Part 4 out of 5
* `Midsummer Night's Dream', `Hamlet', and `The Tempest'.
As to the first six class lectures on "The Physics and Metaphysics of Poetry":
they unfold my system of English Prosody, in which I should
thoroughly drill every student until he should be able to note down,
in musical signs, the rhythm of any English poem. This drilling
would continue through the whole course, inasmuch as I regard
a mastery of the principles set forth in those lectures as vitally important
to all systematic progress in the understanding and enjoyment of poetry.
I should have added, apropos of this class course, that there ought to be
one examination each week, to every two lectures.
In the first interview we had, after my appointment, it was your intention
to place this study among those required by the University for a degree.
I hope sincerely you have not abandoned this idea; and the course
outlined in "Class lectures" forwarded to you the other day,
and in the theses of which I send the first seven herewith,
seems to me the best to begin with. If it should be made
a part of the "Major Course in English" (where it seems properly to belong),
I could easily arrange a simpler and less arduous modification of it
for the corresponding "Minor Course".
I am so deeply interested in this matter -- of making a finer fibre
for all our young American manhood by leading our youth in proper relations
with English poetry -- that at the risk of consuming your whole vacation
with reading this long and unconscionable letter I will mention
that I have nearly completed three works which are addressed
to the practical accomplishment of the object named, by supplying
a wholly different method of study from that mischievous one
which has generally arisen from a wholly mistaken use of the numerous
"Manuals" of English literature. These works are my three text-books:
(1) "The Science of English Verse", in which the student's path
is cleared of a thousand errors and confusions which have
obstructed this study for a long time, by a very simple system
founded upon the physical relations of sound; (2) "From Caedmon to Chaucer",
in which I present all the most interesting Anglo-Saxon poems
remaining to us, in a form which renders their literary quality appreciable
by all students, whether specially pursuing Old English or not,
thus placing these poems where they ought always to have stood,
as a sort of grand and simple vestibule through which
the later mass of English poetry is to be approached; and (3) my "Chaucer",
which I render immediately enjoyable, without preliminary preparation,
by an interlined glossarial explanation of the original text,
and an indication (with hyphens) of those terminal syllables
affecting the rhythm which have decayed out of the modern tongue.
I am going to print these books and sell them myself,
on the cheap plan which has been so successfully adopted by Edward Arber,
lecturer on English literature in University College, London.
I have been working on them for two months; in two more they will be finished;
and by the middle of November I hope to have them ready for use as text-books.
If they succeed, I shall complete the series next year with (4) a "Spenser"
on the same plan with the "Chaucer", (5) "The Minor Elizabethan Song-Writers",
and (6) "The Minor Elizabethan Dramatists"; the steady aim of the whole being
to furnish a working set of books which will familiarize the student
with the actual works of English poets, rather than with
their names and biographers.
Pray forgive this merciless letter. I could not resist the temptation
to unfold to you all my hopes and plans connected with my University work
among your young men which I so eagerly anticipate.
I will trouble you to return these notes of theses when you have examined them
* Published in `South Atlantic Quarterly', April, 1905.
He endeavored to make his courses fit in with other courses of the curriculum
in Greek, Latin, and modern literatures: --
My dear Sir, -- I had been meditating, as a second course of public lectures
during next term, if you should want them, -- twelve studies
on "The English Satirists"; and on my visit to the University to-day
I observed from the bulletin that Mr. Rabillon is now lecturing
on "The French Satirists". It occurs to me, therefore, that perhaps
some additional interest in the subject might be excited if my course
on the English satirists should follow the completion of Mr. Rabillon's
-- which I suppose will not be before the holidays -- and should be given
in January and February, instead of the course mentioned in my note to you
this morning. I may add that if some other gentleman would offer courses
on the Greek and Latin satirists, we might make a cyclus of it.
435 North Calvert Street,
Lanier's public lectures were largely attended. What has been said
of the Peabody lectures applies to the University lectures.
Of the effect produced by him in his smaller University classes,
one of his students writes: --
"I think that it was in the winter of 1879-80 that I heard
that Mr. Lanier was to conduct a class in English Literature
at the Johns Hopkins University, where I was then a Fellow. My field of work
was Aesthetics and the History of Art, and as I was eagerly searching
for chances to broaden and deepen my ideas, I enrolled myself in the class.
We were not many, and I have no recollection of individuals in the group.
Neither can I distinctly recall either the topics taken up
or the method followed, except that most of the hours consisted of
extended readings by Mr. Lanier with all sorts of interjected remarks,
often setting aside the reading altogether. That the course
was a real source of intellectual profit to me I cannot doubt,
but not in the form of definite information or systemized opinion.
The benefit lay in a subtle expansion of the power of appreciation
and an undefinable exaltation of the instincts of taste
that I have since learned were more precious than any
precise increments of cold knowledge.
"What I do remember vividly is the fact that often, almost regularly,
I used to wait for Mr. Lanier after the class (which was held in the evening)
and walk home with him a mile or so, sometimes walking up and down
for a long time. On these occasions we doubtless talked
of all manner of things. I was only a student trying to `find himself'
in reference to the vast areas of thought. I was eager
for sympathy and for inspiration. My life-work was still unchosen,
but I was conscious of an intense drawing toward artistic topics --
not much with the creative impulse of the artist, but rather with
the analytic and rational desire of the student. I was beginning to have
a profound sense of the interrelations of the fine arts with each other
and of all of them with the movement of history. I wanted a chance
to talk out what I was thinking and to get new lights and promptings.
So in our slow strolls homeward I presume that I often babbled freely
of my studies in architecture and music, and my inconsequent remarks often
led Mr. Lanier to speak somewhat freely, too, of his speculations and fancies.
I now recall with wonder how he put me on such a footing of equality
that I often quite forgot the difference in age and experience between us
and almost felt him to be a companion student. I now see that this
was the sign of two notable traits, -- the extreme native Southern courtesy
that clothed him always in all his dealings with every one,
and the essential youthfulness of his mind when moving among
his favorite subjects. His was surely one of the finest of sympathies,
delicate, sensitive, elastic, vital to the highest degree,
the like of which is all too rare among men, though hardly described
by the term `feminine'. In it breathed a genuine capacity for love
in the most noble sense, for he was ready to identify himself
with the interests of another, to etherealize and dignify
what he thought he saw in them, and thus absolutely to transform them
by the alchemy of his touch. And, the more I think of it,
the more I recognize that his soul was incapable of aging. . . .
This absolute freshness of heart and spirit seems to me to have been
one of the highest notes of Mr. Lanier's genius. Here he was clearly allied
to many a more famous poet or painter or musician."*
* Letter to the author from Professor Waldo S. Pratt,
now of Hartford Theological Seminary.
Among American poets Lanier has the same place with regard
to the teaching of English that Lowell and Longfellow have
in the study of modern languages. There were, to be sure,
some greater English scholars in this country during the seventies
than Lanier was, just as there were more scientific
students of modern languages in the time of Longfellow and Lowell.
Professors Child of Harvard, Lounsbury of Yale, March of Lafayette,
Corson of Cornell, and Price of Randolph-Macon College
-- afterwards of Columbia University -- have a commanding place
in the development of English teaching which has become
such a marked feature of educational progress since, say, 1870.
Throughout schools and colleges and universities English is now
firmly established as perhaps the most important branch of study.
It is to the credit of Lanier that before much had been done in this direction
he saw the great need of such work. Indeed, as early as 1868,
while examining the catalogue of a Southern university,
he jotted down in his note-book a suggestion that the most serious defect
in the curriculum was the lack of any English training.
It is true that there had been from time immemorial chairs of belles lettres
in institutions of learning, but the department had rather to do
with things in general. Even where English was studied there was a tendency
to use manuals of literature rather than the works of authors themselves;
and there is now a tendency to use literature as the basis for
philological work. Lanier's ideas strike one as singularly balanced and sane,
suggesting a compromise between the warring camps of recent years.
By reason of Lanier's sympathy with the ideals of the University,
and his influence over some few students, he has a permanent place
in the history of Johns Hopkins. Mr. Edmund Clarence Stedman
wrote to President Gilman: "It is a fine thing that such an institution
as your University should have its shrines -- and among them that of
its own poet, in a certain sense canonized, and with his most ideal memory
a lasting part of its associations." The University has, indeed,
kept the fame and the personality of Lanier fresh in its memory.
As one enters McCoy Hall and notices the life-size portraits
of the first president and the first members of the faculty,
he misses the face of Lanier; but on entering Donavan Hall,
just at the end of the main hallway, he finds himself in a room
dedicated to the highest uses of poetry. There are pictures of men
who have delivered lectures on the Percy Turnbull and Donavan foundations,
manuscript letters of distinguished American poets and critics,
and the bust of Lanier, whose spirit seems to dominate the surroundings.
It is the best of the likenesses of the poet, and is the source of admiration
to all visitors, as well as an inspiration to all who labor at Johns Hopkins.
Those who were never thrilled by the lustre of his dark eyes or never heard
the tones of his voice as he interpreted passages of great poetry,
may find some satisfaction in such an image.
Chapter X. The New South
While Lanier was finding his place in the larger spheres of scholarship,
of music, and of poetry, he constantly returned in thought and imagination
to the South. Even after 1877, when he and his family became
residents of Baltimore, his correspondence with his father and brother
kept him in touch with that section. He continued to read Southern newspapers
and to follow with interest Southern development. In his desk
he kept a regular drawer for matters pertaining to the South.
Both from his experience, which enabled him to enter with unusual sympathy
into the life of the South, and from the larger point of view gained from
his life in other sections, his observations on Southern life and literature
are of special value. They show that he was not such a detached figure
as has been frequently thought. He was of the South, and took delight
in every evidence of her progress. He sometimes despaired of her future --
so much so that he urged his brother to come to Baltimore in 1879.
He had little patience with the prevailing type of political leader
at the time when the Silver Bill was passed, so he wrote, June 8, 1879,
to Clifford Lanier: --
"I cannot contemplate with any patience your stay in the South.
In my soberest moments I can perceive no outlook for that land.
Our representatives in Congress have acted with such consummate unwisdom
that one may say we have no future there. Mr. ---- and Mr. ---- (as precious
a pair of rascals as ever wrought upon the ignorance of a country)
have disgusted all thoughtful men of whatever party;
while the shuffling of our better men on the question of public honesty,
their folly in allowing such people as Blaine and Conkling to taunt them into
cheap hurlings back of defiance (as the silly Southern newspapers term it),
their inconceivable mistake in permitting the stalwart Republicans
to arrange all the issues of the campaign and to bring on the battle,
not only whenever they want it, but on whatever ground they choose,
instead of manfully holding before the people the real issues of the time,
-- the tariff, the prodigious abuses clustered about the capitol
at Washington, the restriction of granting powers in Congress,
the non-interference theory of government, -- all these things
have completely obscured the admitted good intentions of Morgan and Lamar
and their fellows, and have entirely alienated the feelings of men
who at first were quite won over to them. The present extra session
has been from the beginning a piece of absurdity such as the world
probably never saw before. Our men are such mere politicians,
that they have never yet discovered -- what the least thoughtful statesmanship
ought to have perceived at the close of our war -- that the belief
in the sacredness and greatness of the American Union
among the millions of the North and of the great Northwest
is really the principle which conquered us. As soon as we
invaded the North and arrayed this sentiment in arms against us,
our swift destruction followed. But how soon they have forgotten Gettysburg!
