The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (190721).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.
IV. The New South: Lanier.
§ 31. Letters.
|Of his other prose writings the letters are the most important. They reveal the man with unusual fullnessthe pulsating sea of emotion in which he lived, his exuberance, his passionate love of music, his wavering literary ambition, his buoyancy and humour and occasional despondency, together with his intellectual interests and preferences. Few letters written in America are more interesting. Yet on first dipping into them one is repelled by the same qualities which frequently give one pause in his other writings. The style seems highly artificial, fanciful in its imagery, strained and rhetorical in its phrasing, bookish and precious in its diction. Even in his last years he was rarely simple and direct, for he had from boyhood so steeped himself in the older writers of our tongue, Shakespeare in particular, that a plain and natural way of putting things would have seemed to him insipid, inane, and inartistic. The literary glamour which he casts over his writings, which draws attention from the thought itself to some supposed felicity of expression, never entirely left him. Yet some of his later books, particularly where he is pouring forth his convictions on music, literature, and life, possess all the fluency of the Old South, without ceasing to be strong, luminous, and eloquent.