Letters of Sidney Lanier


LANIER’S connection with the Centennial Exhibition brought him, during the summer of 1876, into many pleasant relations ; but, unfortunately, his health declined. He passed several months at West Chester, Pa., where he wrote Clover and The Waving of the Corn; and then, when autumn came, he returned to Philadelphia in what seemed a dying condition. For many weeks he was tenderly nursed at the Peacocks’, until, having regained a little strength, it was evident that he must go South if he would survive the winter. Aecordingly, leaving the children behind, he and his wife journeyed to Florida as fast as his feebleness permitted. His first note, written on a postal card, is dated “ Cedar Keys, Fla., December 20th, 1876.” He says : “ Through many perils and adventures we are so far safely on our way, in much better condition than could have been expected. We leave for Tampa presently. It is about 125 miles southward; but we stop at Manatee, and do not reach Tampa until to-morrow night, — spending thirty-six hours in the steamer. We have been wishing all the morning that you might pace these white sands with us, in the heavenly weather. Will write you immediately from Tampa.”

TAMPA, FLA.,December 27th, 1876.

On arriving here we find that your friendship has as usual anticipated us. May and I, strolling down to the Post office to rent a box, and not daring to think of letters, are told by the clerk that he thinks there is something for us, — and the something turns out to be your pleasant budget, which we incontinently open and devour, sitting down on the steps of the Post office for that purpose, to the wonderment of the natives. Your news of our dear manikins is the first we have had, and is a fair gift for our Christmas. . . .

The letters you sent were all pleasant in one way or another. One is from H. M. Alden, Editor Harper’s Magazine, enclosing check for fifteen dollars, and accepting the poem (The Waving of the Corn) sent him by me through Bayard Taylor. Another is a very cordial letter from “ Geo. C. Eggleston, Literary Editor Evening Post,” making tender of brotherhood to me in a really affectionate way, and declaring that “ the keen delight with which he recently read my volume of poems sharpens the pang he feels in knowing that one in whose work he sees so rich a promise lies on a bed of illness.”

The postal card is from Gilder, whom I had requested to make a slight addition to my article on The Orchestra in Scribner’s.

The fourth letter is, as you guessed, from Emma Stebbins, and I enclose it for you to read. It seems from the last portion of it that she has quite abandoned the idea of writing the life of Charlotte Cushman, substituting for that the project of merely printing a Memorial Volume.1

The Bulletin with the notice you mention has not yet arrived. I am very much pleased that the Psalm of the West has given Mrs. Champney a text to preach from. One begins to add to the intrinsic delight of prophet-hood the less lonesome joy of human helpfulness — when one finds the younger poets resting upon one for a support and buttress in this way.

You will be glad to know that we are situated much more comfortably than we could have hoped. Tampa is the most forlorn collection of little one-story frame houses imaginable, and as May and I walked behind our Landlord, who was piloting us to the Orange Grove Hotel, our hearts fell nearer and nearer towards the sand through which we dragged. But presently we turned a corner, and were agreeably surprised to find ourselves in front of a large three-story house with many odd nooks and corners, altogether clean and comfortable in appearance, and surrounded by orange-trees in full fruit. We have a large room in the second story, opening upon a generous balcony fifty feet long, into which stretch the liberal arms of a fine orange-tree, holding out their fruitage to our very lips. In front is a sort of open plaza, containing a pretty group of gnarled live oaks full of moss and mistletoe.

They have found out my public character already : somebody who had traveled with me recognized me on the street yesterday and told mine host. He and his wife are all kindness, having taken a fancy, I imagine, to my sweet angel May. They have just sent up a lovely bunch of roses and violets from the garden, — a sentimental attention which finds a pleasant parallel in the appearance of a servant at our door before breakfast to inquire whether we prefer our steak fried or broiled.

The weather is perfect summer, and I luxuriate in great draughts of balmy air uncontaminated with city-smokes and furnace-dusts. This has come not a moment too soon ; for the exposures of the journey had left my poor lung in most piteous condition. I am now better, however ; and May is in good case, except that the languid air takes the spring from her step, and inclines her much to laziness. . . .

We have three mails a week : two by stage from Gainesville (which is on the railroad from Fernandina to Cedar Keys) and one by steamer from Cedar Keys. Address me simply “ Tampa, Fla.” I have a box (No. 8 : — I don’t think there are more than twenty-live or thirty in all) at the Post office, and the clerk knows me : as in fact everybody else does, — a stranger is a stranger in Tampa. . . .


DEAR MR. PEACOCK : Sidney has forgotten my message — which entreated Mrs. Peacock (Heaven bless her !) to consider my letters unanswerable. You are one in our thoughts and affections, and we are content to hear from either of you. And I am so selfish as to wish that she should always be glad when my poor letters come. When you see Dr. Lippe pray give him our best regards and say that we will write as soon as we have had time to know how Sidney is.

