Monday, 6 December 2010

The Mystery of Lincoln's Chair, continued.

M'learned readers have already proposed several explanations for Lincoln's empty chair: that it signifies his approachability; the fact that his life was cut short; his disdain for the political systems of Ancient Rome (possibly a bit of a stretch, this one) or his skill at oratory. I'm most impressed by all these theories, though I still think it looks a bit silly.

One correspondent also wonders when and why a statue of an American hero came to be erected in Parliament Square. A little poking around reveals it was unveiled in 1920, having been delayed by the First World War, and was intended to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, and thus peace between English speaking nations. (Tangent: Has this peace been maintained for the subsequent ninety years, I wonder? I certainly can't think of a war since between nations with English as their first language.)

Also, there was some disagreement about which of two statues to present. In the end, the less favoured one was sent to Manchester, where it still stands. Because in it Lincoln looks rather gaunt and haggard (even for him) and has his arms crossed over his abdomen, it became known as the Stomach Ache, or the Tramp With The Colic.

(In this statue, Lincoln has no chair. How the people of Manchester are expected to tell how good an orator he was, or how much he hated Rome, I have no idea.)


Mags said...

It does look like he thinks you are going to steal his wristwatch.

Which would be very precognicient of him since they where invented 3 years after his death.

Amazing fellow that Lincoln.

Daedalus said...

Looks more like the next Doctor Who...

Mags said...

Which would explain why he knows about wristwatches. What with all the time travelling.

Daedalus said...

Regarding peace between English-speaking nations, I suppose some post-colonial wars in Africa (or even India v Pakistan) could be seen as violations of the Pax Anglorum.

The Treaty of Ghent Centennial story, while technically true, sounds like a cover. A bit of sucking-up, possibly? Maybe some new Yanqui millionaire wanted to see his hero enshrined alongside Palmerston. A bit of money here and there...

Anonymous said...

I didn't mention this in the earlier thread because I didn't want to be all comic-book-guy "Well actually." The post was splendid and enjoyable without all that.

Also because I was embarrassingly so far off base with the David Mitchell little red lighthouse thing, which I still haven't figured out or found a reference to.

But since it has piqued the interest and sparked so much discussion, I'll just throw in that the eagle on the back of the chair was the tip-off that the earlier statue is a copy of one in Chicago.

The rationale for the design is in the write-up of that one.

Persephone said...

John, was Lincoln a Mason? Or the sculptor, perhaps? Or both? There is a Masonic Lodge Empty Chair Ceremony connected with the American Civil War.

Piques said...

You've misunderstood me. I have no idea what Lincolns thoughts towards Rome were. Lincoln is often regarded by historians as the president that ushered in a new era that would become the US as it is today. He is credited with having started the modern day Republican Party. It was post Civil War US that turned the wealthy, dominate Southern States into the the 3rd world conditions that they are still suffering through today. That in turn encouraged the industrial rise of the northern States as well as the agricultural rise of the mid and western states.

The country that we see shaped today began its transformation with Lincoln.

I was suggesting (rather weakly) that as the chair strongly suggests Roman design that it could be representing a walking away from the old to the new.

For the record, I don't think that this is likely. Actually, I have always seen the modern US as Rome just before its fall.

The artist, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, was said to be an admirer of Lincoln as many were in his era. I think I read that as a young man he saw Lincoln and was impressed by his humble demeanor (which is clearly seen in this statue). The Standing Lincoln is the representation of Lincoln standing to deliver a speech. There is a juxtaposition of this historically significant juggernaut and the humble, quiet unassuming man. The most obvious explanation is that without the chair the statue does not effectively communicate that. Without the chair he is in a contemplative moment. He would only be the man as we see in Manchester. Standing up from the chair denotes that he is in action. The chair itself gives us the representation of the power he yielded.

Can I add that not only does the artist share the name of one of the more famous Roman leaders, he also studied in Rome. I don't think that the fact the chair is so evocative of Rome is accidental. I suppose that the chair being the seat of power of the United States and the fact that the US has chosen two strong Roman symbols (the eagle and the fasces) both represented in the chair along with the design of a Roman throne, is meant to evoke the best of Rome rather then the worst.

Daedalus said...

The link is suspect.

This one isn't...
Lincoln Park Statue, Chicago IL

Lincoln was, of course, "The Man from Illinois", though he was famously born in a log cabin in what is now Kentucky.

Anonymous said...

Yeah...though the whole thing about the bitly link being weird is itself a bit stupid.

I don't particularly find it alarming or surprising that the world might use a URL shortener more than once when the original link is

Anonymous said...

Good heavens, even Blogger chops off the full link.'s a Google-shortened same:

Or get rather annoyed typing in: +
marks/WM3RPW_Abraham_Lincoln_ +
The_Man_Standing_Lincoln_by_A +

Mags said...

On a lighter note has MJN been anywhere near Southhampton recently?

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Easy Breezey Kiwi Kelly said...

Perhaps the chair is a purely aesthetic consideration. Soldiers' statues depict them soldiering; with lots of great wardrobe and accessories and stuff. Lincoln was a president. A statue of a guy just, you know, presiding ... that's pretty bland. It needs something to fill the frame. That would be why the one without accouterments got shunted off someplace less conspicuous.

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