Whitman did not subject Lincoln to the literary but to the human motive. Lincoln does not become a literary figure by his touch. Does not become a man in a book. After Whitman is done with him Lincoln still remains Lincoln. No way reduced. No way aggrandized. Only better understood. His background does not become a book. His background remains what it was. Remains life. Generic life. As life is where life finds life at the root. I may let Whitman put in a word for himself. Whitman said to me of Lincoln: "Lincoln is particularly my man—particularly belongs to me; yes, and by the same taken I am Lincoln's man: I guess I particularly belong to him: we are afloat in the same stream—we are rooted in the same ground."
To know the Lincoln of Whitman you want to know the Whitman of Whitman. Whitman was literary. But he was not first of all literary. Or last of all literary. First of all he was human. He was not the leaves of a book. He was the bone and flesh of a man. Yes, he was that something or other not bone or flesh which is also of a man—which finally is the man. Simply literary analysis can make little out of Whitman. He does not yield to the scalpel. He is not to be resurrected from an inkpot. His voice falls in with the prophet voices. He was not unlettered. He knew the alphabet. But he kept all alphabetical, arrogance well in hand. The letter was kept in hand. The spirit was left free. You cannot buy a ticket for Athens or Weimar or Paris or London or Boston and reach Whitman. He is never reached in that circle. The literary centers do not lead to him. You have got to travel to him by another route. You go East and find the Buddhistic canticles. You consult the Zoroastrian avatars. And you take the word of Jesus for a great deal. And you may hit Socrates on the way. And you keep on with your journey, touching here and there in European history certain men, certain influences. Going into port now and then. Never going where men compete for literary judgment. Never where men set out to acquit themselves immortally as artists. Keeping forever close to the careless rhythms of original causes. So you go on. And go on. And by and by you arrive at Whitman. Not by way of the university. Not by way of Shakespeare. Not by way of the literary experts and adepts. But by human ways. To try to find Whitman by way of Shakespeare or Molière would be hopeless. I do not disparage the other routes to other men. I am only describing this route to Whitman. This route, which is the only route. Whitman chants and prays and soars. He Is not pretty. He is only beautiful. He is not beautiful with the beauty of beauty. He is beautiful with the beauty of truth. The pen can easily miss Whitman. But the heart reaches him direct. Whitman is therefore the best route to Lincoln. The same process which provides Whitman for you provided Lincoln for. Whitman. Whitman said to me again about Lincoln: "There was no reason why Lincoln should not have been a prophet rather than a politician; he was in fact a divine prophet-politician; in him for almost the first time prophecy had something to say in politics. I shouldn't wonder but that in another age of the world Lincoln would have been a chosen man to lead in some rebellion against ecclesiastical institutions and religious form and ceremony."