That the presence of United States troops at the polls is an abuse
no sober man will deny; but to attempt to remedy it at this time,
when the war is so lately over, when the North is naturally sensitive
as to securing the hard-won results of it, when, consequently,
every squeak of a penny whistle is easily interpreted into a rebel yell
by the artful devices of Mr. Blaine and his crew, --
this was simply to invade the North again as we did in '64.
And we have met precisely another Gettysburg. The whole community is uneasy
as to the silver bill and the illimitable folly of the greenbackers;
business men anxiously await the adjournment of Congress,
that they may be able to lay their plans with some sense of security
against a complete reversal of monetary conditions by some silly legislation;
and I do not believe that there is a quiet man in the Republic
to whom the whole political caucus at Washington is not a shame and a sorrow.
"And thus, as I said, it really seems as if any prosperity at the South
must come long after your time and mine. Our people have failed to perceive
the deeper movements under-running the times; they lie wholly off, out of
the stream of thought, and whirl their poor old dead leaves of recollection
round and round, in a piteous eddy that has all the wear and tear of motion
without any of the rewards of progress. By the best information I can get,
the country is substantially poorer now than when the war closed,
and Southern securities have become simply a catchword.
The looseness of thought among our people, the unspeakable rascality
of corporations like M---- -- how long is it going to take us to remedy
these things? Whatever is to be done, you and I can do our part of it
far better here than there. Come away."
The very next year, however, he wrote his essay on the New South,
showing a far more hopeful view. After reading for two years
the newspapers of Georgia, with a view to understanding the changed conditions
in his native State, Lanier published in October, 1880,
an article on that subject in "Scribner's Magazine".* To one who reads it
with the expectation of getting an idea of the forces that have made
the New South, it is sadly disappointing; for he is told at once
that the New South means small farming, and the article deals largely
with the increase in the number of small farms and a consequent
diversity of products. Insignificant as such a study may seem,
it is noteworthy as showing Lanier's interest in practical affairs.
It has been seen that ever since the war he had been interested
in the redemption of the agricultural life of the South,
that this was the subject of his first important poem.
Since the writing of "Corn" and of the earlier dialect poems,
he had frequently commented on the future of the South
as to be determined largely by an improved agricultural system.
To him the best evidence of the enduring character of the new civilization
was a democracy, growing out of a vital revolution in
the farming economy of the South. "The great rise of the small farmer
in the Southern States during the last twenty years," he says,
"becomes the notable circumstance of the period, in comparison with which
noisier events signify nothing." The hero of the sketch is a small farmer
"who commenced work after the war with his own hands,
not a dollar in his pocket, and now owns his plantation, has it well stocked,
no mortgage or debt of any kind on it, and a little money to lend."
Lanier clips from his newspaper files passages indicating
the constantly increasing diversity of crops. The reader is carried
into the country fairs and along the roads and through plantations
by a man who had a realistic sense of what was going on
in the whole State of Georgia. "The last few years," he says,
"have witnessed a very decided improvement in Georgia farming:
moon-planting and other vulgar superstitions are exploding,
the intelligent farmer is deriving more assistance from the philosopher,
the naturalist, and the chemist, and he who is succeeding best is he who has
thirty or forty cattle, sheep, hogs, and poultry of his own raising,
together with good-sized barns and meat-houses, filled from his own fields,
instead of from the West."
* `Retrospects and Prospects', pp. 104-135.
Lanier saw that out of this growth in small farming --
this agricultural prosperity -- would come changes of profound significance.
He saw an intimate relation between politics, social life, morality, art,
on the one hand, and the bread-giver earth on the other.
"One has only to remember, particularly here in America,
whatever crop we hope to reap in the future, -- whether it be a crop of poems,
of paintings, of symphonies, of constitutional safeguards,
of virtuous behaviors, of religious exaltation, -- we have got to bring it
out of the ground with palpable plows and with plain farmer's forethought,
in order to see that a vital revolution in the farming economy of the South,
if it is actually occurring, is necessarily carrying with it
all future Southern politics and Southern relations and Southern art,
and that, therefore, such an agricultural change is the one substantial fact
upon which any really new South can be predicated." It has been seen
that Lanier underrated the development of the manufacturing interests
in the South; and yet who does not see that with all the industrial prosperity
of this section during the last twenty years, the most crying need now
is the rehabilitation of the South's agricultural life? The present
aggressive movement in the direction of the improvement of the rural schools
is a confirmation of Lanier's vision of "the village library,
the neighborhood farmers'-club, the amateur Thespian Society,
the improvement of the public schools, the village orchestra,
all manner of betterments and gentilities and openings out into the universe."
He saw, too, the effect on the negro of his becoming a landowner,
and the consequent obliteration of the color line in politics.
He cites from his newspaper clippings evidences of the increasing prosperity
of the negro race, -- for instance, how "at the Atlanta University
for colored people, which is endowed by the State, the progress of the pupils,
the clearness of their recitation, their excellent behavior,
and the remarkable neatness of their schoolrooms, altogether convince
`your committee that the colored race are capable of receiving the education
usually given at such institutions.'" He sees in the appearance of the negro
as a small farmer a transition to the point in which "his interests,
his hopes, and consequently his politics become identical with those
of all other small farmers, whether white or black."
Much as has been accomplished, however, he looks forward with expectancy
to a still greater future: "Everywhere the huge and gentle slopes
kneel and pray for vineyards, for cornfields, for cottages,
for spires to rise up from beyond the oak-groves. It is a land
where there is never a day of summer or of winter when a man cannot do
a full day's work in the open field; all the products meet there,
as at nature's own agricultural fair. . . . It is because
these blissful ranges are still clamorous for human friendship; it is because
many of them are actually virgin to plow, pillar, axe, or mill-wheel,
while others have known only the insulting and mean cultivation
of the early immigrants who scratched the surface for cotton a year or two,
then carelessly abandoned all to sedge and sassafras, and sauntered on
toward Texas: it is thus that these lands are with sadder significance
than that of small farming, also a New South."
In order to understand the development of the New South,
here briefly indicated, and in order to appreciate what Lanier
really accomplished, two types of Southerners must be clearly distinguished.
After the war the conservative Southerner -- ranging all the way
from the fiery Bourbon to the strong and worthy protagonist of the old order
-- failed to understand the meaning of defeat. He interpreted the conflict
as the triumph of brute force, -- sheer material prosperity, --
and comforted himself with the thought that many of the noblest causes
had gone down in defeat. He threshed over the arguments of Calhoun
with regard to the Constitution of 1787. He quoted Scripture
in defense of slavery, or tried to continue slavery -- in spirit,
if not in name. He saw no hope for the negro, and looked for
his speedy deterioration under freedom. Compelled by force of circumstances
to acknowledge the supremacy of the Federal government, he was still dominated
by the ideas of separation. He saw no future for the nation. "This once
fair temple of liberty," one of them said, -- "rent from the bottom,
desecrated by the orgies of a half-mad crew of fanatics and fools,
knaves, negroes, and Jacobins, abandoned wholly by its original worshipers --
stands as Babel did of old, a melancholy monument of the frustrate hopes
and heaven-aspiring ambition of its builders."
With him the passing away of the age of chivalry was as serious a matter
as it was to Burke. He magnified the life before the war
as the most glorious in the history of the world. He saw none of its defects;
he resented criticism, either by Northerners or by his own people.
He opposed the public school system, as "Yankeeish and infidel",
stoutly championing the system of education which had prevailed
under the old order. He recognized no standards. "We fearlessly assert,"
said one of them, speaking of the most distinguished of Southern universities,
"that in this university, the standard is higher, the education more thorough,
and the work done by both teachers and students is far greater,
than in Princeton, or Yale, or Harvard, or in any other Northern
college or university." If he ventured into the field of literary criticism,
he maintained that the Old South had a literature equal to
that of New England; if he had doubts upon that subject,
he looked forward to a time not far off when the Southern cause
would find monumental expression in a commanding literature. If he thought
on theological or philosophical subjects, he thought in terms
of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The watchwords of modern life
were so many red flags to him, -- science the enemy of religion,
German philosophy a denial of the depravity of man,
democracy the product of French infidelity and of false humanitarianism,
industrial prosperity the inveterate foe of the graces of life.
To use Lanier's words, he "failed to perceive the deeper movements
underrunning the times." Defeated in a long war and inheriting
the provincialism and sensitiveness of a feudal order, he remained proud
in his isolation. He went to work with a stubborn and unconquered spirit,
with the idea that sometime in the future all the principles
for which he had stood would triumph.
Into the hands of such men the reconstruction governments played.
Worse even than the effect of excessive taxation, misgovernment,
and despair produced in the minds of the people, was the permanent effect
produced on the Southern mind. The prophecies that had been made
with regard to the triumph of despotism seemed to be fulfilled;
every contention that had been made in 1861 with regard to
the dangers of Federal usurpation seemed justified in
the acts of the government. The political equality of the negro,
guaranteed by the Fifteenth Amendment, and the attempt to give him
social equality, were stubborn facts which seemed to overthrow
the more liberal ideas of Lincoln and of those Southern leaders
who after the war hoped that the magnanimity of the North would be equal
to the great task ahead of the nation. The conservative leaders
were invested with a dignity that recalls the popularity of Burke
when his predictions with regard to the French Revolution were realized.
During all the years that have intervened since reconstruction days,
the conservative has had as a resource for leadership
his harking back to those days. The demagogue and the reactionary
-- enemies of the children of light -- have always been able
to inflame the populace with appeals to the memories and issues of the past.
Such men have forgot nothing and learned nothing.*
* I have here sketched a composite picture; it is like no one man,
but the type is recognizable. It is the result of a study of the magazines,
newspapers, and biographies of the period from 1865 to 1880.
The type is not extinct.
In striking contrast with the conservative Southerner has been
the progressive Southerner, a type ranging all the way from the unwise
and unreasonable reformer to the well-balanced and sympathetic worker,
who has endeavored to make the transition from the old order to the new
a normal and healthy one. If the qualities which have made
Lanier's progress possible are recalled, -- his lack of prejudice,
his inexhaustible energy, the alertness and modernness of his mind,
his ability to find joy in constructive work, his adoption of
the national point of view, -- then the reader may see the elements
that have made possible a New South. The same spirit applied to industry,
to education, to religion, is now seen everywhere. The term "New South",
used by Lanier and others, is meant in no way as a reproach to the Old South,
-- it is simply the recognition of a changed social life
due to one of the greatest catastrophes in history. In the early eighties
it was employed by four Georgians, who had a right to use it, --
Benjamin H. Hill, Atticus G. Haygood, Henry Grady, and Sidney Lanier.
Georgia was the Southern State that led in this progressive work.
Here the readjustment came sooner, by reason of the fact
that a more democratic people lived there, and also that
the burdens of reconstruction were less severe. Virginia gave to the nation
at the time of the foundation of the republic a group of statesmen
rarely excelled in the history of the world. South Carolina statesmen led
in the movement towards secession, and her people were the first to make
an aggressive movement in that direction. The leadership of the New South
must be found in a group of far-seeing, liberal-minded, aggressive Georgians.
The action of the State legislature in repealing the ordinance of secession
and accepting the emancipation of slaves within one minute, was characteristic
of her later work. In 1866, Alexander H. Stephens and Benjamin H. Hill
-- one before the legislature of Georgia and the other before Tammany Hall --
sounded the note of patience, of nationalism, and of hope.
