Is Storytelling Unmanly?

Great blog in the Times today about Lincoln’s storytelling prowess:

“Count Adam Gurowski, a Polish exile who worked in the State Department, observed, ‘In the midst of the most stirring and exciting — nay, death-giving — news, Mr. Lincoln has always a story to tell.’ Ralph Waldo Emerson found it delightful:’When he has made his remark, he looks up at you with a great satisfaction, & shows all his white teeth, & laughs.’”

So charming, especially knowing the sanctimonious, brittle character of so many presidents to follow, who made a show of teeth mainly as a prelude to personal attack. Predictably, not everyone was charmed. One big-shot politician of the time summed up the general objection:

“He likes rather to talk and tell stories with all sorts of persons who come to him for all sorts of purposes than to give his mind to the noble and manly duties of his great post.”

The critic’s name was Richard Henry Dana. Know it? Thought not. He’s another grandee lost in the depths of history, where the sediment of ponderous rhetoric and polemicism falls and turns to muck. Lincoln understood as well as any of our great writers that story telling connected with human beings in a way abstract pronouncements, however rational and finely parsed, never can. Far from frivolous, stories are the core currency of consciousness, the only way the world makes any sense at all.


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