A Reporter's Lincoln

by Walter B. Stevens, Edited and Expanded by Michael Burlingame

Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1998. 9" a 6", xviii p., (2) 305 pp.
Paperback ISBN 0-80803-292536. $24.95.

No publisher has done more to bring back into print scarce Lincoln books than the University of Nebraska Press. Over the past few years Bison Books has brought forth new editions of publications written by Francis Carpenter, Francis Fischer Browne, Isaac N. Arnold and Ward H. Lamon. Each book contains a new introduction by a renown scholar, and is presented in a paperback format, making them affordable alternatives to the often high-priced original editions.

The University of Nebraska's latest effort, a reworking of A Reporter's Lincoln by Walter B. Stevens, goes well beyond the scope of a simple reprint. It is really an expansion and elaboration of the 1916 original book. To tackle the job they called upon the prodigious author Michel Burlingame.

A Reporter's Lincoln was published in 1916. It was an assemblage of reminiscences collected by Stevens beginning in 1886, when he was the chief of the Washington bureau for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. The accumulated recollections, augmented by materials owned by collector William K. Bixby, statements collected by the Lincoln Centennial Association and the Historical Society of Bloomington, Illinois, were originally published in the Globe-Democrat's Sunday Magazine between January 3 and April 11, 1909. The series, titled "Recollections of Lincoln" also borrowed materials from previously published reminiscences of Lincoln. Approximately one-half of the material originally published in the Globe-Democrat found its way into the 1916 book, A Reporter's Lincoln, now a somewhat scarce title, being a limited edition of only 600 copies.

But the Bison Books edition goes far beyond a mere reprinting of the original 1916 edition. Dr. Burlingame carefully edited the text, making a large number of annotations expanding upon and explaining various references. Burlingame then compared the recollections appearing in the book to those that appeared in the Globe-Democrat articles. The articles that appeared in the newspaper but did not appear in the original book are reprinted as "supplementary materials." The reprinted recollections constitute 120 pages of the book, consisting of 31 separate reminiscences. The supplementary material adds an additional 43 reminiscences constituting another 104 pages.

Burlingame also adds three appendices to the book. The first is a reminiscence by Mr. Benjamin S. Edwards concerning Mary Lincoln's child rearing skills. The second appendix is a rather interesting account of the accuracy of the newspaper versions of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. The reminiscence of Robert R. Hitt is at the center of the story. Hitt served as a shorthand reporter for the Chicago Press and Tribune during the debates. Using Hitt's recollections, Burlingame attempts to discredit Harold Holzer's presentation of the debates in The Lincoln Douglas Debates: The First Complete Unexpurgated Text (New York: Harper Collins, 1993). The final appendix of A Reporter's Lincoln is a record of Lincoln's September 30, 1863, meeting with a group of Missouri radicals.

Taken as a whole, the compilation is yet another treasure trove of reminiscences that has been rediscovered. Recent years have seen a new respect for the value of written reminiscences and oral history. However, one must recognize that human nature and faulty memories often affect the accuracy of recollections related many years after the fact. Burlingame acknowledges this fact and cautions his readers to use such material critically. In fact, Dr. Burlingame points out many errors of fact throughout the book, and chose not to include reminiscences that are known to be false or fabricated.

Allow me this opportunity to climb upon my soapbox and offer a word of advice to all publishers. This is in no way a criticism of any publisher in particular, especially the University of Nebraska Press. It is, however, an appropriate occasion to make mention of this matter, as my frustration level was pushed to its limit while reading A Reporter's Lincoln. I am referring to the practice of using endnotes rather that footnotes.

Reading a book written or edited by Michael Burlingame and not reading his notes is something akin to going to the best restaurant in town and ordering nothing but a glass of iced tea. It may be a great glass of tea, but you miss out on the real reason for going there. Burlingame offers his readers a feast of information in his annotations, and to force the scholarly reader to flip back and forth to the endnote section of the book, often several times per paragraph, is nothing short of a form of bibliographic torture. How I long for the good old days of the footnote, where I could find a reference by merely shifting my eyes rather than rifling a book!

But don't let this criticism prevent you from obtaining a copy of A Reporter's Lincoln. It is an excellent source of some long-forgotten reminiscences of Lincoln, and makes a worthy addition to any Lincoln library endnotes and all.

University of Nebraska Press
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© Copyright Daniel E. Pearson, 1999