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III. BOOKS ABOUT LINCOLN

It is when we come to books about Lincoln that our subject overflows all its banks, and inundates the lands adjacent to our theme. This man who read few books and wrote none inspired more volumes than any other American; more than any other character in modern times. Not even Napoleon has a richer bibliography.

The first books about Abraham Lincoln appeared in 1860, very shortly after his nomination. Lincoln was nominated May 18, 1860; Scripps' Life of Lincoln was published on June 3. For this little book, Lincoln himself furnished the autobiographical sketch. A year before he had prepared for Jesse W. Fell of Bloomington, in the third person, a short biographical outline, written on three pages of note paper. It has been reproduced in fac-simile by the daughters of Mr. Fell, who live at Normal, and it shows Lincoln's first effort to put the events of his life into a form that could be read, and possibly printed in a newspaper sketch.

When in 1860 Mr. Scripps visited him, just

after the Chicago convention, Mr. Lincoln deprecated any attempt to write anything so pretentious as a campaign biography, saying that neither Scripps nor any other man could make anything out of Lincoln's life except what was contained in a single line of Gray's Elegy:

"The short and simple annals of the poor." But he prepared a sketch, rather longer than that which he had written for Fell, and out of it, with such added material as he could command, Scripps made a pamphlet of thirty-two double-column octavo pages. The little booklet sold for four cents, or at twenty dollars a thousand, and it sold by the thousand. Perfect copies are now difficult to obtain, and have been sold at a hundred dollars or more. This book, for which Lincoln furnished the basic material, and of which Lincoln read the proofs, must ever be of prime interest among biographies of Lincoln.

But it is doubtful if this was the first published biography of Lincoln. "The Wigwam Edition" was off the press as soon as, if not sooner than, Scripps' "Life." It had no author's name on its title page, and it did not stop the press for any authentic information. It spelled Abraham "Abram" and it invented the story

of Lincoln's boyhood, making him the eldest of a large family and the support and stay of his widowed mother after the death of his father, and contained other and grave errors. It sold for twenty-five cents, and it had a marked influence in making Lincoln a popular hero.

William Dean Howells made his advent into literature about this time, and he wrote a campaign biography of Lincoln; and a Boston firm published "The Wideawake Edition" of Lincoln's life. A Cincinnati firm published a campaign biography by J. H. Barrett, and a New York firm another by D. W. Bartlett. All these were cloth bound volumes, but the biographical data was meager; the books were made up largely of Lincoln's speeches, and had short sketches of Lincoln's running-mate, Hannibal Hamlin of Maine. All in all they serve to impress the modern reader with the paucity of the information available concerning Lincoln at the time when he became a candidate for the presidency.

There was little improvement in the campaign biographies of 1864. There are several of them, and they add little if any biographical information, but extend the subject matter in the 1860 books with material about the Civil War.

Immediately after Lincoln's death, the presses were at work, printing "Complete" lives of Lincoln. The first of these were made from the plates or type of the 1864 biographies, with pages added telling of his assassination, his funeral, the trial of the assassins, the pursuit of Booth, and so on. The first part of these books speaks of him as still living. I have one of these volumes in five editions, showing its evolution from an 1864 campaign biography into a "Complete Life" of Lincoln. The changes show considerable ingenuity, but no great literary merit.

There is one little book of this character which deserves special mention. Of it I have seen only a single copy, which I own. It is entitled "Beadle's Dime Life of Lincoln." It was prepared in 1864 by J. O. Victor, and after the death of Lincoln was issued in a new edition with a brief preface instead of supplement, telling of Lincoln's death. This little book was the one which Lincoln's cousins could afford, and which Dennis Hanks possessed and read and found to contain some things true and other things false. It is the only volume about Lincoln which we know any relative of Lincoln read at the time, with one single exception.

The exception is the first Boy's Life of Lincoln, entitled “The Pioneer Boy," by William M. Thayer. Robert Lincoln read this and wrote a letter of commendation, in which he virtually said that it was in essential accord with what he had heard from his father. Robert was away at school when he wrote this, and it is possible that the publishers sent some one over to Cambridge to get this testimonial from him. There they should have stopped. But they had a copy of the book specially bound and sent it to Mr. Lincoln in 1863. This copy, presented to the President, is in a private collection in Chicago, owned by Mr. Oliver R. Barrett. Across the title-page, under the name of the author, has been written in pencil, apparently by some member of the President's family, this uncomplimentary designation of the author, "The champion liar of history."

I do not think it was Mr. Lincoln who wrote this line; had he lived, he would have found other books about himself more completely worthy of this comment..

How many Lives of himself Mr. Lincoln read is not known. Apparently he regarded the campaign biographies of 1860 and 1864 as instruments, necessary to an important end,

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