13 FEBRUARY 1909, Page 9


ABRAHAM LINCOLN, the hundredth anniversary of whose birth was celebrated on Friday, is already estab- lished as one of the greatest of Anglo-Saxon heroes. It 'might be said that he is the typical Anglo-Saxon hero,

because his qualities of simplicity, calmness, justness, humour, and courage were just those which most appeal to the English- speaking races. If there were an American calendar of saints, Lincoln would probably appear first on the list, and the fact that he was martyred would be only one of the reasons for his position. In Britain the name of 'Lincoln mentioned at a public meeting would raise a cheer more surely than the name of any other American. The reason for this is not merely that Lincoln was a very great American, otherwise the name of Washington would be cheered as readily'out of courtesy, for the fact of Washington having beaten us does not in the least stand in the way, or act in any sense as a non-conductor of sympathy ; it is rather that Lincoln was a man whose character is perfectly understood, and therefore perfectly appreciated. He stood for two grand ideas which have the complete sympathy of 'Englishmen—the preservation of the Union and the abolition of slavery—and he pursued his objects with a singleness of mind and clarity of vision which leave no one in doubt as to the nobility of his character, He was a man of righteous- ness, and he believed and proved that in the end right is might. English-speaking people seldom resent the plain speaking of true frankness, and Lincoln never lost an admirer by the unequivocal words in which he repudiated men and ideas that he could not approve. His notable tolerance, which was one of his chief attributes, never induced him to compromise whore compromise would have been dishonourable, What English-speaking people do not like—simply, perhaps, because a non-Gallic slowness of perception prevents them from understanding it promptly— is a, critical subtlety in public life which implies much more than it superficially asserts. They are less alarmed by bluntness to the point of rudeness than by innuendo. The one braces them, the other only mystifies. For all these reasons Lincoln's character was the ideal of the public life 'of the nineteenth century. Ho could hit hard, ho could put forward national aspirations in wonderfully eloquent words which made men's hearts burn within them, and he bad a natural and spontaneous humour; and with it 'all he bore no grudges. Nothing is more remarkable than the absence of all bitterness in Lincoln's bearing towards the South. Beauregard's first shot at Fort Sumter forced the hostilities upon the North which lasted four years and 'plunged the whole land in mourning. Yet Lincoln gave the arguthents of the Southerners their full value and more, and he never allowed any one in his presence to follow the Northern fashion of calling them rebels.

It is not of Lincoln in his political aspect, however, so much as of Lincoln the man and the master of English that we would write to-day. In Putnam's Magazine for this month ' we find some recollections of Lincoln by Colonel James Grant Wilson. Describing Lincoln, Colonel Wilson says that his face was rugged and swarthy, with coarse, rebellious dark hair; his arms and legs wore extraordinarily long ; and Colonel Wilson thought his greyish-brown eyes were the saddest ho had ever seen. The sadness of Lincoln was of, course the reverse side of his buoyancy,—the reaction. This is not a thing to be surprised at; the margin between the

tears and the humour of men whose humour is a natural fount is generally narrow. Lincoln's changes from the sombre to the gay were often sudden. Colonel Wilson gives an example :-

"About the end of March I accompanied to the theatre the President, Mrs. Lincoln, and the young lady who was with him when the assassin's bullet closed his career a fortnight later. He sat in tho rear of the box leaning his head against the partition, paying no attention to the play and looking so worn and weary that it would not have been surprising had his soul and body separated that very night. When the curtain fell after the first act, turning to him, I said, Mr. President, you are not apparently interested in the play." Oh, no, Colonel,' he replied ;. I have not come for the play, but for the rest. I am being hounded to death by office-seekers, who pursue me early and late, and it is simply to get two or three hours' relief that I am here.' After a slight pause he added : 'I wonder if we shall be tormented in heaven with them, as well as with bores and fools ?' He then closed his eyes, and I turned to the ladies. A few moments later I felt Mr. Lincoln's heavy hand on my shoulder. Turning, to my great surprise I saw Min sitting upright, his eyes gleaming with fun. Colonel,' he said, 'did I ever tell you the story of Grant at the circus ? ' No, Mr. President, but I shall be delighted to hear it."Well, when Grant was about ten years old, a circus came to Point Pleasant, Ohio, where the family lived, and the boy asked his father for a quarter to go to the circus. As the old tanner would not give him the necessary coin, he crawled in under the canvas tent, as I used to do; for in those days,' said the President, ' I never possessed a quarter of a dollar. There was a clever mule in that circus that had been trained to throw his rider, and when be appeared in the ring it was announced that any one in the audience that would ride him once around the ring without being thrown would win a silver dollar. There wore many candidates for the coin, but all were thrown over the animal's head. Finally the ring-master ordered the mule taken out, when Master Ulysses presented himself saying, "Hold on, I will try that beast." The boy mounted the mule, holding on longer than any of the others, but at length, when about seven-eighths of the ring had been achieved amid the cheers of the audience, the boy was thrown. Springing to his feet and throwing off his cap and coat, Ulysses shouted in a determined tone, "I would like to try that mule again," and again the audience cheered him. This time he resorted to strategy. He faced to the rear, seized hold of the beast's tail instead of his head, which rather demoralized the mule, and so the boy went around the ring, winning the silver dollar. And,' added the President, 'just so General Grant will bold on to Bob Lee.' " Ten days later, adds Colonel Wilson, General Lee surrendered his army.

