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The life at Oglethorpe was a period of intellectual advance for Lanier. The major influence was exerted by James Woodrow of the department of science, who took the boy on long rambles, or on long drives, when the two of them would talk about everything either of them was interested in. Woodrow thought so much of Lanier that he secured for him an appointment as tutor. Better still, he gave the future poet a zest for science that remained with him to the end, and a vision of the intellectual life which shaped his aspirations and his future conduct. Giving up music as a possible career, Lanier resolved to spend two years in Heidelberg and to return to a professorship in some American college.

Then came the cataclysm of Civil War, and with it for Lanier a period of storm and stress that tossed him this way and that for a dozen years. At the outbreak he was enthusiastic at the prospect of a South more wealthy than history had yet seen. Macon, he thought, was to become a great art centre whose streets were to be lined with marble statues like unto Athens of old. At the close of the college year he, like nearly all the other teachers and the students of Oglethorpe, enlisted for service. The war itself was not an unmixed evil to Lanier. Although he saw some exciting service as a signalman along the James River, he was for three years allowed ample time for study and for cherishing that passion for the very highest which grew with his years. He now began to contemplate a literary life as his vocation. To his father he wrote in 1864, ‘Gradually I find that my whole soul is merging itself into this business of writing, and especially of writing poetry.’ He began his novel, Tiger Lilies, and sent several poems to his father for criticism. In 1864, however, he was transferred to Wilmington, North Carolina, where he served as signal officer on the blockade runners. In November he was captured in the Gulf Stream and sent to Point Lookout Prison in Maryland. There he continued to play the flute, which won him the friendship of Tabb. He busied himself with German poetry, but the prison conditions were so loathsome as to induce a breakdown in health. He came out emaciated to a skeleton, and when he finally reached Macon in March he fell ill and lingered near death for two months. Thereafter his life was an unavailing search for health.

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