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

§ 36. Idealism

His idealism is also revealed in his eager intellectual interests. Here too he triumphed over his untoward surroundings, as the brief sketch of his life has indicated. Pathetic witness to this inherent bent is found in a letter to Bayard Taylor:

  • I could never describe to you what a mere drought and famine my life has been, as regards that multitude of matters which I fancy one absorbs when one is in an atmosphere of art, or when one is in conversational relationship with men of letters, with travellers, with persons who have either seen, or written, or done large things. Perhaps you know that, with us of the younger generation in the South since the war, pretty much the whole of life has been merely not dying.
  • Such complaints did not remain topics of conversation or correspondence. He sought in poetry no refuge from the hard conditions of life. Rather is he one of the leaders of the New South because he grasped at the intellectual and social problems of the time. He dealt with the necessity of planting corn for cotton, with the nascent oppression of labour by capital, with the mission of music and art. His reading of Emerson in the winter of 1876–7 revived an earlier penchant for metaphysics and led to such poems as A Florida Sunday and Individuality. If these abstruse problems are not handled with power, they at least do honour to the author’s lofty purpose and sincerity of execution.