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13 January, 2012
The Glory Of English Prose|
27. President Lincoln
by Coleridge, Stephen
|My Dear Antony,
I have not in my letters to you travelled beyond our own islands
in search of great English prose, but I propose now to make one
divergence from this rule and quote a very great and deservedly
far-famed speech, uttered on a memorable occasion, of Abraham
Lincoln, President of the United States.
At the present time, I think, the name of Lincoln lies closer to
the hearts of the American people than that of any other, not even
excepting Washington and Hamilton. The latter, though they
established American independence, remained in a personal sense
English gentlemen till their death. Lincoln was born in the
backwoods in rude poverty, received no education but what he
acquired by his own unaided efforts, and lived and died a man of
the people, the ideal type of native-born American.
He rose from the lowest to the highest position in the State,
borne upwards by the simple nobility of his character, by the
stainless purity of his actions, and the splendid motive of all his
endeavours. His speeches and writings derive their power and
distinction from no tricks of oratory, felicity of diction, or
nimbleness of mind. They are the vocal results of the beatings of
his great heart.
He led his people to war in the manner of a prophet of Israel;
with an awful austerity, majestic, invincible, and with hand
uplifted in sure appeal to the God of battles. On the field of
Gettysburg, where was waged the most tremendous of all combats of
the war, he came to dedicate a cemetery to the innumerable dead,
and these were his few and noble words:—
"Fourscore-and-seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon
this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to
the proposition that all men are created equal.
Few are the opportunities in the history of the world when the
time, the place, the occasion, and the words spoken, have combined
so poignantly to move the hearts of men.
"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that
nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long
endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come
to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for
those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is
altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
"But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate,
we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who
struggled here, have consecrated it far above our power to add of
detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say
here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the
living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which
they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather
for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us;
that from these honoured dead we take increased devotion to that
cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that
we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain;
that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and
that government of the people, by the people, and for the people,
shall not perish from the earth."
One can imagine the vast concourse standing awestruck and
uncovered before the solemn splendour of this noble dedication,
every phrase of which will remain for generations a treasured and
sacred memory in countless thousands of homes of the great
continent in the West.
Your loving old