Lincoln and Whitman: Parallel Lives in Civil War Washington

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9780345458001: Lincoln and Whitman: Parallel Lives in Civil War Washington
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Kindred spirits despite their profound differences in position, Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman shared a vision of the democratic character. They had read or listened to each other’s words at crucial turning points in their lives, and both were utterly transformed by the tragedy of the Civil War. In this radiant book, poet and biographer Daniel Mark Epstein tracks the parallel lives of these two titans from the day that Lincoln first read Leaves of Grass to the elegy Whitman composed after Lincoln’s assassination in 1865.

Drawing on a rich trove of personal and newspaper accounts and diary records, Epstein shows how the influence and reverence flowed between these two men–and brings to life the many friends and contacts they shared. Epstein has written a masterful portrait of two great American figures and the era they shaped through words and deeds.

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It was more than coincidence—indeed, it was all but fate—that the lives and thoughts of Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman should converge during the terrible years of the Civil War. Kindred spirits despite their profound differences in position and circumstance, Lincoln and Whitman shared a vision of the democratic character that sprang from the deepest part of their being. They had read or listened to each other’s words at crucial turning points in their lives. Both were utterly transformed by the tragedy of the war. In this radiant book, poet and biographer Daniel Mark Epstein tracks the parallel lives of these two titans from the day that Lincoln first read Leaves of Grass to the elegy Whitman composed after Lincoln’s assassination in 1865.

Drawing on the rich trove of personal and newspaper accounts, diary records, and lore that has accumulated around both the president and the poet, Epstein structures his double portrait in a series of dramatic, atmospheric scenes. Whitman, though initially skeptical of the Illinois Republican, became enthralled when Lincoln stopped in New York on the way to his first inauguration. During the war years, after Whitman moved to Washington to minister to wounded soldiers, the poet’s devotion to the president developed into a passion bordering on obsession. “Lincoln is particularly my man, and by the same token, I am Lincoln’s man.”

As Epstein shows, the influence and reverence flowed both ways. Lincoln had been deeply immersed in Whitman’s verse when he wrote his incendiary “House Divided” speech, and Whitman remained an influence during the darkest years of the war. But their mutual impact went beyond the intellectual. Epstein brings to life the many friends and contacts his heroes shared—Lincoln’s debonair private secretary John Hay, the fiery abolitionist senator Charles Sumner, the mysterious and possibly dangerous Polish Count Gurowski—as he unfolds the story of their legendary encounters in New York City and especially Washington during the war years.

Blending history, biography, and a deeply informed appreciation of Whitman’s verse and Lincoln’s rhetoric, Epstein has written a masterful and original portrait of two great men and the era they shaped through the vision they held in common.
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"Epstein memorably evokes the look and feel of Washington during the Civil War, the eerily adjacent lives there of Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln, and the frantic events that issued in the murder of our greatest president and the writing of our greatest poem, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” Combining biography and history, his ingeniously constructed double-narrative of personal development and national tragedy radiates humor, wonderment, and terror." -Kenneth Silverman, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Life and Times of Cotton Mather and Edgar A Poe : Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance
“Deftly written and carefully researched, this book uncovers fresh and often surprising connections between America's greatest poet and its greatest statesman. Daniel Mark Epstein reveals a political side to Whitman and a literary side to Lincoln, finding new subtleties of character and skill in each of these towering figures. Along the way, he recreates nineteenth-century life in fascinating ways.” -David S. Reynolds, City University of New York, author of the prize-winning Walt Whitman's America and Beneath the American Renaissance
“Perhaps only a writer who has produced both biography and poetry could have crafted such an illuminating, elegant book. The scholarship is excellent, the ideas provocative, and the writing simply sublime. Both Lincoln and Whitman--together with the long-vanished culture in which they lived--come vividly, sometimes startlingly, alive in Daniel Mark Epstein's luminous prose.” -Harold Holzer, author of The Lincoln Image, and Co-Chairman of the U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission

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9780345457998: Lincoln and Whitman: Parallel lives in Civil War Washington

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