"There was a South of slavery and secession," said the latter;
"that South is dead. There is a South of Union and freedom;
that South, thank God! is living, breathing, growing every hour."
These words became the text of the now celebrated address of another Georgian
who twenty years later, before the New England Club of New York,
gave notable expression to his own ideals and those who had wrought with him
in the genuine reconstruction of the South. Henry Grady,
as editor of the Atlanta "Constitution", was, after 1876,
an exponent of the idea that the future of the South lay
not primarily in politics, but in an industrial order
which should be the basis of a more enduring civilization.
At his advice, as Joel Chandler Harris says, everybody began
to take a day off from politics occasionally and devote themselves
to the upbuilding of the resources of the State. Another Georgian,
the late John B. Gordon, united with Grady and others in saying
"a bold and manly word in behalf of the American Union
in the ear of the South, and a bold and manly word in behalf of the South
in the ear of the North." While recounting the last days of the Confederacy,
he awoke in Northern hearts an admiration for Lee and in Southern hearts
an admiration for Grant, and in all an aspiration towards nationalism.
Another Georgian, Atticus G. Haygood, -- president of Emory College
and afterwards bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, --
voiced the sentiment of the liberal South with regard to the negro,
in a book whose title, "Our Brother in Black", sufficiently indicates
the spirit in which it was written. In a Thanksgiving sermon
on the New South, delivered in 1881, he criticised severely
the croakers and the demagogues who were endeavoring to mislead the people,
and reviewed with sympathy the great progress that had been made
since the war. He pleads guilty to the charge of having new light
and is glad of it. He points out with keen insight the illiteracy
of the masses of the Southern people and the lack of educational facilities.
A movement for the development of a public school system in the South
was led by J. L. M. Curry, a Confederate soldier of Georgia stock.
He became an evangelist in the crusade for public education, announcing before
State legislatures the principle upon which a true democratic order
might be established. "I am not afraid of the educated masses," he said,
in an address before the Georgia legislature; "I would rather trust the masses
than king, priest, aristocracy, or established church.
No nation can realize its full possibility unless it builds upon
the education of the whole people."
By 1885 the forces that have here been briefly sketched were well under way
throughout the South. Factories were prospering, farm products were becoming
more diversified, more farmers owned their own places, a public school system
was firmly established in all the leading cities and towns,
colleges and universities -- some of the strongest dating from the period
just after the war -- were enabled to increase their endowments
and to modernize their work, the national spirit was growing,
and a more liberal view of religion was being maintained.
A day of hope, of freedom, of progress, had dawned.
It was natural that along with all these changes, and indeed anticipating
some of them, there should arise a group of Southern writers.
Indeed, immediately after the war there was a marked tendency
in the direction of literary work -- "an avalanche of literature
in a devastated country." Magazines were started and books were published
in abundance. The literary activity was due, no doubt, in the first place,
to the poverty of men and women: some who would have looked down upon
literature as a profession before the war were now eager to do anything
to keep starvation from the door. Furthermore, there was a great desire
among some people to have the Southern side of the war well represented
before the civilized world. Hence arose innumerable biographies, histories,
and historical novels, and hence the demand for Southern text-books.
It is clearly impossible to give any adequate sketch
of this literary awakening, -- if so it may be called,
when contrasted with a later one. Of the magazines which were started,
the most important were "Debow's Review", "devoted to
the restoration of the Southern States and the development of
the wealth and resources of the country," whose motto was,
"Light up the torches of industry"; the "Southern Review", edited by
Dr. A. T. Bledsoe and William Hand Browne and dedicated "to the despised,
the disfranchised, and the down-trodden people of the South";
"The Land We Love", started in Charlotte, N.C., by Gen. D. H. Hill,
and devoted to literature, military history, and agriculture;
"Scott's Monthly", published in Atlanta, "Southern Field and Fireside",
in Raleigh, and "The Crescent Monthly", in New Orleans;
the "New Eclectic Magazine" and its successor, the "Southern Magazine",
published by the Turnbull Brothers of Baltimore; and, as if Charleston
had not had enough magazines to die before the war, the "Nineteenth Century",
in that city. Most of these had but a short career, and none of them
survived longer than 1878. There was in them a continual crying out
for Southern literature which might worthily represent the Southern people.
The response came, too -- so far as quantity was concerned.
One of the editors remarked that he had enough poetry on hand
to last seven years and five months.
Of these magazines the most important was the "Southern Magazine",
published at Baltimore from 1871 to 1875, -- a magazine which came nearest
filling the place occupied by the "Southern Literary Messenger"
before the war. While it was somewhat eclectic in its character,
-- reprinting articles from the English magazines, -- it had as contributors
a group of promising young scholars and writers. The editor
was William Hand Browne, now professor of English literature
in Johns Hopkins University. Professor Gildersleeve,
then of the University of Virginia, Professor Thomas R. Price,
then professor of English at Randolph-Macon, James Albert Harrison,
later the biographer and editor of Poe, and Margaret J. Preston
were regular contributors. Richard Malcolm Johnston contributed
his "Dukesborough Tales" to it. One of the publishers of the magazine,
Mr. Lawrence Turnbull, visited Lanier at Macon in 1871
and became much interested in him. To the magazine Lanier contributed
"Prospects and Retrospects" (March and April, 1871),
"A Song" and "A Seashore Grave" (July, 1871), "Nature-Metaphors"
(February, 1872), "San Antonio de Bexar" (July and August, 1873),
and "Peace" (October, 1874).
Of the books published during this period, few have survived.
John Esten Cooke's novels and his lives of Stonewall Jackson and Lee,
two or three collections of the war poetry of the South,
Gayarre's histories, the "War between the States", by Alexander H. Stephens,
Craven's "Prison Life of Jefferson Davis", and Dabney's "Defense of Virginia"
are perhaps the most significant. J. Wood Davidson's
"Living Writers of the South", published in 1869, gives the best
general idea of the extent and quality of the post-bellum writing.
Noteworthy, also, is a series of text-books projected with the idea
that the moral and mental training of the sons and daughters of the South
should no longer be intrusted to teachers and books imported from abroad.
As planned originally, the scheme called for Bledsoe's Mathematics,
Maury's Geographies, Holmes's Readers, Gildersleeve's Latin Grammar,
histories of Louisiana and South Carolina by Gayarre and Simms respectively,
scientific books by the Le Conte brothers, and English Classics
by Richard Malcolm Johnston.
So much needs to be said of the character of the literature
immediately succeeding the war, if for no other reason, that it may be
contrasted with the literature of, say, the period from 1875 to 1885.
With the death of Timrod in 1867, and of Simms, Longstreet, and Prentice
in 1870, the old order of Southern writers had passed away.
By 1875 a new group of writers had begun their work,
Paul Hamilton Hayne best representing the transition from one to the other.
The younger writers either had been Confederate soldiers,
or had been intimately identified with those who were. They began to write,
not out of response to a demand for distinctively Southern literature,
but because they had the artistic spirit, the desire to create.
They were interested in describing Southern scenery, and in portraying
types of character in the social life of their respective States.
Unlike most of the literature of the Old South, the new literature
was related directly to the life of the people. Men began
to describe Southern scenery, not some fantastic world of dreamland;
sentimentalism was superseded by a healthy realism. The writers fell in with
contemporary tendencies and followed the lead of Bret Harte and Mark Twain,
who had begun to write humorous local sketches and incidents.
With them literature was not a diversion, but a business. They were willing
to be known as men of letters who made their living by literature.
They stood, too, for the national, rather than the sectional, spirit.
"What does it matter," said Joel Chandler Harris, "whether I am
Northerner or Southerner if I am true to truth, and true to that larger truth,
my own true self? My idea is that truth is more important than sectionalism,
and that literature that can be labeled Northern, Southern, Western,
or Eastern, is not worth labeling at all." Again, he said, speaking of
the ideal Southern writer: "He must be Southern and yet cosmopolitan;
he must be intensely local in feeling, but utterly unprejudiced and unpartisan
as to opinions, tradition, and sentiment. Whenever we have
a genuine Southern literature, it will be American and cosmopolitan as well.
Only let it be the work of genius, and it will take all sections by storm."
And it did take all sections by storm. Contrary to the idea
which had prevailed after the war that Northern people would be slow
to recognize Southern genius, it must be said that Northern magazines,
Northern publishers, and Northern readers made possible
the success of Southern writers. In 1873, "Scribner's Magazine"
sent a special train through the South with the purpose of securing
a series of articles on "the great South". While in New Orleans,
Mr. Edward King, who had charge of the expedition, discovered George W. Cable,
whose story, "'Sieur George", appeared in "Scribner's Magazine"
in October of that year. Between that time and 1881 the magazine published,
in addition to Cable's stories, -- afterwards collected into the volume
"Old Creole Days", -- stories and poems by John Esten Cooke,
Margaret J. Preston, Maurice Thompson, Mrs. Burnett, Mrs. Harrison,
Irwin Russell, Richard Malcolm Johnston, Thomas Nelson Page,
and Sidney Lanier. In an editorial of September, 1881, the editor,
referring to the fact that no less than seven articles by Southerners
had appeared in a recent number of "Scribner's", said: "We are glad
to recognize the fact of a permanent productive force in literature
in the Southern States. . . . We welcome the new writers
to the great republic of letters with all heartiness."
"The Century Magazine", the successor of "Scribner's", continued to be
the patron of the new Southern writers. The number for April, 1884,
contained Lanier's portrait as a frontispiece, a sketch of Lanier
by William Hayes Ward, Thomas Nelson Page's "Marse Chan",
an installment of Cable's "Dr. Sevier", Walter B. Hill's article
on "Uncle Tom Without a Cabin", and William Preston Johnston's poem,
"Harper's Magazine", in January, 1874, began a series of articles
on the New South, by Edwin De Leon, and in the following year
published a series of articles by Constance F. Woolson,
giving sketches of Florida and western North Carolina. In May, 1887,
appeared an article giving the first complete survey of Southern literature,
which, according to the author, had introduced into our national literature
"a stream of rich, warm blood." The "Independent", a paper which had seemed
to Southerners extremely severe in its criticism of the life of the South,
is especially connected with the rising fame of Lanier.
The editor recognized his genius while he was still alive,
after his death continued to publish his poems, and in 1884 wrote the Memorial
for the first complete edition of his poems. Maurice Thompson,
another Southern writer, became its literary editor in 1888.
Nor was the "Atlantic Monthly", which had been identified
with the New England Renaissance, slow to recognize
the value of the new Southern story-writers and poets.
In 1873, while Mr. Howells was editor, Maurice Thompson's poem,
"At the Window", was hailed by the editor and by Longfellow
as "the work of a new and original singer, fresh, joyous, and true."
The author received encouraging letters from Lowell and Emerson.
In the same year and in the following appeared a series of articles
entitled "A Rebel's Recollections", by George Cary Eggleston. In May, 1878,
appeared Charles Egbert Craddock's first story of the Tennessee Mountains,
"A Dancing Party at Harrison's Cove". The value of her work
was at once recognized by Mr. Howells and his successor, Mr. Aldrich.
