Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
Sidney Clopton Lanier was born on February 3, 1842, in Macon, Georgia, a small city that was at the time the thriving center of the cotton industry. Both his parents were of good, long-established Virginia families who had settled comfortably into the urban, middle-class lifestyle of antebellum Macon. His father, Robert Sampson Lanier, was a graduate of Virginia’s Randolph-Macon College and a practicing attorney; his mother, Mary Jane Anderson Lanier, was a devout Scottish Presbyterian who fostered in her children a deep appreciation for the writings ofSir Walter Scott. Sidney was the eldest child, with a sister Gertrude (born 1846) and a brother Clifford (born 1844), who occasionally collaborated with Sidney and who earned a minor literary reputation with the publication of his novel Thorn-Fruit (1867).
Lanier was a happy, bookish child noted for his good behavior and piety as well as for his love of literature, including works by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, John Keats, and the perennially popular Scott. He also demonstrated exceptional musical ability at a very early age and eventually became expert at playing the violin, guitar, organ, and flute. In certain respects, Lanier’s musical talent was unfortunate: The distinctive musicality of his verse too often overpowers the meaning, and his desire to become a professional musician often diverted his time and energies away from his career as a poet. At any rate, music was an integral part of his...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Among nineteenth century American poets, Sidney Lanier (luh-NIHR) may be ranked in order behind Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, and Emily Dickinson. He was a master of the craft of versification. Lanier was taught music in childhood, an education that greatly influenced his growth as a poet. At fourteen, he entered Oglethorpe College and was graduated in 1860. While a student there, he spent a year as a tutor in English. Intending to pursue an academic career, he hoped to proceed to Heidelberg, Germany, but the outbreak of the Civil War precluded such a design. Lanier enlisted as a Confederate private and served four years. His one novel, Tiger-Lilies, a weak but informative antiwar story, he began while in the Confederate signal service. In 1864 he was captured and confined in the federal military prison at Point Lookout, Maryland. He was released after four months, but his health was shattered. The tuberculosis that would eventually kill him was already latent.
Lanier worked as a hotel clerk, as a schoolmaster, and as an assistant in his father’s law office. After his marriage to Mary Day in 1867, he experienced financial hardship; there was little demand for poets or musicians in central Georgia. At the same time his illness grew worse. Looking for a tolerable climate, he went to San Antonio, Texas, in 1872, but the following year he accepted an appointment as first flutist in the Peabody Orchestra in Baltimore. There his work was...
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Lanier was born in 1842 and raised in Macon, Georgia, the son of R. Sampson Lanier, a lawyer, and Mary Jane Anderson Lanier. His family enjoyed a long tradition of involvement in music and the arts, and Lanier read much of his family’s extensive library before attending Oglethrope College, a local Presbyterian institution, in 1857. At school he came under the tutelage of Professor James Woodrow, a natural scientist educated at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. Woodrow encouraged his protege’s interest in the German Romantic writers and fostered in Lanier an enthusiasm for nature and science that would inform his poetry and criticism. Following graduation, Lanier first wanted to earn a doctorate at Heidelberg University, but the outbreak of the Civil War obliged him to join the Macon Volunteers, a company of Confederate Army soldiers. During his service, Lanier developed tuberculosis, a condition that left him in poor health for the rest of his life.
In 1873, concerned that his life would be shortened by illness and convinced that, for aspiring writers in the South, “the whole of life had been merely not dying,” Lanier resolved to move to the North and dedicate his life to music and literature. He went to Baltimore and began writing poetry that embodied some of his ideas about the relationship between music and verse. His interest in music— Lanier played several instruments—led him to join the Peabody Orchestra as their first flutist....
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