"Reading Through" | Kyle Ragsdale
This portrait of Abraham Lincoln in his youth depicts the future president reading beneath the trees, surrounded by serene and beautiful foliage. He appears to be in a moment of utter tranquility. We have paired this painting with an original printing of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which he delivered while America was in the midst of a bloody civil war and Lincoln’s world was suffering from utter chaos and devastation.
What might Lincoln have been reading in this serene moment beneath the canopy? We know Lincoln was an avid reader throughout his life, and he particularly adored reading the Bible, Shakespeare, and the great texts of America’s Founding. And in the Gettysburg Address, we see these influences. The famous opening—“Four score and seven years ago”—alludes to Psalm 90:10, which states “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” Lincoln is arguing that for the nation to have survived that long was an extraordinary achievement—and its continued survival would require the heroism and sacrifice exemplified by those who at Gettysburg “gave the last full measure of devotion.”
In capturing Lincoln near both the beginning and end of his life, this pairing highlights the beautiful symmetry of time. It reminds us of the importance of an education grounded in history, art, and sound morals —something for us to consider and learn from as we think about the education of future citizens in the days and years to come.