Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/397

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379
Second Period

himself had led him for a time to forsake what he most desired? And may not the new strength that had come to him have revived the old ambition, blended it with his zeal for service, and thus in a less explicit way than his biographers would have us think, faced him back toward politics. Be that as it may, his literary power, which took a bound forward in the excitement following the Nebraska Bill, holds itself at a high level for several years, and then suddenly enters into eclipse. Beginning with the speech at Springfield on the Dred Scott case, including the "house divided" speech, the Douglas speeches, and closing with the Cooper Union speech in February, 1860, there are a dozen pieces of prose in this second manner of Lincoln's that are all masterly. If they had closed his literary career we should not, to be sure, particularly remember him today. In his writing as in his statesmanship it was what he did after fifty—the age he reached 12 February, 1859—that secures his position. None the less for surety of touch, for boldness, for an austere serenity with no hint of self-distrust, these speeches have no superiors among all his utterances, not even among the few supreme examples of his final manner. Reading these speeches it is hard to believe that this man in other moods had tasted the very dregs of self-distrust, had known the bitterest of all fear that which rushes upon the dreamer from within, that snatches him back from his opportunity because he doubts his ability to live up to it.

The confident tone of these speeches makes all the more bewildering the sudden eclipse in which this period ends. The observer who reaches this point in Lincoln's career, having pondered upon his previous hesitation, naturally watches the year 1860 with curious eyes, wondering whether 1841 and 1849 will be repeated, whether the man of many minds will waver, turn into himself, become painfully analytical, morbidly fearful, on the verge of a possible nomination for the Presidency. But the doubtfulness of the mystics—who, like Du Maurier's artists, "live so many lives besides their own, and die so many deaths before they die"—is not the same thing as the timidity of the man afraid of his fate. Hamlet was not a coward. The impression which Lincoln had recently made upon the country was a true impression—that he was a strong man. However, not his policies, not his course of action, had won for Lincoln his