by ALLAN NEVINS
[Reprinted from The Emergence of Lincoln, Volume II, by
Allan Nevins; copyright 1950 by Charles Scribner's Sons; used
by permission of the publishers. This is a section from a chapter
entitled "Plotters North and South."]
Although almost a century has elapsed since his execution, the personality of John Brownis evocative of the strongest emotions. Memorialized in song and story, John Browndid not become the subject of a full-length, scholarly biography until the appearance of James C. Malin's notable John Brown and the Legend of Fifty-Six.1
The historian, especially the biographical historian, cannot help speculate about the subconscious life of an individual he is writing about, since this factor is an undeniable force in history. To successfully convey to the reader an impression of subconscious motivation, without going overboard and guessing about what is to him unknowable, is part of the historian's art.
Inevitably, the figure of John Brownenters into Allan Nevins's narrative history of the Civil War period--a series of volumes which promises to be a historiographic landmark for this generation. In the following selection, Nevinssynthesizes effective literary presentation and psychological insight to create a striking characterization.
Allan Nevinsis Senior Associate of the Huntington Library.