CARL SANDBURG'S LINCOLN
Any attempt to discuss Carl Sandburg 's six-volume Abraham Lincoln is like groping after elusive minnows. It is hard to get a focus on his work, to grasp exactly what it is. Is this biography or historical fiction? Is it an authentic life-and-times chronicle or a fact-and-fiction scenario— the literary equivalent of a Cecil B. DeMille spectacular? Is it really history—that is, a careful approximation of what Lincoln and his era were like? Or is it a potpourri of fact, invention, and folklore?
Even Sandburg found it difficult to describe his work. He told his editor Alfred Harcourt: "I think the Lincoln book will be a sort of History and Old Testament of the United States, a joke almanac, prayer collect, and compendium of essential facts." Later, as he struggled with the War Years, he wrote of its sprawling size: "This has grown into a scroll, a chronicle. There's one thing we can say for it: it is probably the only book ever written by a man whose father couldn't write his name, about a man whose mother couldn't write hers." And again, as he labored toward the end: "Sometimes I look at this damned vast manuscript and it seems just a memorandum I made for my own use in connection with a long adventure of reading, study and thought aimed at reaching into what actually went on in one terrific crisis—with occasional interpolations of meditations, sometimes musical, having to do with any and all human times." He was certain of one thing, though, and that was the symphonic quality of his story—of its "Sibelius bleakness and Bach repetition" that was so like the era itself.