Regular readers will know I’m a sucker for the writing of Adam Gopnik, who has a feature article in this week’s New Yorker called “Angels and Ages: Lincoln’s language and its legacy.” He starts off talking about reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, and how moved he was by the famous moment at Lincoln’s deathbed when “Stanton stood still, sobbing, and then said, simply, ‘Now he belongs to the ages.’” He decided to “start reading the new Lincoln literature”:
For the flight home, I picked up James L. Swanson’s “Manhunt,” a vivid account of the assassination and the twelve-day search for John Wilkes Booth that followed. Once again, I came to the deathbed scene, the vigil, the gathering. The Reverend Dr. Gurley, the Lincoln family minister, said, “ ‘Let us pray.’ He summoned up . . . a stirring prayer. . . . Gurley finished and everyone murmured ‘Amen.’ Then, no one dared to speak. Again Stanton broke the silence. ‘Now he belongs to the angels.’ ”
Now he belongs to the angels? Where had that come from? There was a Monty Python element here (“What was that? I think it was ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers,’ ” the annoyed listeners too far from the Mount say to each other in “Life of Brian”), but was there something more going on?
The rest of the piece is an attempt to answer that question (I don’t think it will spoil anyone’s reading experience to say that yes, there was something more going on), but I want to select one casual pun as an example of why I love Gopnik so much. Talking about the young Lincoln’s law practice, he says:
In the old hagiography, Lincoln the lawyer was a fiery, folksy fighter against injustice; to more recent, disillusioned revisionists, he was a corporate lawyer, a “railroad” lawyer doing the work of the new industrialists. Dirck shows that both accounts are overdrawn.
If you don’t like that bit of clever wordplay, well, tastes differ, but you’re missing a lot of fun.