JANUARY 27, 1948
HYDE PARK, Monday—A friend of mine, Miss Martha Strayer of the Washington Daily News, has given me a book about Lincoln's biographers—"Portrait for Posterity," by Benjamin P. Thomas. I could not help wondering whether she was pointing up for me some of the things that are bound to happen after a man dies if he has been greatly loved and equally hated.
If his place in history is sufficiently important, many people feel they must interpret him. It is not sufficient just to describe the work they did with him—they must also explain the man himself. And that is where difficulties arise, since most great men are many-sided. When people try to explain them after they are dead, there is no way of telling whether what the writer thinks to be true actually is a verity or a figment of his imagination.
I had a protest the other day from a lady who wanted me to join a group to have removed from Ann Rutledge's gravestone the verse by Edgar Lee Masters! Who is to say today what Ann Rutledge meant to Abraham Lincoln or, for that matter, what his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, meant to him? In the case of any historical figure, it is the things which these men accomplished and the effect they have had on mankind which is really important and which makes them live in history.
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Incidentally Martha Strayer, who sent me the book about Lincoln, recently won a $500 award because of her insistence on seeing justice done in the case of a man who was convicted of murder but who she was sure was innocent. It is inspiring to find a reporter who will stick out a story as she did till she felt she had established the truth—and that is one of the reasons why so many of us have long felt admiration and affection for this veteran newspaper reporter.
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A few days ago, I read in a newspaper a short poem called "Storm from the East," by Harry Elmore Hurd, which expressed better than anything else my own feeling during the last storm.
As my daughter-in-law Faye and I plodded through the snow to the farm late in the afternoon, nothing looked the same around us, the snow fell steadily and the world was darkened—but it was beautiful. It turned out not to be as bad a storm as the previous one, but while it lasted, one felt completely shut in from the world, as though the earth had really become small, containing only one's immediate surroundings.