Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years & The War Years

Jan 2010
4,283
Atlanta, Georgia USA
#22
Again, unless someone gives me a comparison between an old work and a recent work, I can't determine what they mean by saying one is the "real sense" of a man and his times. How are you sure it was real? Don't you have to compare it to other histories and then be able to explain why you think one is more "real" than the other? . . ..

There is a reason why college professors don't assign old history books to undergrad students, they are light years behind the current historical discussion. . . .
Abd yes, Gibbons stinks of anti-Catholic bias, so if you really want to know why Rome fell, forget him.
Jax--I'm not a professional historian or a college professor, and don't have time to read more than one source on each person or event I'm interested in, unless the first one I read leaves me unsatisfied. If in the course of my further reading I find that I've been misled or find another reference to a text I may like better, then I'll read that. And in certain areas (such as late antiquity), my spouse and I own and have read lots of books.

As to Gibbon, my wife and I are both Roman Catholic and we've read and reread Gibbon. I don't rely on him for the reasons that Rome fell--we've got a number of other sources with their own conjectures, but do read him for a good history of the period he covers. It is my understanding that Gibbon is pretty sound on the facts, and that, for the general but informed and cautious reader such as I, he is a good--in fact essential--read.

But I am not going to read Sandburg on Lincoln.

Hope you enjoy Antietam. It's a really good battlefield and easy to see what happened there.
 
Last edited:
Jul 2012
4,379
Here
#24
Jax--I'm not a professional historian or a college professor, and don't have time to read more than one source on each person or event I'm interested in, unless the first one I read leaves me unsatisfied. If in the course of my further reading I find that I've been misled or find another reference to a text I may like better, then I'll read that.
I'm not sure why it takes more time to read 3,000 pages in 6 sources than 3,500 pages in one source. But I'll take your word that it does.
 

Lowell2

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
6,541
California
#26
you can get this book on audible as well https://www.audible.com/pd/Bios-Memoirs/Abraham-Lincoln-Audiobook/B00CX8099E?qid=1499099362&sr=1-1

For me, I find reading the "old" history books informative. One, they do provide the view of the time (and one can always update with the information found after the publication date) and two, they aren't hyping the "agenda of the day" that one finds in some of the currently published books. Reading from various perspectives can often give you a much better feel for what the reality really was. (there's not a history book written that I've found to be absolutely impartial. Some are better than others in that regard, but none eliminate entirely the author's perspective. ).


I got this book and I found it informative. If you are interested in Lincoln and history, you could do a lot worse than starting with this book.
 
Jul 2012
4,379
Here
#27
For me, I find reading the "old" history books informative. One, they do provide the view of the time (and one can always update with the information found after the publication date) and two, they aren't hyping the "agenda of the day" that one finds in some of the currently published books. Reading from various perspectives can often give you a much better feel for what the reality really was.
Could you speak to some specifics as to what you see as the "agenda of the day" in the Lincoln literature of the past couple decades? And what were the themes of the Lincoln literature in past decades you do not consider the "agenda of the day" in that period?
 
Jul 2012
4,379
Here
#29
I found this very interesting analysis of Sandburg's Lincoln books online. As he was just beginning to write the first book, Sandburg wrote that he intended the book to be a "history and Old Testament of the United States." In a preface written for The Prairie Years but dropped before publication, he wrote, "The facts and myths of his life are to be an American possession, shared widely over the world, for thousands of years, as the tradition of Knute or Alfred, Laotse or Diogenes, Pericles or Caesar, are kept." ... He wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt: "Having written for ten years now on 'Abraham Lincoln: the War Years,' starting this year on the fourth and final volume, I have my eyes and ears in two eras and can not help drawing parallels. One runs to the effect that you are the best light of democracy that has occupied the White House since Lincoln.

