Saturday, May 18, 2013

"Zelig in the Corner of Someone Else’s Portrait"

"When he crosses a present-day mind, it is almost never as the plump, white-mustachioed burgher painted by Sargent. We see instead the slender young man, one hand playfully on his hip, the other on the back of Lincoln’s chair, being photographed with Nicolay and the president in Alexander Gardner’s Civil War studio. Hay may have written, in 1900, that 'the most important part of my life came late,' but his heart and subconscious are unlikely to have believed it. While sailing home from Europe shortly before his death—he’d gone for a rest cure but succumbed, as always, to social distractions—he had a dream about going 'to the White House to report to the president who turned out to be Mr. Lincoln' instead of the incumbent Roosevelt. It was his service to the first that brought him into the realms of myth and even religious mystery; his work for the second put him in the mere thick of history."

Thomas Mallon in The New York Times reviews John Taliaferro's All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay, From Lincoln to Roosevelt.

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