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Frances E. Willard heard these lectures, and her words descriptive of them indicate that even in those days of intense suffering Lanier impressed her favorably. "It was refreshing," she says, "to listen to a professor of literature who was something more than a `raconteur' and something different from a bibliophile, who had, indeed, risen to the level of generalization and employed the method of a philosopher. . . . [His] face [was] very pale and delicate, with finely chiseled features, dark, clustering hair, parted in the middle, and beard after the manner of the Italian school of art. . . . He sits not very reposefully in his professorial armchair, and reads from dainty slips of MS. in a clear, penetrating voice full of subtlest comprehension, but painfully and often interrupted by a cough. . . . As we met for a moment, when the lecture was over, he spoke kindly of my work, evincing that sympathy of the scholar with the work of progressive philanthropy. `We are all striving for one end,' said Lanier, with genial, hopeful smile, `and that is to develop and ennoble the humanity of which we form a part.'"*
Just after finishing his lectures, which were reduced from twenty to twelve out of consideration for his health, Lanier went to New York to consult his publishers about future work. The impression made by him on one of his old students is seen in this passage: "One day I had a startling letter from Mrs. Lanier, saying that he was coming to New York on business, though he was in no condition for such an effort, and begging me, as one whom he loved, to meet him and to watch over him as best I could. I found him at the St. Denis, and we had dinner together. I now know how completely he deceived me as to his condition. With the intensity and exaltation often characteristic of the consumptive, he led me to think that he was only slightly ailing, was gay and versatile as ever, insisted on going somewhere for the evening `to hear some music,' and absolutely demanded to exercise through the evening the rights of host in a way that baffled my inexperience completely. Only just as I left him did he let fall a single remark that I later saw showed how severe and unfortunate, probably, was the strain of it all."
Brave as he was, however, and eager to keep at his work, he finally submitted to the inevitable, and in May started with his brother to the mountains of western North Carolina. His final interview with Dr. Gilman is thus related by the latter: --
"The last time that I saw Lanier was in the spring of 1881, when after a winter of severe illness he came to make arrangements for his lectures in the next winter and to say good-bye for the summer. His emaciated form could scarcely walk across the yard from the carriage to the door. `I am going to Asheville, N.C.,' he said, `and I am going to write an account of that region as a railroad guide. It seems as if the good Lord always took care of me. Just as the doctors had said that I must go to that mountain region, the publishers gave me a commission to prepare a book.' `Good-bye,' he added, and I supported his tottering steps to the carriage door, never to see his face again."*
The last months of Lanier's career seem to bring together all the threads of his life. He was in the mountains which had first stimulated his love of nature and were the background of his early romance. He was lovingly attended by father, brother, and wife, and took constant delight in the little boy who had come to cheer his last days of weariness and sickness. He named the tent Camp Robin, after his youngest son, and from that camp sent his last message to the boys of America. They are the words of the preface to "The Boy's Mabinogion", or "Knightly Legends of Wales": "In now leaving this beautiful book with my young countrymen, I find myself so sure of its charm as to feel no hesitation in taking authority to unite the earnest expression of their gratitude with that of my own to Lady Charlotte Guest, whose talents and scholarship have made these delights possible; and I can wish my young readers few pleasures of finer quality than that surprised sense of a whole new world of possession which came with my first reading of these Mabinogion, and made me remember Keats's
watcher of the skies
A letter to President Gilman indicates his continued interest in scientific investigation: --
Asheville, N.C., June 5, 1881.
Dear Mr. Gilman, -- Can you help me -- or tell me how I can help myself -- in the following matter? A few weeks from now I wish to study the so-called no-frost belt on the side of Tryon Mountain; and in order to test the popular account I propose to carry on two simultaneous series of meteorological observations during a fortnight or longer, -- the one conducted by myself in the middle of the belt, the other by a friend stationed well outside its limits. For this purpose I need two small self-registering thermometers, two aneroid thermometers, and two hygrometers of any make. It has occurred to me that since these observations will be conducted during the University recess I might -- always provided, of course, that there is any authority or precedent for such action -- procure this apparatus from the University collection, especially as no instrument is included which could not easily be replaced. Of course I would cheerfully deposit a sum sufficient to cover the value of the whole outfit.
Should this arrangement be possible, I merely ask that you turn this letter over to Dr. Hastings, with the request that he will have this apparatus packed at my expense and shipped by express to me at this point immediately.
Yours very sincerely, Sidney Lanier.
The impulse to poetry was with him, too. He jotted down or dictated to his wife outlines and suggestions of poems which he hoped to write. Of these one has been printed: --
I was the earliest bird awake,
One agrees with "Father" Tabb that no utterance of the poet ever betrayed more of his nature, -- "feeble and dying, but still a `bird', awake to every emotion of love, of beauty, of faith, of star-like hope, keeping the dawn in his heart to sing, when the mountain-tops hindered it from his eyes."
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Sidney Lanier -by- Edwin Mims