« PreviousContinue »
THE MAN OF THE PEOPLE
DANIEL WEBSTER," ETC.
All rights reserved
By THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.
Set up and electrotyped October, 1899. Reprinted January,
To an American in sympathy with his country, loving her as she is, not wishing her essentially different, there can be few historical figures as attractive as Abraham Lincoln. Unequalled, since Washington, in service to the nation, he is unrivalled among our statesmen in the closeness with which he represents our land.
“He was the North, the South, the East, the West,
The biography of such a man can afford honesty. Some have omitted what was not pretty. Others have apologized for it. Many would like to improve the rugged and homely face with a touch of rouge or magnesia. Surely this is trivial. Let us not try to make our great man like other great men.
Let us allow him to reach as high as the saints in one direction, and as high as Rabelais in another. Let him be the prairie male as well as the sage and martyr, the deft politician as well as the generous statesman. Paint him as he is. He will still be great, nobler
than ever, because more real. Better the truth and strength and beauty that are, than any fiction less human and less profound. Following the real Lincoln from the hovel to the White House, from the village girls and the tavern stories to Gettysburg and the second inaugural, we live grandly, up and down, to the right and to the left, breathing the air of the plains, the mountains, the closet, the hospital, of poetic superstition and of the sanest wisdom, and we see that life is good, that our nation is good, and that it is well to know the truth.
Lincoln himself refused to read a life of Burke because he believed that biographies were indiscriminate eulogies. Praise and blame have small place, and suppression, none, in the story of a large soul. It is not when justice is done that the heavens fall.
Thirty-four years have passed since Lincoln's death. A generation, unborn when he was shot, is now thinking and writing. It starts without the passions of the strife. We no longer see the problems as black and white. One of us has said recently that the negro was freed in the South that he might be lynched in Ohio. We now see the threads of right and wrong
distinct yet tangled, as Lincoln saw them, even when he stood in the centre of the storm. Those who weathered the gale have left their memories of
the pilot. The material is in. The opportunity is here for any who can use it.
The present biography is not a history of the Civil War. It is not an argument about emancipation or reconstruction.
It is solely the personal history of Abraham Lincoln as it appears to one of his countrymen. To that particular reader an anecdote or a picturesque phrase often seems more important than a bill or a message to Congress. He has tried to select those incidents which are doubly true, because they are at once actual and significant, and this truth is as likely to inhere in the amusing as in the solemn.
To give credit for the sources of an impression, which is often breathed from the air of daily thought and conversation, is not easy, but a few words are due to the principal books on the subject. Nothing compares in value with Lincoln's own words, and the two volumes of his
papers and correspondence are worth all that has been written about him. The official biography by Nicolay and Hay contains much valuable material not to be found elsewhere. Herndon has told the President's early life with refreshing honesty, and with more information than any one else. Lamon has shown vividly the side of Lincoln which naturally came out when he was in the company of his exuberant marshal. Whitney's “ Life on the Circuit with Lincoln” is full