In the interwar years and after WWII, many American historians were called "consensus historians." Consensus history focused on American unity rather than internal conflict. A Lincoln topic I worked on was about the peace Democrats, or Copperheads, that protested Lincoln's war policies. Eager to create a national unity in the war years, they painted the Copperheads not only as protesters, but also as traitors, going so far as to claim their were armies of thousands of Copperheads planning to overthrow Lincoln's government. This was all debunked starting around 1960 and while the Copperheads can still be seen in a negative light, no historian of the past thirty years believes that more of a few were actually treasonous. The idea that only recent history has an agenda shows a lack of understanding of historiography and a naivety about what history is.

The article's author discusses various views of the book, then adds his own. None seem to take it for legitimate history, but there are various views on just what it is, how it should be read, and what value it has. The many factual inaccuracies mentioned should be noted.

I edited out about 25% of it. Bolded fonts were added by me. The full article, with footnotes, can be found at the link at the end.

Carl Sandburg's Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and The War Years is, for better or worse, the best-selling, most widely read, and most influential book about Lincoln.

...Probably more Americans have learned their Lincoln from Sandburg than from any other source.[2]

Sandburg's book has had an enormous impact on popular conceptions of Lincoln. In 1998, seventy-two years after the publication of its first part, it may seem to have aged rather badly: inaccurate factually, grotesquely distended, and lapsing rather too frequently into a dated and forced "prose poetry" that charms less now than over seventy years ago.

Maybe enough time has passed for us to see The Prairie Years and The War Years in historical perspective, to historicize it against the background of American history between the world wars. Sandburg began writing The Prairie Years in 1922, less than five years after the World War I Armistice, and he completed The War Years in 1939 as the world was sliding inexorably into the holocaust of World War II; the ambiguity of his title did not escape him. Read as a timeless masterpiece, Sandburg's Lincoln does not hold up; read as a timely response to a series of national crises that recalled the Civil War, the book still carries much of its original power.

I would like to approach a historical reading of Sandburg's Lincoln gradually by first looking at it from three partial perspectives, each of which reveals part of the truth about the book. I do not have thirteen ways of looking at this blackbird, but I do have three: as a biography, an American epic, and an American myth. Then I would also like to look at the book from a fourth perspective, which perhaps engages its historical context more directly: as an American testament, a secular analogy of scripture designed to provide inspiration for Americans as they endured trials that to Sandburg's mind recalled the testing of the Civil War.
...

it."[3] William E. Barton, who had published a life of Lincoln himself the year before The Prairie Years was published, wrote that Sandburg's book "is not history, is not even biography" because of its lack of original research and uncritical use of evidence, but Barton nevertheless thought it was "real literature and a delightful and important contribution to the ever-lengthening shelf of really good books about Lincoln."[4] Milo Milton Quaife, in the Mississippi Valley Historical Review, was not so generous. In one of the harshest evaluations of the book, he attacked Sandburg's failure to document his sources, his "naive conception of what constitutes evidence," and his "carelessness of statement." He cited nine factual errors in four pages on the Black Hawk War and wondered if the rest of the book was similarly inaccurate. The Prairie Years, he wrote, was nothing but "a hodge podge of miscellaneous information."[5]

Historians have continued to criticize Sandburg's free and easy way with his sources and his failure to identify those sources ever since, not only in The Prairie Years but in The War Years as well. He did provide a list of "Sources and Acknowledgments" at the opening of The War Years, but it is so brief and general as to be almost useless. He does identify many of his sources in the text of the works, and the reader who is reasonably familiar with the Lincoln literature is likely to recognize many of the rest of the sources. Unfortunately, such a reader is likely to recognize such unreliable or even fictional sources as the anonymous Diary of a Public Man and Francis Grierson's Valley of Shadows, which were drawn on as if they were authoritative.