In a review of 1880, Cable's stories in "Old Creole Days" are characterized
"as fresh in matter, as vivacious in treatment, and as full of wit
as were the `Luck of Roaring Camp' and its audacious fellows, when they came,
while they are much more human and delicate in feeling." In January, 1885,
in an article on recent American fiction, appears the following tribute
to the work of recent Southern writers: "It is not the subjects
offered by Southern writers which interest us so much
as the manifestation which seemed to be dying out of our literature.
We welcome the work of Mr. Cable and Mr. [sic] Craddock,
because it is large, imaginative, and constantly responsive
to the elemental movements of human nature; and we should not be
greatly surprised if the historian of our literature a few generations hence,
should take note of an enlargement of American letters at this time
through the agency of a new South. . . . The North refines
to a keen analysis, the South enriches through a generous imagination. . . .
The breadth which characterizes the best Southern writing,
the large free handling, the confident imagination,
are legitimate results of the careless yet masterful and hospitable life
which has pervaded that section. We have had our laugh at the florid,
coarse-flavored literature which has not yet disappeared at the South,
but we are witnessing now the rise of a school that shows us
the worth of generous nature when it has been schooled and ordered."*
* In 1896 Mr. Walter H. Page, a native North Carolinian,
became editor of the "Atlantic".
The effect of this literature on Northern readers was altogether wholesome,
and ministered no doubt to the better understanding
both of the Old South and of the New. The stories of Harris, Page,
Cable, and Craddock reached the Northern mind to a degree never approached
by the logic of Calhoun or the eloquence of impetuous orators,
while the poems of Hayne and Lanier, breathing as they did
the atmosphere of the larger modern world, and at the same time characterized
by the warmth and richness of Southern scenery and Southern life,
ministered in the same direction. On Southerners the effect was stimulating;
one of the younger scholars of that time, the late Professor Baskervill,
recalled "the rapture of glad surprise with which each new Southern writer
was hailed as he or she revealed negro, mountaineer, cracker,
or creole life and character to the world. There was joy
in beholding the roses of romance and poetry blossoming above
the ashes of defeat and humiliation, and that, too, among a people
hitherto more remarkable for the masterful deeds of warrior and statesman
than for the finer, rarer, and more artistic creations of literary genius."*
* Baskervill's `Southern Writers' is the best study that has been made
of the Southern literature of this period. A second volume was prepared
by his pupils and friends after his death.
One of the most significant characteristics of the Southern writers
was that they all showed a certain discipline in their artistic work.
They had little patience with much of the criticism that had prevailed
in the South. As early as 1871 the editor of the "Southern Magazine",
in a review of "Southland Writers", said: "We shall not have a literature
until we have a criticism which can justify its claims to be deferred to;
intelligent enough to explain why a work is good or bad, . . .
courageous enough to condemn bad art and bad workmanship,
no matter whose it be; to say, for instance, to more than half the writers
in these volumes: `Ladies, you may be all that is good, noble, and fair;
you may be the pride of society and the lights of your homes;
so far as you are Southern women our hearts are at your feet --
but you have neither the genius, the learning, nor the judgment
to qualify you for literature.'" In the same magazine for June, 1874,
Paul Hamilton Hayne condemned severely the provincial literary criticism
which had prevailed, -- "indiscriminate adulations, effervescing commonplace,
shallowness and poverty of thought." "No foreign ridicule," he said,
"however richly deserved, nothing truly either of logic or of laughter,
can stop this growing evil, until our own scholars and thinkers
have the manliness and honesty to discourage instead of applauding such
manifestations of artistic weakness and artistic platitudes as have hitherto
been foisted upon us by persons uncalled and unchosen of any of the muses.
. . . Can a people's mental dignity and aesthetical culture be vindicated
by patting incompetency and ignorance and self-sufficiency on the back?"
Lanier himself wrote to Hayne, May 26, 1873, commending a criticism
that Hayne had passed upon a popular Southern novel: "I have not read
that production; but from all I can hear 't is a most villainous, poor,
pitiful piece of work; and so far from endeavoring to serve the South
by blindly plastering it with absurd praises, I think all true patriots
ought to unite in redeeming the land from the imputation
that such books are regarded as casting honor upon the section.
God forbid we should really be brought so low as that we must perforce
brag of such works; and God be merciful to that man (he is an Atlanta editor)
who boasted that sixteen thousand of these books had been sold in the South!
This last damning fact ought to have been concealed at the risk of life, limb,
and fortune." Lanier himself saw the futility of such praise of his own work
by the Southern people. Referring to the defense made of his Centennial poem
by Southern newspapers, he wrote from Macon: "People here are so enthusiastic
in my favor at present that they are quite prepared to accept blindly
anything that comes from me. Of course I understand all this,
and any success seems cheap which depends so thoroughly upon local pride
as does my present position with the South." And again:
"Much of this praise has come from the section in which he was born,
and there is reason to suspect that it was based often on sectional pride
rather than on any genuine recognition of those artistic theories of which
his poem is -- so far as he now knows -- the first embodiment.
Any triumph of this sort is cheap, because wrongly based,
and to an earnest artist is intolerably painful."
Lanier's own standards of criticism did not prevent
his recognition of the value of the real artists who lived in the South,
nor his encouragement of every young man contemplating an artistic career.
He wrote to Judge Bleckley about his son: "I am charmed
at finding a Georgia young man who deliberately leaves
the worn highways of the law and politics for the rocky road of Art,
and I wish to do everything in my power to help and encourage him."
Writing to George Cary Eggleston, December 27, 1876, he said:
"I know you very well through your `Rebel's Recollections',
which I read in book form some months ago with great entertainment.
Our poor South has so few of the guild, that I feel a personal interest
in the works of each one." His letters and published writings
bear out the truth of this statement. It has already been seen
that he was intimate with Paul Hamilton Hayne, who had encouraged him
to undertake the literary life at a time when all other forces were tending
in another direction. Lanier criticised in detail many of Hayne's poems.
In a review of his poems published in the "Southern Magazine", 1874,
he paid a notable tribute to his fellow worker in the realm of letters.
He does not fail to call attention to trite similes,
worn collocations of sound, and commonplace sentiments;
and also his diffuseness, principally originating in
a lavishness and looseness of adjectives. At the same time he praises
the melody of Hayne's poetry, especially of his poem "Fire Pictures",
which he compares with Poe's "Bells". In his book on Florida,
while giving an account of Southern cities which travelers
are apt to pass through in going to and from that State, he has
discriminating and sympathetic passages on Timrod, Randall, Jackson, Hayne,
and others. Of Timrod he says: "Few more spontaneous or delicate songs
have been sung in these later days than one or two of the briefer lyrics.
It is thoroughly evident that he never had time to learn
the mere craft of the poet, the technique of verse, and that broader
association with other poets, and a little of the wine of success,
without which no man ever does the very best he might do."
In his lectures at the Peabody Institute he quoted one of Timrod's sonnets,
prefacing it with the words: "And as I have just read you a sonnet
from one of the earliest of the sonnet-writers, let me now
clinch and confirm this last position with a sonnet from one of the latest, --
one who has but recently gone to that Land where, as he wished here,
indeed life and love are the same; one who, I devoutly believe,
if he had lived in Sir Philip's time, might have been Sir Philip's
worthy brother, both in poetic sweetness and in honorable knighthood."*
* `Shakspere and His Forerunners', vol. i, p. 170.
He was one of the first to recognize the genius of Joel Chandler Harris,
whose Uncle Remus stories he first read in the "Atlanta Constitution".
He refers in his article on the New South to Uncle Remus
as a "famous colored philosopher of Atlanta, who is a fiction
so founded upon fact and so like it as to have passed into
true citizenship and authority, along with Bottom and Autolycus.
This is all the more worth giving, since it is really negro-talk,
and not that supposititious negro-minstrel talk which so often goes
for the original. It is as nearly perfect as any dialect can well be;
and if one had only some system of notation by which to convey
the TONES of the speaking voice, in which Brer Remus and Brer Ab
would say these things, nothing could be at once more fine in humor
and pointed in philosophy. Negroes on the corner can be heard any day
engaged in talk that at least makes one think of Shakespeare's clowns;
but half the point and flavor is in the subtle tone of voice, the gesture,
the glance, and these, unfortunately, cannot be read between the lines
by any one who has not studied them in the living original."
In a letter to his brother, September 24, 1880, Lanier said:
"Have you read Cable's book, `The Grandissimes'? It is a work of art,
and he has a fervent and rare soul. Do you know him?"
In his announcement of the course on the English Novel
at Johns Hopkins University, he included this novel
in a list of recent American novels which he intended to discuss.
Nor was he contented with recognizing the genius of men
who wrote of their own accord. His letters to "Father" Tabb
were especially stimulating. He was the prime cause
in inducing Richard Malcolm Johnston to offer first to the magazines,
and then to the publishers, his stories of Middle Georgia.
Johnston had published the "Dukesborough Tales" in the "Southern Magazine"
as early as 1871, but they had made little or no impression
on account of the limited circulation of that periodical.
In 1877 "Mr. Neelus Peeler's Condition" was sent by Lanier
to Mr. Richard Watson Gilder, then editor of "Scribner's Monthly".
He had the rare pleasure of sending Mr. Gilder's letter of acceptance
with enclosed check to his friend. The following letter shows
how he advised Colonel Johnston as to one of the stories.
55 Lexington Street, Baltimore, Md.,
November 6, 1877.
My dear Col. Johnston, -- Mrs. Lanier's illness on Saturday
devolved a great many domestic duties upon me, and rendered it
quite impossible for me to make the preparations necessary
for my visit to you on Sunday. This caused me a great deal of regret;
a malign fate seems to have pursued all my recent efforts in your direction.
I have attentively examined your "Dukesborough Tale". I wish very much
that I could read it over aloud in your presence, so that I might
call your attention to many verbal lapses which I find and which, I am sure,
will hinder its way with the magazine editors. I will try to see you
in a day or two, and do this. Again, ascending from merely verbal criticism
to considerations of general treatment, I find that the action of the story
does not move quite fast enough during the FIRST twenty-five pages,
and the LAST ten, to suit the impatience of the modern magazine man.
Aside from these two points, -- and they can both be easily remedied, --
the story strikes me as exquisitely funny, and your reproduction
of the modes of thought and of speech among the rural Georgians
is really wonderful. The peculiar turns and odd angles,
described by the minds of these people in the course of ratiocination
(Good Heavens, what would Sammy Wiggins think of such a sentence as this!),
are presented here with a delicacy of art that gives me
a great deal of enjoyment. The whole picture of old-time Georgia
is admirable, and I find myself regretting that its FULL merit
can be appreciated only by that limited number who, from personal experience,
can compare it with the original.
Purely with a view to conciliating the editor of the magazine,
I strongly advise you to hasten the movement of the beginning
and of the catastrophe: that is, from about p. 1 to p. 34,
and from p. 57 to p. 67. The middle, i.e., from p. 34 to p. 57,
should not be touched: it is good enough for me.
I would not dare to make these suggestions if I thought that you
would regard them otherwise than as pure evidences of my interest
in the success of the story.
But Lanier's service to the South and to Southern literature
is greater than the recognition of any one writer or the encouragement given
to any one of them. All of them were cheered in their work
by his heroic life; not one but looked to him as a leader.
His life, which in a large sense belongs to the nation,
belongs in a peculiar sense to the South. He was Southern by birth,
temperament, and experience. He knew the South, -- he had traveled
from San Antonio to Jacksonville, and from Baltimore to Mobile Bay.
