Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

" of Such Is the Kingdom of Heaven" the Mystery of "Little Eddie"

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

" of Such Is the Kingdom of Heaven" the Mystery of "Little Eddie"

Article excerpt

Note: part of the discussion in this article considers the spelling of Eddie's name: E-d-d-i-e versus E-d-d-y. For purposes of continuity and clarity, I have chosen to spell all my references to him in the spelling of the title of the poem itself: E-d-d-i-e, but in letters and other quotations I have left the name as the original author spelled it.

The story of the death of four-year-old Edward Baker Lincoln, affectionately called "Little Eddie" by his parents, is a tragedy familiar to most people with a passing knowledge of Abraham Lincoln. It is a heart-breaking story of a perpetually sickly child whose immature immune system could not withstand the onslaught of tuberculosis. It is the first tragedy in a continuous line of tragedies and premature deaths in the family of Abraham Lincoln. Yet Eddie's death was greater than simple death; it marked the beginning of two distinct periods: for Mary and Abraham Lincoln, it began a period of religious and worldly reflection, and the humbling of certain vanities; for modern Lincoln scholars and enthusiasts, it was the beginning of a mystery.

It was the beginning of a mystery that has received nominal attention in the Lincoln scholarly world. It is a literary mystery, a mystery of composition and poetry, perhaps a mystery considered only by enthusiasts who combine Lincoln and linguistics. It began five days after the burial of Edward Lincoln, in the form of an unsigned poem published in the Illinois Daily Journal:

(by Request)

Little Eddie

Those midnight stars are sadly dimmed,

That late so brilliantly shown,

And the crimson tinge from cheek and lip,

With the heart's warm life has flown

The angel of Death was hovering nigh,

And the lovely boy was called to die.

The silken waves of his glossy hair

Lie still over his marble brow,

And the pallid lip and pearly cheek

The presence of Death avow.

Pure little bud in kindness given,

In mercy taken to bloom in heaven.

Happier far is the angel child

With the harp and the crown of gold,

Who warbles now at the savior's feet

The glories to us untold.

Eddie, sweet blossom of heavenly love,

Dwells in the spirit-world above.

Angel boy, fare thee well, farewell

Sweet Eddie, we bid thee adieu!

Affection's wail cannot reach thee now,

Deep though it be, and true.

Bright is the home to him now given,

For, "of such is the kingdom of Heaven."'

Who wrote that poem? While this may seem a small, some may say insignificant, mystery concerning a tiny portion of the life of our sixteenth president, it is still an interesting conundrum that any student of Lincoln's literary legacy must wonder about. For the question must be asked: if Lincoln wrote this poem, how would it fit into the context of his other poems; likewise, how would it fit into the context of the full body of his literary achievements? If Lincoln did not write this poem, was it his wife who did? Before one seeks to deliver a definitive answer to this subject, one must first ask which of the two seems the more plausible author.

Could Lincoln have written the poem? He definitely could have. Yet, "Little Eddie" does not appear in any editions of Lincoln's collected works, not even as an unsubstantiated possibility in a footnote. Could Mary Lincoln have written the poem? She never refers to it in any of her existing letters. Could someone else, a close family friend, have written the poem? Nobody ever claimed credit for its composition, either publicly or privately as far as is known.

There is no mention of the poem in the several hundred reminiscences of Lincoln gathered by William Herndon, or in the biographies based on that material.

Of the few Lincoln scholars who have considered this question, none has offered more than slight possibilities or innuendoes. …

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