American Poetry in the Age of Whitman and Dickinson

Posts Tagged ‘mental photograph

A Mental Photograph of Sidney Lanier

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Frontispiece to Letters of Sidney Lanier (1902)

Sidney Lanier, 1857

I found the centennial edition of Lanier’s works for a ridiculously low price and so I bought it. I’ve only dipped into the set a little, but one of the best bits I’ve found is Appendix D to the last volume of letters, “The Mental Photograph of Sidney Lanier.” A footnote explains:

In Baltimore, during the winter of 1874, Lanier acceded to the request of a Miss Anne Perot and made a “mental photograph” of himself by writing answers to certain printed questions in her album.

The footnote adds that the idea “impressed him sufficiently to bring out a reference to the fad in his Peabody lectures on Shakespeare.” Basically, the mental photograph is a Facebook meme avant la lettre!

In 1874 Lanier was 32 years old and just at the start of his very brief literary career (he died from TB at age 39). He had only recently quit the practice of law in his home state of Georgia to become the first flute in the Peabody Orchestra of Baltimore. So far as appearance goes: he already had the full beard and mustache he wears in most photographs (see question 31), but I prefer the image to the right, as it shows the delicacy of the young man who went to war, before imprisonment broke his health (see question 22).

There are forty questions and answers. Full text below. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ben Friedlander

August 31, 2009 at 12:58 pm