Its scenery was the background of his poetry, -- the marsh, the mountain,
the seashore, the forest, the birds and flowers of the South stirred
his imagination. He knew personally many of the leaders of the Confederacy,
as well as the men who made possible the New South. He was heir
to all the life of the past. His chivalry, his fine grace of manners,
his generosity and his enthusiasm were all Southern traits;
and the work that he has left is in a peculiar sense the product of a genius
influenced by that civilization. All these things render him
singularly precious to Southerners of the present generation.
He had qualities of mind and ideals of life, however, which have been too rare
in his native section. He was a severe critic of some phases of its life.
From this standpoint his career and his personality should never lose
their influence in the South. There had been men and women
who had loved music; but Lanier was the first Southerner
to appreciate adequately its significance in the modern world,
and to feel the inspiration of the most recent composers.
There had been some fine things done in literature; but he was the first
to realize the transcendent dignity and worth of the poet and his work.
Literature had been a pastime, a source of recreation for men;
to him the study of it was a passion, and the creation of it
the highest vocation of man. Compared with other writers of the New South,
Lanier was a man of broader culture and of finer scholarship. He did not have
the power to create character as some of the writers of fiction,
but he was a far better representative of the man of letters.
The key to his intellectual life may be found in the fact that he read
Wordsworth and Keats rather than Scott, George Eliot rather than Thackeray,
German literature as well as French. He was national rather than provincial,
open-minded not prejudiced, modern and not mediaeval. His characteristics
-- to be still further noted in the succeeding chapter --
are all in direct contrast with those of the conservative Southerner.
There have been other Southerners -- far more than some men have thought --
who have had his spirit, and have worked with heroism towards
the accomplishment of enduring results. There have been none, however,
who have wrought out in their lives and expressed in their writings
higher ideals. He therefore makes his appeal to every man who is to-day
working for the betterment of industrial, educational, and literary conditions
in the South. There will never be a time when such men will not look to him
as the man of letters who, after the war, struck out along lines
which meant most in the intellectual awakening of this section.
He was a pioneer worker in building up what he liked to speak of
as the New South: --
The South whose gaze is cast
No more upon the past,
But whose bright eyes the skies of promise sweep,
Whose feet in paths of progress swiftly leap;
And whose fresh thoughts, like cheerful rivers, run
Through odorous ways to meet the morning sun!
Chapter XI. Characteristics and Ideas
Perhaps the best single description of Lanier is that by his friend
H. Clay Wysham: "His eye, of bluish gray, was more spiritual than dreamy --
except when he was suddenly aroused, and then it assumed
a hawk-like fierceness. The transparent delicacy of his skin and complexion
pleased the eye, and his fine-textured hair, which was soft
and almost straight and of a light-brown color, was combed behind the ear
in Southern style. His long beard, which was wavy and pointed,
had even at an early age begun to show signs of turning gray.
His nose was aquiline, his bearing was distinguished, and his manners
were stamped with a high breeding that befitted the `Cavalier' lineage.
His hands were delicate and white, by no means thin, and the fingers tapering.
His gestures were not many, but swift, graceful, and expressive;
the tone of his voice was low; his figure was willowy and lithe;
and in stature he seemed tall, but in reality he was a little below six feet
-- withal there was a native knightly grace which marked his every movement."*
If to this be added the words of Dr. Gilman as to the impression
he produced on people, the picture may be complete: "The appearance of Lanier
was striking. There was nothing eccentric or odd about him,
but his words, manners, ways of speech, were distinguished.
I have heard a lady say that if he took his place in a crowded horse-car,
an exhilarating atmosphere seemed to be introduced by his breezy ways."**
* `Independent', November 18, 1897.
** `South Atlantic Quarterly', April, 1905.
He was mindful of the conventionalities of life. He had nothing
of the Bohemian in his looks, his manners, or his temperament.
Poor though he was, he was scrupulous with regard to dress.
He was a hard worker, but when his health permitted, he was thoroughly
mindful of duties that devolved upon him as a member of society.
He wrote to Charlotte Cushman: "For I am surely going to find you,
at one place or t' other, -- provided heaven shall send me so much fortune
in the selling of a poem or two as will make the price of a new dress coat.
Alas, with what unspeakable tender care I would have brushed
this present garment of mine in days gone by, if I had dreamed
that the time would come when so great a thing as a visit to YOU
might hang upon the little length of its nap! Behold, it is not only
in man's breast that pathos lies, and the very coat lapel that covers it
may be a tragedy." Professor Gildersleeve gives a characteristic incident:
"I remember he came to a dinner given in his honor, fresh from a lecture
at the Peabody, in a morning suit and with chalk on his fingers.
Came thus, not because he was unmindful of conventionalities. He was
as mindful of them as Browning, -- came thus because he had to come thus.
There was no time to dress. The poor chalk-fingered poet was miserable
the whole evening, hardly roused himself when the talk fell on Blake,
and when we took a walk together the next day he made his moan to me about it.
A seraph with chalk on his fingers. Somehow, that little incident seems to me
an epitome of his life, though I have mentioned it only to show
how busy he was."*
* Letter to the author.
He was a welcome guest in many homes. "He had the most gentle, refined,
sweet, lovely manners, I think I may say, of any man I ever met,"
says Charles Heber Clarke. A letter from the daughter of the late
John Foster Kirk, former editor of "Lippincott's Magazine",
gives an impression of Lanier in the homes of his friends: --
"My first sight of Lanier was when he came into the room
with my father at dusk one evening (they had been walking
through the Wissahickon woods and came back to tea),
and his presence seemed something beautiful in the room,
even more from his manner than from his appearance, gracious and fine
as that was. He always seemed to me to stand for chivalry as well as poetry,
and his goodness was something you felt at once and never forgot.
He was at our house one day with his flute. He and my father
were going to Mr. Robert P. Morton's, in Germantown, to play together.
We happened to speak of the fact that my sister, then a little girl,
though absolutely without ear for music, had a curious delight
in listening to it. Mr. Lanier said he would like to play to her;
we called her in from the yard where she was playing, and he played
some of his own music, explaining to her first what he thought of
when he wrote it, describing to her the brook in its course, and other things
in nature. He could easily have found a more appreciative listener,
but not a happier one.
"I remember his eagerness about all forms of knowledge and expression.
We went with him to the Centennial, where we were full of excitement
about pictures, though none of us knew much about them.
I remember the pleasure Mr. Lanier had in the sense of color and splendor
given him by the big Hans Makart (`Caterina Cornaro') and discussions of that
and the English and Spanish pictures. Intellectually he seemed to me
not so much to have arrived as to be on the way, -- with a beautiful
fervor and eagerness about things, as if he had never had
all that he longed for in books and study and thought."*
* Letter to the author.
Lanier had remarkable power for making and keeping friends.
This has already been seen in his relations to the Peacocks,
Charlotte Cushman, and Bayard Taylor. In the large circle of friends
among whom he moved in Baltimore may be seen further attestation
of this point. People did not pity him, nor did they dole out charity to him.
They did not reverence him merely because he was a poet, a teacher,
or a musician of note; they were drawn to him by strong personal ties --
he had magnetism. The little informal notes that he wrote to them,
or the longer letters he wrote in absence, or the conversations
that he had with them, sometimes till far into the night,
are cherished as among the most sacred memories of their lives.
He knew how to endure human weakness and to inspire human efforts.
One of the friends who knew him best has recorded in a tender poem
what Lanier meant to those who were intimate with him: --
"That love of man for man,
That joyed in all sweet possibilities: that faith
Which hallowed love and life. . . .
So he, Heaven-taught in his large-heartedness,
Smiled with his spirit's eyes athwart the veil
That human loves too oft keep closely drawn. . . .
So hearts leaped up to breathe his freer atmosphere,
And eyes smiled truer for his radiance clear,
And souls grew loftier where his teachings fell,
And all gave love. . . .
Aye, the patience and the smile
Which glossed his pain; the courtesy;
The sweet quaint thoughts which gave his poems birth."*
* Poem by Mrs. Lawrence Turnbull, read at the presentation of the Lanier bust
to Johns Hopkins University.
She speaks, too, of "his winning tenderness with souls perplexed";
"his eagerness for lofty converse"; "his oneness with all master-minds";
"his thirst for lore"; "his gratitude for that the Lord
had made the earth so good!"
In the house of this same friend, Mme. Blanc (Th. Bentzon)
first realized the dead poet's personality; she there caught
something of the afterglow of his presence: --
"The morning that I spent with Mrs. Turnbull was almost as interesting
as an interview with Sidney Lanier himself would have been,
so fully does his memory live in that most aesthetic interior,
where poetry and music are held in perpetual honor, and where domestic life
has all the beauty of a work of art. The hero of Mrs. Turnbull's novel,
`A Catholic Man', is none other than Sidney Lanier,
and that scrupulously faithful presentment of a `universal man'
was of the greatest assistance to me.
"The beautiful mansion on Park Avenue has almost the character of a temple,
where nothing profane or vulgar is allowed admission. Passing through
the reception rooms, I was introduced into a private parlor
out of which opened a music-room, from whose threshold I recognized the man
whom I had come to seek, -- the poet himself, as he was represented
in his latest years, by the German sculptor, Ephraim Keyser. . . .
By way of contrast, Mrs. Turnbull exhibits a glorified Lanier,
crowned with his ultimate immortality. He appears in a symbolic picture,
ordered by this American art patroness, from the Italian painter Gatti,
where are grouped all the great geniuses of the past, present, and future, --
the latter emerging vaguely from the mists of the distance,
and including a large number of women. This innumerable multitude
of the elite of all ages encircles a mountain which is dominated
by Jesus Christ; and from this figure of the Christ emanates the light
which Mrs. Turnbull has caused to be shed upon the figures of the picture,
with more or less brilliancy according to her own preferences.
Designating a tall, draped figure who walks in the front rank of the poets,
the lady said to me: `This is Sidney Lanier;' and when I,
despite my admiration for the poet of the marshes, ventured to offer
a few modest suggestions, she went on to develop the thesis,
that what exalts a man is less what he has done than what he has
aspired to do."
. . . . .
"Mrs. Turnbull had too much tact to multiply her personal anecdotes
of Sidney Lanier, but she pictured him to me as he loved to sit
by the fireside, where he had always his own special place;
coming, of an evening, unannounced, into the room where we then were,
rising like a phantom beside her husband and herself, in the hour
between daylight and dark, and pouring forth those profound,
unexpected, and delightful things which seem to belong to him alone,
which characterize his correspondence also, and all his literary remains."*
* `Revue des Deux Mondes', 1898. Translated for `Littell's Living Age',
May 14 and May 21, 1898.
The quality of affection in Lanier reached its climax in his home life.
There he was seen and known at his best. An early aspiration of his
was "to show that the artist-life is not necessarily a Bohemian life,
but that it may coincide with and BE the home-life." Such poems
as "Baby Charley" and "Hard Times in Elfland", and the story of "Bob"
reveal the playful and affectionate father, while "My Springs",
"In Absence", "Laus Mariae" and many published and unpublished letters
are but variations of the oft-recurring theme: --
When life's all love, 't is life: aught else, 't is naught.
A letter written to his wife will serve to give the spirit which prevailed
in the home: --
January 1, 1875.
A thousand-fold Happy New Year to thee, and I would that thy whole year
may be as full of sweetness as my heart is full of thee.
