Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/401

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383
Third Period

of affection too hardly, they must not, I am sure they will not, be broken. The mystic chords which, proceeding from so many battlefields and so many patriotic graves, pass through all the hearts and all hearths in this broad continent of ours, will yet again harmonize in their ancient music when breathed upon by the guardian angel of the nation.


One of the most precious pages in the sealed story of Lincoln's inner life would contain his reflections as he pondered this paragraph. Deeply as he knew the hearts of men, here—in spite of its lack of weight—was something that hitherto he had not been able to use. The power of it in affecting men he must have understood. If it could be brought within his own instrument, assimilated to his own attitude, a new range would be given to his effectiveness. Was he capable of assimilating it? We do not know how he reasoned in this last artistic crisis; but we do know what he did. He made Seward's paragraph his own. Into the graceful but not masterly the half-way rhetorical words of Seward he infused his own quality. He reorganized their feeble pattern by means of his own incomparable sense of rhythm. The result was the concluding paragraph of the First Inaugural:

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and every patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

The final Lincoln, in the literary sense, had arrived. Though an ultra-delicate critic might find a subdivision of this final period in the year 1862, the point is minute and hardly worth making. During the four years remaining in his life, his style has always the same qualities: flexibility, directness, pregnancy, wealth. It is always applied art, never for an instant unfaithful to the business in hand. Never for an instant does it incrust the business,—as the rhetorician would do,—nor ever overlay it with decoration. At the same time it contrives always to compel the business to transact itself in an atmosphere that is