Colonel Wilson gives several instances of the suave humour which was Lincoln's strongest diplomatic weapon. With it ho could turn aside both wrath and office-seekers. Colonel Wilson describes a visit to the White House :—

"On arriving at the White House, I found a Congressman in earnest oonversation with the President. Looking at me as if I were an intruder, the politician stopped and Mr. Lincoln said: 'It is all right—we are going out together ; so turn on your oratory.' So the member resumed, talking vigorously for five minutes or more, in behalf of his constituent, an applicant for some office. The President, looking critically on the right side of his face and then on the left,, remarked, in an interested manner : ' Why, John, how close you do shave' Although the Congress. man was disappointed, of course, be could not avoid laughing. After his departure I said, 'Mr. President, is that the way you manage the politicians ? ' and he answered: Well, Colonel, you must not suppose you have all the strategy in the army.'"

Best of all we like the anecdote in which Colonel Wilson describes how he wished to add a lock of Lincoln's hair to looks he already had of Washington and Hamilton. On Lincoln's last birthday be brought out his request. "Help yourself, Colonel," was Lincoln's answer.

It seems a miracle that the same man who went through life in its familiar relations uttering his thoughts in terms racy of the soil—phrases and figures which were an epitome of his hard experience as wood-splitter, farm-labourer, and boatman before lie became a lawyer—should also have been able on national occasions to deliver orations of majestic beauty, with well-ordered rhythmical phrases and perfect proportion, arrangement, and relevance such as the nine- teenth century can scarcely match, if it can match them at all. Lincoln's mastery of language is indeed a proof that prose-writing is a gift. A man who has culture may decorate his gift to any extent, adding superficial grace to grace, but unless he has the heart of the matter in him by instinct—an instinct comparable to the gift for music—he can hardly hope that any amount of culture will make him a true writer of prose or a true orator. John Bright is an example of the man with the instinct which most professors of the art of speaking and writing lack. Yet we cannot compare Bright with Lincoln, because Bright's ability to coin illuminating phrases did not extend into every nook and cranny of his management of prose. Lincoln's did. We have not room to quote, as we should like, those most famous and moving speeches (written carefully before they were delivered): the oration at the consecration of the burial- ground of Gettysburg, and the Second Inaugural. Lincoln believed the latter to be the best of all his efforts. Mr. Gladstone described it once to Colonel Wilson as "unques- tionably a most striking and sublime utterance, not surpassed by any delivered during the nineteenth century." We will quote only the letter addressed by Lincoln to General Hooker on his appointment to the command of the Army of the Potomac :— • •

"I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course I have done this upon what appear to me to be sufficient reasons, and yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied with you. I believe you to be a bravo and skilful soldier, which, of course, I like. 1 also believe you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not an indispensable, quality. You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm ; but I think that during General Burnside's command of the army, you have taken counsel of your ambition, and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country and to a most meritorious and honourable brother-officer. I have heard, in such a way as to believe it, of Your recently saying that both the army and the Government needed a dictator. Of course, it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship. The Govern- ment will support you to the utmost of its ability, which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for all com- manders. I much fear that the spirit, which you have aided to infuse into the army, of criticising their commander and with- holding confidence from him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can to put it down. Neither you nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army while such a spirit prevails in it. And now beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy and sleepless vigilance go forward and give us victories."

This was not too severe a caution against a continuance of the intrigue which had provoked strong words. But that is net the point which concerns us; what we invite attention

to is the consummate skill with which Lincoln employs Lie materials. As a piece of idiomatic prose the letter is inimitable. Feeling, humour, irony,--everything appears exactly where it ought to appear. Truly was it said of Lincoln by an officer : " He writes to me like a Father." Every weliwisher of America will hope this week that she luny produce yet other sons like Lincoln, with his enthusiasm and moderation combined, his tenderness and plainness, his gravity and sunniness, his logic and strong common-sense, all Of which expressed themselves in lie eagle-eyed penetration in seeing the simplicity of every issue when it is stripped of its casuistry. For it is always the world-old question between light and wrong.