All day I dwell with my dear ones there with thee. I do so long
for one hearty romp with my boys again! Kiss them most fervently for me,
and say over their heads my New Year's prayer, that whether God
may color their lives bright or black, they may continually grow
in a large and hearty manhood, compounded of strength and love.
Let us try and teach them, dear wife, that it is only the small soul
that ever cherishes bitterness; for the climate of a large and loving heart
is too warm for that frigid plant. Let us lead them to love
everything in the world, above the world, and under the world adequately;
that is the sum and substance of a perfect life. And so God's divine rest
be upon every head under the roof that covers thine this night, prayeth thy
Sweetness of disposition, depth of emotion, and absolute purity of life
are frequently regarded as feminine traits. These Lanier had, but they
were fused with the qualities of a virile and healthy manhood. He attracted
strong and intellectual men as well as refined and cultivated women.
The bravery manifested during the Civil War and the fortitude
that he displayed after the war became elemental qualities in his character.
His admiration of the heroic deeds of the age of chivalry
arose from a certain inherent knightliness in his own character.
He had the combination of tenderness and strength to which he called attention
in Sir Philip Sidney. His admiration for old English poetry
was due to the "ruddiness in its cheek and the red corpuscles in its veins."
There is in his later prose the "send and drive" of a vigorous soul.
It was this elemental manhood that attracted him to Whitman, despite all
his protests against the latter's carelessness of form and lack of grace.
"Reading him," he says, "is like getting the salt sea spray into one's face."
He had some of the Southerner's resistance to anything like insult.
A story is frequently told in Baltimore of the way in which Lanier resented
the conductor's words to a young lady at a rehearsal of the Peabody Orchestra.
"----, irritated in his undisciplined musician's nerves,
vented that irritation in a rude outburst towards a timid young woman
who was playing the piano, either with orchestra or voice or in solo.
In an instant Lanier's tall, straight figure shot up from his seat and,
taking the chair he occupied in his hand, he said: `Mr. ----,
you must retract every word you have uttered and apologize to that young lady
before you beat another bar.' There was no mistake of his
resoluteness and determination, and Mr. ---- retracted and apologized;
the orchestra went on only after the same had been done."
Another element that contributed to the admirable symmetry
of Lanier's character was that of humor. One would misjudge him entirely
if he took into account only the highly wrought letters on music
or the great majority of his poems. From one standpoint
he seems a burning flame. As a matter of fact, however, his enthusiasm
for anything that was fine and the ecstatic rapture into which he passed
under the spell of great music or nature or poetry, were balanced by humor
that was playful and delicate and at times irresistible.
His pranks as a college boy and as a soldier have already been noted.
His enjoyment of the negro and of the Georgia "Cracker" may be seen
in his dialect poems, "A Florida Ghost", "Uncle Jim's Baptist Revival Hymn",
"Jones's Private Argument", and others. With his children
his spirit of fun-making knew no bounds. The point may still further be seen
by any one who reads his lectures, and especially those letters to his friends
in which he constantly indulged in playful conceits and fine humor.
He even laughed at his poverty, and got off many a jest
in the very face of death. In this respect, as in others,
he was strikingly like Robert Louis Stevenson.
Lanier's modernness of mind has already been illustrated in his attitude
to music and to scholarship. Asked one time what age he preferred, he said,
"the Present," and the answer was typical of his whole attitude to things.
He did not rail at his age. He was a close student of current events.
He spoke strongly sometimes, as did Wordsworth and Ruskin,
against the materialism of the nineteenth century; he delivered
his protest against it in many of his poems; and yet he never lost his faith
that all material progress would eventually contribute
to the moral and artistic needs of man. "It is often asserted," he said,
"that ours is a materialistic age, and that romance is dead; but this is
marvelously untrue, and it may be counterasserted with perfect confidence
that there was never an age of the world when art was enthroned
by so many hearthstones and intimate in so many common houses as now."
He accepted the facts of his time, and sought to make them subservient
to the healthy idealism that reigned in his soul.
Furthermore, he was an absolutely open-minded man, eager for any new world
which he might enter. He had nothing of the provincialism
of the parish or of the period. One of the most striking illustrations
of this quality of mind is seen in comparing him with Poe, who was
irritable and prejudiced. Poe shared the ante-bellum Southerner's prejudice
against New England and all her writers. There is nowhere in Lanier
any indication that such a spirit found lodgment in his mind.
Emerson -- the transcendentalist -- was one of his "wise masters".
Another striking illustration of his breadth of view
was his profound reverence for science. That he had this so early was due,
as has been already seen, to the influence of Professor Woodrow at college.
In "Tiger Lilies" he said, in commenting on Macaulay's idea
of poetry declining as science grows: "How long a time intervened
between Humboldt and Goethe; how long between Agassiz and Tennyson?
One can scarcely tell whether Humboldt and Agassiz were not as good poets
as Goethe and Tennyson were certainly good philosophers."
"The astonishing effect of the stimulus which has been given to investigation
into material nature by the rise of geology and the prosperity of chemistry"
is seen in the literary development of the day. "To-day's science
bears not only fruit, but flowers also! Poems, as well as steam engines,
crown its growth in these times." The passage closes with
these significant words: "Poetry will never fail, nor science,
nor the poetry of science." This view remained with him till the end
of his life. He hailed the scientific progress of the nineteenth century
as one of its greatest achievements, and constantly related it
to the rise of landscape painting, modern nature poetry,
modern music, and the English novel. His attitude thereto
is made all the more notable by the fact that throughout the country,
and especially in the South, there prevailed the utmost distrust
of scientific investigations and hypotheses. During the seventies
the criticism of the invitation extended to Huxley to deliver
the principal address at the opening of Johns Hopkins University,
and the controversy arising out of President White's enunciation
of the principles that would dominate the newly created Cornell University,
all tended to make the controversy between science and religion
especially acute. American poets, notably Poe and Lowell,
had expressed their distrust of modern scientific methods and conclusions.
But Lanier saw no danger either to religion or to poetry in science.
He constantly referred to Tyndall, Huxley, and Darwin,
in a way which suggested his familiarity with their writings.
I have seen a copy of the "Origin of Species" owned by Lanier, --
the marks and annotations indicating the most careful and thoughtful
reading thereof. In his lectures on the English Novel,
in contrasting ancient science with modern science, he says:
"In short, I find that early thought everywhere, whether dealing
with physical fact or metaphysical problems, is lacking in what I may call
the intellectual conscience, -- the conscience which makes Mr. Darwin
spend long and patient years in investigating small facts
before daring to reason upon them, and which makes him state the facts
adverse to his theory with as much care as the facts which make for it."
Again he refers to him as "our own grave and patient Charles Darwin."
He did not write about science at second-hand, either, -- he studied it.
Mrs. Sophie Bledsoe Herrick, Lowell's Baltimore friend,
tells of Lanier's interest in microscopic work: "Mrs. Lanier and family
were not with him then, and he was busy writing some articles
on the science of composition. Evening after evening he would bring
the manuscript of these articles and read them, and talk them over.
"I was at that time intensely interested in microscopic work.
It was curious and interesting to see how Mr. Lanier kindled to the subject,
so foreign to his ordinary literary interests. I was too busy
with editorial work to go on with my microscopic work then,
and it was a great pleasure to leave my instrument and books on the subject
with him for some months. He plunged in with all the ardor of a naturalist,
not using the microscope as a mere toy, but doing good hard work with it.
I think I can detect in his work after this time, -- as well
as in his letters, -- many little touches which show the influence
this study of nature had upon his mind."*
* Letter to the author.
So he had little patience with "those timorous souls who believe
that science, in explaining everything, -- as they singularly fancy, --
will destroy the possibility of poetry, of the novel,
in short of all works of the imagination: the idea seeming to be
that the imagination always requires the hall of life to be darkened
before it displays its magic, like the modern spiritualistic seance-givers
who can do nothing with the rope-tying and the guitars unless the lights
are put out."* And again: "Here are thousands upon thousands
of acute and patient men to-day who are devoutly gazing into
the great mysteries of Nature and faithfully reporting what they see.
These men have not destroyed the fairies: they have preserved them
in more truthful and solid shape."
* `The English Novel', p. 28.
But while he estimated at its proper value the development of
modern physical science, he saw it in its proper relation to music, poetry,
and religion. "The scientific man," he says in his "Legend of St. Leonor",
"is merely the minister of poetry. He is cutting down
the Western Woods of Time; presently poetry will come there
and make a city and gardens. This is always so. The man of affairs
works for the behoof and the use of poetry. Scientific facts
have never reached their proper function until they emerge
into new poetic relations established between man and man,
between man and God, or between man and nature."
Lanier's view of the theory of evolution is interesting.
"I have been studying science, biology, chemistry, evolution, and all,"
he writes to J. F. Kirk, June 15, 1880. "It pieces on, perfectly,
to those dreams which one has when one is a boy and wanders alone
by a strong running river, on a day when the wind is high but the sky clear.
These enormous modern generalizations fill me with such dreams again.
"But it is precisely at the beginning of that phenomenon
which is the underlying subject of this poem, `Individuality',
that the largest of such generalizations must begin,
and the doctrine of evolution when pushed beyond this point appears to me,
after the most careful examination of the evidence, to fail.
It is pushed beyond this point in its current application
to the genesis of species, and I think Mr. Huxley's last sweeping declaration
is clearly parallel to that of an enthusiastic dissecter who,
forgetting that his observations are upon dead bodies,
should build a physiological conclusion upon purely anatomical facts.
"For whatever can be proved to have been evolved, evolution seems to me
a noble and beautiful and true theory. But a careful search
has not shown me a single instance in which such proof as would stand
the first shot of a boy lawyer in a moot court, has been brought forward
in support of an actual case of species differentiation.
"A cloud (see the poem) MAY be evolved; but not an artist;
and I find, in looking over my poem, that it has made itself
into a passionate reaffirmation of the artist's autonomy, threatened alike
from the direction of the scientific fanatic and the pantheistic devotee."
With all of Lanier's development -- whether in science and scholarship,
or in music and literature -- he retained a vital faith
in the Christian religion. He reacted against the Calvinism of his youth
to almost as great a degree as did some of the New England poets.
He at times felt keenly the narrowness and bigotry of the church --
the warring of the sects over the unessential points.* In his thinking
he found no place for the rigid and severe creed which dominated his youth.
He gave up the forms, not the spirit, of worship. He lived the abundant life,
and all of the roads which he traveled led to God. His faith was as broad
as "the liberal marshes of Glynn". In the spirit of St. Francis he said: --
I am one with all the kinsmen things
That e'er my Father fathered.
* See especially the poem "Remonstrance".
Notwithstanding his vivid realization of the evil of dogma and of sect,
he maintained throughout his life a reverent faith; he could distinguish,
as Browning said Shelley could not, between churchdom and Christianity.
Not only in the "Crystal" and "A Ballad of Trees and the Master",
and in the spirit of nearly all of his poems, is this evident;
but throughout his lectures, essays, and letters he never missed
an opportunity to relate knowledge to faith. "He was the most Christlike man
I ever knew," said one of his intimate friends, and those who
have looked upon his bust at Johns Hopkins have involuntarily found
the resemblance of physical form. Certainly there has been
no tenderer poem written about the Master than the lines written
during Lanier's last year: --
Into the woods my Master went,
Clean forspent, forspent.
Into the woods my Master came,
Forspent with love and shame.
