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Sidney Lanier papers

Identifier: MS-0007

Scope and Contents

The collection spans the years 1838 to 1998, with the bulk dating from 1838 to 1972. The material consists of correspondence, prose, poetry, lecture and music manuscripts, photographs, memorial information, and newspaper clippings.

The correspondence gives a rounded picture of Lanier's life and work. Many of his outgoing letters as well as incoming are included in this collection. Most of Lanier's adult life was marked by a continuous struggle against poor health and financial straits. He was forced to undertake many journeys for the sake of his health, and his efforts to support himself and his family were a constant strain. The correspondence between Lanier and his wife and family present a vivid portrait of his personality.

Lanier's letters begin during his days as a Confederate soldier and prisoner-of-war, but most letters are from 1870 through 1881. During the period 1873 to 1877 when Lanier spent the fall and winter in Baltimore, his letters detail his musical and literary activities in that city. People mentioned include Leonce Rabillon, Innes Randolph, William Hand Browne, Edward Spencer, John Banister Tabb, Richard Malcolm Johnston, Severn Teackle Wallis, Henry Wysham, and Otto Sutro. Lanier's incoming letters from friends and fellow musicians and authors complement Lanier's letters to his family. Musicians with whom Lanier was in contact included Mme. Auerbach, Dudley Buck, Asger Hamerik, Theodore Thomas, and Carl Wehner.

Through the efforts of Lanier's family after his death, the collection contains nearly all Lanier's extant prose, poetry, and music manuscripts. There are drafts, finished manuscripts, proofs, and printed copies. These are found in Series 4, 5 and 10.

A considerable portion of the collection deals with Lanier's family's efforts to have him and his work recognized. Series 7 Memorials contains letters, clippings, a video, and printed material from numerous celebrations held in Lanier's honor. Mary Day Lanier's correspondence outside of her letters from Sidney largely deal with her efforts to have Lanier's work published.


  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1838-1972
  • Creation: 1838-1998


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is housed off-site and requires 48-hours' notice for retrieval. Contact Special Collections for more information. Collection is open for use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.

Biographical Note

Sidney Lanier was born in Macon, Georgia on February 3, 1842, the son of Robert Sampson Lanier and Mary Jane Anderson Lanier. He attended the Bibb County Male Academy and in 1857 entered the sophomore class of Oglethorp University in Milledgeville, Georgia. He graduated from Oglethorp in 1860 and was a tutor there from 1860-1861.

On July 10, 1861 Lanier enrolled as a private in the Macon Volunteers C.S.A. In the autumn of 1862 he transferred to the Signal corps and in 1863 while stationed at Fort Boykin, he began writing his first novel Tiger-Lilies which was published in 1867. Detailed to a blockade runner, Sidney Lanier was captured on November 6, 1864 and imprisoned at Point Lookout, Maryland. In the rigorous conditions of this camp he contracted tuberculosis. He was exchanged in February 1865 and returned to Macon. From 1865 to 1868 Lanier was a tutor, hotel clerk, and finally principal of an academy in Prattville, Alabama. He studied law under his father and practiced law as his health permitted from 1869 until 1873. For his health Lanier spent the winter of 1872- 73 in San Antonio, Texas.

In 1873 Lanier began his association with Baltimore. He came to Baltimore to play first flute in Asger Hamerik's Peabody Orchestra. For four seasons Lanier took a room in Baltimore, played in the orchestra and at the end of the season returned to his family in Georgia. During this period Lanier became acquainted with the Wednesday Club where he met Baltimore's leading literary and musical figures such as Leonce Rabillon, Innes Randolph, William Hand Browne, Edward Spencer, John Banister Tabb, Richard Malcolm Johnston, Severn Teackle Wallis, Henry Wysham, and Otto Sutro.

