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BIOGRAPHICAL writings in general may be divided into two distinct classes. The first, which may be called the objective class, is made up of those works which regard the individual as only a factor in the world's progress. They narrate more or less faithfully the important events in his life, and trace their connection with, and influence upon, the life and thought of the age. Thus the life of the individual becomes a chapter in universal history. Such works may have great historic value but if they go no further they lack the essential element of true biography.
The works of the second, or subjective class, deal no less carefully with facts and environments not as finalities, but as manifestations of character. Through the deed they seek to know the doer and to trace his moral and intellectual growth. The writer studies the life of the individual as closely as the botanist studies the development of a strange plant, and for the same purpose. The scientist cares little for the leaves and flowers, simply as leaves and flowers, but rather as exponents of the life and habits of the plant. So the true biographer would read a man's character in his deeds, calling attention to its weaknesses that other men may be warned, and exalting its virtues that they may excite the emulation of mankind. .
The career of Lincoln is so closely interwoven with the great events that make up the nation's history in the most critical period of its existence, that the temptation is strong to dwell more upon his deeds and
environments, than upon himself. Therefore, many of his biographies fall within the first class, notably the larger and more pretentious works, which are but little more than histories in which the great President figures as the principal hero.
On the other hand, his personality was so unique and attractive that it forces itself into prominence even in histories of the period. Probably no character in history offers a more tempting field for research, and yet few are more difficult to comprehend. Previous to his election to the Presidency, no one believed him to be possessed of the elements of greatness, and during his whole life he had few if any friends who fully appreciated his character. Many of his acts were misunderstood and his most intimate friends sometimes distrusted him. It is not strange, then, that his biographies are too often one-sided and inaccurate. Indeed, it is doubtful if it is possible even yet, to make a complete and just analysis of his many-sided character. It is much easier to relate what he said and did, than to correctly describe the man himself as he
It is probable that generations may pass before his true biography can be written. Certain it is that sufficient time must pass to dim the memory of the great events of the Civil War, and to obscure the bright light in which they stand to-day. Events lessen in importance as they recede into the past, but great characters shine the brighter as the ages roll on.
Meantime, the character of Lincoln must be regarded as one of the most precious possessions of the American people, precious not only as a cherished memory, but also as a living power, influencing life
and character to-day no less strongly than when he was yet alive.
The multiplication of his biographies, then, cannot be deplored since each one must present his life from a different, and, to some extent, novel point of view; and each new book must add to the great circle of readers and help to extend an influence which is as beneficent as it is powerful.
The historic field has been so thoroughly searched that few new facts can be procured. The material has been practically exhausted and the most enterprising biographer can only hope to present familiar facts in a new form and with different lights and shadows.
The author has no excuse for adding this simple work to the long list of biographies already in existence beyond that of a deep reverence and love for the great man, “who, though dead, yet speaketh.” And if a single reader shall obtain a truer appreciation of his character, and a deeper love for the country whose altar was stained with the blood of so noble a sacrifice, the effort will not have been made in vain.
Chicago, January 30, 1891.