Monday, May 25, 2009

Abraham Lincoln the Storytelling President

In writing about Abraham Lincoln’s political genius, Doris Kearns Goodwin highlights the president’s great ability in storytelling and speechmaking. Here are some excerpts from her book, Team of Rivals:

“No one could equal his never-ending stream of stories, nor his ability to reproduce them with such contagious mirth.” (p8)

“Lincoln’s stirring oratory had earned the admiration of a far-flung audience who had either heard him speak or read his speeches in the papers.” (p9)

Thomas Lincoln
Of his father, Kearns says, he was “a born storyteller, he possessed a quick wit, a talent for mimicry, and an uncanny memory for exceptional stories. These qualities would prove his greatest bequest to his son.” (p50)

Chip Off the old Block
Kearns on Lincoln as a youngster:
“He would climb onto the tree stump or log that served as an impromptu stage and mesmerize his own circle of young listeners. He has discovered the pride and pleasure an attentive audience could bestow. This great storytelling talent and oratorical skill would eventually constitute his stock-in-trade throughout both his legal and political careers. The passion for rendering experience into powerful language remained with Lincoln throughout his life.” (p50)

Beauty of Words
“He possessed a vivid sensibility for the beauty of the English language….He was attracted to the sound of language.” (p52-53)

More than Entertainment
“But Lincoln’s stories provided more than mere amusement. Drawn from his own experiences and the curiosities reported by others, they frequently provided maxims and proverbs that usefully connected to the lives of his listeners. Lincoln possessed an extraordinary ability to convey practical wisdom in the form of humorous tales his listeners could remember and repeat. This process and repetition is central to the oral tradition; indeed Walter Benjamin in his essay on the storyteller’s art suggests that repetition ‘is the nature of the web in which the gift of storytelling is cradled.’” (p150)

Speaking the Thoughts of the People
“James Russell Lowell described Lincoln’s ability to speak ‘as if the people were listening to their own thinking out loud.’” (p233)

A review of Team of Rivals is posted on Reviewing Books and Movies.

Dr Geoff Pound