Sidney Lanier HTML version

Ancestry and Boyhood
Sidney Lanier was born in Macon, Ga., February 3, 1842. His parents, Robert Sampson
Lanier and Mary J. Anderson, were at that time living in a small cottage on High street,
the father a struggling young lawyer, and the mother a woman of much thrift and piety.
There were on both sides traditions of gentility which went back to the older States of
Virginia and North Carolina, and in the case of the Laniers to southern France and
England. Lanier became very much interested in the study of his genealogy. He was
convinced by evidence gathered from the many widely scattered branches of the family
that a single family of Laniers originally lived in France, and that the fact of the name
alone might with perfect security be taken as a proof of kinship. On account of their
nomadic habits, due to their continual movement from place to place during two hundred
years, he found it difficult to make out a complete family history. He was not, nor have
his relatives and later investigators been, able to find material for the study of the Laniers
in their original home. At one time he expressed a wish that President Hayes would
appoint him consul to southern France. Certainly he was at home there in imagination
and spirit from the time when as a boy he felt the fascination of Froissart's "Chronicles".
One of the keenest pleasures he had in later life was to discover in the Peabody Library at
Baltimore a full record of the Lanier family in England. In investigating the state of art in
Elizabeth's time he came across in Walpole's "Anecdotes of Painting" references to
Jerome and Nicholas Lanier, whose careers he followed with his accustomed zeal and
industry through the first-hand sources which the library afforded. There is no more
characteristic letter of Lanier's than that written in 1879 to Mr. J. F. D. Lanier, giving the
result of this investigation. He there tells the story of ten Laniers who enjoyed the
personal favor of four consecutive English monarchs. Jerome Lanier, he believed, had on
account of religious persecution fled from France to England during the last quarter of the
sixteenth century and "availed himself of his accomplishments in music to secure a place
in Queen Elizabeth's household." His son Nicholas Lanier -- "musician, painter,
engraver" -- was patronized successively by James I, Charles I, and Charles II, wrote
music for the masks of Ben Jonson and Campion and for the lyrics of Herrick, and was
the first marshal of a society of musicians organized by Charles I in 1626. He also wrote
a cantata called "Hero and Leander". He was the friend of Van Dyck, who painted a
portrait of Lanier which attracted the attention of Charles I and eventually led to that
painter's accession to the court. He was sent by King Charles to Italy to make purchases
for the royal gallery. He and other members of his family lived at Greenwich and were
known as amateur artists as well as musicians. After the Restoration five Laniers --
Nicholas, Jerome, Clement, Andrewe, and John -- were charter members of an
organization of musicians established by the king "to exert their authority for the
improvement of the science and the interest of its professors." It was a great pleasure to
Sidney Lanier to find in the diary of Pepys many passages telling of his associations with
these music-loving Laniers. "Here the best company for musique I ever was in my life,"
says the quaint old annalist, "and I wish I could live and die in it. . . . I spent the night in
an exstasy almost; and having invited them to my house a day or two hence, we broke