James Russell Lowell was a great American Essayist and Poet of the 19th Century, and a contemporary of Abraham Lincoln. The following are excerpts, one line only for each extraordinarily long paragraph of Lowell’s long essay: “Abraham Lincoln 1864-1865.”
1. Men might gather rich crops from it, but that ideal harvest of priceless
associations would be reaped no longer; that fine virtue which sent up
messages of courage and security from every sod of it would have evaporated
2. We felt an only too natural distrust of immense public meetings and
3. The only faith that wears well and holds its color
in all weathers is that which is woven of conviction and set with the sharp
mordant of experience.
4. A nation can be liable to no more insidious treachery than that of the
telegraph, sending hourly its electric thrill of panic along the remotest
nerves of the community, till the excited imagination makes every real danger
loom heightened with its unreal double.
5. Here was indeed a dreary outlook for persons who knew democracy, not by rubbing shoulders with it lifelong, but merely from books, and America only by the report of some fellow-Briton, who, having eaten a bad dinner or lost a carpet-bag here, had written to the “Times” demanding redress, and drawing a mournful inference of democratic instability.
6. And it is for qualities such as these that we firmly believe History will rank Mr. Lincoln among the most prudent of statesmen and
the most successful of rulers.
7. Mr. Lincoln’s task was one of peculiar and exceptional difficulty.
8. It is always demoralizing to extend the domain of sentiment over
questions where it has no legitimate jurisdiction; and perhaps the severest
strain upon Mr. Lincoln was in resisting a tendency of his own supporters
which chimed with his own private desires, while wholly opposed to his
convictions of what would be wise policy.
9. Never did a President enter upon office with less means at his command,
outside his own strength of heart and steadiness of understanding, for
inspiring confidence in the people, and so winning it for himself, than Mr.
10. Mr. Lincoln, as it seems to us in reviewing his career, though we have sometimes in our impatience thought otherwise, has always waited, as a wise man should, till the right moment brought up all his reserves.
11. In our opinion, there is no more unsafe politician than a
conscientiously rigid doctrinaire, nothing more sure to end in disaster than a
theoretic scheme of policy that admits of no pliability for contingencies.
12. That Mr. Lincoln is not handsome nor elegant, we learn from
certain English tourists who would consider similar revelations in regard to
Queen Victoria as thoroughly American in their want of bienseance.
13. People of more sensitive organizations may be shocked, but we are glad
that in this our true war of independence, which is to free us forever from
the Old World, we have had at the head of our affairs a man whom America made,
as God made Adam, out of the very earth, unancestried, unprivileged, unknown,
to show us how much truth, how much magnanimity, and how much statecraft await
the call of opportunity in simple manhood when it believes in the justice of
God and the worth of man.