In the spirit of the widespread celebrations of Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday, we’ll be highlighting a few of the Lincoln-related items in our collections over the next week or so. (Many of the items mentioned will be on display in an exhibition of Lincolniana at the Aldrich House. Also, be sure to attend “An Evening with Lincoln” on February 12th at the First Unitarian Church. See the RIHS website for more details.)
The first item is a broadside poem titled “Lincoln Lies Sleeping” by Nathan Upham. The poem is a quite melancholy dirge (a good deal of “bewailing” and “deep gloom”) that also manages to rise to a political crescendo in which Lincoln offers a posthumous prayer for the forgiveness of John Wilkes Booth and the nation rallies for unity. The somewhat maudlin text is matched by a melody taken from Stephen Foster’s “Under the Willow She’s Sleeping,” a song in which a mother laments the death of her child.
Broadsides of the poem seem to have been quite popular: Edwin Wolf’s American Song Sheets (entry #1263) lists five separate publications; Brown University’s Lincoln Broadsides (search for “Lincoln Lies Sleeping”) provides images of three of them and another two not listed in Wolf. This is the only variation published in Providence, and the imprint credits “Theodore B. Stayner,” whose only other publication seems to be “Wake Nicodemus,” a widely-published song. Publishing may have been a temporary occupation for Stayner: the 1900 census includes a 59 year old “Theodore B. Stayner” who listed his occupation as “advertiser.”
Lincoln’s assassination prompted national mourning, so it comes as no surprise that “Lincoln Lies Sleeping” is just one example of printed Lincoln ephemera. In addition to Nathan Upham’s poem, a Louise Upham offered “The Nation is Weeping”, which set a similar poem to the same melody.
The Providence response to the Lincoln’s assassination will be the topic of a future post, as will another broadside—one that is also among Rhode Island’s earliest imprints.
For background information on broadsides, see The Encyclopedia of Ephemera.
To view more early broadsides, try:
- “An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera” (Part of the Library of Congress’ American Memory project. Includes nearly 200 Rhode Island related broadsides.)
- “Dying Speeches & Bloody Murder” (The Harvard Law School Library’s collection of over 500 crime broadsides.)
- The English Broadside Ballad Archive & The Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads