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A Biography of Sidney Lanier »

By Edwin Mims

Biography ‌ Lanier, Sidney, 1842-1881 ‌ Poets ‌ Musicians

Edwin Mims

A Biography of Sidney Lanier

biography of Lanier rather than a critical study of his work. So far as possible, I have told the story in his own words, or in the words of those who knew him most intimately. If I have erred in placing undue emphasis on the early part of his career, it was intentional, for that is the part of his life about which least is known. I have intentionally emphasized his relation to the South, in order to avoid a misconception that he was a detached figure. The bibliographies prepared by Mr. Wills for the “Southern History Association” and by Mr. Callaway for his “Select Poems of Lanier” make one unnecessary for this volume.

Of previously published material, I have been greatly indebted to the Memorial by Mr. William Hayes Ward, the fuller sketch by the late Professor W. M. Baskervill, and the volume of letters published by Messrs. Charles Scribner’s Sons. For new material, I am indebted, first of all, to Mrs. Sidney Lanier, who has put me in possession, not of the most intimate correspondence of the poet, but of many letters written by him to his father and friends, as well as unpublished fragments and essays. She has done all in her power to make this volume accurate and trustworthy. Her sons, Mr. Charles Day Lanier and Mr. Henry W. Lanier, have put me under special obligations, the latter especially, by reading the proof of a large part of the volume. Mr. Clifford Lanier, the poet’s brother, put at my disposal a valuable series of letters, and otherwise aided me. I am indebted to Dr. Daniel Coit Gilman, Mrs. Edwin C. Cushman, Judge Logan E. Bleckley, Mr. Dudley Buck, Mr. Charles Scribner, Mrs. Isabel L. Dobbin, Mr. George Cary Eggleston, Miss Effie Johnston, Mr. Sidney Lanier Gibson, and Miss Sophie Kirk, for placing in my hands unpublished letters of Lanier. The following have written reminiscences which have proved especially helpful: Dr. James Woodrow, Professor Gildersleeve, Chancellor Walter B. Hill, Professor Waldo S. Pratt, Mrs. Arthur W. Machen, Mrs. Sophie Bledsoe Herrick, Mr. F. H. Gottlieb, and Mr. Charles Heber Clarke. I desire to thank Messrs. Charles Scribner’s Sons and Mrs. Lanier for permission to quote from the letters and collected writings of Lanier; Messrs. Doubleday, Page & Co. for permission to quote from Lanier’s “Shakspere and his Forerunners”, and the editor of “Lippincott’s Magazine”, for the quotations from the letters to Mr. Milton H. Northrup. For various reasons I am under obligations to Miss Susan Hayes Ward, Mrs. W. M. Baskervill, Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Turnbull, Mr. George S. Wills, Mr. J. P. Breedlove of the Trinity College Library, Mr. T. J. Kiernan of the Harvard College Library, Mr. Philip R. Uhler of the Peabody Institute, Mr. J. H. Southgate, Mr. F. A. Ogburn, Mr. Milton H. Northrup, Mr. J. A. Bivins, Dr. C. Alphonso Smith, and to my colleagues, Dr. W. P. Few and Dr. W. H. Glasson.

Trinity College, Durham, N.C.,
August 12, 1905.


Introduction Chapter I. Ancestry and Boyhood Chapter II. College Days Chapter III. A Confederate Soldier Chapter IV. Seeking a Vocation Chapter V. Lawyer and Traveler Chapter VI. A Musician in Baltimore Chapter VII. The Beginning of a Literary Career Chapter VIII. Student and Teacher of English Literature Chapter IX. Lecturer at Johns Hopkins University Chapter X. The New South Chapter XI. Characteristics and Ideas Chapter XII. The Last Year Chapter XIII. The Achievement in Criticism and in Poetry

Sidney Lanier


The author of the introduction to the first complete edition of Sidney Lanier’s poems – published three years after the poet’s death – predicted with confidence that Lanier would “take his final rank with the first princes of American song.” Anticipating the appearance of this volume, one of the best of recent lyric poets, who had been Lanier’s fellow prisoner during the Civil War, prophesied that “his name to the ends of the earth would go.” Indeed, there was a sense of surprise to those who had read only the 1877 edition of Lanier’s poems, when his poems were collected in an adequate and worthy edition. Since that time the space devoted to him in histories of American literature has increased from ten or twelve lines to as many pages – an indication at once of popular interest and of an increasing number of scholars and critics who have recognized the value of his work. His growing fame found a notable expression when his picture appeared in the frontispiece of the standard American Anthology, along with those of Poe, Walt Whitman, and the five recognized New England poets.

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