Lanier, Sidney (1842–1881)

By: Ruth S. Angell

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: March 1, 1995

Sidney Lanier, poet, critic, and musician, was born in Macon, Georgia, on February 3, 1842. He was the son of Robert S. and Mary Jane (Anderson) Lanier. He graduated from Oglethorpe College in 1860 and at the outbreak of the Civil War joined the Macon Volunteers. He participated in several battles and later served as a scout and in the signal service. He was captured on November 2, 1864, and eventually imprisoned at Point Lookout, Maryland, where amid hardships he contracted tuberculosis. After his release in February 1865, he walked home, arriving in Macon on March 15, desperately ill. These experiences, reflected in his antiwar novel Tiger-Lilies (1867), made the remainder of his life a battle against time, poverty, and ill health.

On December 19, 1867, Lanier married Mary Day; the couple had four sons. He practiced law with his father to support his family, and his health grew worse. In 1872 he left his family in Macon and traveled to San Antonio, Texas, via New Orleans, Galveston, Houston, and Austin. He wrote more than 100 letters from Texas, but apparently no poetry. He wrote three short essays: "The Texas Trail in the '70's" (a portion of which was printed under the title "The Mesquit[e] in Texas"), "An Indian Raid in Texas," and "The Mexican Border Troubles." All were published, under the pseudonym Otfall, in the New York World in 1872 and 1873. Lanier's long article "San Antonio de Bexar," with descriptions of places, peoples, and northers, and with historical accounts based on Henderson King Yoakum's History of Texas (1856), appeared in the July‚ÄďAugust, 1873, edition of the Southern Magazine.

Lanier left Texas in March 1873. After a stint as first flutist in the Peabody Orchestra of Baltimore, he wrote a cantata for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia (1876). He published a volume of poems in 1877, and in 1879 he gave lectures (published as The Science of English Verse, 1880) at Johns Hopkins University. He died on September 7, 1881, in Lynn, North Carolina, and was buried in Greenmount Cemetery, Baltimore. The most important of his posthumously published works are Poems of Sidney Lanier (1884), The English Novel and the Principle of its Development (1883), Music and Poetry (1898), Retrospects and Prospects (1899), and Shakespeare and His Forerunners (two volumes, 1902). Lanier's interests were equally divided between music and literature. He is noted for his theory that the laws of music are identical to those of poetry, and that both are based on the physics of sound: duration, intensity, pitch, and tone color. His poem "The Marshes of Glynn," with its scene of the sea marshes near Brunswick, Georgia, reflects this theory. Lanier Middle School in Houston and Lanier High School in San Antonio and in Austin are named in his honor.

Charles R. Anderson, ed., The Centennial Edition of Sidney Lanier (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1945). Jane S. Gabin, A Living Minstrelsy: The Poetry and Music of Sidney Lanier (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1985). Lincoln Lorenz, The Life of Sidney Lanier (New York: Coward–McCann, 1935). John S. Mayfield, Sidney Lanier in Texas (Dallas: Boyd Press, 1932). Edwin Mims, Sidney Lanier (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1905). Aubrey S. Starke, Sidney Lanier: A Bibliography and Critical Study (New York: Russell & Russell, 1964). George Stockton Wills, Sidney Lanier: His Life and Writings (Washington, D.C.: Southern History Association, 1899).

  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Poets
  • Scholars, Editors, and Critics
  • Music
  • Genres (Classical)

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Ruth S. Angell, “Lanier, Sidney,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 05, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 1, 1995

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