- From the Publisher
- A Cup Half-Empty
- Who Were the Lincoln Life Guards?
- Kepi Controversy
- Primary Source Material: Manuscripts
- Overlooked Evidence: Lincoln in Pioneer Chicago
- “THE UNION Is DISSOLVED” The Charleston Mercury Broadside: Points of Authenticity and Variations
- Lincoln Letter Fraud on Ebay
- What He Really Thought of Lincoln: The Discovery of an Unpublished Letter by William F. Herndon
- The Sanitary Fair’s Gifts to President Lincoln
- Behind the Scenes At Federal Hall
- In The Marketplace
- LINCOLNPHILE (book reviews)
- The Annotated Lincoln
- Lincoln’s Campaign Biographies
- Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History
- “Lincoln” Hits the Screens
- We Have The War Upon Us: The Onset of the Civil War, November 1860-April 1861
- Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts and Context in the Civil War
- President James Buchanan and the Crisis of National Leadership
- Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln
- Lincoln Legends: Myths, Hoaxes, and Confabulations Associated With Our Greatest President.
- Abraham Lincoln: The Image of His Greatness.
- Letters to the Editor
- The Obvious Lincoln
- DeWitt Deaccession Debate
- Fake Lincoln Endorsement
- Historical inaccuracies found in CDV
- More on the Lincoln Avengers
- Cartoon Artist Identified
- Kepi Commentary
- An Item in Search of a Story
- Show & Tell
- Replicas For Sale
- Dueling Blogs
- Lincoln Artwork or Just Artwork?
- Devil with a Blue Dress On
- Breyer Model Horses
- Kudos on the new site!
- This daguerreotype looks like Lincoln, but is it Lincoln?
- What Is Lincoln’s Embalmer Worth?
- New Lincoln Stuff on the Market
- Rail Splinters
- Suspect Lincoln
- A Note from the Great Beyond
- ‘A. Lincoln’ Money Pit
- Added Cachet Value
- A Constant Flow of Fakes
- Problematic Copy Images
- Fraudulent Tintype
- If Only It Were Real!
- Rip-Off Ribbons
- Bogus Ballot
- “Ay, tear her tattered ensign down”
- Legit and Illegitimate Theater: The Ford’s Theatre Ticket
- Implausible Provenance
- Twice As [Not] Nice
- These Have Age, But Not Enough
- The Real and the Unreal
- Great Finds!
The Lincoln’s: Portrait of a Marriage.
by Daniel Mark Epstein (Random House/Ballantine Books, New York, 2008, 576p.) $28.
Daniel Mark Epstein is a biographer, poet and dramatist whose work has been widely published and performed. He has written biographies of Aimee Semple McPherson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Nat King Cole, Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman (Lincoln and Whitman: Parallel Lives in Civil War Washington) and given talks on Lincoln at various venues.
According to the press release, this is the first full-length book to cover the Lincoln marriage since 1953, when scholars lacked today’s resources. ” … Epstein has produced an incisive and balanced portrait of the Lincoln’s, from their mysterious and troubled courtship in 1840 until his assassination in Ford’s Theatre in 1865 … this is the first book about the Lincoln marriage that recounts the Springfield years (16 years out of 22 total) and in as much detail as the White House years.” The promotional blurb provides a summary of new material contained in the work. These include: the theory that Lincoln, prior to his marriage and for years afterward, thought he had contacted syphilis and was taking the prescribed pill for that affliction; the two-year sojourn of 18-year-old Harriet Hanks in the Lincoln household, working as a domestic; Lincoln’s visit to Lexington, KY en route to Congress in 1847 and his attendance of a Henry Clay anti-war speech at that location; the witnessing by the Lincoln’s of an abduction of a black servant in their Washington, DC boarding house; the assault of Lincoln by his wife with a stick of firewood in 1857, with supporting evidence; the harrowing experience of Mary Lincoln as she passed through Baltimore, an innocent decoy, on the way to Washington in February 1861; the influence of a poem by Albert Leighton, owned by Lincoln, in composing the “mystic chords of memory” imagery of his first Inaugural Address; a letter from a Washington doctor concerning Mrs. Lincoln’s handling of a medical crisis in the White House that disproves anecdotal evidence that she was useless in such emergencies; a precise chronicling of Mrs. Lincoln’s extravagances and fraudulent dealings as First Lady and the involvement of the House Judiciary Committee; and a detailed account of the Lincolns’ visit to Fort Stevens while under enemy attack with a measured analysis of the actual dangers involved (unlike Hillary Clinton at Kosovo, the Lincoln’s were ACTUALLY subject to sniper fire!)
All-in-all, this is a very fine book which holds ones interest over the span of five hundred pages. Obviously, documentation for the early years of the Lincoln courtship and marriage is sparse, subject to many “blank” stretches of time. The book starts out reading like a fictional work, with much emphasis on establishing a mood, going into details, imagining the thoughts and words of the young protagonists. As the time frame advances, the “novelistic” style shifts to something more appropriate to an historical biography, utilizing actual words extracted from reminiscences, newspaper accounts, letters and diaries. Epstein is a talented writer, as seen in this excerpt: “Mary Lincoln was indeed surrounded by much that renders life desirable, including the Presbyterian church at Third and Washington where she offered prayers of thanksgiving on Sunday. They purchased a pew in the seventh row for fifty dollars. She had all of these things. Yet she was so lonely that her fondest wish for her friend was that Hannah might never be as lonely as she was. She was lonely because she did not have him, Abraham Lincoln, her husband. Perhaps she had never possessed him as she wished; perhaps no one, and nothing, could take him in. He was beginning to seem – to many people – larger than life. He had certainly outshone every politician in the West with the possible exception of Stephen Douglas, whose star was waning … It would have been a pleasure for them to forget their differences in the warmth of the marriage bed, steeped in the solvent of erotic love; but time and the wounds of childbirth had diminished that reliable solution. They were left with the prosaic truth of each other; a middle-aged woman and man in two chairs, bound by their children, their home and possessions, their memories, social conventions, and their burning ambition. They were still drawn together by the mysterious lure of the future.”
The book seems well-founded on solid research, although some errors have insidiously crept in. These include: a statement that the Wide Awakes was one of the “many Republican marching and support clubs founded during the 1856 campaign”, that Robert Todd Lincoln was given the nickname “Prince of Rails” during the pre-inaugural visit to Indianapolis in February 1861 (Abraham Lincoln was proclaimed the “Prince of Rails” during the campaign of 1860, inspired by the visit that year of the Prince of Wales), and that Robert Anderson of Fort Sumter fame was a colonel, rather than a major in the army. Minor stuff, we must admit. There are also some descriptions of political ephemera that we find totally intriguing. These include: a printed invitation to an 1839 Springfield cotillion with an American eagle and a list of managers that encompasses Lincoln, Ninian Edwards, Jr., James Shields, Joshua Speed and Stephen Douglas, PLUS a similar piece for a February 22, 1849 George Washington “Birth Night Ball” in the nation’s capital with Lincoln and Douglas listed as Illinois managers in the event organized to raise funds for the Washington monument. Do these things actually still exist, or have they been “extrapolated” by the author based on period accounts? Something else to look for … the collecting passion burns!!
We find fault with the work in two areas only. There is a tendency to constantly describe the clothing and hairstyles of Mary Lincoln, as no doubt reported by eyewitnesses. Anyone not familiar with couture and hair styling terminology may find it hard to visualize. The repetition becomes irritating. Secondly, the author, in the final chapter of the book dealing with the night of the assassination, abandons his earlier writing style and instead switches to the present tense and a “rapid fire” staccato of brief, unadorned sentences. The shift is jarring and one gets the impression that the final chapter was rushed through to completion. On the whole, though, we can heartily endorse this newest entrant in the panoply of Lincoln tomes.
NOW AVAILABLE FROM THE RAIL SPLITTER PRESS:
Book Review Archive
- Act of Justice: Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Law of War.
- The Dark Intrigue: The True Story of a Civil War Conspiracy.
- President Lincoln: the Duty of a Statesman.
- Lincoln’s Men: The President and His Private Secretaries.
- The Lincoln’s: Portrait of a Marriage.
- The Madness of Mary Lincoln.
- Lincoln the Inventor.
- Lincoln and New York.
Rail Splinters Archive
- Stereo view photographs of Abraham Lincoln statue damaged in 1906 San Francisco earthquake
- Lincoln in Film
- John Wilkes Booth? Probably not.
- Answer to the question “Whatever became of the Gillett collection?”
- What happened to the Gillette Collection?
- This Train is Bound for Glory
- Lincoln Ballots 1834-1864
- Lincoln Museum in Boise
- Lincoln at the Abolition Ball
- Where East Meets West
- A Prince of a Guy
- In Memoriam: C. Peter Scanlan
- Portrait of Lincoln Legal Associate Unearthed
- Thomas T. Eckert Archive: Telegraphic History of the Civil War
- Beethoven’s medium channels news of Lincoln’s Death by composing “The Funeral March”
- Where is Mary Todd Lincoln’s 1861 Inaugural Ball dress?
- The Meatball does The Sauceman (and The Rail Splitter) proud
- Lincoln “apparently not” a sexist
- Campaign woodcuts in illustrated magazines, symbolism or adornment?
- 1890 Wide-Awake Reunion program
- Baltimore Coin & Currency Convention Highlights
Past Print Issues