once i didn’t know what to do and a voice in my head “sing” and i did and i started to see the people i’d love at dive bars, on late nights, in the same places i’d never been. so i think we already have what we need.
“Please, no matter how we advance technologically, please don’t abandon the book. There is nothing in our material world more beautiful than the book.”—Patti Smith ( Musician’s Memoir Wins National Award NYTimes 11-18-10)
History is a lot of hypothesizing about who slept with who.
For nearly eight months in 1862-3, Capt. David Derickson led the brigade that guarded Lincoln at the Soldiers’ Home in the District of Columbia, the Camp David of the day. Derickson, in the words of his regiment’s history, published three decades later, ”advanced so far in the president’s confidence and esteem that in Mrs. Lincoln’s absence he frequently spent the night at his cottage, sleeping in the same bed with him, and — it is said — making use of his Excellency’s night shirt!”
Tripp can lay out a case, but his discussion of its implications is so erratic that the reader is often left on his own. One wonders: What does it mean to be homosexual? Not all of the men Lincoln admired were. Ellsworth seems straight as a ruler: he was engaged to a woman he passionately loved when he died. Even Derickson married twice and fathered 10 children (one son was serving in his unit while he was sleeping with Lincoln). Tripp argues that a cultural innocence — the word ”homosexual” had not yet been coined — allowed acts of physical closeness between men that had no deeper meaning, as well as acts that did but could escape scrutiny. We know more than our ancestors, and our reward is that, in some ways, we may do less. In any case, on the evidence before us, Lincoln loved men, at least some of whom loved him back. Their words tell us more than their sleeping arrangements.
What does Lincoln’s erotic life tell us about Lincoln? For a gregarious, popular man, he had few intimates (Tripp’s very title is a misnomer). Like many secretive types — Benjamin Franklin comes to mind — he kept the world at bay with a screen of banter. Yet behind the laughs lay an almost bottomless sadness, and sympathy for those he saw as fellow sufferers. There were many Lincolns: the joker, the pol, the logician, the skeptical theologian. But the man of sorrows may be the most important. ”The president has a curious vein of sentiment running through his thought which is his most valuable mental attribute,” as his secretary of state, William Seward, said.
Desiring what he could not consistently have did not make him grieve — what Virgil called the tears of things did that — but it may have deepened his grief.