But the olives they were not blind to Him,
The little gray leaves were kind to Him:
The thorn-tree had a mind to Him
When into the woods He came.
Out of the woods my Master went,
And He was well content.
Out of the woods my Master came,
Content with death and shame.
When Death and Shame would woo Him last,
From under the trees they drew Him last:
'T was on a tree they slew Him -- last
When out of the woods He came.
Chapter XII. The Last Year
One of the pieces of advice that Lanier gave to consumptives
who went to Florida for their health was, "Set out to get well,
with the thorough assurance that consumption is curable."
He had literally followed his own advice, and had fought death off
for seven years. By the spring of 1880 he had won his fight
over every obstacle that had been in his way. He had a position which,
supplemented by literary work, could sustain him and his family.
By prodigious work he had overcome, to a large extent, his lack of training
in both music and scholarship. The years 1878 and 1879 were his
most productive. By the "Science of English Verse" and the "Marshes of Glynn"
he had won the admiration of many who had at first been doubtful
about his ability. From an obscure man of the provinces
out of touch with artists or musicians, he had become the idol
of a large circle of friends and admirers.
During all these years he had had to fight the disease
which he inherited from both sides of his family and which was accentuated
by hardships during the war and the habits of a bent student.
His flute-playing had helped to mitigate the disease. Finally, however,
in the summer of 1880, he entered upon the last fight with his old enemy.
Lanier had laughed in the face of death, and each new acquisition
in the realms of music and poetry had been a challenge to the enemy.
In 1876 he almost succumbed, but in the mean time three years of hard work
had intervened. What he had suffered from disease, even when
he was at his best, may be divined by one of imagination.
He once referred to consumptives as "beyond all measure the keenest sufferers
of all the stricken of this world," and he knew what he was talking about.
He wrote to Hayne, November 19, 1880: "For six months past a ghastly fever
has been taking possession of me each day at about twelve M.,
and holding my head under the surface of indescribable distress
for the next twenty hours, subsiding only enough each morning
to let me get on my working-harness, but never intermitting.
A number of tests show it not to be the `hectic' so well known in consumption;
and to this day it has baffled all the skill I could find in New York,
in Philadelphia, and here. I have myself been disposed to think it arose
purely from the bitterness of having to spend my time in making
academic lectures and boy's books -- pot-boilers all --
when a thousand songs are singing in my heart that will certainly kill me
if I do not utter them soon. But I don't think this diagnosis has found favor
with any practical physician; and meantime I work day after day
in such suffering as is piteous to see."* With his fever at 104 degrees
he wrote "Sunrise", which, though considered by many his best poem,
shows an unmistakable weakness when compared with the "Marshes of Glynn".
There is a letting down of the robust imagination. He delivered his lectures
on the English Novel under circumstances too harrowing to describe.
His audience did not know whether he could finish any one of them.
* `Letters', p. 244.
And yet the story of his life shall not close with a pathetic account
of those last sad months. Even during the last year he maintained
his cheerfulness, his playfulness, his good humor, and also his buoyancy.
In August, a fourth son, Robert Sampson Lanier, was born at West Chester,
and the father writes letters to his friends, announcing his joy thereat.
One is to his old friend, Richard Malcolm Johnston.
West Chester, Pa., August 28, 1880.
My dear and sweet Richard, -- It has just occurred to me
that you were OBLIGED to be as sweet as you are, in order
to redeem your name; for the other three Richards in history
were very far from being satisfactory persons, and something had to be done.
Richard I, though a man of muscle, was but a loose sort of a swashbuckler
after all; and Richard II, though handsome in person, was "redeless",
and ministered much occasion to Wat Tyler and his gross following;
while Richard III, though a wise man, allowed his wisdom
to ferment into cunning and applied the same unto villainy.
But now comes Richard IV, to wit, you, -- and, by means of
gentle loveliness and a story or two, subdues a realm which I foresee
will be far more intelligent than that of Richard I, far less turbulent
than that of Richard II, and far more legitimate than that of Richard III,
while it will own more, and more true loving subjects than all of those three
I suppose my thoughts have been carried into these details of nomenclature
by your reference to my own young Samson, who, I devoutly trust with you,
shall yet give many a shrewd buffet and upsetting to the Philistines.
Is it not wonderful how quickly these young fledgelings impress us
with a sense of their individuality? This fellow is two weeks old to-day,
and every one of us, from mother to nurse, appears to have
a perfectly clear conception of his character. This conception
is simply enchanting. In fact, the young man has already made himself
absolutely indispensable to us, and my comrade and I wonder
how we ever got along with ONLY three boys.
I rejoice that the editor of "Harper's" has discrimination enough
to see the quality of your stories, and I long to see these two appear,
so that you may quickly follow them with a volume. When that appears,
it shall have a review that will draw three souls out of one weaver --
if this pen have not lost her cunning.
I'm sorry I can't send a very satisfactory answer to your health inquiries,
as far as regards myself. The mean, pusillanimous fever
which took under-hold of me two months ago is still THERE,
as impregnably fixed as a cockle-burr in a sheep's tail.
I have tried idleness, but (naturally) it won't WORK.
I do no labor except works of necessity -- such as kissing Mary,
who is a more ravishing angel than ever -- and works of mercy --
such as letting off the world from any more of my poetry for a while.
But it's all one to my master the fever. I get up every day and drag around
in a pitiful kind of shambling existence. I fancy it has come to be
purely a go-as-you-please match between me and the disease,
to see which will wear out first, and I think I will manage
to take the belt, yet.
Give my love to the chestnut trees* and all the rest of your family.
* It is said that he wrote the `Marshes of Glynn' under one of these.
Your letter gave us great delight. God bless you for it,
my best and only Richard, as well as for all your other benefactions to
Your faithful friend,
A few days before, he had written a more serious letter to his friend,
Mrs. Isabelle Dobbin, of Baltimore. The concluding words
show his realization of the deeper meaning of childhood.
West Chester, August 18, 1880.
Here is come a young man so lovely in his person, and so gentle and high-born
in his manners, that in the course of some three days he has managed
to make himself as necessary to OUR world as the sun, moon, and stars;
at any rate, these would seem quite obscured without him.
It just so happens that he is very vividly associated with YOU;
for among the few treasures we allowed ourselves to bring away from home
is the photograph you gave us, and this stands in the most honorable
coign of vantage in Mary's room.
. . . . .
You'll be glad to know that my dear Comrade is doing well. . . .
We have reason to expect a speedy sight of our dear invalid
moving about her accustomed ways again. If you could see the Boy
asleep by her side! The tranquillity of his slumber,
and the shine of his mother's eyes thereover, seem to melt up
and mysteriously absorb the great debates of the agnostics,
and of science and politics, and to dissolve them into the pellucid Faith
long ago reaffirmed by the Son of Man. Looking upon the child,
this term seems to acquire a new meaning, as if Christ were in some sort
reproduced in every infant.
In the fall he was busy again with his books for boys, --
books, it may be said, that had their origin in the stories
he told his own boys.* The spirit in which he worked on these "pot-boilers"
is seen in a letter to his publisher, Mr. Charles Scribner: --
* Of these `The Boy's Froissart' was published in 1878,
`The Boy's King Arthur' in 1880, `The Boy's Mabinogion' in 1881,
and `The Boy's Percy' in 1882.
435 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md.,
November 12, 1880.
My dear Mr. Scribner, -- You have certainly made a beautiful book
of the "King Arthur", and I heartily congratulate you on achieving
what seems to me a real marvel of bookmaking art. The binding seems
even richer than that of the "Froissart"; and the type and printing
leave a new impression of graciousness upon the eye with each reading.
I suspect there are few books in our language which lead a reader
-- whether young or old -- on from one paragraph to another
with such strong and yet quiet seduction as this. Familiar as I am with it
after having digested the whole work before editing it and again reading it
in proof -- some parts twice over -- I yet cannot open
at any page of your volume without reading on for a while;
and I have observed the same effect with other grown persons
who have opened the book in my library since your package came
a couple of days ago. It seems difficult to believe otherwise
than that you have only to make the book well known in order
to secure it a great sale, not only for the present year
but for several years to come. Perhaps I may be of service
in reminding you -- of what the rush of winter business
might cause you to overlook -- that it would seem wise to make
a much more extensive outlay in the way of special advertisement, here,
than was necessary with the "Froissart". It is probably quite safe to say
that a thousand persons are familiar with at least the name of Froissart
to one who ever heard of Malory; and the facts (1) that this book
is an English classic written in the fifteenth century;
(2) that it is the very first piece of melodious English prose ever written,
though melodious English POETRY had been common for
seven hundred years before, -- a fact which seems astonishing
to those who are not familiar with the circumstance that all nations
appear to have produced good poetry a long time before good prose,
usually a long time before ANY prose; (3) that it arrays
a number of the most splendid ideals of energetic manhood in all literature;
and (4) that the stories which it brings together and arranges,
for the first time, have furnished themes for the thought, the talk,
the poems, the operas of the most civilized peoples of the earth
during more than seven hundred years, -- ought to be diligently circulated.
I regretted exceedingly that I could not, with appropriateness
to youthful readers, bring out in the introduction the strange melody
of Malory's sentences, by reducing their movement to musical notation.
No one who has not heard it would believe the effect of some of his passages
upon the ear when read by any one who has through sympathetic study
learned the rhythm in which he THOUGHT his phrases. . . .
In January, he began his lectures at Johns Hopkins. Who would have thought
that a dying man could give expression to such vigorous ideas
in such rhythmic and virile prose as are some of the passages
in the "English Novel"? There is not the intellectual strength in this book
that there is in the "Science of English Verse". There is more of a tendency
to go off in digressions, "to talk away across country",
and the whole lacks in unity and in scientific precision.
But there are passages in it that men will not willingly let die.
His discussion of the growth of personality, of the relations of Science,
Art, Religion, and Life, of Walt Whitman and Zola, and above all,
of George Eliot, are worthy of Lanier at his best. These passages
and the still more important one on the relation of art to morals
are too well known to be quoted; they will be considered in another chapter
dealing with Lanier's work as critic. They are mentioned here
only to show the range of Lanier's interest and the alertness of his mind
when his body was fast failing.
Frances E. Willard heard these lectures, and her words descriptive of them
indicate that even in those days of intense suffering
Lanier impressed her favorably. "It was refreshing," she says,
"to listen to a professor of literature who was something more
than a `raconteur' and something different from a bibliophile,
who had, indeed, risen to the level of generalization and employed
the method of a philosopher. . . . [His] face [was] very pale and delicate,
with finely chiseled features, dark, clustering hair, parted in the middle,
and beard after the manner of the Italian school of art. . . .
He sits not very reposefully in his professorial armchair,
and reads from dainty slips of MS. in a clear, penetrating voice
full of subtlest comprehension, but painfully and often interrupted
by a cough. . . . As we met for a moment, when the lecture was over,
he spoke kindly of my work, evincing that sympathy of the scholar
with the work of progressive philanthropy. `We are all striving for one end,'
said Lanier, with genial, hopeful smile, `and that is to develop and ennoble
the humanity of which we form a part.'"*
* `Independent', Sept. 1, 1881.
Just after finishing his lectures, which were reduced from twenty to twelve
out of consideration for his health, Lanier went to New York
to consult his publishers about future work. The impression made by him
on one of his old students is seen in this passage: "One day I had
a startling letter from Mrs. Lanier, saying that he was coming to New York
on business, though he was in no condition for such an effort, and begging me,
as one whom he loved, to meet him and to watch over him as best I could.