Your loving MARY D. L.

P. S. No. 15. I enclose the two receipts for the silver: Robbins’ and the Trust Company’s. We will write about it some future time : meantime as to the set at Robbins’, place it wherever you like. S. L.

TAMPA,December 31st, 1876.

I am writing a line to send you both a New Year’s kiss from us two. We have had a great change in the weather : a couple of days ago the hyperborean blasts turned our pretty summer quite out of doors, and we have had for thirtysix hours a temperature which reminds us very forcibly of a New Year’s Day at the North. As we sit over our blazing knots of “ fat lightwood ” we think with double vividness of your two dear faces, and wish that they were by ours or ours by them. . . .

The Magazine has arrived, and your lovely notice of my little Evening Song2 gives me genuine pleasure. I see too that the poem has smitten the hitherto-invulnerable R. Shelton McKenzie under the fifth rib. This is a triumph indeed. The Bulletin with the notice from the Ev’g. Post has also arrived. The letter from Lippincott’s which you forwarded was an enclosure of check for ten dollars for the Evening Song.

May is doing well; and I, with some setbacks, am on the whole improving. I have found a shaggy gray mare upon whose back I thrid the great pine forests daily, much to my delight. Nothing seems so restorative to me as a good gallop. We have now only two mails a week, and these take a long time to go and come. If there should ever be any occasion to telegraph us, a dispatch can be sent to Tuckertown (which is on the telegraph line, thirty miles from here), whence the operators will, if so requested, forward it by courier on horseback to Tampa.

I sent you the two silver receipts by last mail. Forward me whatever you happen to see about the little Song: I wish to send the notices to Dudley Buck, who has set this poem to music. God bless you both, — say May and

S. L.

TAMPA, FLA., January 17th, 1877.

I wrote you immediately upon arriving here, enclosing the two receipts for the silver; and I believe some sort of greeting has gone from one of us to one of you by nearly every mail, since our arrival. I only mention this because our Florida mail arrangements are of the very slowest description, and, as we have yet had nothing from you written since any of our communications reached you, we presume the latter have taken the very uttermost limit of time in getting to you.

We fare slowly on, in health. May has been very much affected by the warm weather which has prevailed for the past two weeks, and suffers much from lassitude, with some appearance of malarial symptoms. I think my lung is healing gradually: and although I have a great deal of hoarseness, it does not seem to he attended with any other serious accompaniment. I certainly improve in strength, though pulled down, as indeed are all the healthy people about us, by the languorous summer temperature.

I think we will have to sell the silver ; if you can get $350 for it, it may go at that. Possibly we will sell it for old silver, after a while, at $200: but I would be glad if you would see whether any silver dealer with whom you should leave it (after Robbins) can get an offer of $350. . . .

I am writing in haste, having come in from a ride, horseback, just as the mail is about to close. . . .

TAMPA, FLA., March 25th, 1877.

MY DEAREST MARIA PEACOCK : . . . I wish we were spending this March day in your dear little Brown Study with you. I have an inexpressible longing to see you when you will not be — as during that last month — anxious at heart on my account. This might now very well be; for although many breaks and exasperating interruptions have chequered my progress since I came here, yet in comparing my present condition with the state I was in when I left you, no room is left for doubt that my lung is certainly healing, and that the rest is only matter of time and warm weather.

We expect to leave Tampa on the 5th April, for Brunswick, where we will remain until May. Our after-programme is to spend the month of May in Macon, and to return to Philadelphia in June. Consider that our address, therefore, is changed to “ Care of Chas. Day, Brunswick, Ga.”

May has been suffering much with malarial influences, and I am impatient for the time when she may return to the bracing northern air which appears to agree with her so well. She sends you all manner of loving messages.

Please ask Mr. Gibson as soon as the rest of the silver money comes in to send for Dr. Schell’s bill, and discharge it. I have been more pained about the long standing-over of it than I can tell you. Did you see my Beethoven in the Galaxy ?3 A bad misprint occurred in the punctuation at the end of the 8th verse, where somebody inserted a semicolon. In the original there is nothing : the two verses (8th and 9th) being intended to run together, i. e. the luminous lightnings blindly strike the sailor praying on his knees along with, &c. In reading other articles in this Magazine I observe that the proof must have been very badly read.

I have had a very affectionate letter from Emma Stebbins, enclosing a fifty-dollar bill which she wanted to loan me.

My thoughts are much upon my French poem — the Jacquerie outburst — in these days. If Mr. Hayes would only appoint me consul somewhere in the south of France ! ! !

BRUNSWICK, GA., April 26th, 1877.

