Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 1. The Mystery of Lincoln’s Temperament

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XXII. Lincoln

§ 1. The Mystery of Lincoln’s Temperament

THE MAN of many minds who upon the surface, at least, is variable is not thought of ordinarily as a great leader. And yet in some of the greatest of men a surface variableness has not in the long run prevented a consummate achievement. There is Cæsar, to be pondered upon by all who consider such men second rate. And in American history, there is Lincoln. His life as man of action brings this out well enough. He wavered during many years, hesitating between politics and law, not drivingly conscious of his main bent. Still more clearly is this brought out by his personal life and by those literary and mystical phases that are linked so intimately with the personal. The changes of his mood are at times bewildering. He is often like a wayfarer passing through successive strata of light and darkness, the existence of which does not seem to be explained by circumstance, of whose causes neither he nor his observers have explanation. Did they arise from obscure powers within? Were they the reaction of an ultra–sensitive nature to things without that most people were not able to perceive? He speaks of himself in one of his letters as superstitious. Should the word give us a hint? Whatever theory of him shall eventually prevail, it is sure to rest on this fact: he was a shrouded and a mysterious character, a man apart, intensely reticent, very little of whose inner life has been opened to the world.