« AnteriorContinuar »
would-be master of speech becomes å mere jug. gler with words. In the letter to Thurlow Weed concerning the Second Inaugural Ad. dress, Lincoln described that memorable uttera truth
I thought needed to be told.” No description could be more noble.
That Lincoln's gift of humor added much to the vividness and homely naturalness of his style will not be questioned. But the connec. tion between fair-mindedness and humor is not always remembered. The man of true humor -not, of course, the mere joker or wit-sees all sides of a proposition. He recognizes instinctively its defects of proportion, its incongruities. It is the great humorists who have drawn the truest pictures of human life, because their humor was a constant corrective against onesidedness. Lincoln's mind had the impartiality, the freedom from prejudice, the flexibility of sympathy, which belongs to the humorist alone.
It has sometimes been argued that his fond. ness for story-telling showed a deficient command of language ; that knowing his inability to express his ideas directly, he conveyed them indirectly by an anecdote. It would probably be nearer the truth to say that the stories were a proof of his understanding of the limitations of language. He divined the boundaries of ex. pression through formal speech, and knew when a picture, a parable, would best serve his turn.
As great responsibilities came to rest upon him, as the harassing problems of our national life pressed closer and closer, the lonely President grew more clear-eyed and certain of his
The politician was lost in the statesman. His whole life, indeed, was a process of enfranchisement from selfish and narrow views. He stood at last on a serener height than other men of his epoch, breathing an ampler air, perceiving more truly the eternal realities. And his style changed as the man changed. What he saw and felt at his solitary final post he has in part made known, through a slowly perfected instrument of expression. So transparent is the language of the Gettysburg Address that one may read through it, as through a window, Lincoln's wise and gentle and unselfish heart. Other praise is needless.
The selections included in this volume are designed to illustrate the steady development of Lincoln's literary power. They begin with a few specimens of his earlier style, which was direct, forceful, and manly, but not markedly better than that of many of his contemporaries.
With the Springfield speech of June 16, 1858, Lincoln entered upon a new phase of his career. Its careful enunciation of a great political principle made it the turning-point of a memorable campaign. The significance of its opening paragraph, in particular, has been discussed in the prefatory note to the speech itself, and need not be repeated here. The space-limit of the
volumes in this series forbids the presentation of any of the entire speeches of the joint debates with Douglas, and so closely inter-related, so full of allusion and cross reference are all of those speeches that detached paragraphs would give little conception of the qualities displayed by either of the debaters. The Cooper Union speech of February 25, 1860, however, goes over much of the ground of the Douglas debates.
The remaining speeches in the volume belong to Lincoln's career as President. They range from the most informal addresses to the Inaugural. The Emancipation Proclamation is also included. The letters exhibit still another side of Lincoln's strange and fascinating individuality. In compression and clear-cut force, in their humor and homely pathos, in their shrewd knowledge of character, these letters are among the most extraordinary ever written. While they afford new glimpses into Lincoln's nature, it is true of them, as it is of his other writings, that they express without explaining the secret of his personality. One closes a volume of Lincoln's addresses and letters with something of the feeling that Walt Whitman has uttered with regard to Lincoln's portraits: "None of the artists or pictures has caught the deep though subtle and indirect expression of this man's face. There is something else there."