Picks and Pans Review: The Lincoln Image
02/20/1984 at 01:00 AM EST
by Harold Holzer, Gabor S. Boritt and Mark E. Neely Jr.
In 1860, when he first ran for the Presidency, Abraham Lincoln was largely unknown. By 1863, when he delivered the Gettysburg Address, his face was the most famous in America. It is the authors' thesis that this was not an accident but part of a conscious campaign. Photographers, engravers, lithographers, woodcut artists, poster makers, cartoonists, painters—all with Lincoln's help and encouragement—flooded the country with his distinctive image. The reaction wasn't always favorable. One print salesman said, "When I have shown the lithograph to my lady friends...the cry has uniformly been: 'Why, what an ugly face; I hope, in all conscience, Lincoln does not look like that!' " This book reproduces dozens of those images. The authors, all Lincoln buffs, bring a lot of rich scholarship to this fascinating volume. (Holzer is an expert on Lincoln prints, Boritt a history professor at Gettysburg College and author of Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream, and Neely the director of the Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum in Fort Wayne, Ind.) The book doesn't do much for the reputation of the illustrators of the past. Today's political cartoonists are often too cruel to our Presidents, but the samples here are far more vicious. One printmaker, out for a fast buck after the assassination, made a composite print by putting Lincoln's face on the body of a short, plump man who wasn't selling very well. Another print shows how Lincoln was borne into heaven in the arms of angels, in exactly the same pose as that of George Washington on a popular poster—same angels, same heavenly robes, same grieving figures. (Scribner's, $35)