April 16, 2012

Lanier: inclined to hate me, as in duty bound

Sidney Lanier was living in Alabama when, in 1867, he took a trip to New York City in the hopes of publishing his first book, a novel he called Tiger Lilies. A veteran of the Confederate army, Lanier was overwhelmed by the urban world of New York. On April 16, 1867, he wrote to his father:

The grand array of houses and ships and rivers and distant hills did not arrest my soul as did the long line of men and women, which at that height seemed to writhe and contort itself in its narrow bed of Broadway as in a premature grave... I have not seen here a single eye that knew itself to be in front of a heart — but one, and that was a blue one, and a child owned it.

As a Southerner, Lanier also felt quite out of place. His letter also described a dinner he had with relatives. "About the time that the champagne came on I happened to mention that I had been in prison during the war," he wrote. The young girl there, Katie, was horrified and asked if the "rebels" treated him poorly. When Lanier replied that he had been one of those rebels, she was even more horrified.

This phrase ["Rebel"] in Katie's nursery had taken the time-honored place of bugaboos, and hobgoblins, and men under the bed. She could not realize that I, a smooth-faced, slender, ordinary mortal, in all respects like a common man, should be a live reb. She was inclined to hate me, as in duty bound.

After a few months, Lanier's novel was published, a fictionalization of his experiences in the Civil War. It was considered a failure and he never wrote prose fiction again. Instead, he turned to poetry.

1 comment:

  1. I love his poetry. Didn't realize he'd written a novel!