The Acquisitions Table: Meeting President Lincoln

Brooks, Noah. Abraham Lincoln: The Nation’s Leader in the Great Struggle through Which Was Maintained the Existence of the United States. Washington, D.C.: National Tribune, [1909, copyright 1888].

Lyman Lincoln bookThis is marginalia at its finest. Found in a remarkable collection of twenty-seven books published between 1859 and 1916, the marginalia displayed here recalls the moment when an eighteen-year-old man met Abraham Lincoln. The collection of books is from the library of that man, the outsider poet and self-taught speculative utopian author Lyman E. Stowe. AAS had earlier acquired the woodcuts Stowe made to accompany his eccentric philosophical publications. This library of books once owned by Stowe presents evidence of how popular history, philosophy, and literature helped him to make sense of his own early trauma as a wounded veteran of the Civil War, as well as how to face a radically evolving world awash in scientific and literary innovation. Many of the books bear Stowe’s elaborate typographical book plate, include his annotations in the text and endpapers, or have related newspaper clippings mounted or laid-in. The notes are keen and critical, if often riddled with eccentric spelling. Stowe’s copy of Noah Brooks’s Abraham Lincoln bears all these marks, including an extensive handwritten note Stowe started writing on his enormous bookplate and continued over the endpapers:

Detroit Mich. – Nov. 25 – 1913. When pasting this story of Lincoln’s life in this book The pleasing thought came to me – I Lyman E. Stowe of 133 Catherine St. Detroit Mich. had the great honor and greater pleasure of shaking hands with this greatest man that ever lived; and as a soldier serving under him as the President of the U.S. is [sic] the commander in chif [sic] of all the U. S. forces. When I saw him and General Scott Standing togethere [sic] revewing [sic] my regiment the 2nd Michigan Infantry, which so opertunely [sic] came to the rescue of Washington, when the war began. I certainly thought two of the old gods had come to earth to help us save the union. Tho Lincoln towered away above me in highth [sic] and I am 6 feet in my stockens [sic], Scott seemed a head taller than Lincoln and while the president was slim and angular Scott was stout and well proportioned, to a patriotic boy of 18 years of age these noble men were truly gods…

Many of the other books from Stowe’s library are about the Civil War and include his personal reminiscences in pencil notations. A couple of notes are about his friendship with Sarah Emma Edmonds, a woman who enlisted in the Civil War in the 2nd Michi­gan Infantry (Stowe’s own unit) and passed for a time as a man named Frank Thomas. According to Stowe, Sarah had been passing as a man for some time prior to enlistment.

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