If I had as many fingers as your astounding servant-maid, and each one could wield a pen separately, I still would n’t be able to write the fair messages which continually construct themselves in my heart to you both. That such a very pitiful fraction of these has actually reached you during the last few weeks is due to mine ancient infirmity in the matter of driving the quill, and to May’s constant occupation with her father and brother. These poor lonely men live here in a house to themselves, with no women or children about them : and when May comes with her bright ways and intelligent sympathies she has both hands, lips, and heart very busy from morning till night.

I suppose you ’ve seen a little extravaganza of mine in St. Nicholas for May. The proof-sheets were sent me at Tampa, and I promptly corrected and returned them : but they seem not to have arrived in time, and I desolate myself at finding some miserable repetitions and awkward expressions, which I had carefully amended, appearing nevertheless, — beside some very bad punctuation systematically interpolated all the way through by some other hand than mine. The illustrations are charming, however, and I feel as if I ought to write a special letter of thanks to Mr. Bensell for the evident care he has taken. The story I meant to be only such an incongruous mélange as one might “ make up as he went along ” for a lot of children about his knees ; and its very intentional incongruities must have been serious stumbling-blocks to the engraver.

I sincerely regret the continued illness of Mr. Wells.4 He was so full of life and so over-brimming with his quips and his quiddities, that I can scarcely realize him as a sick man. Pray send him my cordial greetings when you write, with my earnest wishes for his speedy recovery.

I wrote Mrs. Peacock just before we left Tampa. We remain here until the fifth of May ; after which our address will be “ Macon, Ga.”We think to spend a month there: and then, if I continue to improve, to make our way back northward. I can’t tell you how famished I am for the Orchestra: an imperious hunger drives me towards it.

We both send a kiss to you both. If Miss Phelps is with you. we ’ll put in two, mine being particularly by way of response for her kind note. I long to see you all.

MACON, GA., May 26th, 1877.

They have had a family gathering here to meet me ; and what with fondling numerous new babies that have arrived since I last met the parents thereof, and with much talk of matters high and low, I have not found time to send my love to you. I have gained greatly in strength within the last three weeks, and although I have still much discomfort at times I feel perfectly sure that I have quite got the upper hand of this particular attack at least. We propose to start for Philadelphia within two weeks from now ; waiting so long only to be sure of escaping any possible caprice of this very variable Spring. The prospect of speedily turning northward gives us, as you can imagine, great delight : for it. is a prospect which holds in its “ middle distance ” you two, and our dear monkeys for whom our arms are fairly hungry.

I long to be steadily writing again. I ’m taken with a poem pretty nearly every day, and have to content myself with making a note of its train of thought on the back of whatever letter is in my coat-pocket. I don’t write it out, because I find my poetry now wholly unsatisfactory in consequence of a certain haunting impatience which has its root in the straining uncertainty of my daily affairs ; and I am trying with all my might to put off composition of all sorts until some approach to the certainty of next week’s dinner shall remove this remnant of haste, and leave me that repose which ought to fill the artist’s firmament while he is creating. Perhaps indeed with returning bodily health I shall acquire strength to attain this serenity in spite of all contingencies.

Address me here if you write within the next ten days. May would send a kiss to you both if she knew I was writing. Cordial greetings to Miss Phelps if she is now with you. I hope Mr. Wells continues to improve.

40 MT. VERNON PLACE, BALTIMORE, MD., June 13th, 1877.

I am really distressed to know that you should have spent your day at Washington in the unprofitable business of pottering about those dreary Departments in my behalf : but I won’t lecture you for your unearthly goodness to me.

May and I are to go to Washington next Monday, to visit Judge Advocate General Dunn, who is a son-in-law of my kinsman J. F. D. Lanier (of New York), and who has extended a very cordial invitation to us. We will also meet there General Humphreys, Chief of the Engineer Corps, who is an old and intimate friend of May’s mother, and has always made a great pet of May herself. It seems like stretching our hearts to stay away from the boys longer : yet we have determined finally to do it, inasmuch as we do not know when we will have another opportunity to meet these friends.

As for the “ application : “ you must know, my dear good Friend, that all that matter was gotten up without my knowledge, and has been carried on by my father and Mr. Lanier of New York. When they finally wrote to me of it, I replied (after a great struggle which I have not the heart to detail to you) that inasmuch as I had never been a party man of any sort I did not see with what grace I could ask any appointment ; and that, furthermore, I could not see it to be delicate, on general principles, for me to make personal application for any particular office : but that I would be grateful if they would simply cause my name to be mentioned to the proper persons as that of a person who might be suitable for certain classes of appointments, and that I would accept with pleasure any result of such an application. This has been done : my name has been mentioned to Mr. Sherman5 (and to Mr. Evarts,6 I believe) by quite cordially-disposed persons. But I do not think any formal application has been entered, — though I do not know. I hope not: for then the reporters will get hold of it, and I scarcely know what I should do if I should see my name figuring alongside of Jack Brown’s and Foster Blodgetts and the others of my native State, — as would quickly be the case.

