William Barton to Mrs. Skeel


William Barton to Mrs. Skeel


Lincoln scholar William Barton sends a signed typed letter to Mrs. Skeel describing work on his various books.


Barton, William


Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum




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Webster Hall "America's Finest Club Residence" Detroit Pittsburg

March 25, 1927 My dear Mrs Skeel: Your letter brings me great satisfaction. I was expecting a pleasant reply to my inquiry, but you say a number of things that give me special pleasure.

I am here in Detroit for a few weeks, serving as Minister ad Interim in the First Congregational Church, and I am revising a book manuscript for the press. I am a vagrant from the last of November till June 1 - a month as chaplain of the Lake Placid Club, a month as lecturer on Abraham Lincoln, and so on, while keeping three or four kinds of thing going in the papers and magazines and all the time working on some book.

Last summer I wrote a Life of Abraham Lincoln for young people. It was called "The Great Good Man" and ran in eight issues of the Youths Companion. It went fairly well and is now just out in an attractive volume, so far as type and cover go, and it may sell. Both the editor of the Youths Companion and the publishers of my books want me to follow it next summer with a companion book on Washington. The time is opportune. We are approaching the 200th anniversary of his birth. So I have promised to do it and have been assembling material.

But I have no such knowledge of Washington as I have of Lincoln. I have been reading some of the Washington biographies by way of background, and I waken to the fact that with all his manifest and manifold faults, Parson Weems was intereating, and knew human values, and could tell a story.

In N.Y. I made use of the collection which your father and brothers made, and Mr. Nichols, my good friend, gave me your address and told me what you were doing. I was tempted to write but hesitated. In Boston I went to the N. Eng. Hist. library where I am no stranger, and when your brother there repeated the suggestion, I hesitated no more.

2 And now behold the juxtaposition of our interests. First, that I come at the eleventh hour to a meager share in what you are doing and what your brother Paul did in his Washington, and to your affection for Parson Weems.

And then, the Plimpton Press is my neighbor. For my summer home (now, alas, my only domicile) is a Foxbore and the Plimptons are my neighbors and visitors. Mr. Plimpton would have real pleasure, I think, in carrying out for me any request of yours.

And Martha's Vineyard is so situated that when you go to Boston via New Bedford you pass very near my summer home.

And now I am sorry that we shall not meet as you return home. I am a delegate (Convener of the Congregational Delegation) to the World Conference of Faith and Order to assemble in Lausanne August 1, and am sailing July 16, and returning about September 8 Otherwise I could hope that on some trip to Boston you could stop at Mansfield and taxi to my door and see my Lincoln collection at Foxboro and let me learn from you about Parson Weems and Washington.

Since November 1925 I have been alone. My dear little wife after forty beautiful years with me died then. But I keep my home, and have a housekeeper in summer, and my friends come to me. My children have summer homes adjacent. My son Bruce who writes "The Man Nobody Knows" and other best-sellers is across the road from me; my other children close at hand

I am giving more autobiography than may be essential.

I am hoping that this boys' Life of Washington will be finished before I sail and begin to appear in the Youths Companion in the first issue in November, and appear in book form about the middle of January. The Companonn cuts about half, and I think

3 it would be rather more than certain that nothing I might purloin from you could be used there, even if I wished. And probably in this book nothing that you are disposed to guard would have appropriate place.

But I am greatly in the mood to learn. If you were to feel quite sure that your volumes would be out in or before October, it might possibly be that next June when I am in Foxboro you would be willing that your nephew should loan me a set of the proof sheets. And if you were to instruct him to withhold any chapters or pages, I would understand that. Or, if you were to say to me that matter relating to any particular group of topics you wished particularly to guard, your confidence in me would be justified, I think.

But if the volumes are so nearly out as that I could have a set in the summer that would be ideal.

I do not know what I shall do with Washington. I have not quite reached the end of my Lindoln work, having still chips to work up into literature of sorts. But I am gathering more material that I can use in a boys' Life of Washington, and there is time still for a more ambitious work about him than what I have now begun to write. I have a dream of doing that possibly in 1928 or 1928, in ample time to get established before 1932 and before too much competition. This however is on the lap of the gods.

I am telling you much more than you care for about my plans. But this has a relation on the one hand to your generous offer to assist me, and on the other to your very proper wish to guard those discoveries that you and your

4 brother have made. Now let me felicitate you on your near approach to the completion of your labor of love. I can imagine what a solemn joy it is to you to have brought this to pass. And you must have had a lot of fun out of it.

Who knows that I may not myself do what I was hoping you had done, and, after I have done my little bit toward Washington, write a little biography of Weems and his times and his books? You would seem to have assembled just the material that would temp a man as frail as I. When, since Eve, did any woman offer such fruit of the tree of knowledge as you in your Bibliography and Letters with notes and comments? But better, why not do it yourself? Who could do it so well?

This is four times as long a letter as I intended to write, and I am busy. I am telling the story of Abraham Lincoln in good sane language against a background of women-his grandmothers, mother, stepmother, sister, step-sisters, sweet-hearts and wife. No easy task. And THE WOMEN LINCOLN LOVED are scattered about me in their final revision. Early in April the printer gets them, and I shall be so fondly glad to bid them goodbye. I return to them now, with sincerest thanks for your letter. And do not, I beg of you, lend me anything you would rather not. But I should like to show you my Lincoln things at Foxboro and learn from you about Washington and Weems. How late are you at the Vineyard?

Sincerely yours, William E. Barton If you have the slightest inclination to write a life of Weems - I shall nere do so



Percent Completed




Original Format

paper and ink
4 p
24 x 15 cm


Barton, William, “William Barton to Mrs. Skeel,” Chronicling Illinois, accessed May 28, 2020, http://alplm-cdi.com/chroniclingillinois/items/show/8367.