A different, though related, charge against The Prairie Years and The War Years is that they contain too much material that is neither biography nor history but merely rather sentimental poeticizing on Sandburg's part. Quaife was as hard on this aspect of The Prairie Years as he was on the careless scholarship. He was especially scornful of what Sandburg called the "moonlight chapters," sections in which he sketched in the historical context of Lincoln's life by imagining what the moon might have seen at the time. "Whatever else it may be," Quaife snorted, it is "not history." [6] Sandburg's "poetical" interpolations were also the butt of Edmund Wilson's famous attack on the book, first in The New Yorker and then in Patriotic Gore. Wilson found Sandburg's treatment of Lincoln's romance with Ann Rutledge particularly hard to stomach. He cited Sandburg's line, "A trembling took his body and dark waves ran through him sometimes when she spoke so simple a thing as, 'The corn is getting high, isn't it?'" Wilson's comment was, "The corn is getting high indeed!"[7]

One critical strategy, faced with the uneasy blend of history and poetry in Sandburg's Lincoln, has been to abandon the claim to biographical accuracy and instead see the book as a large-scale national poem, perhaps an American epic. This is the view taken by, among many others, Penelope Niven, author of the massive and authoritative 1991 Carl Sandburg: A Biography."Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years," she writes, "is a vast, epic prose poem, with Lincoln the central figure in the volatile pageant of nineteenth-century American life. A man and a nation simultaneously came of age, for Lincoln grew into manhood as his country faced its own great crisis of character and destiny." [8] It is also essentially the view that Robert W. Johannsen takes in his wonderfully warm and sympathetic 1978 essay on "Sandburg and Lincoln: The Prairie Years." He frames Sandburg as a romantic historian rather than an epic poet, but the two are very similar in Johannsen's formulation. The Prairie Years, he writes, quoting Sandburg approvingly, "was a 'poem of America, the America of humble folk and rough pioneers, of crude settlements ... of the corn lands and broad prairies ... a poem of the human spirit, not Lincoln's spirit only.'"[9]

Sandburg himself saw his book as an American epic as often as he thought of it as a mere biography. In a preface written for The Prairie Years but dropped before publication, he wrote, "The facts and myths of his life are to be an American possession, shared widely over the world, for thousands of years, as the tradition of Knute or Alfred, Laotse or Diogenes, Pericles or Caesar, are kept."[10] And in his "symphonic finish" to The War Years, Sandburg wrote, "Out of the smoke and stench, out of the music and violent dreams of the war, Lincoln stood perhaps taller than any other of the many great heroes. This was in the minds of many. None threw a longer shadow than he. And to him the great hero was The People. He could not say too often that he was merely their instrument."[11] In this and in many similar passages, the figure of Lincoln becomes merged with that of Sandburg's favorite abstraction, The People, and the book becomes a democratic epic celebrating not an individual but a collective hero.
...

A reading of Sandburg's Lincoln within the epic tradition might end by placing him not in a series with Achilles, Odysseus, and Aeneas but rather with Blake's Albion, Whitman's Walt, and Joyce's Leopold Bloom, as antiheroic heroes, collective individualists, and bourgeois aristocrats, in other words, within the paradoxical tradition of democratic epic heroes.
The Prairie Years and The War Years have also been read not as biography or as an epic poem but as a mythic text of American popular culture. Placed not in a series that includes Herndon's, Randall's, and David Herbert Donald's biographies of Lincoln or in one that includes the Iliad and the Odyssey, but rather, in a sequence that includes "Rip Van Winkle," Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Gone with the Wind, literary works, in other words, that provide or express some of the foundational myths of our culture, myths, in these examples, of gender, race, and the South. [12] ....

... ....

Biography, epic, myth: All three ways of looking at Sandburg's Lincoln are partial. Each has a piece of the truth but fails to account for some features of this odd and idiosyncratic book. I would like to end by proposing another way of describing the book, as having what the critic Northrop Frye calls an "encyclopedic form."[18] Encyclopedic literary forms are characterized by their episodic, miscellaneous structures and by their panoramic, comprehensive visions of an entire culture. The principal encyclopedic text of our own culture is the Bible, with its composite structure of separate books written at different times and in different forms and with its sweeping, comprehensive vision of human life from creation to apocalypse. In modern times, encyclopedic texts tend to be what Frye calls "analogies of revelation," such episodic and yet visionary texts as James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, T.S. Eliot's Waste Land, and Virginia Woolf's Between the Acts.[19]
....

