Sidney Lanier HTML version

Student and Teacher of English Literature
When Lanier returned from Florida he tried to get various positions which might enable
him to secure a livelihood. A lectureship at Johns Hopkins University, -- about which
President Gilman had talked with him in 1876 -- a librarian's position in the Peabody
Library, and a place in some of the departments of the government in Washington, -- all
these were sought for in vain. One of the saddest commentaries on the condition of
political life in the seventies is that Lanier was not able to secure even a clerkship in any
department. The days of civil service reform and the time when a commissioner of civil
service would urge the application for government positions by Southern men had not yet
come. "Inasmuch," Lanier says in a letter to Mr. Gibson Peacock, June 13, 1877, "as I
had never been a party man of any sort, I did not see with what grace I could ask any
appointment; and furthermore I could not see it to be delicate, on general principles, for
me to make PERSONAL application for any particular office. . . . My name has been
mentioned to Mr. Sherman (and to Mr. Evarts, I believe) by quite cordially disposed
persons. But I do not think any formal application has been entered, -- though I do not
know. I HOPE not; for then the reporters will get hold of it, and I scarcely know what I
should do if I could see my name figuring alongside of Jack Brown's and Foster
Blodgett's and the others of my native State."* It was the same year in which Bayard
Taylor was nominated as minister to Germany and Lowell as minister to Spain, but
Lanier could not obtain a consulate to France or even the humblest position, "seventy-
five dollars a month and the like," in any department in Washington.
* `Letters', p. 43.
Under these circumstances he wrote what are perhaps the most pathetic words in all his
letters. "Altogether," he says, "it seems as if there wasn't any place for me in this world,
and if it were not for May I should certainly quit it, in mortification at being so useless."*
He did not remain in this mood long, however. He settled in Baltimore with his family in
November, 1877, in four rooms arranged somewhat as a French flat, and a little later in a
cottage, about which he writes enthusiastically to his friends. There is no better
illustration of his playfulness and his ability to get the most out of everything than his
letter to Gibson Peacock: --