But I can speak of all this when I see you. It will be probably nine or ten days before I have that pleasure, — even if you shall have returned to Pha by that time. Pray send me a line (see address, above date of this letter) to let me know your motions. . . . Don’t think me finical, and don’t think me anything but your faithful S. L.

CHADD’S FRD, PA., August 7th, 1877.

This is but an hour old : and after sending it off to Harper’s, I ’ve made a hasty copy for you, thinking you would care to see it. The poor dove whose sorrow it commemorates wakes me every morning, calling from the lovely green woods about us.

We are charmed with our place: I myself have rather too much pot-boiling to improve much, but the boys are having a royal time. May sends a kiss to you both, as does your faithful

S. L.



If thou, if thou, O blue and silver Morn,
Should’st call along the curving sphere: “ Remain,
Sweet Night, my Love ! Nay, leave me not forlorn! ”
With soft halloos of heavenly love and pain:-
Should’st thou, past Spring, a-cower in coverts dark,
’Gainst proud supplanting Summer sing thy plea
And move the mighty woods through mailèd bark
Till tender heartbreak throb in every tree : —
(Ah, grievous If, wilt turn to Yea full soon ?)
— If thou, my Heart, long holden from thy Love,
Should’st beat and burn in mellow shocks of tune : —
— Each might but mock you deep-sequestered dove!

CHADD’S FORD, PA., September 8th, 1877.

I am called to Washington for the purpose of prosecuting my affairs, — which are delayed much beyond expectation, — and am obliged to anticipate my income a little, being out of funds for a week. Please loan me fifty dollars, if you can do so without inconvenience to yourself. You can send your check payable to my order. — Which takes my breath away, and I can’t say anything more, now.

WASHINGTON, D. C., September 27th, 1877.

Yours was forwarded to me here. Just as I received your check, a severe pleuritic attack seized me, and kept me in great pain for ten days. I then got up from bed to come here, in the desperate necessity to do what could be done. Last Monday at daylight an exhausting hæmorrhage came, which has kept me confined to my room ever since. In this enforced inactivity, I have had nothing to return to you. This morning a check comes from Lippincott for a little story I sent, and I enclose it. endorsed to vour order. Please let me know what your address will be, so that I may send the remaining twenty-five at the earliest possible moment.

There does not appear the least hope of success here. Three months ago the order was given by Secretary Sherman that I should have the first vacancy : but the appointment-clerk, who received the order, is a singular person, and I am told there are rings within rings in the Department to such an extent that vacancies are filled by petty chiefs of division without ever being reported at all to the proper officers. You will scarcely believe that, in my overwhelming desire to get some routine labor by which I might be relieved from this exhausting magazine work so as to apply my whole mind to my long poem on which I have been engaged, I have allowed a friend to make application to every department in Washington for even the humblest position — seventy-five dollars a month and the like — but without success. I also made personal application to several people in Baltimore for similar employment, but fruitlessly. Altogether it seems as if there was n’t any place for me in this world, and if it were not for May I should certainly quit it, in mortification at being so useless.

I hope you will have a pleasant holiday. Give my love to my dear Maria Peacock, and say how glad I am to think of her long relief from the household and other cares which give her so much trouble.

55 LEXINGTON ST., BALTIMORE, MD., November 3rd, 1877.

I have not had the courage to write you without enclosing the check for twenty-five dollars, which ought to have gone to you long ago. I still have n’t a cent to send : and am writing only to answer your inquiries whose kindliness might otherwise go unacknowledged.

All sorts of things were promised to the friends who were good enough to intercede at Washington in my behalf: but nothing has come of it. In truth I should long ago have abandoned all ideas in that direction and resumed the thread of my magazine work, had it not been for illness which prevented me from writing much, and thus kept me entertaining some little expectation. The hæmorrhage, however, which disabled me from work temporarily, has greatly relieved my lung, and I am now stronger than at any time in the last fifteen months. My whole soul is bursting with chaotic poems, and I hope to do some good work during the coming year.

I have found it quite essential to my happiness and health to have some quarters, however rude, which I could regard as permanent for the next four or five years, — instead of drifting about the world. We have therefore established ourselves in four rooms, arranged somewhat as a French Flat, in the heart of Baltimore. We have a gas-stove, on which my Comrade magically produces the best coffee in the world, and this, with fresh eggs (boiled over the same handy little machine), bread, butter, and milk, forms our breakfast. Our dinner is sent to us from a restaurant in the same building with our rooms, and is served in our apartment without extra charge.

As for my plans for the future: I have set on foot another attempt to get a place in the Johns Hopkins University : I also have a prospect of employment as an assistant at the Peabody Library here: and there is still a possibility of a committee-clerkship in Washington. Meantime, however, I am just resuming work for the editors : my nearest commission is to write a Christmas poem for Every Saturday, an ambitious new weekly paper just started in Baltimore. The editor wishes to illustrate the poem liberally and use it as an advertisement by making some fuss over it.

There! You have a tolerable abstract of my past, present and future. . . . Have you seen my Wagner poem in the November Galaxy ? I have not: and, as it was much involved, and as I did n’t see any proof-sheet, and as finally the Galaxy’s proof-reader is notoriously bad, — I suspect it is a pretty muddle of nonsense. And so, God bless you both.

55 LEXINGTON ST., BALTIMORE, December 3rd, 1877.

Your letter was heartily received by May and me. and the stamps brought acclamations from the three young men at the breakfast - table. We had been talking of you more than usual for several days: and May had been recalling that wonderful Thanksgiving Day a year ago when the kindness of you and my dear Maria seemed to culminate in the mysteriousFive-hundred-dollar-bill which came up on the break fast-tray. What a couple you are, anyhow: you and that same Maria with the Cape-jessamine-textured throat!

I indulged in a hæmorrhage immediately alter reaching home, which kept me out of the combat for ten days. I then plunged in and brought captive forth a long Christmas poem8 for Every Saturday, an ambitious young weekly of Baltimore. Have you seen my Puzzled Ghost in Florida, in Appleton’s for December ? . . .

We had another key to the silver chest. It contained a second set of old family plate, which we now use daily and in which we take great comfort. There are no other papers concerning it.

I hope you had a pleasant visit in New York.... I ’ve just received a letter from Emma Stebbins. She is at the Cushmans’, in Newport, and much improved in health. She has finished six chapters of her book on Miss Cushman, and may have it ready for the publishers by next fall.

Wife and I have been out to look at a lovely house to-day, with eight rooms and many charming appliances, which we find we can rent for less than we now pay for our four rooms. We think of taking it straightway, and will do so if a certain half-hundred of dollars for which we hope reaches us in time. . . .

33 DENMEAD ST., BALTIMORE, MD., January 6th, 1878.

The painters, the whitewashers, the plumbers, the locksmiths, the carpenters, the gas-fitters, the stove-put-up-ers, the carmen, the piano-movers, the carpetlayers, — all these have I seen, bargained with, reproached for bad jobs, and finally paid off: I have also coaxed my landlord into all manner of outlays for damp walls, cold bath-rooms, and other like matters: I have furthermore bought at least three hundred and twenty-seven household utensils which suddenly came to he absolutely necessary to our existence : I have moreover hired a colored gentlewoman who is willing to wear out my carpets, burn out my range, freeze out my water-pipes, and be generally useful: I have also moved my family into our new home, have had a Xmas tree for the youngsters, have looked up a cheap school for Harry and Sidney, have discharged my daily duties as first flute of the Peabody Orchestra, have written a couple of poems and part of an essay on Beethoven and Bismarck, have accomplished at least a hundred thousand miscellaneous necessary nothings, — and have not, in consequence of all the aforesaid, sent to you and my dear Maria the loving greetings whereof my heart has been full during the whole season. Maria’s cards were duly distributed, and we were all touched with her charming little remembrances. With how much pleasure do I look forward to the time when I may kiss her hand in my own house! We are in a state of supreme content with our new home: it really seems to me as incredible that myriads of people have been living in their own homes heretofore as to the young couple with a first baby it seems impossible that a great many other couples have had similar prodigies. It is simply too delightful. Good heavens, how I wish that the whole world had a Home !

I confess I am a little nervous about the gas-bills, which must come in, in the course of time ; and there are the waterrates : and several sorts of imposts and taxes : but then, the dignity of being liable for such things! is a very supporting consideration. No man is a Bohemian who has to pay water-rates and a streettax. Every day when I sit down in my dining-room — my dining-room ! — I find the wish growing stronger that each poor soul in Baltimore, whether saint or sinner, could come and dine with me. How I would carve out the merry-thoughts for the old hags! How I would stuff the big wall-eyed rascals till their rags lapped again ! There was a knight of old times who built the dining-hall of his castle across the highway, so that every wayfarer must perforce pass through: there the traveller, rich or poor, found always a trencher and wherewithal to fill it. Three times a day, in my own chair at my own table, do I envy that knight and wish that I might do as he did.

Send me some word of you two. I was in Philadelphia for part of a night since I saw you, being on my way to Germantown to see Mr. Kirk. I had to make the whole visit between two rehearsals of the Orchestra, and so could only run from train to train, except between twelve P. M. and six, which I consumed in sleeping at the Continental.

We all send you heartfelt wishes for the New Year. May you be as happy as you are dear to your faithful S. L.

33 DENMEAD ST., BALTIMORE, January 11th, 1878.

To-morrow I will transfer to you by telegraph one hundred and ten dollars ; and the remaining forty. I hope, on Monday, certainly during the five days following.

