damp walls, cold bathrooms,
and other like matters: I have furthermore bought at least
three hundred and twenty-seven household utensils which suddenly came
to be absolutely necessary to our existence: I have moreover
hired a colored gentlewoman who is willing to wear out my carpets,
burn out my range, freeze out my water-pipes, and be generally useful:
I have also moved my family into our new home, have had a Xmas tree
for the youngsters, have looked up a cheap school for Harry and Sidney,
have discharged my daily duties as first flute of the Peabody Orchestra,
have written a couple of poems and part of an essay
on Beethoven and Bismarck, have accomplished at least
a hundred thousand miscellaneous necessary nothings, -- and have NOT,
in consequence of the aforesaid, sent to you and my dear Maria
the loving greetings whereof my heart has been full during the whole season.
Maria's cards were duly distributed, and we were all touched
with her charming little remembrances. With how much pleasure
do I look forward to the time when I may kiss her hand in my own house!
We are in a state of supreme content with our new home:
it really seems to me as incredible that myriads of people have been living
in their own homes heretofore as to the young couple with a first baby
it seems impossible that a great many other couples have had
similar prodigies. It is simply too delightful. Good heavens,
how I wish that the whole world had a Home!
I confess I AM a little nervous about the gas-bills,
which must come in, in the course of time; and there are the water-rates,
and several sorts of imposts and taxes: but then, the dignity of being
liable for such things (!) is a very supporting consideration.
No man is a Bohemian who has to pay water-rates and a street-tax.
Every day when I sit down in my dining-room -- MY dining-room! --
I find the wish growing stronger that each poor soul in Baltimore,
whether saint or sinner, could come and dine with me.
How I would carve out the merry thoughts for the old hags!
How I would stuff the big wall-eyed rascals till their rags ripped again!
There was a knight of old times who built the dining-hall of his castle
across the highway, so that every wayfarer must perforce pass through:
there the traveler, rich or poor, found always a trencher and wherewithal
to fill it. Three times a day, in my own chair at my own table,
do I envy that knight and wish that I might do as he did.*
* `Letters', p. 49.
He was soon to find another joy in the study of Old and Middle
English literature, which he entered upon with unbounded zest and energy.
As has been seen in previous chapters, Lanier had been all his life
a reader of the best books. Before he came to Baltimore to live
he had impressed Paul Hamilton Hayne with his unusually thorough knowledge
of Chaucer and the Elizabethan poets. He was also familiar
with modern English literature. Now, however, he was to begin
the study of literature in a systematic and more scholarly way.
A distinct advance in his intellectual life must, therefore,
be dated from the winter of 1877-78, when he began to study English
with the aid of the Peabody Library.
For purposes of research this library was, during Lanier's lifetime,
one of the best in America. Mr. Peabody indicated its character when he said,
in his announcement of the gift, that it was to be "well furnished
in every department of knowledge, to be for the free use of all persons
who may desire to consult it, to satisfy the researches of students
who may be engaged in the pursuit of knowledge not ordinarily obtainable
in the private libraries of the country." It was modeled
on the plan of the British Museum, and he was anxious
to "engraft in Baltimore the offshoots of the highest culture obtainable
in the great capitals of Europe." In accordance with his idea,
the provost, Dr. Morison, had in the selection of the library
consulted specialists in the leading universities of the country.
Besides containing the scientific journals in the various
departments of human learning, it was especially rich
in the publications of the Early English Text Society, the Chaucer Society,
the Percy Society, and in the reprints of Elizabethan literature
made by Alexander B. Grosart and other English scholars.
There had been some complaint on the part of the citizens of Baltimore
that the library could not be of more general use. To meet this
Dr. Morison said in 1871: "We cannot create scholars or readers
to use our library, but we can make a collection of books
which all scholars will appreciate, when they shall appear among us
as they surely will some day." This prophecy was fulfilled
when Johns Hopkins University was established in 1876. In addition to
the excellent collection of books there was a carefully prepared catalogue,
which made the investigator's task much easier.
To the Peabody thus furnished and arranged, Lanier came
with an eagerness of mind that few men have had. Writing to J. F. Kirk,
August 24, 1878, he said, speaking of an edition of Elizabethan sonnets
which he was preparing: "I have found the Peabody Library here a rich mine
in the collection of material for my book, especially as affording sources
for the presentation of the anonymous poems in the early collections
which are very interesting." He always expressed himself as grateful
that he could find his working material so easily accessible.
Of his habits of study one of the assistant librarians says: "He usually came
in the morning, occupying the same seat at the end of the table,
where he worked until lunch time, so absorbed with his studies
that he scarcely ever raised his eyes to notice anything around him.
During the winters that he was a member of the Peabody Orchestra
he came back in the afternoons when the rehearsals were held,
bringing his flute with him, and continued his studies
until it was time to go into the rehearsal. He continued in this way
until his increasing weakness prevented him from leaving home,
when he would write notes to the desk attendants asking them to verify
some reference, or copy some extract for him, and frequently his wife
would come to the library to do the copying for him."*
* Letter of Mr. John Park to the author.
This library was Lanier's university. While other Southerners
were finding their way to German universities, he was training himself in
the methods and ideals of the modern scholar. The dream of his college days
was being fulfilled. He lacked the patient and careful training of men
who have a lifetime to devote to some special field of work.
He could not in the short time at his disposal explore the fields of learning
which he entered. Into those two or three years of study and research,
however, were crowded results and attainments that many less gifted men,
working with less prodigious zest and power, do not reach in a decade.
Writing to Bayard Taylor, October 20, 1878, he said: "Indeed, I have been
so buried in study for the past six months that I know not news
nor gossip of any kind. Such days and nights of glory as I have had!
I have been studying Early English, Middle English, and Elizabethan poetry,
from Beowulf to Ben Jonson: and the world seems twice as large."*
No sooner had he begun this work than he desired to communicate to others
his own pleasure in English literature. In March, 1878,
he began a series of lectures at the residence of Mrs. Edgworth Bird,
who had welcomed him to her home when he first came to Baltimore.
These lectures on Elizabethan poetry were attended by
many of the most prominent men and women of the city. The following winter
Lanier arranged for a series of lectures at the Peabody Institute.
"In the spring of 1878," says one of his friends, "I was speaking of
the desultory study which women so often do and of how much better it would be
if all this energy could be directed to some definite end. He said:
`That is just what I am purposing. Next winter I am going to have
a Shakespearean revival for women,' and he then proceeded
to tell me of the prospective lectures." He had become imbued with the idea
that much might be done in the way of establishing "Schools for Grown People"
in all the leading cities of America. He writes to Gibson Peacock: --
* `Letters', p. 214.
180 St. Paul St., Baltimore, Md.,
November 5, 1878.
I have been "allowing" -- as the Southern negroes say --
that I would write you, for the last two weeks; but I had a good deal to say,
and haven't had time to say it.
During my studies for the last six or eight months a thought
which was at first vague has slowly crystallized into a purpose,
of quite decisive aim. The lectures which I was invited to deliver
last winter before a private class met with such an enthusiastic reception
as to set me thinking very seriously of the evident delight
with which grown people found themselves receiving systematic instruction
in a definite study. This again put me upon reviewing
the whole business of Lecturing which has risen to such proportions
in our country, but which, every one must feel, has now reached its climax
and must soon give way -- like all things -- to something better.
