Lincoln in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends and Associates

By Dirck, Brian | Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Lincoln in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends and Associates


Dirck, Brian, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society


Lincoln in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends and Associates. Ed. by Harold K. Bush, Jr. (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2011. Pp. xiv, 248, illustrations, bibliography, notes, index. Paperback, $25.00.)

Primary source document collections about Abraham Lincoln are commonplace. Usually they are organized around a central theme: Lincoln's greatest speeches, examples of his wit and wisdom, statements related to slavery and emancipation, and so forth. Lincoln in His Own Time is a primary source collection compiled with the purpose, in editor Harold Bush's words, of "trying to map what might be termed a genealogy of cultural work and iconic status of Lincoln as quintessential scribe and prophet of the American project." (p. xxix) To that end, Bush "pieced together many of the best reflections about Lincoln as a thinker, reader, writer and rhetor. This included a few documents written by Lincoln himself, but predominantly descriptions of Lincoln by others around him, which Bush wanted to use as a means of understanding "not only the development of a powerful mind, but perhaps even more crucially the perception of this Great American Mind" (p. xxix; emphasis in original).

Bush's sensibilities in this regard somewhat favor descriptions of Lincoln written by literary figures - Walt Whitman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Russell Lowell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain - reflecting perhaps Bush's own background as a professor of English. But this does not do justice to what is a truly expansive collection. Bush included an example of Lincoln's own poetry, accounts by his law partner William Speed and his wife Mary, eyewitness descriptions of the Gettysburg Address, Willie Lincoln's funeral, Lincoln's own funeral, an appreciation of Lincoln's oratory and writing skills by William Jennings Bryan, even a description by the owner of Washington, D. …

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