I believe it was last Sunday night that I wrote you : on the following morning I awoke with a raging fever, and have been in bed ever since, racked inexpressibly by my old foe, the Pleurodynia. I have crawled out of bed this afternoon, but must go back soon. Will probably be about again on Monday.

Tortured as I was, this morning, with a living egg of pain away in under my collar bone, I shook till I was at least uniformly sore all over, with reading your brilliant critique on the great “ artiste ” Squirt in his magnificent impersonation of Snooks. The last sentence nearly took the top of my head off. I wish you would keep it up a little while, and fly at the Metropolis as well as at the provinces. For example : “ The following contribution for our new morning (or Sunday) paper comes accompanied by a note stating that the writer has been employed as funny editor of the New York (anything, Universe, Age, et cet.), but desires a larger field of usefulness with us; ” and hereto you might append an imitation of the humorous column of The World, for instance, in which anything under heaven is taken as a caption, and the editorial then made up of all the possible old proverbs, quotations, popular sayings, and slang which have a word, or even a syllable, in common with the text.

Or you might give an exact reproduction (the more exact, the more ludicrous) of one of those tranquilly stupid political editorials in The -, which seem as massive as the walls of Troy, and are really nothing but condensations of arrogant breath.

But of course you won’t do anything of the sort, for why embroil yourself ? and I ’m only forecasting what might be done in a better world.

We all send our love to you and Maria. May is pretty well fagged with nursing me, plus the housekeeping cares.

BALTIMORE, MD., January 30th, 1878.

It’s no use trying to tell you the bitterness with which I found myself a couple of days behindhand with that hundred. I was in bed, ill, and was depending on a friend who had promised to come by my house and transact this along with some other business for me down town. He was prevented from coming as expected, and I was without remedy. I enclose P. O. order for twenty-five. The balance will go to you soon. Please don’t despair of me. My illness was a complete marplot to all my plans for a month or more.

I came through Pha night before last, on my way home from New York. I ran round to see you, but you had gone to the theatre. Next morning I was compelled to hurry home without the pleasure of kissing my dear Maria’s hand; our Peabody Orchestra meets at five in the afternoon, and I was obliged to reach Baltimore in time for that.

We are all in tolerable condition, greatly enjoying our crude half-furnished home. I have been mainly at work on some unimportant prose matter for potboilers ; but I get off a short poem occasionally, and in the background of my mind am writing my Jacquerie.

It is very thoughtful of you to send the Bulletin. I did not know it was being continued at Chadd’s Ford, else I should have had the address changed. Both May and I find a great deal in the paper to interest us. Me send loving messages to you twain. The boys are all at school.

180 ST. PAUL ST., BALTIMORE, MD., November 5th, 1878.

I have been “ allowing ” — as the Southern negroes say — that I would write you, for the last two weeks ; but I had a good deal to say, and have n’t had time to say it.

During my studies for the last six or eight months a thought which was at first vague has slowly crystallized into a purpose, of quite decisive aim. The lectures which I was invited to deliver last winter before a private class met with such an enthusiastic reception as to set me thinking very seriously of the evident delight with which grown people found themselves receiving systematic instruction in a definite study. This again put me upon reviewing the whole business of Lecturing which has risen to such proportions in our country, but which, every one must feel, has now reached its climax and must soon give way — like all things — to something better. The fault of the lecture system as at present conducted — a fault which must finally prove fatal to it — is that it is too fragmentary, and presents too fragmentary a mass — indigesta moles — of facts before the hearers. Now if, instead of such a series as that of the popular Star Course (for instance) in Philadelphia, a scheme of lectures should be arranged which would amount to the systematic presentation of a given subject, then the audience would receive a substantial benefit, and would carry away some genuine possession at the end of the course. The subject thus systematically presented might be either scientific (as Botany, for example, or Biology popularized, and the like), or domestic (as detailed in the accompanying printed extract under the “ Household ” School), or artistic, or literary.

This stage of the investigation put me to thinking of schools for grown people. Men and women leave college nowadays just at the time when they are really prepared to study with effect. There is indeed a vague notion of this abroad; but it remains vague. Any intelligent grown man or woman readily admits that it would be well — indeed, many whom I have met sincerely desire — to pursue some regular course of thought; but there is no guidance, no organized means of any sort, by which people engaged in ordinary a vocations can accomplish such an aim.

Here, then, seems to be, first, a universal admission of the usefulness of organized intellectual pursuit for business people; secondly, an underlying desire for it by many of the people themselves ; and thirdly, an existing institution (the lecture system) which, if the idea were once started, would quickly adapt itself to the new conditions.

In short, the present miscellaneous lecture courses ought to die and be born again as Schools for Grown People.