The fault of the lecture system as at present conducted -- a fault
which must finally prove fatal to it -- is that it is too fragmentary,
and presents too fragmentary a mass -- `indigesta moles' -- of facts
before the hearers. Now if, instead of such a series
as that of the popular Star Course (for instance) in Philadelphia,
a scheme of lectures should be arranged which would amount to
the SYSTEMATIC PRESENTATION of a GIVEN SUBJECT, then the audience
would receive a substantial benefit, and would carry away
some genuine possession at the end of the course. The subject
thus systematically presented might be either scientific
(as Botany, for example, or Biology popularized, and the like) or domestic
(as detailed in the accompanying printed extract under the "Household" School)
or artistic or literary.
This stage of the investigation put me to thinking of schools
for grown people. Men and women leave college nowadays
just at the time when they are really prepared to study with effect.
There is indeed a vague notion of this abroad, but it remains vague.
Any intelligent grown man or woman readily admits that it would be well
-- indeed, many whom I have met sincerely desire -- to pursue
some regular course of thought; but there is no guidance,
no organized means of any sort, by which people engaged in ordinary avocations
can accomplish such an aim.
Here, then, seems to be, first, a universal admission
of the usefulness of organized intellectual pursuit for business people;
secondly, an underlying desire for it by many of the people themselves;
and thirdly, an existing institution (the lecture system) which,
if the idea were once started, would quickly adapt itself
to the new conditions. In short, the present miscellaneous lecture courses
ought to die and be born again as `Schools for Grown People'.
It was with the hope of effecting at least the beginning OF a beginning
of such a movement that I got up the "Shakespeare Course" in Baltimore.
I wished to show, to such a class as I could assemble,
how much more genuine profit there would be in studying AT FIRST HAND,
under the guidance of an enthusiastic interpreter, the writers and conditions
of a particular epoch (for instance) than in reading any amount of commentary
or in hearing any number of miscellaneous lectures on subjects which range
from Palestine to Pottery in the course of a week. With this view
I arranged my own part of the Shakespeare course so as to include
a quite thorough presentation of the whole SCIENCE of poetry as preparatory
to a serious and profitable study of some of the greatest singers
in our language.*
* `Letters', p. 53.
In accordance with this idea he drew up a scheme for
four independent series of class lectures, directed particularly
to the systematic guidance of persons -- especially ladies --
who wished to extend the scope of their culture. There were to be
schools of (1) English Literature, (2) the Household, (3) Natural Science,
and (4) Art. Thirty lectures were to be given in each school,
he to give those on English Literature. He hoped that he would be able
to arrange for such series in Washington, Philadelphia, and Southern cities.
This scheme is a striking anticipation of popular lectures
that have been given in New York city during the past few years,
as well as of the University Extension lectures since established
at the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania,
and other American universities.
The only part of the scheme that took shape was the Shakespeare course
planned for the Peabody Institute. In addition to twenty-four lectures
by Lanier, two lectures were to be given by Prof. B. L. Gildersleeve, --
"one on the Timon of Lucian, compared with Timon of Shakespeare,
and one on Macbeth and Agamemnon; two on the State of Natural Science
in Shakespeare's Time, by Prof. Ira Remsen; two on Religion
in Shakespeare's Time, by Dr. H. B. Adams; two readings
from Marlowe's Faust and three lectures on the Mystery Plays
as illustrated by the Oberammergau Passion Play, by Prof. E. G. Daves;
and three lectures on the Early English Comedy as illustrated
by Gammer Gurton's Needle and Ralph Royster Doyster,
by Col. Richard M. Johnston."
Of these only Lanier's lectures were given, and they did not prove to be
a financial success, although they accomplished much good in Baltimore.
Published as they have been recently,* they are among the most valuable aids
in the study of Lanier's personality and of his attitude to literature.
It must be borne in mind that they were not written for publication,
nor for an academic audience, and that the only proper way to estimate them
is to compare them with lectures of a similar kind, --
Lowell's Lowell Institute lectures, for instance. Viewed from
this standpoint, one cannot but marvel at the carefulness with which
Lanier prepared his lectures, and the vital interest he took
in work which has been disagreeable to men of similar temperament.
Any one who expects to find in them contributions to present day knowledge
of the subjects touched upon will be disappointed; but no one can read them
without enjoying the poet's naive enthusiasm and his clear insight
into things that many a plodder never sees, nor can he fail to be impressed
with the modernness of his mind. He must have been a successful teacher, --
he uses every effort to fix the attention of his hearers,
he summarizes frequently, illustrates, vitalizes his subject.
* `Shakspere and His Forerunners'. Doubleday, Page & Co., 1903.
There is evident throughout these lectures the most enthusiastic appreciation
of literature and of its place in the life of the world.
Few men ever enjoyed reading more than Lanier. He knew something
of Stevenson's joy of being "rapt clean out of himself by a book," --
the process was "absorbing and voluptuous". And this enthusiasm
he shared with all his hearers. After much criticism of the scientific type
by followers of Arnold and Brunetiere, after many class-room
lectures and recitations, in which the spiritual value of literature
has been lost sight of, it is altogether refreshing to read
the almost childlike expressions of Lanier. One feels often
that the worship of what he calls his "sweet masters" is overdone,
and that he praises far too highly some obscure sonneteer;
but there is in his work the spirit of the romantic critic --
the zest of Charles Lamb and Hazlitt for the old masters.
Lowell, speaking of a period in his own life when he was delivering
his early lectures at Lowell Institute, said: "Then I was at
the period in life when thoughts rose in covies, . . . a period of life
when it doesn't seem as if everything has been said; when a man
overestimates the value of what specially interests himself, . . .
when he conceives himself a missionary, and is persuaded
that he is saving his fellows from the perdition of their souls
if he convert them from belief in some aesthetic heresy.
That is the mood of mind in which one may read lectures with some
assurance of success. . . . This is the pleasant peril of enthusiasm."
There could not be a better description of Lanier's lectures.
Longfellow, referring to some lectures on Dante which he had
repeated often, said: "It is become an old story to me. I am tired."
Lanier knew nothing of this `ennui'. He fretted at times over the fact
that he had to give to work of this kind the time he might have given
to his poetry, but there is not in his lectures a single note of weariness;
there is always the freshness and exuberance of youth, the joy of discovery,
of interpretation, of illuminating comment.
He had the power of making even the older English literature vital
to a popular audience. An Anglo-Saxon poem was not to him primarily
material for the study of philology, although he now and then tried
to interest his hearers in the etymology of words --
it was a revelation of the life of a race in its childhood.
While he lost in technical precision, he gave the listener a real grip
on some old poem by which he could always remember it and relate it
to other things. A few pages on "Beowulf", for instance,
presenting some specially striking scenes therefrom in a translation
that in rhythm and substance preserves the spirit of the original,
would incite the members of his audience to at least
a literary study of the Anglo-Saxon epic. By contrasting
"The Address of the Soul to the Dead Body" with "Hamlet",
he gave his hearers some clue to its interpretation -- he related it
to an elementary religious mood.
Is not this passage calculated to make one realize the real meaning
of "Beowulf", -- especially when accompanied by admirable translations?
"To our old ancestors there were many times when Nature must have seemed
a true Grendel's mother, a veritable hag, mindful of mischief;
and these monsters are not silly inventions, -- they are true types, ideals,
removed very far, if you please, yet born of the old struggle of man
against the wild beast for his meat, against the stern earth for his bread,
against the cold that cracks his skin and wracks his bones, against the wind
that whirls his ship over in the sea, the wave that drowns him,
the lightning that consumes him. . . .
"And so, as I said, there is to me an indescribable pathos in these
sombre pictures of Nature in our old Beowulf here, -- these drear marshes,
these monster-haunted meres, that boil with blood and foam with tempests,
these fast-rooted, joyless woods that overlean the waters,
these enormous, nameless beasts that lie along on promontories all day
and wreak vengeance on ships at night -- have you not seen them,
headlands running out into the sea like great beasts
with their forepaws extended? And is it not a huge Gothic picture of the wind
rushing down the windy nesse . . . in the evening, and whelming
the frail ships of the old Dane, the old Jute and Frisian and Saxon,
in the sea? All these, I say, are mere outcroppings of the rude war
which was not yet ended against Nature, traces of a time
when Nature was still a savage Mother of Grendel, tearing and devouring
the sons of men."*
* `Shakspere and His Forerunners', vol. i, p. 55.
Lanier believed strongly that the early English poems
ought to be taught in schools and colleges. The following passage
does not sound as revolutionary now as it did in 1879: --
"Surely it is time our popular culture were cited into
the presence of the Fathers. That we have forgotten their works
is in itself matter of mere impiety which many practical persons
would consider themselves entitled to dismiss as a purely sentimental crime;
but ignorance of their ways goes to the very root of growth.
"I count it a circumstance so wonderful as to merit
some preliminary setting forth here, that with regard to
the first seven hundred years of our poetry we English-speaking people
appear never to have confirmed ourselves unto ourselves. While we often
please our vanity with remarking the outcrop of Anglo-Saxon blood
in our modern physical achievements, there is certainly little
in our present art of words to show a literary lineage running back
to the same ancestry. Of course it is always admitted
that there WAS an English poetry as old to Chaucer as Chaucer is to us;
but it is admitted with a certain inclusive and amateur vagueness
removing it out of the rank of facts which involve grave and important duties.
We can neither deny the fact nor the strangeness of it,
that the English poetry written between the time of Aldhelm and Caedmon
in the seventh century and that of Chaucer in the fourteenth century
has never yet taken its place by the hearths and in the hearts of the people
whose strongest prayers are couched in its idioms. It is not found
in the tatters of use, on the floors of our children's playrooms;
there are no illuminated boy's editions of it; it is not
on the booksellers' counters at Christmas; it is not studied
in our common schools; it is not printed by our publishers;
it does not lie even in the dusty corners of our bookcases;
nay, the pious English scholar must actually send to Germany
for Grein's Bibliothek in order to get a compact reproduction
of the body of Old English poetry.
. . . . .
"One will go into few moderately appointed houses in this country
without finding a Homer in some form or other; but it is probably
far within the truth to say that there are not fifty copies of Beowulf
in the United States. Or again, every boy, though far less learned
than that erudite young person of Macaulay's, can give some account
of the death of Hector; but how many boys -- or, not to mince matters,
how many men -- in America could do more than stare if asked to relate
the death of Byrhtnoth? Yet Byrhtnoth was a hero of our own England
in the tenth century, whose manful fall is recorded in English words
that ring on the soul like arrows on armor. Why do we not draw in this poem
-- and its like -- with our mother's milk? Why have we no nursery songs
of Beowulf and the Grendel? Why does not the serious education
of every English-speaking boy commence, as a matter of course,
with the Anglo-Saxon grammar?"*
* `Music and Poetry', p. 136. This quotation is an expansion of one
in the lectures now under consideration. He evidently overstates his point,
but the passage suggests what the study of old English meant
to Lanier himself.
There would come from such study a strengthening of English prose
and a deepening of culture. He continues: --
"For the absence of this primal Anglicism from our modern system
goes -- as was said -- to the very root of culture.
The eternal and immeasurable significance of that individuality in thought
which flows into idiom in speech becomes notably less recognized among us.
We do not bring with us out of our childhood the fibre of idiomatic English
which our fathers bequeathed to us. A boy's English is diluted
before it has become strong enough for him to make up his mind clearly
as to the true taste of it. Our literature needs Anglo-Saxon iron, --
there is no ruddiness in its cheeks, and everywhere
a clear lack of the red corpuscles."
Lanier was more thoroughly at home in the Elizabethan age, however.
He reveled in its myriad-mindedness -- its adventures and exploits,
its chivalry and romance. The sonnets especially appealed to him, for they
abounded in conceits. One of the striking characteristics that he noted
in the leading men of that age was the union of strength and tenderness.
"All this love-making was manly," he says. "It was then as it is now,
that the bravest are the tenderest. . . . Stout and fine Walter Raleigh
pushes over to America, quite as ready to sigh a sonnet as to plant a colony.
Valorous Philip Sidney, who can write as dainty a sonnet as any lover
of them all, can at the same time dazzle the stern eyes of warriors
with deeds of manhood before Zuetphen and touch their hearts
to pity and admiration as he offers the cup of water -- himself being
grievously wounded and in a rage of thirst -- to the dying soldier
whose necessity is greater than his. Men's minds in this time were employed
with big questions; the old theory of the universe is just losing
its long hold upon the intellect, and people are busy with all space,
trying to apprehend the relation of their globe to the solar system.
To all this ferment the desperate conflict of the Catholic religion
with the new form of faith now coming in adds an element of stern strength;
men are pondering not only the physical relation of the earth to the heavens,
but the spiritual relation of the soul to heaven and hell.
This is no dandy period."*
* `Shakspere and His Forerunners', vol. i, p. 168.
"And if any one should say there is not time to read these poets,"
he says in a strain of excessive admiration, "I reply with vehemence
that in any wise distribution of your moments, after you have read
the Bible and Shakspere, you have no time to read anything
until you have read these . . . old artists. They are so noble,
so manful, so earnest; they have put into such perfect music
that protective tenderness of the rugged man for the delicate woman
which throbs all down the muscles of the man's life and turns
every deed of strength into a deed of love; they have set the woman,
as woman, upon such adorable heights of worship, and by that act
have so immeasurably uplifted the whole plane upon which society moves;
they have given to all earnest men and strong lovers
such a dear ritual and litany of chivalric devotion;
they have sung us such a high mass of constancy for our love;
they have enlightened us with such celestial revelation of the possible Eden
which the modern Adam and Eve may win back for themselves
by faithful and generous affection; that -- I speak it with reverence --
they have made another religion of loyal love and have given us
a second Bible of womanhood."*
* `Shakspere and His Forerunners', vol. i, p. 7.
Following his study of the sonnet-writers of the Elizabethan age,
comes a somewhat technical study of the pronunciation of Shakespeare's time --
a restatement of Ellis's monumental work on that subject.
His discussion of music in Shakespeare's time has already been noticed.
He next tried to reproduce for his class the domestic life of the age,
commenting in full on the sermons, the plays, the customs of the time.
