Sidney Lanier HTML version
Seeking a Vocation
Lanier reached Macon March 15, after a long and painful journey through the Carolinas.
Immediately upon his arrival, losing the stimulus which had kept him going so long, he
fell dangerously ill, and remained so for nearly two months. Early in May, just as he was
convalescing, General Wilson captured Macon, and Jefferson Davis and Clement C. Clay
were brought to the Lanier House, whence they were to start on their way as prisoners to
Fortress Monroe. Clifford Lanier reached home May 19. He had, after the blockade was
closed at Wilmington, gone to Cuba. From there he sailed to Galveston and walked
thence to Macon. He arrived just in time to see his mother, who a few days after died of
consumption. She had kept herself alive for months by "a strong conviction, which she
expressed again and again, that God would bring both her boys to her before she died."
Sidney spent the summer months with his father and his sister, ministering to them in
their sorrow. In September he began to tutor on a large plantation nine miles from
Macon. With thirty classes a day and failing health, he whose brain was "fairly teeming
with beautiful things" was shut up to the horrible monotony of the "tear and tret" of the
schoolroom. He spent the winter at Point Clear on Mobile Bay, where he was greatly
invigorated by the sea breezes and the air of the pine forests.
After these months of sorrow and struggle he settled in Montgomery, Ala., as clerk in the
Exchange Hotel, the property of his grandfather and his uncles. His first feeling as he
faces the new conditions which he is trying to explain to Northrup, his Northern friend, is
one of bewilderment, -- the immense distance between the beginning and the end of the
"So wild and high are the big war-waves dashing between '61 and '66, as between two
shores, that, looking across their `rude, imperious surge', I can scarcely discern any sight
or sound of those old peaceful days that you and I passed on the `sacred soil' of M----.
The sweet, half-pastoral tones that SHOULD come from out that golden time, float to me
mixed with battle cries and groans. It was our glorious spring: but, my God, the flowers
of it send up sulphurous odors, and their petals are dabbled with blood.
"These things being so, I thank you, more than I can well express, for your kind letter. It
comes to me, like a welcome sail, from that old world to this new one, through the war-
storms. It takes away the sulphur and the blood-flecks, and drowns out the harsh noises of
battle. The two margins of the great gulf which has divided you from me seem
approaching each other: I stretch out my hand across the narrowing fissure, to grasp
yours on the other side. And I wish, with all my heart, that you and I could spend this
ineffable May afternoon under that old oak at Whittaker's and `talk it all over'."*