Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Delanceyplace.com 6/24/08-Hawthorne and Lincoln

In today's excerpt--in 1862, Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables, was part of a small delegation that visited with Abraham Lincoln at the White House, and Hawthorne reported on the visit for the Atlantic Monthly. Hawthorne wrote:

"There is no describing his lengthy awkwardness, nor the uncouthness of his movement. ... He was dressed in a rusty black frock-coat and pantaloons, unbrushed, and worn so faithfully that the suit had adapted itself to the curves and angularities, and had grown to be an outer skin of the man. He had shabby slippers on his feet. His hair was black, still unmixed with gray, stiff, somewhat brushy, and had apparently been acquainted with neither brush nor comb that morning, after the disarrangement of the pillow, and as to a nightcap, Uncle Abe probably knows nothing of such effeminancies. His complexion is dark and sallow, betokening, I fear, an insalubrious atmosphere around the White House; he has thick black eyebrows and an impending brow; his nose is large, and the lines about his mouth are very strongly defined.

"The whole physiognomy is as coarse a one as you would meet anywhere in the length and breadth of the States; but, withal, it is redeemed, illuminated, softened, and brightened by a kindly though serious look out of his eyes. ...

"[He is] endowed with a sort of tact and wisdom that are akin to craft, and would impel him, I think, to take an antagonist in flank, rather than to make a bull-run at him right in front. But, on the whole, I like this sallow, queer, sagacious visage, with the homely human sympathies that warmed it. ...

"Immediately on his entrance the President accosted our member of Congress, who had us in charge, and, with a comical twist of his face ... greeted us all around, not waiting for an introduction, but shaking and squeezing everybody's hand with the utmost cordiality, whether the individual's name was announced to him or not. His manner towards us was wholly without pretence, but yet had a kind of natural dignity. ... [When our visit ended], we retired out of the presence in high good-humor, only regretting that we could not have seen the President sit down and fold up his legs (which is said to be a most extraordinary spectacle), or have heard tell one of those delectable stories for which he is so celebrated. [They are the] funniest little things imaginable; though, to be sure, they smack of the frontier freedom, and would not always bear repetition in a drawing room, or on the immaculate page of the Atlantic."

Harold Holzer, Lincoln as I Knew Him, Algonquin, Copyright 1999 by Harold Holzer, pp. 167-170.


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