I’m in Anchorage, having just heard (at 7 a.m.!) the president of the University of Alaska talk some academic politics. Seems like a smart enough fellow and I was pleased to hear him note that, never minds that president’s day stuff, today is Mr. Lincoln’s birthday. And I will be speaking tonight on "Lincoln’s Majestic Interpretation of the Universe." (Which speech, if it works, I’ll put out later.) But this speech on Abe is the best oration ever, and worth re-reading. Andrew Ferguson has a very nice essay on Lincoln’s cabin and its logs. If you ever wondered about the details and rumors surrounding it, it’s all here, explained in a clear and charming way. Besides, as the last paragraph explains, its the undeniable truth about Lincoln and the American miracle that counts more than the logs.
I was in New Delhi some twenty years ago, with a brief four-hour break from my labors. So my Indian driver asked if he could take me to the soul of India. I said, sure, if it isn’t too far. He took me to Ghandi’s tomb and explained to me that he was their "great souled" man, great as in "ma" and soul as in "hatma." We talked about that for a while, and then we talked about the Greek word for soul and how that is related to Hindi (Sanscrit) and he asked who our great souled man was. He was testing me. He already knew the answer, but I got it right. We noted two things: that the word soul means breath (and the word sounds like breath in most languages, perhaps even in non Indo-European ones, at least the one’s we knew between us two), and that the great of soul of a man differs from India to America. It is related to justice, and excellence, and a kind of love, but in our version it was vitally important for Lincoln to speak, and to speak clearly, and always to be understood by his audience. In his soul he knew this. He wanted to lift them to his thoughts, and then, of course, persuade them if he could. But he wanted them to come to their own conclusion, to prove to themselves that they could. They should feel at ease and at home in the presence of their reason and their language and the great truths about the human soul, and know that they could get it on their own. Lincoln’s great gift to his friends and citizens was to show them how they may come to know the great truths about their purpose and freedom as human beings, and then to act like men in the world and become worthy of those truths. My driver saw the difference.