Tomorrow being the 200th anniversary of the man in the funny hat's birthday, I sat myself down and read something that wasn't about him getting shot (yes, it's possible to find such a book in my house, believe it or not!). This is a little book written by Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews after the turn of the century called The Perfect Tribute. I believe it was originally published in 1906, but my own personal edition, a well-tanned ugly duckling, is from 1908 (and has an owner's stamp of "J. Lewis Riggles" which amuses me).
The story is not badly written, but is bad in general. It's a fictional account of Lincoln's day at Gettysburg and how insecure he feels about his pithy little speech and how no one applauds and therefore it was a complete failure. Scholars have interesting things to say about why no one applauded, but I love to read the reactions from people who actually heard the speech (which is why I really love Gettysburg Remembers President Lincoln). But this isn't a review of that book, it's a review of Andrews' fictional account, so I will leave it at her interpretation for now.
The story goes from there back to Washington where Lincoln runs headlong into a young boy in a dither over his dying brother: a Confederate prisoner who needs a will so that he can leave his property to his sweetheart and she will therefore be forced to accept it (otherwise she's too prideful). Lincoln, being a lawyer, volunteers his services and they go to the prison where he draws up the business for the bravely suffering young man. In the course of their conversation, the soldier brings up the Gettysburg speech, which is in all the papers, and he talks about how astonishing it is, blah blah blah. And of course he says that not clapping was the perfect tribute because the words were so perfect and so solemn. He talks about how he'd like to shake the President's hand, he's so dern grateful. Then the fella kicks the bucket holding Lincoln's hand, never knowing it's him.
The story works, even if it is melodrama. Its apotheosic (is that a word? I doubt it) bent is only mildly disturbing and the depiction of the two southern boys as righteous, indignant, but well-meaning is a rather dull stereotype. But in 1906 I can certainly see the appeal and I enjoyed the story despite my own prejudices.
So happy birthday, Mr. Lincoln. Enjoy your celebration year!