It was with the hope of effecting at least the beginning of a beginning of such a movement that I got up the “ Shakspere course" in Baltimore. I wished to show, to such a class as I could assemble, how much more genuine profit there would be in studying at first hand, under the guidance of an enthusiastic interpreter, the writers and conditions of a particular epoch (for instance) than in reading any amount of commentary or in hearing any number of miscellaneous lectures on subjects which range from Palestine to Pottery in the course of a week. With this view I arranged my own part of the Shakspere course so as to include a quite thorough presentation of the whole science of poetry as preparatory to a serious and profitable study of some of the greatest singers in our language.

I wish to make a similar beginning — with all these ulterior aims — in Philadelphia. I had hoped to interest Mr. Furness9 in the idea, particularly because I suspected that some local influence would be needed to push forward a matter depending so much on ulterior purposes which are at the same time difficult to explain in full and slow in becoming fully comprehended by the average mind of the public. I enclose you Mr. Furness’s letter, which I take to be a polite refusal to have anything to do with it ; and I may add that Mrs. Wistar has made inquiries which do not give much encouragement from her world. But difficulties of this sort always end, with me, — after the first intense sigh has spent itself,—in clothing a project with new charms ; and I am now determined not to abandon my Philadelphia branch until I shall seem like a fool to pursue it farther. Apropos whereof, a very devoted friend of mine, there, having seen some announcement in the papers of my lectures, writes that she once attended a short course of somewhat similar nature in Philadelphia which was very successful. It was conducted, however, by a gentleman of considerable local reputation. I have one or two other friends there who would help the thing forward : and I write you all this long screed for the purpose of giving you an opportunity to meditate on the entire situation, and to direct me in making a start when I shall come over for that purpose.

The practical method of beginning is to form a class of grown persons, at (say) eight dollars apiece, to whom I will deliver twenty lectures and readings, one each week, on a suitable day and hour to be agreed on, covering about the ground specified in my twenty-four lectures announced in the accompanying programme of the Shakspere course.

If a class of only twenty could be made up, I would cheerfully commence : for I feel confident it would be the beginning of better things. I think I know now of four who would join and would heartily forward the business by inquiring among their friends and setting forth its aims.

I have good prospect of forming a class in Washington : and thus, with my special poetic work (The Songs of Aldhelm, which I believe you will like better than anything I have written), you see my life will be delightfully arrangée, — if things come out properly. Do you think Mr. Henry C. Lea would be interested in such a matter ?

— If you write me, after digesting this enormous homily, that you think twenty people could be found, I will come over immediately and make arrangements to find them. I have, as I said, several friends who at a word would busy themselves enthusiastically in the matter. . . .

180 ST. PAUL ST., BALTIMORE, December 21st, 1878.

If love and faithful remembrance were current with the wish-gods I could make you a rare merry Christmas. — I wish I had two millions; I should so like to send you a check for one of ’em, with a request that you make a bonfire of The Evening Bulletin, and come over here to spend Christmas, — and the rest of your life with me,—on a private car seventy-seven times more luxurious than Lorne’s or Mr. Mapleson’s. I really don’t desire that you should spend your life on this car — as I seem to, on reading over my last sentence — but only that you should come on it. The great advantage of having a poetic imagination is herein displayed : you see how the simple act of enclosing you a check for twenty-five dollars—that twentyfive which has been due you so long, dear friend! can set a man’s thoughts going.

I have a mighty yearning to see you and my well-beloved Maria ; it seems a long time since ; and I’ve learned so many things, — I almost feel as if I had something new to show you.

Bayard Taylor’s death10 slices a huge cantle out of the world for me. I don’t yet know it, at all: it only seems that he has gone to some other Germany, a little farther off. How strange it all is : he was such a fine fellow, one almost thinks he might have talked Death over and made him forego his stroke. Tell me whatever you may know, outside of the newspaper reports, about his end.

Chas. Scribner’s Sons have concluded to publish my Boy’s Froissart, with illustrations. They are holding under advisement my work on English Prosody.11

I saw your notice of the Masque of Poets. The truth is, it is a distressing, an aggravated, yea, an intolerable collection of mediocrity and mere cleverness. Some of the pieces come so near being good that one is ready to tear one’s hair and to beat somebody with a stick from pure exasperation that such narrow misses should after all come to no better net result — in the way of art — than so many complete failures. I could find only four poems in the book. As for Guy Vernon, one marvels that a man with any poetic feeling could make so many stanzas of so trivial a thing. It does not even sparkle enough to redeem it as vers de société. This is the kind of poetry that is technically called culture-poetry; yet it is in reality the product of a want of culture. If these gentlemen and ladies would read the old English poetry — I mean the poetry before Chaucer, the genuine Anglish utterances, from Cædmon in the 7th century to Langland in the 14th — they could never be content to put forth these little diffuse prettinesses and dandy kickshaws of verse.

I am not quite sure but you misinterpreted whatever. I may have said about Mr. Furness’s letter. I did not mean in the least to blame him: and his note was, I thought, very kind in its terms.

