Sunday, February 12, 2017

On Lincoln, and Leaders of Men

"...We shrine our heroes for the future days..."


And one there is, one image, full of rest,
A memory of manhood singly blest,
     The savior of our Nation and her Chief:
Matchless in judgment, love, compassion, power—
          The Man meet for the hour.
     Assailed by ignorance and half-belief,—
Each searching from too near a view
To read the soul of all our souls most true,—
     He went his way, unselfish, minist'ring;
     But in the bud and promise-time of Spring
     He died—and then we knew.
From "Memorial Ode" by Florence Earle Coates.

I do not know whether Mrs. Coates ever met Lincoln, but we are told in an issue of Law Notes (August 1907) that her father, George H. Earle, Sr.—"one of the best known lawyers and citizens of Philadelphia ... was a personal friend of [Lincoln's], and was [at the time of Earle's death] the oldest surviving delegate to the first Republican National Convention that nominated Fremont for the presidency." In the Report of the Thirteenth Annual Meeting of the Pennsylvania Bar Association (1907), it states that Mr. Earle "[asserted] himself as a champion of the slave and also as a municipal reformer. As a boy he had taken part in an anti-slavery demonstration, and he was wounded at the riot attending the burning of Pennsylvania Hall. He defended many slaves captured under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave law, and on more than one occasion obtained the release of his clients. He took the stump and took part in the campaigns which preceded the election of Lincoln and Grant. After the Civil War he turned his attention to municipal affairs ... His manner was simple yet powerful, and when he desired to be, he was deliciously satirical..."  Of such "Leaders of Men", Mrs. Coates writes:

WHEN they are dead, we heap the laurels high
Above them where, indifferent, they lie:
     We join their deeds to unaccustomed praise,
     And crown with garlands of immortal bays
Whom, living, we but thought to crucify.

As mountains seem less glorious viewed too nigh,
So, often, do the great whom we decry
     Gigantic loom to our astonished gaze—
            When they are dead;

For, shamed by largeness, littlenesses die;
And partisan and narrow hates put by,
     We shrine our heroes for the future days;
     And to atone our ignorant delays
With fond and emulous devotion try,—
            When they are dead!
"Leaders of Men" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in The Century Magazine (October 1909), Lyrics of Life (1909) and Poems (1916) Volume II.  It was also the Foreword in The Book of Lincoln (1919), by Mary Wright-Davis (compiler).

George H. Earle, Sr.
Original photo courtesy of
Florence Earle Morrisey
On Lincoln, Mrs. Coates writes the following:

A HERO

HE sang of joy; whate'er he knew of sadness
     He kept for his own heart's peculiar share:
So well he sang, the world imagined gladness
     To be sole tenant there.

For dreams were his, and in the dawn's fair shining,
     His spirit soared beyond the mounting lark;
But from his lips no accent of repining
     Fell when the days grew dark;

And though contending long dread Fate to master,
     He failed at last her enmity to cheat,
He turned with such a smile to face disaster
     That he sublimed defeat.
"A Hero" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in The Century Magazine (February 1909), Lyrics of Life (1909) and Poems (1916) Volume II.

HIS FACE

THEY tell you Lincoln was ungainly, plain?
          To some he seemed so: true.
Yet in his look was charm to gain
          E'en such as I, who knew
With how confirmed a will he tried
To overthrow a cause for which I would have died.

The sun may shine with naught to shroud
          Its beam yet show less bright
Than when from out eclipsing cloud
          It pours its radiant light;
And Lincoln seen amid the shows of war
Clothed in his sober black, was somehow felt the more

To be a centre and a soul of power,—
          An influence benign
To kindle in a faithless hour
          New trust in the divine.
Grave was his visage, but no cloud could dull
The radiance from within that made it beautiful.

A prisoner, when I saw him first—
          Wounded and sick for home—
His presence soothed my yearning's thirst
          While yet his lips were dumb;
For such compassion as his countenance wore
I had not seen nor felt in human face before.

And when, low-bending o'er his foe,
          He took in his firm hand
My wasted one, I seemed to know
          We two were of one Land;
And as my cheek flushed warm with young surprise,
God's pity looked on me from Lincoln's sorrowing eyes.

His prisoner I was from then—
          Love makes surrender sure—
And though I saw him not again,
          Some memories endure,
And I am glad my untaught worship knew
His the divinest face I ever looked into!
"His Face" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Harper's Monthly Magazine (February 1911), The Unconquered Air (1912) and Poems (1916) Volume II.

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