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Wilson, Douglas L., ed.; Davis, Rodney O., ed.; Greene, William G. 'Introduction' 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
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=herndonr13.html


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-- xxiii --

guard as to what I say, and what all men say. Much of the matter is ten years old, and watch all men, weigh well what is said, search for opportunities, casts of mind, education, and veracities. Follow no man simply because he says so and so. Follow your records, sharply criticizing as you go." [36]

As this passage suggests, Herndon knew from his own experience how memories can fade and become elusive. When his biography was finally in proofs, for example, he developed a concern about his own first glimpse of Abraham Lincoln and wrote to his collaborator: "Be sure that Lincoln Came all the way up to Bogueís Mill. It seems to me that he did and that, I at that time, saw Lincoln, but be sure that I am right. The records [i.e., his letters and interviews, then in Weikís possession] will fix it — it has now been 56 years since I saw what now Seems to be the truth to me. Try and get me right. If L Came up to Bogues mill I saw Lincoln & if he did not then I did not see him at Bogues mill." [37] While this dramatizes the precarious qualities of memory, it also demonstrates that Herndon was, to the last, deeply concerned about historical accuracy and more than willing, if the evidence warranted, to have his own memory corrected.

The letters, interviews, and statements included in this edition all relate to William H. Herndonís biographical project, but they are limited, with few exceptions, to those that purport to provide information or informed opinion about Abraham Lincoln. The great majority of these documents were received or taken down by Herndon himself, but his own personal recollections of Lincoln are outside the scope of this work. A respectable number of documents containing informant testimony resulted from the work of his collaborator, Jesse W. Weik. Weik continued his Lincoln inquiries after completion of the collaborative biography, but letters and interviews that he collected are restricted in this work to those acquired in the service of Herndonís overall project, which began in 1865 and ended with publication of the revised edition of their biography in 1892. The materials on Lincoln collected by Weik after that date for other projects are therefore not included. Correspondents who merely supplied copies of Lincolnís letters are ignored. These selection criteria effectively exclude from the present work a very substantial portion of Herndonís and Weikís papers, so that students interested in the progress and details of Herndonís biographical project, in Herndonís own writing on Lincoln, or in the material on Lincoln that Weik acquired after the appearance of the revised edition will need to supplement this edition with a wider array of documents.

Readers of the material presented here will readily perceive that the pertinence and quality of the testimony offered by Herndonís informants vary widely. Not surprisingly, witnesses are often demonstrably wrong in their recollections of fact. Particularly in such unforgiving matters as dates, informants are often in error (though perhaps a more remarkable circumstance is how often they are right). It
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Wilson, Douglas L., ed.; Davis, Rodney O., ed.; Greene, William G. 'Introduction' 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
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=herndonr13.html
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