Sidney Lanier HTML version

Lecturer at Johns Hopkins University
The Peabody lectures led to the appointment of Lanier as lecturer in English literature at
Johns Hopkins University. As early as the fall of 1876, he had written to President
Gilman, asking for a catalogue of the institution. In answer to his first letter of inquiry,
President Gilman, who had followed with interest his Centennial poem, and had been
from the first an admirer of his poetry, requested an interview for the purpose of
discussing with him the possibility of identifying him with the University. Lanier had
then talked with him about the advisability of establishing a chair of music and poetry, a
plan which appealed to Dr. Gilman. In a letter to his brother he writes of this interview:
"He invited me to tea and gave up his whole evening to discussing ways and means for
connecting me officially with the University." He had been delayed in suggesting the
matter to him before by his "ignorance as to whether I had pursued any special course of
study in life." Dr. Gilman recommended to the trustees that Lanier be appointed to such a
chair, and the latter looked forward to a "speedy termination of his wandering and a
pleasant settlement for a long time." For some reason, however, the plan did not
materialize, and we find Lanier a year later writing a letter applying for a fellowship: --
Washington, D.C., Sept. 26, 1877.
Dear Mr. Gilman, -- From a published report of your very interesting address I learn that
there is now a vacant Fellowship. Would I be able to discharge the duties of such a
My course of study would be: first, constant research in the physics of musical tone;
second, several years' devotion to the acquirement of a thoroughly scientific GENERAL
view of Mineralogy, Botany, and Comparative Anatomy; third, French and German
Literature. I fear this may seem a nondescript and even flighty process; but it makes
straight towards the final result of all my present thought, and I am tempted, by your
great kindness, to believe that you would have confidence enough in me to await
whatever development should come of it.
Sincerely yours,
Sidney Lanier.
Such a plan of study did not fit in with the scheme of graduate courses, and so he was not
awarded it. President Gilman had, however, heard with much satisfaction Lanier's
lectures at Mrs. Bird's, and had cooperated with him in the series of lectures at the
Peabody Institute. Finally, the trustees, convinced of Lanier's scholarship, and conscious
of his growing influence in Baltimore, agreed to his appointment as lecturer in English
literature, and Dr. Gilman had the rare pleasure of announcing the fact on the poet's
thirty-seventh birthday -- February 3, 1879. Lanier responded in a letter, indicative at
once of the spirit in which he received the appointment and of his high personal regard
for the president of the University. No story of Lanier's life would be adequate that did
not pay tribute to the uniform kindness and thoughtful consideration of the poet's welfare