I found him at the St. Denis, and we had dinner together.
I now know how completely he deceived me as to his condition.
With the intensity and exaltation often characteristic of the consumptive,
he led me to think that he was only slightly ailing,
was gay and versatile as ever, insisted on going somewhere for the evening
`to hear some music,' and absolutely demanded to exercise through the evening
the rights of host in a way that baffled my inexperience completely.
Only just as I left him did he let fall a single remark
that I later saw showed how severe and unfortunate, probably,
was the strain of it all."
Brave as he was, however, and eager to keep at his work,
he finally submitted to the inevitable, and in May started with his brother
to the mountains of western North Carolina. His final interview
with Dr. Gilman is thus related by the latter: --
"The last time that I saw Lanier was in the spring of 1881,
when after a winter of severe illness he came to make arrangements
for his lectures in the next winter and to say good-bye for the summer.
His emaciated form could scarcely walk across the yard
from the carriage to the door. `I am going to Asheville, N.C.,' he said,
`and I am going to write an account of that region as a railroad guide.
It seems as if the good Lord always took care of me.
Just as the doctors had said that I must go to that mountain region,
the publishers gave me a commission to prepare a book.' `Good-bye,' he added,
and I supported his tottering steps to the carriage door,
never to see his face again."*
* `South Atlantic Quarterly', April, 1905.
The last months of Lanier's career seem to bring together
all the threads of his life. He was in the mountains which had first
stimulated his love of nature and were the background of his early romance.
He was lovingly attended by father, brother, and wife,
and took constant delight in the little boy who had come to cheer
his last days of weariness and sickness. He named the tent Camp Robin,
after his youngest son, and from that camp sent his last message
to the boys of America. They are the words of the preface
to "The Boy's Mabinogion", or "Knightly Legends of Wales":
"In now leaving this beautiful book with my young countrymen,
I find myself so sure of its charm as to feel no hesitation
in taking authority to unite the earnest expression of their gratitude
with that of my own to Lady Charlotte Guest, whose talents and scholarship
have made these delights possible; and I can wish my young readers
few pleasures of finer quality than that surprised sense of a whole new
world of possession which came with my first reading of these Mabinogion,
and made me remember Keats's
watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken."
A letter to President Gilman indicates his continued interest
in scientific investigation: --
Asheville, N.C., June 5, 1881.
Dear Mr. Gilman, -- Can you help me -- or tell me how I can help myself --
in the following matter? A few weeks from now I wish to study
the so-called no-frost belt on the side of Tryon Mountain;
and in order to test the popular account I propose to carry on
two simultaneous series of meteorological observations
during a fortnight or longer, -- the one conducted by myself
in the middle of the belt, the other by a friend stationed well outside
its limits. For this purpose I need two small self-registering thermometers,
two aneroid thermometers, and two hygrometers of any make.
It has occurred to me that since these observations will be conducted
during the University recess I might -- always provided, of course,
that there is any authority or precedent for such action --
procure this apparatus from the University collection,
especially as no instrument is included which could not easily be replaced.
Of course I would cheerfully deposit a sum sufficient to cover
the value of the whole outfit.
Should this arrangement be possible, I merely ask that you turn this letter
over to Dr. Hastings, with the request that he will have this apparatus
packed at my expense and shipped by express to me at this point immediately.
Yours very sincerely, Sidney Lanier.
The impulse to poetry was with him, too. He jotted down or dictated
to his wife outlines and suggestions of poems which he hoped to write.
Of these one has been printed: --
I was the earliest bird awake,
It was a while before dawn, I believe,
But somehow I saw round the world,
And the eastern mountain top did not hinder me.
And I knew of the dawn by my heart, not by mine eyes.
One agrees with "Father" Tabb that no utterance of the poet
ever betrayed more of his nature, -- "feeble and dying, but still a `bird',
awake to every emotion of love, of beauty, of faith, of star-like hope,
keeping the dawn in his heart to sing, when the mountain-tops hindered it
from his eyes."
On August 4 the party started across the mountains to Lynn, Polk County,
North Carolina. On the way they stopped with a friend in whose house
Lanier gave one more exhibition of his love of music. "It was in this house,"
says Miss Spann, "the meeting-place of all sweet nobility
with nature and with the human spirit, that he uttered
his last music on earth. At the close of the day Lanier came in
and passed down the long drawing-room until he reached a western window.
In the distance were the far-reaching Alleghany hills, with Mt. Pisgah
supreme among them, and the intervening valley bathed in sunset beauty.
Absorbed away from those around him, he watched the sunset glow
deepen into twilight, then sat down to the piano, facing the window.
Sorrow and joy and pain and hope and triumph his soul poured forth.
They felt that in that twilight hour he had risen to an angel's song."*
* `Independent', June 28, 1894.
Lynn is in a sheltered valley among the mountains of Polk County,
whose "climate is tempered by a curious current of warm air
along the slope of Tryon Mountain, its northern boundary,
a sort of ethereal Gulf Stream." Here death came soon than was anticipated
by the brother, who had gone back to Montgomery, preceded already
by his father. Mrs. Lanier's own words tell the story of the end
in simplicity and love: "We are left alone (August 29) with one another.
On the last night of the summer comes a change. His love and immortal will
hold off the destroyer of our summer yet one more week,
until the forenoon of September 7, and then falls the frost,
and that unfaltering will renders its supreme submission
to the adored will of God." His death before the open window
was a realization of Matthew Arnold's wish with regard to dying: --
Let me be,
While all around in silence lies,
Moved to the window near, and see
Once more, before my dying eyes, --
Bathed in the sacred dews of morn
The wide aerial landscape spread,
The world which was ere I was born,
The world which lasts when I am dead."
The closing lines of "Sunrise" express better than anything else
Lanier's own confident faith as he passed behind the veil: --
And ever my heart through the night shall with knowledge abide thee,
And ever by day shall my spirit, as one that hath tried thee,
Labor, at leisure, in art -- till yonder beside thee
My soul shall float, friend Sun,
The day being done.
His body was taken to Baltimore, where it rests in Greenmount Cemetery
in the lot of his friends, the Turnbulls, close by the son whose memory
they have perpetuated by the endowment of a permanent lectureship on poetry
in Johns Hopkins University. The grave is unmarked -- even by a slab.
It divides the interest of visitors to Baltimore with the grave of Poe,
which, however, is in another part of the city. So these two poets,
whose lives and whose characters were so strikingly unlike,
sleep in their adopted city.
Shortly after Lanier's death memorial services were held
at Johns Hopkins University, at which time beautiful tributes were paid to him
by his colleagues and friends. A committee of the citizens of Baltimore
was appointed to raise a fund for the sustenance and education
of the poet's family. They were aided in this by admirers of Lanier
and public-spirited citizens throughout the country.
Meantime his fame was growing, the publication of his poems in 1884
giving fresh impetus thereto.
Seven years after his death a bust of the poet was presented to the University
by Mr. Charles Lanier of New York.* "The hall was filled,"
says ex-President Gilman, "with a company of those who knew and admired him.
On the pedestal which supported the bust hung his flute
and a roll of his music; a garland of laurels crowned his brow,
and the sweetest of flowers were strewn at his feet. Letters came
from Lowell, Holmes, Gilder, Stedman; young men who never saw him,
but who had come under his influence, read their tributes in verse;
a former student of the University made a critical estimate
of the `Science of Verse'; a lady read several of Lanier's own poems;
another lady sang one of his musical compositions adapted to
words of Tennyson, and another song, one of his to which some one else
wrote the music; a college president of New Jersey held up Lanier
as a teacher of ethics; but the most striking figure was the trim,
gaunt form of a Catholic priest, who referred to the day when they,
two Confederate soldiers (the Huguenot and the Catholic),
were confined in the Union prison, and with tears in his eyes said,
his love for Lanier was like that of David for Jonathan.
The sweetest of all the testimonials came at the very last moment,
unsolicited and unexpected, from that charming poetess, Edith Thomas.
She heard of the memorial assembly, and on the spur of the moment
wrote the well-known lines, suggested by one of Lanier's own verses: --
On the Paradise side of the river of death."
* For a full record of the exercises see `A Memorial of Sidney Lanier',
The aftermath of Lanier's home life is all pleasant to contemplate.
His wife, although still an invalid, has, by her readings from
her husband's letters and poems, and by her sympathetic help for all those
who have cared to know more about him, done more than any other person
to extend his fame. With tremendous obstacles in her way,
she has reared to manhood the four sons, three of whom
are now actively identified with publishing houses in New York city,
and one of whom, bearing the name of his father, is now living upon a farm
in Georgia. Charles Day Lanier is president of the Review of Reviews Company,
and is associated with his youngest brother, Robert Sampson Lanier,
in editing "The Country Calendar". Henry Wysham Lanier
is a member of the firm of Doubleday, Page & Company,
and editor of "Country Life in America". They all inherit
their father's love of music and poetry, and through their magazines
are doing much to foster among Americans a taste for country life.
By a striking coincidence -- entirely unpremeditated on their part --
three of the sons and their mother live at Greenwich, Connecticut.
It will be remembered that the home of the English Laniers was at Greenwich,
-- and so the story of the Lanier family begins and ends with this name, --
one in the Old World and one in the New.
Chapter XIII. The Achievement in Criticism and in Poetry
Speculations as to what Lanier might have done with fewer limitations
and with a longer span of years inevitably arise in the mind of any one
who studies his life. If, like the late Theodore Thomas,
he had at an early age been able to develop his talent for music
in the musical circles of New York; if, like Longfellow,
he had gone from a small college to a German university, or, like Mr. Howells,
from the provinces to Cambridge, where he would have come in contact
with a group of men of letters; if, after the Civil War,
he had, like Hayne, retired to a cabin and there devoted himself
entirely to literary work; if, like Lowell, he could have given attention
to literary subjects and lectured in a university without teaching
classes of immature students or without resorting to "pot-boilers",
"nothings that do mar the artist's hand;" if, like Poe,
he could have struck some one vein and worked it for all it was worth, --
if, in a word, the varied activity of his life could have given way
to a certain definiteness of purpose and concentration of effort,
what might have been the difference! Music and poetry strove
for the mastery of his soul. Swinburne, speaking of those
who attempt success in two realms of art, says, "On neither course
can the runner of a double race attain the goal, but must needs
in both races alike be caught up and resign his torch to a runner
with a single aim." And yet one feels that if Lanier had had time and health
to work out all these diverse interests and all his varied experiences
into a unity, if scholarship and music and poetry could have been
developed simultaneously over a long stretch of time,
there would have resulted, perhaps, a more many-sided man and a finer poetry
than we have yet had in America.
So at last the speculation reduces itself to one of time. Lycidas was dead
ere his prime. From 1876 till the fatal illness took hold of him
he made great strides in poetry. Up to the very last he was making plans
for the future. His letters to friends outlining the volumes
that he hoped to publish, -- work demanding decades instead of years, --
the memoranda jotted down on bits of paper or backs of envelopes
as the rough drafts of essays or poems, would be pathetic,
if one did not believe with Lanier that death is a mere incident
in an eternal life, or with Browning, that what a man would do exalts him.
The lines of Robert Browning's poems in which he sets forth the glory
of the life of aspiration -- aspiration independent of any achievement --
ring in one's ears, as he reads the story of Lanier's life.