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The Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism 1998-1999

Joshua Wolf Shenk

Freelance Writer
Former Associate Editor of U. S. News & World Report
New York, New York

Topic: Abraham Lincoln's battle with depression, how he coped, and connections between definitions of mental illness in Lincoln's era and our own

Published Work:

The Suicide Poem
On August 25, 1838, the Sangamo Journal, a four-page Whig newspaper in Springfield, Illinois, carried its usual mixture of ads, news, and editorials. Wallace & Diller's Drug and Chemical Store had just received a fresh supply of sperm oil, fishing rods, and French cologne. L. Higby, the town collector, gave notice that all citizens must pay their street tax or face "trouble." Atop the news page, the paper carried an unsigned poem, thirty-six lines long. The poem, which is typical of the era, in its sentiment and morbidness, stands out now for two reasons: first, its subject is suicide (the title of the poem is "The Suicide's Soliloquy"); second, its author was most likely a twenty-nine-year-old politician and lawyer named Abraham Lincoln. The reputed existence of a "suicide poem" has lurked in the background of Lincoln scholarship since shortly after the President's death, in 1865, when his close friend Joshua Speed mentioned it to Lincoln's law partner and biographer William Herndon.

A Melancholy of Mine Own
After he has awoken, from uneasy dreams, to find himself transformed in his bed into a giant insect, Gregor Samsa's first encounter with the world outside his bedroom comes in the form of his mother's voice.

Lincon's Melancholy
Lincoln's Melancholy tells - for the first time - the full story of Lincoln's lifelong depression, how he managed it, and how it came to fuel his epic work.

Lincoln's Great Depression
Abraham Lincoln fought clinical depression all his life, and if he were alive today, his condition would be treated as a "character issue"-that is, as a political liability. His condition was indeed a character issue: it gave him the tools to save the nation

The True Lincoln
We don't outright invent history, but often it is made by the questions we ask. Few figures have provoked more questions than Abraham Lincoln, both because of his broad importance and his fantastic complexity. And few figures have proved so malleable.

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