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Two passages may be cited to show the author's tendency to use personifications and his insight into the "burthen of the mystery of all this unintelligible world": --
"A terrible melee of winged opposites is forever filling the world with a battle din which only observant souls hear: Love contending with Impurity; Passion springing mines under the calm entrenchment of Reason; scowling Ignorance thrusting in the dark at holy-eyed Reverence; Romance deathfully encountering Sentimentality on the one side and Commonplace on the other; young Sensibility clanging swords with gigantic maudlin Conventionalities. . . . I have seen no man who did not suffer from the shock of these wars, unless he got help from that One Man whom it is not unmanly to acknowledge our superior."*
"Nature has no politics. She'll grow a rose as well for York as Lancaster, and mayhap beat both down next minute with a storm!
"She has no heart; else she never had rained on Lear's head.
"She has no eyes; for, seeing, she could never have drowned that dainty girl, Ophelia.
"She has no ears; or she would hear the wild Sabian hymns to Night and prayers to Day that men are uttering evermore.
"O blind, deaf, no-hearted Beauty, we cannot woo thee, for thou silently contemnest us; we cannot force thee, for thou art stronger than we; we cannot compromise with thee, for thou art treacherous as thy seas; what shall we do, we, unhappy, that love thee, coquette Nature?"*
When "Tiger Lilies" appeared it was very favorably received. Lanier writes to his brother of the "continual heavy showers of compliment and congratulation" that he has received in Macon; that the Macon paper had an editorial on his novel, and that a book firm in the town had already disposed of a large number of copies. Writing to Northrup, March 8, 1868, he says: "My book has been as well received as a young author could have expected on his first plunge, and I have seen few criticisms upon it which are not on the whole favorable. My publishers have just made me an offer to bring out a second edition on very fair terms; from which I infer that the sale of the article is progressing."* At twenty-five, then, he was recognized as one of the promising writers of the South; a biographical article referring to his recent success, the "Tiger Lilies", was written by J. Wood Davidson for his "Living Writers of the South", which appeared in 1869, and his name was sought by ambitious editors of mushroom magazines that sprang up in abundance after the war.
Lanier was not destined, however, to begin his literary career as yet, nor was the South to have such an easy way out of her disaster as he had hoped. He had made only one reference to politics in his romance, and that was his manly utterance in behalf of Jefferson Davis, who was then confined in prison under rather disagreeable circumstances at Fortress Monroe. He said, "If there was guilt in any, there was guilt in nigh all of us, between Maryland and Mexico; Mr. Davis, if he be termed the ringleader of the Rebellion, was so, not by virtue of any instigating act of his, but purely by the unanimous will and appointment of the Southern people; and the hearts of the Southern people bleed to see how their own act has resulted in the chaining of Mr. Davis, who was as innocent as they, and in the pardon of those who were guilty as he."
The Davis incident was an indication that forces other than those which one might have hoped to see were in the air. By the fall of 1867 the reaction against the magnanimous policy of Lincoln had come in the North. Reconstruction governments were being inaugurated throughout the South. This was due in part to the lack of wisdom displayed by Southern legislatures under the Johnson governments, -- a "disposition on the part of the Southern States to claim rights instead of submitting to conditions," and harsh laws of Southern legislatures concerning the freedmen. It must be confessed that the extreme men of the South were in some localities as rash, unreasonable, and impracticable as the radicals of the North. The magnanimous spirit of Lincoln and the heroic, chivalric spirit of Lee could not prevail in the two sections; hence followed a direful period in American history. As E. L. Godkin said, "That the chapter which tells the story of reconstruction should have followed in American history the chapter which tells the story of the war and emancipation, is something over which many a generation will blush."
Again it must be said, as was said of the effect of the war on the South, that reconstruction was something more than excessive taxation, grinding and unjust as that was, something more than the fear of black domination, as unthinkable as that is. There was the uncertainty of the situation, the sense of despair that rankled in the hearts of men, with the knowledge that nothing the South could do could have any influence in deciding its fate. It was the closing of institutions of learning, or running them under such circumstances that the better element of the South could have nothing to do with them. Lanier, writing about a position in the University of Alabama which he very much desired, said: "The trustees, who are appointees of the State, are so hampered by the expected change of State government that nothing can be certainly predicated as to their action."
Lanier felt the effect of reconstruction at every point, -- he was baptized with the baptism of the Southern people. The weight of that sad time bore heavily upon him. As he had during the war touched the experience of his people at every point, so now he went down with them into the Valley of Humiliation.
Under these circumstances his friend Northrup wrote him, inviting him to go to Germany with him. He replied: "Indeed, indeed, y'r trip-to-Europe invitation finds me all THIRSTY to go with you; but, alas, how little do you know of our wretched poverties and distresses here, -- that you ask me such a thing. . . . It spoils our dreams of Germany, ruthlessly. I've been presiding over eighty-six scholars, in a large Academy at Prattville, Ala., having two assistants under me; 't is terrible work, and the labor difficulties, with the recent poor price of cotton, conspire to make the pay very slim. I think y'r people can have no idea of the slow terrors with which this winter has invested our life in the South. Some time I'm going to give you a few simple details, which you must publish in your paper."
Prattville, where he spent the winter of 1867-68, was a small manufacturing town, with all the crudeness of a new industrial order and without any of the refinement to which Lanier had been accustomed in Macon and elsewhere. Perhaps there was never a time when drudgery so weighed upon him, although his usual playfulness is seen in the remark: "There is but one man in my school who could lick me in a fair fight, and he thinks me at once a Samson and a Solomon." He worked for people who thought that he was defrauding them if he did not work from "sun up to sun down", as one of his patrons expressed it. It was here, too, that he suffered from his first hemorrhages. His poetry written at this time was an expression of the despair which prevailed throughout the South. He whom the Civil War had not inspired to speech, and who had kept silent under the suffering of the days after the war, now gave expression to his disgust and his indignation. It is not great poetry, for Lanier was not adapted to that kind of poetry, and consequently neither he nor his wife ever collected all the poems. "Laughter in the Senate", published in the "Round Table", is typical of a group, several of which he left in an old ledger: --
Comes now the Peace, so long delayed?
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Sidney Lanier -by- Edwin Mims