February 3, 1842 - September 7, 1881
Sidney Lanier was born and grew up in Macon, Ga. As a child, he learned to play five instruments and enjoyed Romantic poetry and stories of medieval chivalry. Lanier attended Oglethorpe College and graduated in 1860. When the Civil War broke out, Lanier enlisted in the Macon Volunteers, serving in Virginia and North Carolina. In late 1864, he became a prisoner of war but was paroled home the following spring, having contracted tuberculosis at some point. He accepted a teaching position near Macon that fall but had to quit due to poor health. After recuperating in Point Clear, Ala., Lanier joined his brother Clifford in Montgomery, Ala., where they worked as clerks in their grandfather’s hotel. His novel, Tiger-Lilies, was published in 1867. That fall, Lanier became principal of an academy in Prattville, Ala. His health worsened, but he managed to finish the school year. Lanier began reading law and clerking in his father’s office. He passed the bar and practiced briefly, but his illness interfered with a law career, and his support and that of his family was largely borne by relatives.
In the fall of 1873, Lanier accepted a position as a flute player with the Peabody Symphony Orchestra in Baltimore, Md. When the season ended, he returned to Georgia and spent the summer writing. He received a commission to write a guidebook on Florida, which paid well but required a great deal of travel. Lanier played with the Peabody orchestra for several seasons, but ill health prevented him from doing so in 1876. He returned to Baltimore the following fall, however, accompanied by his family. In addition to playing with the orchestra, he taught school and gave paid lectures. Lippincott published his Poems in 1877. Shortly thereafter, Lanier contracted with Scribner’s to edit a children's version of Froissart’s medieval chronicles. The Boy’s Froissart, published in 1879, was very successful, and Lanier edited three additional volumes of similar tales. In the fall, Johns Hopkins University made him a Lecturer in English Literature. He continued his orchestra work, his other lectures, and his writing. His condition worsened despite a reduced lecture schedule the following year. Lanier spent the summer of 1881 in the mountains hoping to restore his health. He died in September near Lynn, N.C., and was buried in Baltimore. Collections of his poems and essays were published posthumously by family members.
Sidney Lanier believed that music and poetry are strongly related and are ruled by similar laws. He also believed that literature should express and evoke emotion and should teach moral lessons. He expounded on these beliefs in his essays, and they influenced his poems and his novel.
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Photo from Letters of Sidney Lanier, 1902.
Last updated on Oct 10, 2009.