Backlist Bop: The French Connection

daniel chester frenchToday marks the birthday of Daniel Chester French, in his day one of America’s most popular sculptors. The famed often seem to have known the famed, and French was no different. May Alcott, Louisa’s sister, was the person who encouraged him to take up sculpture. He also became friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson upon settling in Concord, Massachusetts.

French’s works dot the American landscape. One even adorns the lettered, as he designed one side to the medal awarded to winners of the Pulitzer Prize.

But French remains one of the most-viewed practitioners of his ancient art mainly because he created the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. It is not unusual for those who stand before the work to feel that it somehow, indelibly, captures Lincoln’s soul. Lincoln himself might have wondered at such a thought, but then again, he might not have. The Railsplitter practiced a complex and contemplative spirituality, one argued over by historians for over 150 years.

bartonWilliam E. Barton‘s classic The Soul of Abraham Lincoln ventured into the great president’s spirituality in search of solid truths about his beliefs. Armed with an enormous collection of Lincoln materials and his own strict evidentiary rules, Barton worked to avoid partisan politicking over Lincoln’s legacy and simply “lay bare the facts.”

To enable a better examination of the vexed questions surrounding Lincoln’s faith and religious principles, Barton gathered Lincoln’s most important writing and speeches about religion, and topically and chronologically assembled testimonies by his friends, family, and associates, about the most important and most debated issues. This volume, Barton’s first and most important work on Lincoln, is introduced by Michael Nelson. He provides a history of the literature on Lincoln’s religion, the historical context of Barton’s writing, and the details of the method that made Barton’s approach to this American icon such a distinctive success.