Rather than bury his melancholy, he resurrected it.
My review and summary of a blog on BetterLivingThroughBeowulf.Com
What was Lincoln’s source of strength? His life as president fraught with rage and ridicule. His wife an unstable and hostile companion. His mental state a constant siege of depression and fear. Seemly imprisoned by his mental illness, he found a source of succor in literature. Lincoln’s life unfolded in three parts: fear, engagement, and transcendence. Lifting himself up from the question of whether he could live, he decided how he would live.
The trials of his life became his weapons in war. His personal suffering prepared him for the nation’s suffering and did not let it overwhelm him as it did so many. Knowing what he knew, of optimism he was suspect. With his essential purpose always in focus, his vision for our nation governed his work. The discipline of his early adult life had tempered a fortitude which endured disappointments. Lincoln’s ingrained strength of purpose prepared him to engage his own awful fear and doubt and triumph.
Literature both prepared him for life’s process and encouraged him to cope. Rather than bury his melancholy, he resurrected it. Reading, reciting, and composing poetry that examined themes of death, despair, and human futility, brought comfort to a man who so often sat alone in a place where his only companions were those dark themes. Lincoln’s single secret achievement of finding a therapy for his incurable malady gives him yet another dimension of greatness. In the depression of key author’s, Lincoln related:
Lord Byron’s: Sorrow is Knowledge: they who know the most
Must mourn the deepest o’er the fatal truth.
What is it (melancholy) but the telescope of truth?
Lincoln read Poe because it was gloomy. The Raven, an emblem of the poet’s melancholy, poeticizes both Poe’s determination to be rational with the prospect of a never-to-leave madness.
Lincoln related best to Shakespeare’s Macbeth. His ambition and existential doubts resonated and were forces in both his objectives and his melancholy. The grasp of literature held Lincoln back from shallow optimism and prevented him from falling into deep despair. He knew that devils and angels battled within all of us and he believed that the better angels of our nature would triumph. He believed in this nation and its ability remain united when challenged.