November 19, 2013

What was done and what was said

Today marks the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg address, a tiny speech that has become so much a part of the American historical canon that a popular book about it dubs it "the Gettysburg gospel." There are several extant versions of the speech with varying claims of authenticity. It seems that no reporter that day managed to capture the speech verbatim.

Here are several versions all in one place.

A lot of the things many of us "know" about the speech probably aren't true, as the above cited author Gabor Boritt demonstrates in his book.

One thing I thought I knew about the speech was that a windbag gave a two hour overblown oration which has long been forgotten and which contrasted poorly with Lincoln's few but eloquent words. Actually, the other Gettysburg address, by orator and former politician Edward Everett was actually pretty good, as you can see for yourself here.

Long speeches were the rage then and most audiences would have been as disappointed by a short keynote then as they would be of a short concert performance by a headline band today. (Draw your own conclusions about what this says or doesn't say about the modern American attention span.)

In one respect, Lincoln's speech was totally wrong, i.e. when he said that "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here..." For the present, at least, it seems unlikely that either the words or the deeds associated with that historic battle are in any danger of being forgotten.

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