There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.
— Shakespeare, Hamlet

David Herbert Donald has called his new biography, Lincoln, a book for the Nineties.1 If it is a work for this time, Donald seems to mean that nowadays we no longer need any great mythic figures in the national pantheon. Donald's Lincoln is anything but the larger-than-life conquering hero whose sublime historical achievement was to have saved the Union and to have freed the slaves and whose apotheosis is monumentally evinced in that awesome, brooding memorial in Washington. Is it risky to think of Lincoln as a mythic hero. Idols, of course, invariably have clay feet; and it is probably wise not to stand too near them, as they have a way of burying their devotees as they come...

 

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