Page images

of his writings will be found worthy of attention.

In spite of the vast output of Lincoln literature during the past quarter of a century, the subject is far from being exhausted. Some of the most important material is not yet at the disposal of the student. To mention only two items, the Lincoln papers, rich in letters to Lincoln, many of them quite as important to the biographer as those written by him, have not yet been released, nor will they be available for a number of years, and the Hay Diary, a source of the utmost importance, is still in manuscript form, to be consulted only by special permission of the Harvard Library authorities. It is fair to assume that there are many other diaries and not a few memoirs of Lincoln's contemporaries, which, for various reasons, have not yet been published. The newspapers, too, have not yet been examined with the care that they deserve. A beginning in this latter direction has been made in the present study, many of the conclusions of which have been reached by the use of this material. The attempt to measure the reception of the Gettysburg Address by its original hearers and readers is based in the main upon the examination of newspaper files and magazines from 1863. As a result of this exami- * nation the fact seems to be clearly established that, while the majority of persons failed to recognize the supreme merits of the address, there were a few discriminating critics, like George William Curtis and J. G. Holland, who realized that Lincoln had sounded the keynote of the occasion more effectively than the orator of the day. The various incorrect reports of the address recorded are not without significance. Much of this newspaper material bearing upon the Gettysburg Address is presented here for the first time. Without wishing X to appear dogmatic I believe that we are warranted in absolutely denying the opinion, so often expressed by writers on Lincoln, that the Gettysburg Address was hastily written, in part either on the train or after reaching Gettysburg. This is one of the many Lincoln legends that seem to appeal to public taste. It


is believed, too, that the source of the apocryphal story of Everett's expressing his admiration of the address to Lincoln immediately after its delivery is correctly indicated in the chapter on the Gettysburg Address.

The chapter on Lincoln's Messages and Proclamations is believed to be the first systematic study of this interesting and significant class. No attempt has been made to prove or disprove the claim sometimes made that many of these documents were actually written by William H. Seward, since no external evidence has ever been produced on either side. The fact that Mr. Seward was an Episcopalian and that nowhere else in Lincoln's writings is the influence of the book of Common Prayer found is not sufficient to connect Seward with them. It is, however, quite possible, as in the case of the last paragraph of the First Inaugural, that some of the phrasing was suggested by the Secretary of State.

The two hitherto uncollected speeches printed in this volume were found in the Springfield Journal, an important Lincoln source that has

evidently not been examined with the care that it deserves. The first of these, the outline of a speech in the Legislature, is especially interesting because of the small number of speeches from this period that has been preserved.

We appear now over half a century after the death of Lincoln, to be entering upon a new period of study, in which criticism and appraisal will take the place of eulogy and reminiscence. We are perhaps only just beginning to approach the time for a just inventory of our great national treasure that bears the name of Abraham Lincoln. These studies are an attempt to help realize this highly desirable object. Whatever their faults, they have at least the merit of careful first-hand investigation. No statement, however apparently authoritative, has been accepted without verification, and in one case, the treatment of the Lost Speech, I have not hesitated to form a respectable minority of one.

Let no one fear that the reputation of our first American will suffer from a fresh and more searching study of his character and

achievement. The main facts of his life are already established beyond dispute. North and South, East and West, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is justly revered and he is hardly less admired in Europe, where he is recognized by intelligent students of our history as the foremost prophet of democracy.


[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »