Sidney Lanier HTML version

The New South
While Lanier was finding his place in the larger spheres of scholarship, of music, and of
poetry, he constantly returned in thought and imagination to the South. Even after 1877,
when he and his family became residents of Baltimore, his correspondence with his father
and brother kept him in touch with that section. He continued to read Southern
newspapers and to follow with interest Southern development. In his desk he kept a
regular drawer for matters pertaining to the South. Both from his experience, which
enabled him to enter with unusual sympathy into the life of the South, and from the larger
point of view gained from his life in other sections, his observations on Southern life and
literature are of special value. They show that he was not such a detached figure as has
been frequently thought. He was of the South, and took delight in every evidence of her
progress. He sometimes despaired of her future -- so much so that he urged his brother to
come to Baltimore in 1879. He had little patience with the prevailing type of political
leader at the time when the Silver Bill was passed, so he wrote, June 8, 1879, to Clifford
Lanier: --
"I cannot contemplate with any patience your stay in the South. In my soberest moments
I can perceive no outlook for that land. Our representatives in Congress have acted with
such consummate unwisdom that one may say we have no future there. Mr. ---- and Mr. -
--- (as precious a pair of rascals as ever wrought upon the ignorance of a country) have
disgusted all thoughtful men of whatever party; while the shuffling of our better men on
the question of public honesty, their folly in allowing such people as Blaine and Conkling
to taunt them into cheap hurlings back of defiance (as the silly Southern newspapers term
it), their inconceivable mistake in permitting the stalwart Republicans to arrange all the
issues of the campaign and to bring on the battle, not only whenever they want it, but on
whatever ground they choose, instead of manfully holding before the people the real
issues of the time, -- the tariff, the prodigious abuses clustered about the capitol at
Washington, the restriction of granting powers in Congress, the non-interference theory
of government, -- all these things have completely obscured the admitted good intentions
of Morgan and Lamar and their fellows, and have entirely alienated the feelings of men
who at first were quite won over to them. The present extra session has been from the
beginning a piece of absurdity such as the world probably never saw before. Our men are
such mere politicians, that they have never yet discovered -- what the least thoughtful
statesmanship ought to have perceived at the close of our war -- that the belief in the
sacredness and greatness of the American Union among the millions of the North and of
the great Northwest is really the principle which conquered us. As soon as we invaded the
North and arrayed this sentiment in arms against us, our swift destruction followed. But
how soon they have forgotten Gettysburg! That the presence of United States troops at
the polls is an abuse no sober man will deny; but to attempt to remedy it at this time,
when the war is so lately over, when the North is naturally sensitive as to securing the
hard-won results of it, when, consequently, every squeak of a penny whistle is easily
interpreted into a rebel yell by the artful devices of Mr. Blaine and his crew, -- this was