Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sidney Lanier (1842-1881)

Poet, Author, Musician, Composer, Critic, Teacher, Lawyer
Born February 3, 1842, Macon, Georgia
Died September 7, 1881, Lynn, North Carolina

Sidney Lanier is another in a long line of artists and writers who died tragically young. He was born on February 3, 1842, in Macon, Georgia, and graduated first in his class from Oglethorpe University in 1860. During the Civil War, Lanier served in the Confederate signal corps and as a blockade runner, but he was captured and imprisoned at Point Lookout, Maryland. There he contracted tuberculosis, a disease that would plague him the rest of his life and hasten him to death. Lanier played organ and flute, taught school, practiced law, and in 1867 published a novel, Tiger-Lilies. His most well known poems followed that novel into print over the next decade. Late in life, he taught at Johns Hopkins University, specializing in the Anglo-Saxon age, Chaucer, and Shakespeare. Lanier died on September 7, 1881, before reaching his fortieth birthday.

The Viking Portable Library (1968) calls Sidney Lanier "an important minor figure" and writes that after the war, he "emerged as the leading voice of Southern high seriousness in literature." Johns Hopkins University and Duke University have memorialized him with statues and stones. His home state even named a county for him. There are also two lakes and many schools named in his honor. If I'm not mistaken, the Lanier family of Madison, Indiana, were related to the Georgia poet. I wonder if Thomas Lanier Williams, otherwise known as Tennessee Williams, was related as well. If so, that would make two men with the Lanier family name as tellers of weird tales.

Weird Tales reprinted two of Lanier's poems, "Song of the Hound" and "Barnacles." Here's a third on a theme that would have fit in--if only loosely--with the Weird Tales format:

The Stirrup-Cup
by Sidney Lanier

Death, thou’rt a cordial old and rare:
Look how compounded, with what care!
Time got his wrinkles reaping thee
Sweet herbs from all antiquity.

David to thy distillage went,
Keats, and Gotama excellent,
Omar Khayyám, and Chaucer bright,
And Shakespeare for a king-delight.

Then, Time, let not a drop be spilt:
Hand me the cup whene’er thou wilt;
’Tis thy rich stirrup-cup to me;
I’ll drink it down right smilingly.

Sidney Lanier's Poems in Weird Tales
"Song of the Hound" (Oct. 1925)
"Barnacles" (Sept. 1926)

Further Reading
Sidney Lanier is a well known figure: you won't have any trouble finding out more about him on the Internet. You can always start with Wikipedia or The New Georgia Encyclopedia. I'll quote directly from Wikipedia on some of Lanier's works relating to fantasy, folklore, and adventure:
  • The Boy's Froissart (1878), a retelling of Jean Froissart's Froissart's Chronicles, which tell of adventure, battle and custom in medieval England, France and Spain
  • The Boy's King Arthur (1880), based on Sir Thomas Malory's compilation of the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
  • The Boy's Mabinogion (1881), based on the early Welsh legends of King Arthur, as retold in the Red Book of Hergest.
  • The Boy's Percy (published posthumously in 1882), consisting of old ballads of war, adventure and love based on Bishop Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry.
We should remember that another contributor to Weird Tales, Evangeline Walton (1907-1996), devoted a good deal of her life in a retelling of the Mabinogion legends. Finally, Lanier figures pretty prominently in Piers Anthony's science fiction novel Macroscope (1969).
    Sidney Lanier collected a number of legends and stories from the Middle Ages in four books from the 1870s and 1880s. The second was The Boy's King Arthur, illustrated by N.C. Wyeth in a later edition. Here's a reprinting of the book with a cover by another artist.
    Now, the real thing.
    Here is one of Wyeth's interior illustration, a truly striking image (though marred by a moiré effect). It's clear that Frank Frazetta was influenced by Wyeth (as well as by Wyeth's mentor, Howard Pyle).
    Here's another interior illustration, presumably from an older edition of The Boy's Mabinogion, by Alfred Fredericks.
    Finally, another Fredericks illustration from the same source. The signature in the lower right may be of the engraver.
    Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

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