With Walt Whitman in Camden, by Horace Traubel
Copyright 1996 by Fellowship of Friends. All Rights Reserved.

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."