I am in the midst of two essays on Anglo-Saxon poetry which I am very anxious to get in print. These, with the Froissart and my weekly lectures, keep me bound down with work.

God bless you both, and send you many a Christmas, prays your faithful

S. L.

I find I am out of stamps, for my check : so must mulct you for two cents.

435 N. CALVERT ST., BALTIMORE, June 1st, 1880.

I’ve just read your notice of The Science of English Verse, and cannot help sending a line to say how much it pleases me. It seems a model of the way in which a newspaper should deal with a work of this sort which in the nature of things cannot be fairly described without more space than any ordinary journal can allow.

I was all the more pleased because I had just read a long notice sent me by the -’s “ critic,” which, with the best intentions in the world, surely capped the climax of silly misrepresentation. It is perfectly sober to say that if this “ critic ” had represented Professor Huxley’s late treatise on the Crayfish as a cookery-book containing new and ingenious methods of preparing shellfish for the table, and had proceeded to object earnestly that the book was a dangerous one, as stimulating overnicety in eating, — he would have been every whit as near the truth. Indeed, on thinking of it, I find this is a perfect parallel; for he objected to The Science of Verse on the ground that it had “ a tendency ... to exaggerate . . . the undue attention already given to . . . the pretty fripperies of ingenious verse-making ” ! If the book has one tendency beyond another in this respect, it surely is, as you sensibly say in your last paragraph but one, to make real artists out of those who study it, and to warn off all scribblers from this holy and arduous ground.

But this is the least offense. Although three of the very mottoes on the Titlepage (namely, those of Sir Philip Sidney, of King James, and of Dante) set up the sharpest distinction between Verse and Poetry. — between mere Technic and Inspiration, — and although the Preface presents an ideal of the poet’s (as distinct from the versifier’s) mission which culminates in declaring the likeness of all worthy poets to David (who wrote much poetry, but no verse), — while, further, the very first ten lines of Chapter I carry on this distinction to what one would think a point infinitely beyond mistake, — in spite of all, the “ critic ” gravely makes, and as gravely discusses, the assertion that “ in Mr. Lanier’s book . . . poetry ... is a mere matter of pleasing sounds and pleasing arrangements of sounds ” !

This would be a curiosity of woodenness, if it were not still obscured by another assertion : that this Science of Verse originates in “a suggestion” made by Edgar Poe as to the “ division into long and short syllables,” — which suggestion, he says, “ is the key to Mr. Lanier’s system ”!

It would be quite as accurate to say that Professor Huxley’s argument from the transition-forms of the horse in proof of the evolution of species was suggested by King Richard the Third’s exclamation of “ A horse ! a horse ! my kingdom for a horse ! ”

The Easter-card with the lovely design of Corn has been in my work-room’s most prominent niche, and is the constant admiration of my visitors who always quickly recognize its propriety. Tell Maria — between two kisses — that nothing but outrageous absorption could have made me fail so long to acknowledge what has given us all so much pleasure.

— But this letter will make you perspire, with the very sight of its five pages : and so, God bless you.

Your friend, SIDNEY L.

No other letters to Mr. Peacock have been preserved. During the winter of 1880-81 Lanier delivered a course of lectures at Johns Hopkins University on Personality, illustrated by the development of fiction. His strength was already so nearly spent that most of the notes for these lectures had to be dictated in whispers to his wife, and often in the lecture-room his hearers dreaded lest his life should go out while he spoke. Yet when read now, in the volume entitled The English Novel, these lectures show no sign of mental lassitude ; rather are they remarkable for vigor and suggestiveness, and, despite here and there gaps unavoidable in a work unrevised by the author, they form a body of constructive and pregnant criticism not to be overlooked by any one who values a critic who is also an interpreter. During that same winter of extreme bodily feebleness, Lanier wrote the poem Sunrise, his masterpiece, radiant with beauty, and strong with the spiritual strength which outbraves death. In the following summer, they took him to North Carolina, in the hope that amid the balsam of the pines he might at least breathe out his life with less pain. There, on September 7, 1881, he died.

William R. Thayer.

  1. Miss Stebbins subsequently published a life of Miss Cushman (Boston : Houghton, Osgood & Co., 1878). Lanier had hoped, and many of his friends and Miss Cushman’s had hoped, that this work would be assigned to him.
  2. Printed in Lippincott’s Magazine, January, 1877.
  3. Beethoven, printed in The Galaxy for March, 1877.
  4. Francis Wells, assistant editor of the Evening Bulletin.
  5. Secretary of the Treasury.
  6. Secretary of State.
  7. First printed, with many changes, in Scribner’s Magazine, May, 1878.
  8. Hard Times in Elfland.
  9. Horace Howard Furness, America’s foremost Shakespearean scholar.
  10. Bayard Taylor, having been appointed minister to Germany, died shortly after reaching Berlin.
  11. The Science of English Verse, published in 1880.