In order to give unity to this study, he sketches in a somewhat fanciful way
the boyhood of Shakespeare in Stratford and his early manhood in London.
The most important part of the lectures, however, is his discussion
of the growth of Shakespeare's mind and art, a study made possible
by recent publications of the New Shakespeare Society.
Lanier never wrote any more vigorous or eloquent prose than these chapters,
although it must be said that he makes too much of the dramatist's personality
as revealed in his plays. Two passages are quoted to indicate
in the first place the standpoint from which he studied the plays,
and in the second place to show his conception of the moral height
attained by Shakespeare as compared with contemporary dramatists: --
"The keenest scholarship, the freest discussion, the widest search
for external evidence, the most careful checking of conclusions
by the Metrical Tests one after another, have all been applied
to establish this general succession in time of these three plays;*
and it is not in the least necessary to commit ourselves
to the exact years here given in order to feel sure that these three plays
represent three perfectly distinct epochs, separated from each other
by several years, in Shakspere's spiritual existence. . . .
* The `Midsummer Night's Dream', `Hamlet', and `The Tempest'.
"In short, the young eye already sees the twist and cross of life,
but sees it as in a dream: and those of you who are old enough
to look back upon your own young dream of life will recognize instantly
that the dream is the only term which represents that unspeakable
SEEING of things, without in the least REALIZING them,
which brings about that the youth admits all we tell
-- we older ones -- about life and the future, and, admitting it fully,
nevertheless goes on right in the face of it to ACT just as if
he knew nothing of it. In short, he sees as in a dream.
It is the Dream Period. But here suddenly the dream is done,
the real pinches the young dreamer and he awakes. This, too, is typical.
Every man remembers the time in his own life, somewhere from near thirty
to forty, when the actual oppositions of life came out before him
and refused to be danced over and stared him grimly in the face:
God or no God, faith or no faith, death or no death, honesty or policy,
men good or men evil, the Church holy or the Church a fraud,
life worth living or life not worth living, -- this, I say,
is the shock of the real, this is the Hamlet period in every man's life.
"And finally, -- to finish this outline, -- just as the man settles
all these questions shocked upon him by the real, will be his Ideal Period.
If he finds that the proper management of these grim oppositions of life
is by goodness, by humility, by love, by the fatherly care of a Prospero
for his daughter Miranda, by the human tenderness of a Prospero
finding all his enemies in his power and forgiving their bitter injuries
and practicing his art to right the wrongs of men and to bring
all evil beginnings to happy issues, then his Ideal Period
is fitly represented by this heavenly play, in which, as you recall its plot,
you recognize all these elements. Shakspere has unquestionably emerged
from the cold, paralyzing doubts of Hamlet into the human tenderness
and perfect love and faith of `The Tempest', a faith which can look clearly
upon all the wretched crimes and follies of the crew of time,
and still be tender and loving and faithful. In short, he has learned
to manage the Hamlet antagonisms, to adjust the moral oppositions,
with the same artistic sense of proportion with which we saw him
managing and adjusting the verse-oppositions and the figure-oppositions."*
* `Shakspere and His Forerunners', vol. ii, p. 260.
"Surely the genius which in the heat and struggle of ideal creation
has the enormous control and temperance to arrange and adjust
in harmonious proportions all these aesthetic antagonisms of verse,
surely that is the same genius which in the heat and battle of life
will arrange the moral antagonisms with similar self-control and temperance.
Surely there is a point of technic to which the merely clever artist
may reach, but beyond which he may never go, for lack of moral insight;
surely your Robert Greene, your Kit Marlowe, your Tom Nash, clever poets all,
may write clever verses and arrange clever dramas; but if we look
at their own flippant lives and pitiful deaths and their small ideals
in their dramas, and compare them, technic for technic, life for life,
morality for morality, with this majestic Shakspere, who starts in a dream,
who presently encounters the real, who after a while conquers it
to its proper place (for Shakspere, mind you, does not forget the real;
he will not be a beggar nor a starveling; we have documents
which show how he made money, how he bought land at Stratford;
we have Richard Quincy's letter to `my lovveinge good frend and contreyman
Mr. Wm. Shakspere, deliver thees,' asking the loan of thirty pounds
`uppon Mr. Bushells and my securytee,' showing that Shakspere
had money to lend), and finally turns it into the ideal in `The Tempest';
if we compare, I say, Greene, Marlowe, Nash, with Shakspere,
surely the latter is a whole heaven above them in the music of his verse,
as well as in the temperance and prudence of his life, as well also
as in the superb height of his later moral ideals. Surely, in fine,
there is a point of mere technic in art beyond which nothing but
moral greatness can attain, because it is at this point that the moral range,
the religious fervor, the true seership and prophethood of the poet,
come in and lift him to higher views of all things."*
* `Shakspere and His Forerunners', vol. ii, p. 324.
Lanier frequently indulged in little homilies, -- "preachments"
Thackeray would call them. They were lectures on life
as well as on literature in its more technical sense. Two passages indicate
a poet's feeling for nature, especially his love of trees: --
"But besides the phase of Nature-communion which we call physical science,
there is the other, artistic phase. Day by day we find
that the mystic influence of Nature on our human personality
grows more intense and individual. Who can walk alone
in your beautiful Druid Hill Park, among those dear and companionable oaks,
without a certain sense of being in the midst of a sweet and noble
company of friends? Who has not shivered, wandering among these trees,
with a certain sense that the awful mysteries which the mother earth
has brought with her out of the primal times are being sucked up
through those tree-roots and poured upon us out of branch and leaf
in vague showers of suggestions that have no words in any language?
Who, in some day when life has seemed TOO bitter, when man has seemed
too vile, when the world has seemed all old leather and brass,
when some new twist of life has seemed to wrench the soul
beyond all straightening, -- who has not flown, at such a time,
to the deep woods, and leaned against a tree, and felt his big arms outspread
like the arms of the preacher that teaches and blesses,
and slowly absorbed his large influences, and so recovered one's self
as to one's fellow-men, and gained repose from the ministrations
of the Oak and the Pine?"*
* `Shakspere and His Forerunners', vol. i, p. 72.
"In the sweet old stories of ascetics who by living pure and simple lives
in the woods came to understand the secrets of Nature,
the conversation of trees, the talk of birds, do we not find
but the shadows of this modern communion with Nature to keep ourselves
simple and pure, to cultivate our moral sense up to that point of insight
that we see all Nature alive with energy, that we hear the whole earth
singing like a flock of birds, yet so that we remember Death with Mr. Darwin,
so that nothing is any more commonplace, so that death has its place
and life its place, so that even a hasty business walk along the street
to pay a bill is a walk in fairyland amidst unutterable wonders
as long as the sky is above and the trees in sight, -- in other words,
to be natural . . . natural in our art, natural in our dress,
natural in our behavior, natural in our affections, -- is not that
a modern consummation of culture? For to him who rightly understands Nature
she is even more than Ariel and Ceres to Prospero; she is more than a servant
conquered like Caliban, to fetch wood for us: she is a friend and comforter;
and to that man the cares of the world are but a fabulous
`Midsummer Night's Dream', to smile at -- he is ever in sight of the morning
and in hand-reach of God."*
* `Shakspere and His Forerunners', vol. i, p. 73.
