On Lincoln, the Civil War
Sunday, December 13, 1891
Brinton dined with Conway and Dixon (the lawyer) last evening. Dixon asked Conway, "Has the time yet come for a truthful history of the American Revolution?" Conway reflected a minute and said, "No, it has not. Even if anyone existed competent to write such a history, he would not dare do it. Perhaps a century from today it might be done--but now? Impossible!" Brinton told this to W., who remarked, "Could a truthful history of anything, of any individual, be told? A truthful history of an individual means to bring out folly, mistake, error, crime, devilishness, poison. Who can do that? Who could even write a history of our own rebellion--a truthful history, even if he dared? I was in Washington for three years behind the scenes, practically--having access to men, events. In all the crowds of actors how many could have been picked out for even a reasonable degree of sacrifice? Except Lincoln, Grant, Stanton, I hardly know one whose every act was not a calculation--done with reference to private interests, advancement. These three alone standing free. And any one of these, I am sure, willing at any time to lay down his life for a great victory. I don't know but I might add Burnside to this cluster--Burnside--yes, him--for though Burnside was a pretty dull fellow for the occasion, he was heroic, modest, patriotic. But apart from these, I saw plot, scheme, scandal--God knows what not. Poor Lincoln! Poor Lincoln! Poor Lincoln! What a seething world about him--trouble, misunderstanding, slander, finally murder! Poor Lincoln! Yet he to stem all--to keep at the helm--to control the ship!" And so again with eloquence about the war.
Thursday, July 9, 1891
[Commenting on various writers about Lincoln]
"... But none of those fellows had any real understanding of Lincoln--realized his many-sidedness--understood at any time how after and before and above and through all, Lincoln was bent upon saving the ship--upon bringing it into port--upon passing the storm unwrecked--slavery or no slavery--all for that--all, Horace, all. Oh! The wonder of it! The calm of the man--the heart of him there steady always in its place! No word--no charge--no nothing to take him apart from his path--patient, persistent, pure! ... Lincoln had little or no personal feeling--took every man at his own measure--accepted--freed--kept the tugging factions each in place, to do its partial work. That was Lincoln--full of feeling, none more so--yet not swayed by feeling. Full of sympathy--using it all--yet the clearest-eyed man of them all!..." And again, "To know Lincoln as we knew him--to see him as he was--to meet the far-seeingness--to follow him in the course of his reason--that explains McClure--that justifies what is there said. Lincoln was pilot of a ship--the storm raged, the stars were lost--horror, horror, horror! It was not a moment for abstract right and wrong--for ideal pros and cons--but to get the ship safe at home--to ride triumphantly into port."
Saturday, July 25, 1891
I had jumped out of carriage to put a package in Post Office for him--addressed to Sarrazin--two three-cent stamps. Anne asked, "Is it Lincoln?" And his, "Yes, Abraham Lincoln--Abraham Lincoln" came in a tone which she afterwards called "music itself" and which she remarked, "always characterizes his mention of the name."
Friday, March 4, 1892
[Excerpt from a letter to Whitman by Isaac Newton Baker]
When I was in Springfield, Illinois, in 1867, on my way, in the horse cars, to Lincoln's Tomb, I talked with the conductor. He said to me:
"In 1859, before Lincoln was nominated for the Presidency, one winter's morning I was walking down town. The side-walks were covered with ice, so that walking was dangerous. I slipped, & came very near falling. A voice of command called to me from behind: 'Young man, hold up!' I recovered my footing, and Mr. Lincoln passed me, saying as he paused a moment: 'Young man, always hold up!' Emphasizing the always. I have never forgotten it; and when Lincoln became President, and in fact, ever since, when in trouble, and doubt, I have recalled those words, and they have helped stiffen my back-bone, and make a man of me."