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1 In 1856 I purchased in New York a life of Edmund Burke. I have forgotten now who the author was, but I remember I read it through in a short time. One morning Lincoln came into the office and, seeing the book in my hands, enquired what I was reading. I told him, at the same time observing that it was an excellent work and handing the book over to him. Taking it in his hand he threw himself down on the office sofa and hastily ran over its pages, reading a little here and there. At last he closed and threw it on the table with the exclamation, “No, I've read enough of it. It's like all the others. Biographies as generally written are not only misleading, but false. The author of this life of Burke makes a wonderful hero out of his subject. He magnifies his perfections — if he had any — and suppresses his imperfections. He is so faithful in his seal and so lavish in praise of his every act that one is almost driven to believe that Burke never made a mistake or a failure in his life.” He lapsed into a brown study, but presently broke out again, “Billy, I've wondered why book-publishers and merchants don't have blank biographies on their shelves, always ready for an emergency; so that, if a man happens to die, his heirs or his friends, if they wish to perpetuate his memory, can purchase one already written, but with blanks. These blanks they can at their pleasure fill up with rosy sentences full of high-sounding praise. In most instances they commemorate a lie, and cheat posterity out of the truth. History,” he concluded, “is not history unless it is the truth.” This emphatic avowal of sentiment from Mr. Lincoln not only fixes his estimate of ordinary biography, but is my vindication in advance if assailed for telling the truth.
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