A reading of Sandburg's Lincoln as an encyclopedic text is encouraged by some of Sandburg's own occasional descriptions of his work. In a letter in September 1937, to his friend and editor, Alfred Harcourt, for example, as he was preparing to turn the manuscript of The War Years over to the publisher, Sandburg wrote: "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."[20] And as early as fifteen years before, when he had just begun work on The Prairie Years, he had already begun to see the book as both a miscellany and an American secular testament: "Sometimes I think the Lincoln book," he wrote Harcourt, "will be a sort of History and Old Testament of the United States, a joke almanac, prayer collect, and compendium of essential facts." [21]

...

Similar interpolations are the list of jokes in Chapter 58 that Sandburg says Lincoln "might have told"; the list in Chapter 102 of commonplace cases that Lincoln tried, with no conclusion drawn except that "such were a few of the human causes, disputes, and actions in which Lincoln versed himself thoroughly" and the immensely protracted list of White House petitioners in Chapter 35 of The War Years. [23]

Reviewers noticed this aggregative quality of Lincoln, by which the book seems infinitely prolongable, merely by adding more lists, more random facts. Mark Van Doren wrote that "as Mr. Sandburg goes on he becomes drunk with data, and in true Homeric fashion compiles long lists of things." [24] Another reviewer thought that the book as "full of facts as Jack Horner's pie was full of plums." [25] Milo Milton Quaife said the same thing less tactfully: the book was "a literary grab bag," he wrote, "a hodge podge of miscellaneous information."[26]

The tone and the effect of the book are determined, to a large extent, by its odd combination of a mythologizing impulse and a great proliferation of detail. We think of myths as stark, bare, and timeless, not as embedded in the historical and the circumstantial. But the combination is perfectly consistent with Sandburg's intention of writing an encyclopedic work, a "History and Old Testament of the United States," and perhaps we should relate Sand-burg's lists not so much to Homer and Little Jack Horner as to the roll calls and genealogies of the Old Testament.

....
The Illinois corn crop furnishes the central symbol for Lincoln's development and his near identity with nature in The Prairie Years. And not only the corn crop: At other times, Lincoln seems to be half tree: "He grew as hickory grows, the torso lengthening and toughening. The sap mounted, the branches spread, leaves came with wind clamor in them."[28]
Such passages are less frequent in The War Years. Lincoln biographers have always had trouble reconciling the Illinois and the Washington Lincoln. Sandburg's solution is to make The Prairie Years a comic pastoral and The War Years a tragedy. He also makes The Prairie Years relatively mythic and The War Years relatively realistic. I say "relatively" because Lincoln has a double nature throughout, oscillating between man and spirit, in line with Sandburg's double intention both to depict a real person and a real crisis in American history and at the same time to make of that depiction an "analogy of revelation" of the American civil religion.

That Sandburg intends his Lincoln to be this kind of a secular scripture that would provide a spiritual inspiration for the country as it faced economic collapse and impending war is clear from the narrative of composition that unfolds in his letters. In 1935, for example, he wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt: "Having written for ten years now on 'Abraham Lincoln: the War Years,' starting this year on the fourth and final volume, I have my eyes and ears in two eras and can not help drawing parallels. One runs to the effect that you are the best light of democracy that has occupied the White House since Lincoln."[29] Readers of The Prairie Years and The War Years, too, might read with their "eyes and ears in two eras," not only the America of Lincoln's time but the America of Roosevelt's as well. Read in this stereoptical way, Sandburg's Lincoln might reveal to us the passion and the urgency that its first readers sensed in it three quarters of a century ago.
https://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jala/2...lincoln-within-history?rgn=main;view=fulltext
 
Jul 2012
4,379
Here
#30
If you want to hear speculation about whether he was gay or not then read a modern book, otherwise stick to the classics.
Sure, that's it. The topic of whether Lincoln is gay or not is the only difference in recent Lincoln history and the "classics."

Is there a forum requirement that you have to post something ridiculous every so often to keep your membership?
 

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