January 16, 2018
Lincoln and SandburgOn this day in 1809 Abraham Lincoln was born, and on this day in 1926 Carl Sandburg's two-volume biography, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years was published. Sandburg researched, wrote and talked about Lincoln his entire life, and he clearly felt that he had not only an affinity but a mission. They shared Midwestern roots and frontier poverty, an up-by-my-bootstraps attitude, a love of the common man and a zeal for social reform. His Lincoln would be a story of the best of the American Dream: the railsplitter and country lawyer risen to the "elemental and mystical," the embodiment of men "who breathe with the earth and take into their lungs and blood some of the hard and dark strength of its mystery," who spoke with "stubby, homely words that reached out and made plain, quiet people feel that perhaps behind them was a heart that could understand them." If researching and writing Lincoln took a lifetime, best that it was the lifetime of "some cornhusker" like Sandburg; and as for the struggle, ". . . don't he know all us strugglers and wasn't he a kind of a tough struggler all his life right up to the finish?"
Many praised the cornhusker and the book, but some criticized the poet. Despite the exhaustive research and the mountain of anecdote, there were no footnotes; worse, said the scholars, there was too much flight of fancy. When we return with Sandburg to the legendary cabin and Lincoln's very earliest days we not only see the packed-dirt floor and hear the leather-hinged door but almost get in the hen-feather bed:
In the East Room of the White House lay the body of a man, embalmed and prepared for a journey.
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