The lectures close, as they began, with an estimate of the value of the poet
to the world and with a word of greeting to his audience: --
"Just as our little spheres of activity in life surely combine
into some greater form or purpose which none of us dream of,
and which no one can see save some unearthly spectator
that stands afar off in space and looks upon the whole of things, --
I was impressed anew with the fact that it is the poet
who must get up to this point and stand off in thought
at the great distance of the ideal, look upon the complex swarm of purposes
as upon these dancing gnats, and find out for man the final form and purpose
of man's life. In short, -- and here I am ending this course with the idea
with which I began it, -- in short, it is the poet who must sit
at the centre of things here, as surely as some great One sits
at the centre of things Yonder, and who must teach us how to control,
with temperance and perfect art and unforgetfulness of detail,
all our oppositions, so that we may come to say with Aristotle, at last,
that poetry is more philosophical than philosophy and more historical
"Permit me to thank you earnestly for the patience with which
you have listened to many details that must have been dry to you;
and let me sincerely hope that, whatever may be your oppositions in life,
whether of the verse kind or the moral kind, you may pass, like Shakspere,
through these planes of the Dream Period and the Real Period,
until you have reached the ideal plane from which you clearly see
that wherever Prospero's art and Prospero's love and Prospero's
forgiveness of injuries rule in behavior, there a blue sky and a quiet heaven
full of sun and stars are shining over every tempest."*
* `Shakspere and His Forerunners', vol. ii, p. 328. I have quoted freely
from these lectures because they are in a form not easily accessible
to the general reader, and because, more than any other of his prose works,
they reveal the inner man.
One of the things which enabled Lanier to produce the effect that he did
in teaching literature was the fact that he was an excellent reader.
He had a singularly clear and resonant voice and a power
to enter so into the spirit of a work of art that he had no trouble
in keeping a large audience thoroughly interested. The following account
by one of his hearers, written a short time after his death,
gives the effect produced by his readings: --
"Mr. Lanier did not lay claim to any extraordinary power as a reader;
indeed, he once, when first requested to instruct a class of ladies
in poetic lore, modestly demurred, on the ground of his inability
to read aloud. `I cannot read,' he said simply; `I have never tried.'
All, however, who afterwards heard him read such scenes from Shakespeare
as he selected to illustrate his lectures were thrilled
by his vivid realization of that great dramatist. His voice, though distinct,
was never elevated above a moderate tone; he rarely made use of a gesture;
certainly, there was no approach to action or to the adaptation of his voice
to the varied characters of the play; yet many scenes which I have
heard him read, I can hardly believe that I have never seen produced
on the stage, so truly and vividly did he succeed in presenting them
to my imagination. At the time I used to wonder in what element
lay the charm. Partly, of course, in his own profound appreciation
of the author's meaning, partly also in his clear and correct emphasis,
but most of all in the wonderful word-painting with which,
by a few masterly strokes, he placed the whole scene before the mental vision.
In theatrical representation, a man with a bush of thorn and lantern
must `present moonshine' and another, with a bit of plaster,
the wall which divides Pyramus from his Thisbe; but in Mr. Lanier's readings,
a poet's quick imagination brought forth in full perfection
all the accessories of the play. When he read, in the Johns Hopkins
lecture hall, that scene from `Pericles' in which Cerimon restores
Thaisa's apparently lifeless body to animation, a large audience
listened with breathless attention. His graphic comments
caused the whole rapidly moving scene to engrave itself on the memory."*
* Letter of Mrs. Arthur W. Machen to the author.
Such readings and lectures are treasured in the minds of those who heard them.
In addition to his work at the Peabody Institute Lanier taught
in various schools, and so extended his influence. It is easy
to overstate the good he accomplished, but it is within bounds to say
that his efforts to develop the culture life of the city bore fruit,
and that he has his place among those who have contributed
to the new Baltimore. He shared in all the advantages made possible
by the philanthropy of George Peabody and Johns Hopkins,
and in such aesthetic influences as the Allston Art Association
and the Walters collection of French and Spanish pictures. In turn
he promoted a love of music and poetry. The successive invasions of Baltimore
by people from New England, Virginia, and Georgia had added
a cosmopolitan and cultured society. By a wide circle Lanier was
much beloved. His admiration for the city and his ideals for its future
are well expressed in his "Ode to the Johns Hopkins University": --
And here, O finer Pallas, long remain, --
Sit on these Maryland hills, and fix thy reign,
And frame a fairer Athens than of yore
In these blest bounds of Baltimore. . . .
Yea, make all ages native to our time,
Till thou the freedom of the city grant
To each most antique habitant
Of Fame, -- . . .
And many peoples call from shore to shore,
`The world has bloomed again at Baltimore!'
Chapter IX. Lecturer at Johns Hopkins University
The Peabody lectures led to the appointment of Lanier
as lecturer in English literature at Johns Hopkins University.
As early as the fall of 1876, he had written to President Gilman,
asking for a catalogue of the institution. In answer to
his first letter of inquiry, President Gilman, who had followed with interest
his Centennial poem, and had been from the first an admirer of his poetry,
requested an interview for the purpose of discussing with him
the possibility of identifying him with the University.
Lanier had then talked with him about the advisability of establishing
a chair of music and poetry, a plan which appealed to Dr. Gilman.
In a letter to his brother he writes of this interview:
"He invited me to tea and gave up his whole evening to discussing
ways and means for connecting me officially with the University."
He had been delayed in suggesting the matter to him before
by his "ignorance as to whether I had pursued any special course of study
in life." Dr. Gilman recommended to the trustees that Lanier
be appointed to such a chair, and the latter looked forward
to a "speedy termination of his wandering and a pleasant settlement
for a long time." For some reason, however, the plan did not materialize,
and we find Lanier a year later writing a letter applying for a fellowship: --
Washington, D.C., Sept. 26, 1877.
Dear Mr. Gilman, -- From a published report of your very interesting address
I learn that there is now a vacant Fellowship. Would I be able to discharge
the duties of such a position?
My course of study would be: first, constant research
in the physics of musical tone; second, several years' devotion
to the acquirement of a thoroughly scientific GENERAL view of Mineralogy,
Botany, and Comparative Anatomy; third, French and German Literature.
I fear this may seem a nondescript and even flighty process;
but it makes straight towards the final result of all my present thought,
and I am tempted, by your great kindness, to believe that you would have
confidence enough in me to await whatever development should come of it.
Such a plan of study did not fit in with the scheme of graduate courses,
and so he was not awarded it. President Gilman had, however,
heard with much satisfaction Lanier's lectures at Mrs. Bird's,
and had cooperated with him in the series of lectures
at the Peabody Institute. Finally, the trustees, convinced of
Lanier's scholarship, and conscious of his growing influence in Baltimore,
agreed to his appointment as lecturer in English literature,
and Dr. Gilman had the rare pleasure of announcing the fact
on the poet's thirty-seventh birthday -- February 3, 1879.
Lanier responded in a letter, indicative at once of the spirit
in which he received the appointment and of his high personal regard
for the president of the University. No story of Lanier's life
would be adequate that did not pay tribute to the uniform kindness
and thoughtful consideration of the poet's welfare manifested by Dr. Gilman.
He has his place in that inner circle of Lanier's friends
who meant much to him in opening up new fields of endeavor,
and who after his death zealously promoted his fame.
