Thursday, October 16, 2008

Great People Struggle Greatly

This morning I couldn't get back to sleep after a late night of Blogging so I was flipping through channels as I often do and I just happened upon this documentary :

08:00 AM Lincoln: Lincoln.
Was Abraham Lincoln's lifelong anguish the driving force behind his ultimate transcendence to America's most beloved President? Award-winning director Vikram Jayanti takes a look through Lincoln's eyes on his last day as Lincoln is wracked by memory, premonition, and regret. His entire life was a continuing battle to contain and overcome his depressions, suicidal urges, unsettled sexuality, tragic family life, and a history of political opportunism--a battle he fought with his powerful innate wit and charm and his developing idealism. Yet today, controversy continues to rage over his ambiguous psychology and sexuality. In this 3-hour special, we are joined by leading Lincoln biographers Gore Vidal, Jan Morris, and Harold Holzer, among others, as well as with Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon, for a fresh look.

about Abraham Lincoln on the History Channel, which was interesting---what I saw of it, anyways (I missed the last hour or so of it).

Anyways from what I saw it went into great detail about Lincoln's struggle with depression, which he never overcame---so here are some of my web findings related to the subject:

A fresh, young Lincoln looking like he could conquer the world circa 1857

Some melancholic correspondances of Lincoln's:

Executive Mansion
Washington, December 23, 1862.

Dear Fanny

It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave Father; and, especially, that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is common in such cases. In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once. The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer and holier sort than you have known before.

Please present my kind regards to your afflicted mother.

Your sincere friend
A. Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln wrote this beautiful letter of condolence to Fanny McCullough, the daughter of William McCullough who was the former clerk of the McClean County Circuit Court in Bloomington, Illinois. William McCullough knew Abraham Lincoln well. Fanny could remember when she was a child Lincoln would hold her and her sister Nanny on his knees. During the Civil War McCullough, a Black Hawk War veteran, enlisted in the Fourth Illinois Cavalry, and he was killed in a battle near Coffeeville, Mississippi, on December 5, 1862. Mutual friends of Lincoln and McCullough informed the president of Fanny's depression over her father's death. With the help of Lincoln's letter, Fanny eventually recovered, married, and lived until 1920.

More than 20 years earlier Lincoln gave similar advice to his best friend, Joshua Speed. In a letter written on February 13, 1842, Lincoln said:
Remember in the depth and even the agony of despondency, that very shortly you are to feel well again.

In a September 27, 1841, letter to Mary Speed, a half sister to Joshua, Lincoln noted:
A tendency to melancholy.... let it be observed, is a misfortune, not a fault.

Interesting tidbits:

Lincoln was well known for his fondness of sad songs and poems, and he used them as vehicles for lamenting his grief. He was often heard reciting such refrains and verses for hours at a time, deluged in his loneliness. He especially admired Oliver Wendell Holmes's "The Last Leaf," which addressed the death of loved ones. He was fondest of the following stanza:

The mossy marbles rest
On lips that he has pressed
In their bloom;
And the names he loved to hear
Have been carved for many a year
On the tomb.

Lincoln's depressions have often been ascribed to heredity. He could very well have inherited his sadness and sensitiveness from his mother. It appears that his cousins also suffered from depression. A neighbor in Kentucky recalled that Lincoln's father often got the blues, and suffered from some strange sort of spells. When he suffered from these spells, he only wanted to be alone. Lincoln, as did his father, wanted to spend much time alone, and historians have noted that the loneliness he experienced in his youth could have been the source of his depression. It was unfortunate that from ages 12 to 21, there was no one in close proximity, who appreciated the intellectual and ambitious side of this young man. Modern-day psychologists have found that punishment in childhood has always been one of the most powerful generators of depression in adulthood. Could it be that his father's inhuman and cold treatment of him, along with his mother's use of corporal punishment may have prompted Lincoln to depression?

Read More: Here.

Tidbits about a suicidal poem Lincoln wrote:

Both sides of melancholy are evident in a poem on suicide that Lincoln apparently wrote in his twenties. Discussed by his contemporaries but long undiscovered, the poem, unsigned, recently came to light through the efforts of the scholar Richard Lawrence Miller, who was aided by old records that have been made newly available. Without an original manuscript or a letter in which ownership is claimed, no unsigned piece can be attributed definitively to an author. But the evidence points strongly to Lincoln. The poem was published in the year cited by Lincoln's closest friend, Joshua Speed, and its syntax, tone, meter, and other qualities are characteristic of Lincoln.

The poem ran in the August 25, 1838, issue of the Sangamo Journal, under the title "The Suicide's Soliloquy." At the top a note explains that the lines of verse were found "near the bones" of an apparent suicide in a deep forest by the Sangamon River. The conceit, in other words, is that this is a suicide note. As the poem begins, the anguished narrator announces his intention.

Here, where the lonely hooting owl
Sends forth his midnight moans,
Fierce wolves shall o'er my carcase growl,
Or buzzards pick my bones.

No fellow-man shall learn my fate,
Or where my ashes lie;
Unless by beasts drawn round their bait,
Or by the ravens' cry.

Yes! I've resolved the deed to do,
And this the place to do it:
This heart I'll rush a dagger through
Though I in hell should rue it!

Often understood as an emotional condition, depression is to those who experience it characterized largely by its cognitive patterns. The novelist William Styron has likened his depression to a storm in his brain, punctuated by thunderclaps of thought—self-critical, fearful, despairing. Lincoln clearly knew these mental strains (he wrote once of "that intensity of thought, which will some times wear the sweetest idea thread-bare and turn it to the bitterness of death"); he knew how, oppressed by the clamor, people often become hopeless, and seek the most drastic solution.

To ease me of this power to think,
That through my bosom raves,
I'll headlong leap from hell's high brink
And wallow in its waves.

This poem illustrates the complex quality of Lincoln's melancholy in his late twenties. He articulated a sense of himself as degraded and humiliated but also, somehow, as special and grand. And though the character in the poem in the end chooses death by the dagger, the author—using his tool, the pen—showed an impulse toward an artful life. Lincoln's poem expressed both his connection with a morbid state of mind and, to some extent, a mastery over it. But the mastery would be short-lived.

Read the whole article here: Lincoln's Great Depression

Pictures of Lincoln in his later years looking depressed, worn out, despondent, tired and ready to go home due to the effects of the Civil War on his inner psyche:

-Lincoln circa 1863. -Lincoln circa 1864.

View more interesting photographs of Abraham Lincoln: here, here, here and here.

One final thought:

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