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Lincoln

   
 

Language Center-ed!

   

 

  

 

Fred Kaplan's Lincoln - The Biography of a Writer is one more book in the vast library of Lincoln scholarship.  We picked it up because it is of particular interest at this moment in history because of the obvious parallels between Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln and their use of the English language as the primary means for the expression 'of a civilization and culture. 

Lincoln was a deep reader; language was both solace and pleasure - the English of the Bible and Shakespeare, the poetry of Burns and Byron.  He could quote endlessly, carried his books with him on his travels, was often found reading.  The book traces the influence of the language of the Bible and Shakespeare on Lincoln's speech and how language, eloquence, and oratory shaped the arc of his career.  And how in turn, Lincoln's words, from the Gettysburg Address to his second inaugural address, shaped the nation.

We wrote earlier here at eCognoscente about eloquence and the Presidency.  And Obama has openly and self-consciously acknowledged the influence of Abraham Lincoln - even announcing his bid for candidacy from the courthouse steps in Springfield, Illinois. 

Lincoln's 'House Divided' speech changed the way a nation looked at race.  Reading it is like reading poetry - one marvels at the rightness of language, as well as the consciousness of the music in language.  Obama, in his 'A More Perfect Union' speech, addressed race, taking what Lincoln began into the 21st century: "Latino, Asian, rich, poor, young and old - is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past.  What we know - what we have seen - is that America can change." 

The parallels between the two men are many - the humble origins, the tall gangly stature, the Illinois legislature.  Historians are almost certain that Lincoln wrote every word of his speeches and documents and we are impressed by Obama for similar reasons - that he pays obeisance at the temple of language.  As Lincoln said, and Kaplan quotes in his book: " Writing-- the art of communicating thoughts to the mind, through the eye -- is the great invention of the world. Great in the astonishing range of analysis and combination which necessarily underlies the most crude and general conception of it -- great, very great in enabling us to converse with the dead, the absent, and the unborn, at all distances of time and of space; and great, not only in its direct benefits, but greatest help, to all other inventions. . . . Its utility may be conceived, by the reflection, that to it we owe everything which distinguishes us from savages. Take it from us, and the Bible, all history, all science, all government, all commerce, and nearly all social intercourse go with it."

 

Read: Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer, Fred Kaplan 

Link: Tomorrow - Take a Man at His Word!, November 3, 2008, eCognoscente

Tags:  literature  history  library  politics  books

 

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