The private lives of Presidents

I shrugged off the fatigue that should have put me in bed at 9:30 and prepared to edit the third installment of Putrescence. I wrote it last night but I was operating on fumes after 1500 words and decided it would be better to read it before posting something incoherent. I crawled into bed and lay wide awake for another four hours until I got up with the sun in my face.

As I started to take a crack at editing it an hour ago I tried to look up a famous quote from Lincoln’s law partner Herndon. Herndon was also one of Lincoln’s early biographers. When I tried to google the quote I ran across this short piece in the Atlantic by a noted Lincoln scholar who wrote about Herndon’s struggle with the biography and his knowledge of the all too human Lincoln.

Like Herndon I’ve been wrestling with just what to tell in a book I’ve been laboring over for six years. I shouldn’t feel bad. Herndon still hadn’t written his Lincoln biography twenty years after commencing his research.

The jist of this Atlantic piece is that Herdon originally believed that Lincoln was so important that posterity required that he be to portrayed warts and all. This was a very un-18th Century attitude because Herndon was a bit of a free spirit. The book he eventually wrote did not rake up much muck. (which makes me wonder at the truth and provenance of a reported Herdon anecdote I’ve waved in front of my loyal readers a couple times).

Although Herdon did not write the tell all book he first contemplated I agree with him and others that learning about Lincoln’s pre Presidential foibles would do little to shake the public’s faith in his genius.

My wife just finished the Kearns-Goodwin history that I have lauded previously befor her book club met this morning. All four of the book clubbers agreed heartily that Lincoln was a great man. The movie Lincoln got him right.

So to did another movie I saw yesterday get its subject right. The subject was Franklin Roosevelt arguably the 20th Century’s most important President. However, Hyde Park on the Hudson was a small picture which explains its low 40% favorable Rotten Tomatoes score. It wasn’t about the FDR that contended with the Depression or battled Adolph Hitler. It was the story, based on a play, about the private Roosevelt who despite his crippled legs managed to pursue several dalliances simultaneously. I’ve agreed with both pro and con reviews of the movie but I did enjoy it. FDR, as portrayed by Bill Murray, was hardly heroic but I agreed with the reviewer who said Murray was spot on.

Even though FDR comes across as a man taking advantage of his presidential aura to work his wiles on women the story within a story of the inexperienced new King of England paying FDR an overnight visit suggested Roosevelt’s importance to the age. One historian noted that while FDR did not have a first class intellect he had a first class temperament. So did Abe Lincoln. If someone was to produce a Lincoln on the Hudson movie it wouldn’t change my mind about where he ranks among our Presidents.

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