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 formal education. Evidently, Macon had no public-supported schools during Lanier’s youth, so he was educated at private academies run by local clergymen. It is unclear how solid an education he received in this fashion, but at a time when only one out of thirteen adult white southerners could read or write, it was certainly adequate to gain him admittance into a relatively new Presbyterian college, Oglethorpe University. Lanier matriculated at the age of fifteen: He was a good student, being especially adept at mathematics, and was named covaledictorian of his class. He returned to Oglethorpe in the fall after his graduation to serve as a tutor, a position secured for him by Professor James Woodrow. Woodrow (the uncle of Woodrow Wilson) possessed a degree of open-mindedness and cosmopolitanism that was unusual for Oglethorpe and something of a revelation for Lanier.
Before Lanier could explore the new worlds opened to him by Woodrow, however, the Civil War broke out. Lanier joined the Confederate Army in June, 1861, serving first as a private with the Macon Volunteers and later in the Mounted Signal Service. In 1864, while on signal duty on a blockade-runner, Lanier was captured and sent to a prison camp at Point Lookout, Maryland. Although Lanier was able to solace himself by playing his flute (which he had smuggled into prison inside his sleeve) and translating German poetry, the months spent at Point Lookout in 1864 and 1865 activated the...
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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...
(The entire section is 410 words.)