Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/399

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381
The Eve of His Inauguration

can imagine him in one of his grand moments wri ting that piece of superb humility, the Fast Day Proclamation. Again, was it superstition, was it premonition, that created in Lincoln, as he faced toward Washington, a personal unhappiness? No recollection of Lincoln is more singular than one preserved by his law partner with regard to this period of eclipse. He tells of Lincoln's insistence that their sign should continue to hang over the office door; of his sad eagerness to have everyone understand that his departure was not final; of his reiteration that some day he would come back, that his business would be resumed in the plain old office just as if nothing had happened.

Lincoln was so absolutely the reverse of the rhetorician that when he had nothing to say he could not cover up his emptiness with a lacquer of images. Never his the florid vacuousness of the popular orators of his day. When his vision deserted him, his style deserted him. It is confidently asserted that he never was able to press a law case unless he wholly believed in it. Strong evidence for the truth of the tradition is the obedience of his style to the same law. It behaved in this way, the eclipse being still upon him, when he was subjected to the misfortune of having to speak out of the shadow, in February, 1861, on his way to the inauguration. He could not escape this misfortune. The notions of the time required the President-elect to talk all the way from his home to the White House. This group of speeches forms an interlude in Lincoln's development so strange that the most psychological biographer might well hesitate to attack its problem. As statecraft the speeches were ruinously inopportune. Their matter was a fatuous assurance to the country that the crisis was not really acute. As literature, his utterances have little character. The force, the courage, the confident note of the second manner had left him. His partisans were appalled. One of the most sincere among them wrote angrily "Lincoln is a Simple Susan."

And then, lightning-like, both as statecraft and as literature, came the First Inaugural. Richard was himself again. He was much more, he was a new Richard. The final manner appeared in the First Inaugural. All the confident qualities of the second manner are there, and with them something else. Now, at last, reading him, we are conscious of beauty. Now we see what the second manner lacked. Keen, powerful, full of char-