Document Type

Article

Publication Date

Winter 2002

Department

Civil War Era Studies; History

Abstract

Abraham Lincoln's coffin had lain in the receiving vault in Springfield's Oak Ridge Cemetery for less than three weeks when a dapper, walrus-mustachioed New Englander stepped off the train and checked into Springfield's St. Nicholas Hotel. He was Josiah Gilbert Holland, one-time editor (and still part owner) of the Springfield, Massachusetts, Republican, a nationally popular writer of advice books, and (what would turn out to be most memorably) part of a small circle of admirers and encouragers of an unknown Amherst poet named Emily Dickinson. None of those attributes, however, provided the slightest qualification for the task that brought him to the Illinois namesake of his hometown, which was the writing of a biography of Abraham Lincoln. Holland had not known Lincoln personally—had never even met him casually. Notwithstanding those deficits, Holland produced a landmark Lincoln biography, the first of any substantial length as a biography, the first with any aspirations to comprehensiveness, and a best-seller of 100,000 copies that was published in several languages. It was precisely his lack of personal acquaintance with Lincoln that brought him to Springfield ("in search of original and authentic material for the work"), and he came away with some of the most important informant materials any early Lincoln biographer would gather. Holland would use them to create the first life of the "inner Lincoln," setting the stage for a genre of Lincoln studies that remains compelling and fruitful to this day and producing a biography that Paul Angle ranked "by far the best" of the early Lincoln biographies. [excerpt]

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