The years Lanier divided between Baltimore and Georgia were productive ones. He began to write poetry again publishing "Corn" and "The Symphony" in 1875, and "Cantata," "The Psalm of the West," "Clover," "The Waving of the Corn," and Poems all of which appeared in 1876. He also composed music, and he was commissioned to write the travel book Florida which was published in 1875.

Lanier moved his family to Baltimore in 1877. To supplement his income he taught at several private schools. In November 1878 Lanier gave a course on Shakespeare at the Peabody Institute. He then lectured at the newly organized Johns Hopkins University on "English Verse, Especially Shakespeare's" (1879), "Chaucer and Shakespeare" (1880), and "The English Novel" (1881). During this period Lanier published many poems including "The Revenge of Hamish" and "The Marshes of Glynn" in 1878 and "Sunrise" and "A Ballad of Trees and the Master" in 1880. He also completed The Science of English Verse (1880), and edited The Boy's King Arthur (1880), The Boy's Froissart (1879), "The Boy's Mabinogion," and "The Boy's Percy."

Lanier had been in ill-health for several years when he began a serious decline in 1881. He sought relief in the hills of North Carolina where died September 7. He was buried in Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore. Lanier was survived by his wife Mary Day whom he had married in 1867 and their four sons Charles Day (b. 1868), Sidney (b. 1870), Henry Wysham (b. 1873), and Robert Sampson (b. 1880).

A chronology of Lanier's life is in Appendix 1


31.63 Cubic Feet (7 record center cartons, 25 letter size document boxes, 3 letter half-size document boxes, 16 legal size document boxes, 3 legal half-size document boxes, 2 flat boxes (20.5 x 14.5 x 1.5 inches), 1 flat box (11 x 9 x 3 inches), 2 flat boxes (15.5 x 10.5 x 3 inches), 4 flat boxes (21 x 17 x 3 inches), 6 pamphlet boxes (7.25 x 4 x 10 inches))

Language of Materials



Sidney Clopton Lanier (1842-1881) was an American musician, poet and author. The collection spans the years 1838 to 1998, with the bulk dating from 1838 to 1972. The material consists of correspondence, prose, poetry, lecture and music manuscripts, photographs, memorial information, and newspaper clippings.

Provenance of Correspondence

In July 1986 physical preservation was conducted by removing the correspondence from acidic blue folders to acid-free ones. The letters were foldered individually, and the information concerning the provenance of each letter was on the folder. This provenance information has been retained, please contact Special Collections for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

It appears that some Lanier material was owned by the Johns Hopkins University in the 1890s. Whether this was left by Lanier at his death or donated by the family is unclear. The bulk of the papers in this collection, however, were donated to the Johns Hopkins University in 1940 by Charles D. Lanier. These were materials by and about Sidney Lanier which the family had collected. More material about Lanier and tributes to him were added to this initial collection by numerous donors notably Lanier biographers Edward Mims and Aubrey H. Starke. This material includes photocopies of Lanier material owned by other libraries. In 1991 the contents of Sidney Lanier's desk and trunk which had been in storage were added to the collection.

The following donors have contributed to the collection: Nannie E. Dorsey; J.D. Hankins; Johns Hopkins University Collection; Charles D. Lanier; Henry Lanier; E. Mims; A.H. Starke; ? Tilley.

Existence and Location of Copies

Most of Lanier's correspondence and writings have been published. Lanier, Sidney. "The centennial edition of the works of Sidney Lanier." [Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins press, 1945]. 10 volumes.

Related Materials

Lanier material is also found in the following collections: Adams MS.0004, Bowman MS.0058, Gilman MS.0001, Mackall MS.0035, Remsen MS.0039, and Turnbull MS.0103.

See also related materials in the French, Goodnow, Goodwillie, Havens, Lovejoy, Miller, and Speare collections located in Special Collections.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Cynthia H. Requardt in 1989. Additional processing was done by Annie Tang in November 2016.


Guide to the Sidney Lanier papers
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

The Sheridan Libraries
Special Collections
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA