The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

IV. The New South: Lanier

§ 22. Music

But music regained its ascendancy over him. Letters to his wife written in 1869, 1870, and 1871, on visits to New York, reveal the intensity of his pleasure in a violin solo, or the singing of Nilsson, or Theodore Thomas’s orchestra, where he plunged into an amber sea of music and came away from what he felt might have been heaven.

The turning point of his life came in San Antonio, Texas, whither he went in the winter of 1872–3 for his health. He filled in part of his time there with literary projects, but the inspiration of his stay was found in a group of German musicians, who received “amid a storm of applause” his flute-playing before the Maennerchor. In February, 1873, he played before “a very elegant-looking company of ladies and gentlemen.” He reported:

  • I had not played three seconds before a profound silence reigned among the people.… When I allowed the last note to die, a simultaneous cry of pleasure broke forth from men and women that almost amounted to a shout, and I stood and received the congratulations that thereupon came in, so wrought up by my own playing with (hidden) thoughts, that I could but smile mechanically, and make stereotyped returns to the pleasant sayings, what time my heart worked falteringly, like a mouth that is about to cry.
  • Two weeks later he wrote:
  • I have writ the most beautiful piece “Field-larks and Black-birds,” wherein I have mirrored Mr. Field-lark’s pretty eloquence so that I doubt he would know the difference betwixt the flute and his own voice.
  • In the summer he confessed to Hayne:
  • Are you, by the way, a musician? Strange, that I have never before asked this question,—when so much of my own life consists of music. I don’t know that I’ve ever told you, that whatever turn I have for art is purely musical; poetry being, with me, a mere tangent into which I shoot sometimes. I could play passably on several instruments before I could write legibly; and since then, the very deepest of my life has been filled with music, which I have studied and cultivated far more than poetry.