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Herndon on Lincoln : letters
Herndon, William Henry, 1818-1891., author.
Uniform Title:
Works. Selections
Publication Information:
Urbana : Knox College Lincoln Studies Center ; University of Illinois Press, [2016]
Physical Description:
xxv, 371 pages : illustration ; 24 cm.
V. 1. Letters.
Format :


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Material Type
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Item Holds
E457 .H579 2016 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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After Abraham Lincoln's assassination in 1865, William H. Herndon began work on a brief, "subjective" biography of his former law partner, but his research turned up such unexpected and often startling information that it became a lifelong obsession. The biography finally published in 1889, Herndon's Lincoln, was a collaboration with Jesse W. Weik in which Herndon provided the materials and Weik did almost all the writing. For this reason, and because so much of what Herndon had to say about Lincoln was not included in the biography, David Donald has observed, "To understand Herndon's own rather peculiar approach to Lincoln biography, one must go back to his letters." An exhaustive collection of what Herndon was told by others about Lincoln was published by Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis in Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln . In this new volume, Wilson and Davis have produced a comprehensive edition of what Herndon himself wrote about Lincoln in his own letters. Because of Herndon's close association with Lincoln, his intimate acquaintance with his partner's legal and political careers, and because he sought out informants who knew Lincoln and preserved information that might otherwise have been lost, his letters have become an indispensable resource for Lincoln biography. Unfiltered by a collaborator and rendered in Herndon's own distinctive voice, these letters constitute a matchless trove of primary source material. Herndon on Lincoln: Letters is a must for libraries, research institutions, and students of a towering American figure and his times.

Author Notes

Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis are codirectors of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College, in Galesburg, Illinois, and the coeditors of Herndon's Lincoln and The Lincoln-Douglas Debates .

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Acclaimed Lincoln scholars Wilson and Davis (coauthors, Herndon's Informants) have combed the large correspondence of Lincoln's law partner Herndon to discover every reference to Lincoln as a man, a public figure, and an almost mythological hero, and have selected for this book those letters that have substantive value as "information, anecdote, opinion, or speculation" about the president. Their work, part of a larger project to compile and edit all of Herndon's letters, interviews, and statements about Lincoln, which covered almost half a century, is a revelation not only about the constant demand for access to the private Lincoln, including his family life, religion, and habits but also about the process whereby biographers, politicians, and the public constructed their own perception of Lincoln to suit their own needs. The missives also show Herndon's own political and personal ambitions in trading on his connection to Lincoln. VERDICT No major reinterpretations of Lincoln emerge from these letters, but they offer insights into the making of the man in myth and memory that repay reading them in many ways.-Randall M. Miller, St. Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Herndon's Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life, published by William H. Herndon and coauthor Jesse W. Weik in 1889, still stands as one of the most influential biographies of the 16th president. More so than any other biography, it sketched Abraham Lincoln's personal habits and tastes during his pre-presidential years and established how Americans came to understand his character and bigger meaning. Herndon, Lincoln's law partner from 1844 to 1861, knew the Great Emancipator as well as anyone. After Lincoln's assassination in 1865, Herndon began a decades-long research project, obsessed with uncovering little-known details of his late friend's life. In this meticulous documentary edition, Wilson and Davis have gathered 286 of Herndon's letters, dating from 1844 to 1891, to friends, publishers, and ordinary citizens. The correspondence is a treasure trove for Lincoln scholars because Herndon expounded on such topics as Lincoln's relations with women, his attitudes toward religion, his reading habits, his fatalism, and his domestic life. Herndon's voluminous and detailed letters, identified and annotated expertly by Wilson and Davis, confirm the late Lincoln scholar David Donald's observation that "To understand Herndon's own rather peculiar approach to Lincoln biography, one must go back to his letters." Summing Up: Essential. For all college and university collections. --John David Smith, University of North Carolina at Charlotte