DON NOBLE: Book Analyzes Allusions in Gettysburg Address

Article excerpt

Over the past few years, there has been, upon this continent, a rebirth in public interest in Abraham Lincoln.

Doris Kearns Goodwin in 2006 had a huge success with "Team of Rivals," her study of the political diversity of Lincoln's Cabinet and his style of gathering advice, and now the movie "Lincoln," which focuses on the difficulties of passing the amendment guaranteeing emancipation, is filling the theaters and is nominated for numerous awards. Clearly, Lincoln is much thought about and written about.

But as Al Elmore, a professor at Athens State University, reminds us in his study of the Gettysburg Address, with Lincoln it has always been so: "More books have been written about him than any other person in history except Jesus Christ and William Shakespeare."

In fact there have been a number of books studying Lincoln's reading, his rhetorical style, his writings of all kinds, including studies of the Gettysburg Address, and Elmore acknowledges and cites them.

But Elmore's concerns are even more specific.

He traces and explains, sentence by sentence (and there are only 10 sentences), indeed, phrase by phrase, the sources of the Gettysburg Address, delivered on Nov. 19, 1863, which he calls "the most famous speech ever written by anyone" and "a national treasure." Lincoln's sources include a lecture by Theodore Parker (for the origin of the phrase "of the people, by the people and for the people," which Lincoln sharpened) the plays of William Shakespeare, Euclidean geometry (for the word "proposition"), the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, as well as political writings and speeches by American statesmen going back to the Revolution.

Elmore asserts that Lincoln's reading, since he had little formal schooling, was narrow but very deep and that he had an extraordinary memory. What he read, he knew. But Elmore's focus is on the references and allusions to the Bible and The Book of Common Prayer. These two documents provide the bulk of Lincoln's allusions, and it is not by chance.

Elmore argues that the primary or controlling metaphor of the Gettysburg Address was also taken from the New Testament and, to a lesser degree, the Declaration of Independence--that is, the metaphor of birth, death and rebirth. Lincoln uses the phrase "conceived in liberty" to connect the nation's struggles to the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, who will not only enjoy eternal life Himself, but whose sacrifice makes it possible for His believers. …