Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/392

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minds of the now contestants, He could either have saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having begun, He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.

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:

And insomuch as we know that by His divine law nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishment and chastisement in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people?

The context shows that he was not—as the abolitionists wished him to do—merely hitting at slavery over the Lord's shoulder. The proclamation continues the fragment. This great mystic, pondering what is wrong with the world, wonders whether all the values, in God's eyes, are not different from what they seem to be in the eyes of men. And yet he goes on steadfast in the immediate task as it has been given him to understand that task. So it was to him always—the inscrutable shadow of the Almighty for ever round about him; the understanding of His ways for ever an insistent mystery.

To return to Lincoln's thirty-third year. Is it fanciful to find a connection between the way in which his mysticism develops—its atmospheric, non-dogmatic pervasiveness—and the way in which his style develops? Certainly the literary part of him works into all the portions of his utterance with the gradualness of the daylight through a shadowy wood. Those seven years following 1842 show a gradual change; but it is extremely gradual. And it is to be noted that the literary quality, so far as there is any during these years—for it comes and goes—is never incisive. It is of the whole, not of the detail. It does not appear as a gift of phrases. Rather it is the slow unfolding of