The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.XXII. Lincoln
§ 6. Mystical Faith
And out of these conditions grew the spiritual life of Lincoln. He absorbed to the full its one great quality, the mystical consciousness of a world transcending the world of matter. He has no more doubt of this than all the other supreme men have had, whether good or bad; than Napoleon with his impatient gesture toward the stars, that night on shipboard, and his words, “There must be a God.” But when it comes to giving form to what he feels encompassing him, then Lincoln’s lucid mind asserts itself, and what has imposed on his fellow–villagers, as a formulation, fades into nothing. And here is revealed a characteristic that forms a basal clue. His mind has no bent toward this sort of thinking. Before the task of formulating his religion he stands quite powerless. His feeling for it is closer than hands or feet. But just what it is that he feels impinging on him from every side—even he does not know. Heis like a sensitive man who is neither a scientist nor a poet in the midst of a night of stars. The reality of his experience gives him no power either to explain or to express it.
Long afterward, in one of his most remarkable fragments, the reality of his faith, along with the futility of his religious thinking, is wonderfully preserved. It was written in September, 1862. The previous February the death of one of his children had produced an emotional crisis. For a time he was scarcely able to discharge his official duties. This was followed by renewed interest in religion, expressing itself chiefly by constant reading of Scripture. Whether any new light came to him we do not know. But in the autumn he wrote this:
Six months later one of the great pages of his prose called the nation to observe a day of “national humiliation, fasting, and prayer.” That the Dionysian and circuit-riding philosophy had made no impression on his mind is evinced by the silences of this singular document. Not a word upon victory over enemies—eagerly though, at the moment, he was hoping for it—but all in the vein of this question: