By David J. Kent
Sunday, October 2, 2022
Depending on who you ask, there are between 15,000 and 18,000 books about Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln never wrote a book himself. Or maybe he did, according to new Lincoln Group member Ross Heller.
Many compilations of his speeches and writings are published under Lincoln's name but that isn't really him writing a book. The closest argument for him being an author is the book of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates that he caused to be compiled and published in 1860 (a wonderful book about that book is Mr. Lincoln's Book by David H. Leroy). The rest are books about Lincoln.
Heller is calling that into question. This fall he is publishing a book called by Abraham Lincoln: His 1858 Time Capsule. It is a reproduction of a book handwritten by Lincoln during his campaign for Senate. Heller recently told me that he first came across a reference to this handwritten manuscript during a close reading of Ida Tarbell's classic treatise, In the Footsteps of the Lincolns. One line mentions a notebook in which Lincoln wrote notes along the campaign trail and collected newspaper clippings on his debates with Douglas. Originally written in a 6- by 3-inch notebook, a Facsimile had been published in 1901.
Searching for the original, Heller discovered it at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. Collecting high quality scans of the pages, along with additional news clippings and documents not included in the earlier reproduction, Heller was able to recreate this historically important work. In addition to the handwritten words of Lincoln from his notebook, the book includes contemporary notes from long-time Lincoln friend and state senator James N. Brown, a peek into the history of the 1901 Facsimile, a letter from Ida Tarbell, and more. Esteemed Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer provides an introductory essay. The cover art is by the inimitable Lincoln artist, Wendy Allen.
The book is being released on November 16th at the Lincoln Forum in Gettysburg. To sweeten the pot, Heller is sponsoring the opening reception (aka, drinks are on him).
In a field where scholars periodically wonder if anything new can be written about Lincoln, we've seen that not only are new books "about" Lincoln out every year (including mine), but books "by" Lincoln can even come to the fore. The lesson is that we can always learn something new about, and by, Lincoln.