Lanier occupies a place in the history of Johns Hopkins University
that has perhaps not been fully appreciated. His appointment
was not a merely nominal one, for he threw himself with zeal and energy
into the life of the University. He breathed its atmosphere. He was
a personal friend of the president, of nearly every member of the faculty,
and of the university officers. He caught its spirit and grew with it
into a real sense of the ideals of University work. While his poem
written on the fourth anniversary of the opening of the University,
is not one of his best, it indicates the great love that he had
for the institution: --
How tall among her sisters, and how fair, --
How grave beyond her youth, yet debonair
As dawn! . . .
Has she, old Learning's latest daughter, won
This grace, this stature, and this fruitful fame.
What the University meant to Lanier can be realized only by those
who have noted the eager spirit with which he responded
to every great influence brought into his life, and who realize
what "those early days of unbounded enthusiasm and unfettered ideality,"
characteristic of the newly founded University, meant to
the American educational system. Her sister institutions have in later days
gone far beyond Johns Hopkins in equipment and in opportunities
for research, but students of American education can never forget
the pioneer work of the University in the line of graduate study.
Fortunately its benefactor had left a board of trustees
absolutely untrammeled by any condition or reservation,
political, religious, or literary. A body of unusually strong men,
they were fortunate in securing the services of Daniel Coit Gilman,
whose experience in educational matters had commended itself
to the judgment of the four leading university presidents of the country
to such an extent that each of them without consulting with the others
advised his election. The newly elected president and the trustees
were accessible to ideas, and finally decided that the wisest thing
that could be done was to make possible what had been previously wanting
in American universities, a graduate school with high standards.
American professors had studied in German universities
and distinguished European scholars had been called to chairs
in American universities, but neither had succeeded in essentially modifying
the type of higher education. Dr. Gilman himself had tried in vain
to secure the opportunity for graduate work in this country.
Now, without any traditions to bind them, the organizers of the University
had the opportunity "which marked the entrance of the higher education
in America upon a new phase in its development." "The great work of Hopkins,"
said President Eliot at the twenty-fifth anniversary of its foundation,
"is the creation of a school of graduate studies, which not only
has been in itself a strong and potent school, but which has lifted
every other university in the country in its departments
of arts and sciences."
The trustees were very wise in choosing as the first faculty
men who had the training and the aspiration to make this work possible:
the "soaring-genius'd Sylvester", --
That, earlier, loosed the knot great Newton tied,
And flung the door of Fame's locked temple wide;
Gildersleeve, who combined the best classical traditions of the old South
with recent methods of German scholarship; Morris, who came from Oxford,
"devout, learned, enthusiastic;" accomplished Martin,
who "brought to this country new methods of physiological inquiry;"
Rowland, "honored in every land, peer of the greatest physicists of our day;"
and Adams, "suggestive, industrious, inspiring, ductile, beneficent,"
who, though at first holding a subordinate position, built up
a department of history and economics which has had a potent influence
throughout the South, and indeed throughout the country.*
These men did much original work themselves, and put before the public
in popular articles and scientific journals the ideals of
their several departments. It is noteworthy that for every department
a special scientific journal was established. The library, though small,
was composed of special working collections and of foreign periodicals,
which, when supplemented by the Peabody Library, gave an opportunity
for the most diligent research. The students, who came from
all parts of the country, were shown "how to discover the limits of the known;
how to extend, even by minute accretions, the realm of knowledge;
how to cooperate with other men in the prosecution of inquiry."
Reviewing the work done by the faculty and students of the University,
the leading scientific journal of England said, July 12, 1883:
"We should like to see such an account of original work done and to be done
issuing each year from the laboratories of Oxford and Cambridge."
* The account of the first faculty is based largely on
ex-President Gilman's article, "The Launching of a University",
in `Scribner's Magazine', March, 1902.
In addition to the regular courses offered by members of the faculty,
the University provided for series of lectures to be given
by distinguished scholars from both American and European universities.
These lectures, suggested by those given at the College de France,
appealed at once to the University community and to the citizens of Baltimore.
In the course of the first five years they had the chance to hear Lord Kelvin,
Freeman, Bryce, Von Holst, Edmund Gosse, William James, Hiram Corson,
and shorter series of lectures by Phillips Brooks, Dean Stanley, and others.
The most notable of all were delivered in 1877 by Lowell and Child,
while at the same time Charles Eliot Norton was lecturing
at the Peabody Institute, -- "the three wise men of the East."
From far the sages saw, from far they came
And ministered to her.
Lowell lectured on Romance poetry, with Dante as the central theme,
while Child had "a four weeks' triumph" in Chaucer, producing a corner
on that poet's works in all the bookstores of the city.
Readers of Lowell's letters will remember the joy that he had
in renewing his association with Child and in forming new acquaintances
in the circles of Johns Hopkins and Baltimore. Unfortunately,
Lanier was at that time in Florida, seeking the restoration of his health,
and so missed the opportunity which he would have coveted, of hearing,
and of being closely associated with, these eminent scholars.
To what degree was Lanier a scholar, worthy to be named
in connection with such men? There are some who would deny him such a rank;
and indeed, when one finds in his books inaccuracies, conceits,
and hasty generalizations, one is apt to grow impatient with him.
But there are points which connect him with the modern English scholar.
In the first place, he was a very hard and systematic student.
He had none of the slipshod methods of many men of his type.
He had respect for the most recent investigations in his special line of work,
-- he knew the value of scholarship. The Peabody Library enabled him
to have at hand the most recent publications of the learned societies,
and there is no question that he steadfastly endeavored to keep in touch
with the authorities in any special field of investigation
in which he happened to be interested. The footnotes
in the "Science of English Verse" and in the Shakespeare lectures indicate
that he had a knowledge of the bibliography of any subject he touched.
Furthermore, he consulted with men who were living in Baltimore
and had the special information that he desired. While writing
the "Science of English Verse", he often talked with Professor Gildersleeve
as to Greek metrics. "We never became intimate," says the latter,
"and yet we were good friends and there was much common ground.
Our talks usually turned on matters of literary form. He was eager,
receptive, reaching out to all the knowable, transmuting all
that he learned. He would have me read Greek poetry aloud to him
for the sake of the rhythm and the musical effect."* When the book
was finished, he wrote to Mr. Scribner: "I have had no opportunity whatever
to submit this book to any expert friend and have often wished
that I might do so before it goes finally forth, in order
that I might avail myself of any suggestions which would be likely to occur
to another mind, approaching the book from another direction.
This being impossible, it has occurred to me that perhaps
you have sent the manuscript to be read by some specialist in these matters,
and that possibly some such suggestions might be offered by him.
Pray let me know if you think this worth while." On questions of Anglo-Saxon
he conferred with Professor A. S. Cook, at that time instructor
in the University, and on matters of scientific interest,
such as he pursued in his investigation into the physics of sound,
he sought advice from the scientists of the University,
even taking courses with them.
* Letter to the author.
For Child, Furnivall, Hales, Grosart, and other workers
in the field of English literature he had the greatest reverence.
In his preface to the "Boy's Percy", in commenting on
the accuracy of modern scholarship, he speaks of the "clear advance
in men's conscience as to literary relations of this sort . . .
the perfect delicacy which is now the rule among men of letters,
the scrupulous fidelity of the editor to his text. . . .
