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Wilson, Douglas L., ed.; Davis, Rodney O., ed.; Greene, William G. 'Editorial Note' in 'Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements About Abraham Lincoln' . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. [format: book], [genre: letter]. Permission: University of Illinois Press
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Editorial Note.


The editors have attempted to reproduce the texts of these documents exactly as found—word for word and letter for letter. But the reader is warned that this is not always the straightforward process that it appears. As Roy P. Basler, the most notable Lincoln editor of the twentieth century, wrote: " To record what the eye could see seemed simple enough. With Lincolnís handwriting being what it was, however, the trouble was to know what one saw." [1] And Lincolnís is a reasonably legible hand. Because writers frequently form words without forming discrete and discernible letters, handwritten text is often difficult to transcribe into print. Where this does not pose a problem as to what word was intended, there may still be a question regarding the intended spelling. The difference between a capital and a lowercase letter, though clear and potentially meaningful in print, may be very difficult to discern in a handwritten text. Another consideration is that Herndonís manuscripts contain the expected anomalies of unrevised composition, such as inadvertently dropped or repeated words. In accordance with the editorial plan followed here, even in the cases where the errors are clearly inadvertent—as with misspellings and dropped or repeated words—the document is always rendered as found, errors and all.

The resulting text makes demands on readers that a regularized or modernized text does not. Certain peculiarities of nineteenth-century spelling and punctuation present difficulties. Some of the writers represented here used scarcely any punctuation at all, while others used commas and dashes in profusion and in ways that seem to the modern eye whimsical or strange. Although some writers appear to have had their own fairly consistent system of punctuation—the most obvious being those who used none at all—most simply refused to restrict the comma or the dash or even the period to a fixed use.

Marks clearly intended as punctuation are sometimes ambiguous and might be, for example, taken as representing either a period or a comma. In such cases, the mark is here given a conventional interpretation, so that a mark at the end of a sentence that might be either a comma or a period is rendered in the text as a period. Certain other familiar aspects of nineteenth-century handwriting have been dispensed with.

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The doubled dash, which resembles an equal sign, is rendered as a regular dash; the double underline is treated the same as a single underline and rendered in italic type. Raised letters are lowered to the normal position. Words that have been stricken by the writer are not usually shown, but where considered significant they are either shown as stricken in the text or commented on in the notes.

Square brackets are used to present material absent from the text or unable to be transcribed. When enclosing matter in roman type, square brackets indicate words or letters that the editors believe were originally in the document but have since been obliterated through stain or mutilation. To aid in the deciphering of mutilated documents, bracketed asterisks are used to indicate an estimated number of missing words, so that [*] indicates a single missing word, [*/**] indicates an estimate of one or two missing words, and [*/?] indicates an indeterminate number of missing words. Doubtful readings are given in square brackets in roman type, followed by a question mark. Bracketed material in italic type (such as [illegible] for illegible matter) represents editorial insertions.


In the interest of a consistent format, certain elements of the documents are always treated in the same way. In letters, the place and date of the document, where present, are given at the beginning of the text, regardless of where they appear in the document itself. Place and date are given exactly as written, except that the county, when added to the city, is usually ignored. Thus place and date for a letter headed "Charleston, Coles Co. Ills." with the date given at the end of the letter as "Friday, Oct. 25th 1865" is rendered at the beginning of the text as "Charleston, Ills. Oct. 25th 1865." The salutation is always given on the next line. The closing line, such as "Yours truly," and the signature are always printed at the end of the text. The inside address, if any, is omitted, as is the docketing, unless it is the source of the date or is cited in the notes.


The majority of documents presented here are reproduced from originals in the Herndon-Weik Collection at the Library of Congress. These are marked at the end of the entry by the designation LC, followed by HW and the foliation numbers: for example, LC: HW2991 — 94. The texts of considerably more than half of these originals exist in transcriptions made for William H. Herndon in the fall of 1866 by John G. Springer, now in the Ward Hill Lamon Papers in the Huntington Library. These are indicated by the designation HL, followed usually by LN and the volume and foliation numbers. Thus the designation LC: HW2105; HL: LN2408, 2:361 — 64 signifies that the text is taken from an original document at the Library

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of Congress (HW2105) and that a transcription of this document is found in the Huntington Library (LN2408, 2:361 — 64), where LN2408 is the designation for the three bound volumes containing the Springer transcriptions and 2:361 — 64 indicates that the transcription of HW2105 is found in the second volume on leaves 361 — 64. In cases where no original is known and the text is taken from the Springer transcription, as with the first item in this work, the Huntington Library designation is listed by itself: HL: LN2408, 2:340 — 41. Originals are also found in the Jesse W. W eik Collection in the Illinois State Historical Library, and these are listed as ISHL: Weik Papers, followed by the appropriate box number. A very small number of documents come from other sources, which are duly identified following the text.


For undated documents, a conjectural date is usually printed in italic type within square brackets. Undated documents for which there is a Springer transcription may be presumed to have been written between May 1865 and the end of November 1866; where no more precise indication can be given, the date for these is given as [1865 — 66] and they are ranked alphabetically by informant between November 30 and December 1. Other conjectural dates have been based on evidence such as the paper on which the document was written, the general content, or indicative references in the text. The presence of a question mark indicates a degree of uncertainty about the dating; its absence implies the contrary. In some cases, the date for undated documents has been taken from that given in Hern-don and Weikís biography, but as the dates given there are often demonstrably wrong, the editors have exercised restraint in adopting them and urge caution in their use.


The general order of the entries in each of parts 1 — 4 is chronological. For dated material, the placement is straightforward, but undated documents present a separate problem. Where there is no indication of when the document was written, it is marked [undated] and ranked at the end of the category to which it belongs. Documents for which there is evidence only of the year (as when an informantís age is given) are ranked after dated documents from that year. Where there is evidence of the chronological range of the document, it is ranked after the dated documents in the latest year. In the sequencing of undated interviews with the same informant, Herndonís numbering on the back of the manuscript, where present, has usually been followed, with exceptions noted.

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This work is divided into four parts, each arranged chronologically. Part 1, "Letters, Interviews, and Statements Collected by William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik, 1865 — 92," constitutes the main body of material, either in original documents or transcriptions.

Part 2, "Informant Testimony Reported in Herndonís Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life (1889)," consists of testimony presumed authentic but for which no original document or transcription could be located. The reader is advised that Weik, who is presumed to have adapted the informant testimony to the narrative, did not always follow the exact wording of known informant material.

Part 3, "Informant Testimony Reported in William H. Herndonís Letters to Jesse W. Weik," consists of two kinds of material: testimony gathered recently by Herndon and testimony recollected from an earlier period. The reader is cautioned that some of the latter seems to represent testimony offered at a much earlier time. Only testimony about Lincoln that Herndon specifies as coming from others is included.

Part 4, "Informant Testimony Reported in Jesse W. Weikís The Real Lincoln (1922)," contains the text of a letter and the substance of several interviews that appear to have been collected as part of Herndonís biographical project but for which no original documents have been located. Given the liberties that Weik felt justified in taking with Herndonís informant material in composing the biography, it seems probable that the interviews are retrospective adaptations of notes or memories, rather than faithful transcriptions of contemporary documents.

The documents have been numbered in one sequence across parts 1 — 4, and documents are referred to in the notes by the section sign (§) followed by the document number.

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Wilson, Douglas L., ed.; Davis, Rodney O., ed.; Greene, William G. 'Editorial Note' in 'Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements About Abraham Lincoln' . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. [format: book], [genre: letter]. Permission: University of Illinois Press
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