I think there can be no doubt that we owe this inestimable uplifting
of exact statement and pure truth in men's esteem to the same vigorous growth
in the general spirit of man which has flowed forth, among other directions,
into the wondrous modern development of physical science.
Here the minutest accuracy in observing and the utmost faithfulness
in reporting have been found in the outset to be absolutely essential,
have created habits and requirements of conscience which extend themselves
into all other relations." It may be seen from such quotations
that Lanier had respect for the most minute investigations;
he had no tirades to make against the peeping and botanizing spirit
that many men of his type have found in the modern scholar.
Speaking of the monumental work of Ellis on the pronunciation of English
in the time of Shakespeare, he pays tribute to his "wonderful skill,
patience, industry, keenness, fairness, and learning."
Furthermore, Lanier himself had the spirit of research and original work
which we have seen was characteristic of Johns Hopkins University.
He not only had the desire to investigate, but he also gave form and shape
to his investigations. In this he was in striking contrast
with many Southern scholars. Joseph Le Conte, in his recent autobiography,
tells of a friend of his who had the making of a great scientist.
He met him at Flat Rock in 1858, and heard him talk most intelligently
on the origin of species. At that early date this South Carolina planter
had Darwin's idea. "Why didn't he publish it?" asks Le Conte,
the answer to which question leads him to comment on
the lack of productive scholars in the South. "Nothing could be
more remarkable than the wide reading, the deep reflection,
the refined culture, and the originality of thought and observation
characteristic of them, and yet the idea of publication
never even enters their minds. What right has any one to publish
unless it is something of the greatest importance, something that
would revolutionize thought?" Now Lanier was filled
with the spirit of making contributions, however insignificant,
to the development of scholarship in some one direction.
He restates, for instance, with remarkable insight and conciseness,
the investigations of Fleay, Edward Dowden, and other members
of the New Shakespeare Society, as to the metrical development
seen in Shakespeare's plays. But he adds to their investigations a suggestion
as to the greater freedom with which Shakespeare shifted the accent
in his later plays: "Several reasons may be urged for the belief
that this might prove one of the most valuable of all metrical tests.
In fact, when we consider that the matter of rhythmic accent is one
which affects every bar of each line, while the four tests just now applied
affect only the LAST bar of each line; and when we consider further
that the real result of this freedom in using the rhythmic accent
is to vary the monotonous regularity of the regular system
with the charm of those subtle rhythms which we employ
in familiar discourse, so that the habit of such freedom might grow
with the greatest uniformity upon a poet, and might thus present us
with a test of such uniform development as to be reliable
for nicer discrimination than any of the more regular tests can be pushed to,
-- it would seem fair to expect confirmation of great importance
from a properly constructed Table of Abnormal Rhythmic Accents in Shakspere."
Lanier not only made these investigations himself, but incited his students
to do so, especially those in the smaller classes of the University.
A good illustration is in the suggestion he made to a class that they might
together work out some interesting etymological and dialectical points.
"Why should not some of the intelligent ladies of this class," he asks,
"go to work and arrange the facts -- as I have called them -- so that
scholars might have before them a comprehensive view of all the word-changes
which have occurred since the earliest Anglo-Saxon works were written?
The other day a young lady -- one of the very brightest young women
I have ever met -- asked me to give her a vocation. She said
she had studied a good many things, of one sort or another; that she was
merely going over ground which thousands of others had trodden;
that she wanted some original work, some method by which
she could contribute substantially to the world's stock of knowledge:
having this kind of outlet she felt sure she had a genuine desire,
a working desire, to go forward. Well, of the numerous plans
which I can imagine for women to pursue, I have suggested to you one
which would combine pleasure with profitable work in a most charming manner.
Suppose that some lady -- or better a club of ladies -- should set out
to note down the changes in spelling -- and if possible in pronunciation --
which have occurred in every word now remaining to us
from the Anglo-Saxon tongue. The task would not be a difficult one.
All that would be required would be to portion out to each member of the club
a specific set of books to be read, each set consisting of
some books in Anglo-Saxon, some in Middle English, and some in Modern English.
Each member would take her books and fall to reading.
As she would come to each word she would write it down;
and whenever she would happen on the same word in a book of a later century
she would write it down under the first one; if she came upon the same word
in a book of a still later century she would write it down
under the other two, and so on. As each member of the club
would rapidly accumulate material, the whole body might meet once a month
to collate and arrange the results. In this way a pursuit which
would soon become perfectly fascinating would in no long time collect material
for a thorough and systematic view of the growth of English words
for the last thousand years. The most interesting questions concerning
the wonderful and subtle laws of word-change might then be solved."*
* `Shakspere and His Forerunners', vol. i, p. 134.
In his zeal for publishing and editing books he conceived of
a rather quixotic plan for starting a publishing house.
In a letter written June 8, 1879, to his brother, Lanier urges him
to come to Baltimore and go into the publishing business with him.
They can then both become writers, and thus resume the plan
of working together that they had formed just after the war.
Lanier himself expects to send forth at least two books a year
for the next ten years. "These are to be works, not of one season,
but -- if popular at all -- increasing in value with each year.
Besides these works on language and literature and the science of verse, --
which I hope will be standard ones, -- my poems are to be printed. . . .
If you would only be my publisher! Indeed, if we could be a firm together!
I have many times thought that `Lanier Brothers, Publishers',
might be a strong house, particularly as to the Southern States."
He then outlines his scheme in detail: they would need only an office,
a clerk and a porter, as they could have their printing done elsewhere.
He closes with a strong appeal to him to leave the South,
inasmuch as political conditions at that time seemed to render
the future of that section extremely doubtful.
A still more noteworthy characteristic of Lanier's scholarship
is the modernness of his work. It is a striking fact that every subject
he wrote about has more and more engaged the attention of scholars
since his time. One may not agree with any of his ideas,
and may be convinced of the superficiality of his treatment of literature,
but there is no question of the insight manifested by him
in seizing upon those subjects that have been of notable interest
to recent scholars. When he lectured about Shakespeare, for instance,
he did not indulge in any of the moralizing that had been
characteristic of German commentators. On the other hand,
he put himself in thorough accord with the work outlined
by Dr. Furnivall and his fellow workers in their efforts
to study and interpret Shakespeare as a whole. "The first necessity,"
said Dr. Furnivall in the introduction to the Leopold Shakespeare (1877),
"is to regard Shakespeare as a whole, his works as a living organism,
each a member of one created unity, the whole a tree of healing and of comfort
to the nations, a growth from small beginnings to mighty ends."
And again: "As the growth is more and more closely watched and discerned,
we shall more and more clearly see that his metre, his words,
his grammar and syntax, move but with the deeper changes of mind and soul
of which they are outward signs, and that all the faculties of the man
went onward together. . . . This subject of the growth,
the oneness of Shakespeare . . . is the special business of the present,
the second school of Victorian students . . . as antiquarian illustration,
emendation, and verbal criticism were of the first school.
The work of the first school we have to carry on, not to leave undone;
the work of our own second school we have to do." Into this study,
thus outlined by the founder of the New Shakespeare Society,
Lanier threw himself with unabated zeal.
The fact is all the more remarkable when we compare his writing on Shakespeare
with Swinburne's book published during the same year. Swinburne has
only words of contempt for the investigations of the New Shakespeare Society,
whom he characterizes as "learned and laborious men who could hear
only with their fingers. They will pluck out the heart, not of Hamlet's,
but of Shakespeare's mystery by the means of a metrical test; and this test
is to be applied by a purely arithmetical process. . . . Every man,
woman, and child born with five fingers on each hand was henceforward
better qualified as a critic than any poet or scholar of time past."
He calls them "metre-mongers" and the "bastard brood of scribblers".
Lanier, however, while carefully avoiding the methods and principles
of a mere dry-as-dust, spiritualizes all their facts,
and works out in passages of remarkable beauty and eloquence
the growth of Shakespeare's mind and art. To Lanier a metrical test or a date
is no insignificant thing. "Many a man," he says, "may feel inclined to say,
Why potter about your dates and chronologies? . . . But it so happens
that here a whole view of the greatest mind the human race has yet evolved
hangs essentially upon dates." Lanier's reverence for exact scholarship
and his application of seemingly technical standards do not interfere at all
with his deeper appreciation of Shakespeare's plays. While he overstated
the autobiographical value of a chronological study of the plays,
-- reading into this study meanings that are not warranted
by the facts, -- it must be said that it is difficult to find
in the writings of Americans on Shakespeare more significant passages
than chapters xx-xxiv of "Shakspere and His Forerunners".
Other illustrations of the modernness of Lanier's scholarly work are easy
to cite. His plan for the publication of a book of Elizabethan sonnets,
while not realized by him, has been carried out during the past year
in a far more extensive and scholarly way than he could have done it
by Mr. Sidney Lee. In the light of the recent scholar's investigation,
many of Lanier's ideas with regard to the autobiographical
value of the sonnets vanish, but his insight into the need
of the study of the Elizabethan sonnets is none the less notable.
He was the first American to indicate the necessity for the study of the novel
as a form of literature that was worthy of serious thought.
Lecture courses and books on the novel have multiplied at a rapid rate
during the past decade. Whatever may be one's idea of the permanent value
of the "Science of English Verse", it is evident that it was a pioneer book
in a field which has been much cultivated within recent years.
The thesis of the book will be discussed in a later chapter;
here it needs to be said that it is one of the best pieces of original work
yet produced by an English scholar in America, -- in it are seen at their best
the qualities that have been noted as distinctive in the author's work.
All these very essential characteristics of a scholar Lanier had.
He had not the time to secure results from the plans that he clearly saw.
He was moving in the right direction. No scholar should ever speak of him
but with reverent lips. Without the training, or the equipment, or the time,
of more fortunate scholars of our own day, he should be an inspiration
to all men who have scholarly ideals. If not a great scholar himself,
he wanted to be one, and he had the finest appreciation of all who were.
And besides, did he not have something which is often lacking in scholars?
There is more science, more criticism now in American universities,
but it would be well to keep in view the ideals of men who saw
the spiritual significance of scholarship. President Gilman realized this
when he wrote to Lanier: "I think your scheme (of winter lectures) may be
admirably worked in, not only with our major and minor courses in English,
but with all our literary courses, French and German, Latin and Greek.
The teachers of these subjects pursue chiefly LANGUAGE courses.
We need among us some one like you, loving literature and poetry,
and treating it in such a way as to enlist and inspire many students. . . .
I think your aims and your preparation admirable."
Dr. Gilman refers here to a scheme for a course in English literature
outlined by the poet in the summer of 1879. Lanier indicated
three distinct courses of study which would tend to give to students
(1) a vocabulary of idiomatic English words and phrases,
(2) a stock of illustrative ideas, (3) acquaintance with
modern literary forms. To secure the first point, he suggests
that students should read with a view to gathering strong and homely
English words and phrases from a study of authors ranging from
the Scotch poets of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries
to Swift and Emerson. To secure ideas, the student should study
systems of thought, ancient and modern. "The expansion of mental range,
as well as special facilities in expression, attainable by such a course,
cannot be too highly estimated." Under the third head he suggests
the study of various forms of writing, -- an idea which has been carried out
in recent years. The ultimate end of all this study, however,
is "the spiritual consolation and refreshment of literature
when the day's work is over, the delight of sitting with
a favorite poet or essayist at evening, the enlargement of sympathy,
derivable from powerful individual presentations such as
Shakespeare's or George Eliot's; the gentle influences
of Sir Thomas Browne or Burton or Lamb or Hood, the repose of Wordsworth,
the beauty of Keats, the charm of Tennyson should be brought out
so as to initiate friendships between special students and particular authors,
which may be carried on through life."*
* `The Independent', March 18, 1886.
In another letter he wrote still further of his plans, clearly distinguishing
between the popular lectures and the more technical work
of the University class-room. It is a long letter, but gives so well
Lanier's idea of his work in the University and his plans for the future
that it serves better than much comment: --
180 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, Md.,
July 13, 1879.
My dear Mr. Gilman, -- I see, from your letter, that I did not
clearly explain my scheme of lectures.
The course marked "Class Lectures" is meant for advanced students,
and involves the hardest kind of University work on their part.
Perhaps you will best understand the scope of the tasks
which this course will set before the student by reading the inclosed theses
which I should distribute among the members of the class as soon as I
should have discovered their mental leanings and capacities sufficiently,
and which I should require to be worked out by the end of the scholastic year.
I beg you to read these with some care: I send only seven of them,
but they will be sufficient to show you the nature of the work which I propose
to do with the `University student'. I should like my main efforts
to take that direction; I wish to get some Americans at hard work
in pure literature; and will be glad if the public lectures in Hopkins Hall
shall be merely accessory to my main course. With this view,
as you look over the accompanying theses, please observe: --
1. That each of these involves original research and will
-- if properly carried out -- constitute a genuine contribution
to modern literary scholarship;
2. That they are so arranged as to fall in with various other studies
and extend their range, -- for example, the first one being suitable
to a student of philosophy who is pursuing Anglo-Saxon,
the second to one who is studying the Transition Period of English,
the sixth to one who is studying Elizabethan English, and so on;
3. That each one necessitates diligent study of some great English work,
not as a philological collection of words, but as pure literature; and
4. That they keep steadily in view, as their ultimate object,
that strengthening of manhood, that enlarging of sympathy,
that glorifying of moral purpose, which the student unconsciously gains,
not from any direct didacticism, but from this constant association
with our finest ideals and loftiest souls.
Thus you see that while the course of "Class Lectures" submitted to you
nominally centres about the three plays of Shakspere* therein named,
it really takes these for texts, and involves, in the way
of commentary and of thesis, the whole range of English poetry.
In fact I have designed it as a thorough preparation
for the serious study of the poetic art in its whole outcome, hoping that,
if I should carry it out successfully, the Trustees might find it wise
next year to create either a Chair of Poetry or a permanent lectureship
covering the field above indicated. It is my fervent belief that
to take classes of young men and to preach them the gospel according-to-Poetry
is to fill the most serious gap in our system of higher education;
I think one can already perceive a certain narrowing of sympathy
and -- what is even worse -- an unsymmetric development of faculty,
both intellectual and moral, from a too exclusive devotion to Science
which Science itself would be the first to condemn.