As you know by now, I have been asked to deliver a speech in honor of my sister during the celebrations this weekend. I’m sure that never in history has anyone spoken (or written) so much about such a short speech that will be heard by so few. I have been challenged, though, to write the greatest speech since the Gettysburg Address. That is quite a challenge as the Gettysburg Address is a pretty strong bit of writing. However, I am confident I can write a speech that is not only the equal of Lincoln’s but is far better.
The similarities between the speeches are striking. Lincoln was asked to give “a few appropriate remarks” and I was asked to “say something.” Lincoln’s speech was under 300 words whereas mine will be slightly over that. Lincoln followed a 2 hour long speech and I will be following several other speeches that may just total 2 hours.
Now while Lincoln’s speech has attracted some attention in the days since he delivered it, this respect for his speech grew over time. Immediately after he delivered the speech, people comment thus:
Abraham Lincoln himself said to his bodyguard (who incidentally was probably fired shortly afterwards) “Lamon, that speech won’t scour.”
The Chicago Sun-Times observed, “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”
The Harrisburg Patriot and Union newspaper made fun of his short speech saying, “We pass over the silly remarks of the President; for the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall no more be repeated or thought of.”
Clearly people were quite unimpressed with Lincoln’s words at the time they were delivered.
Of course opinion was not all bad. One newspaper printed the full text of the speech and then described the speech as being “deep in feeling, compact in thought and expression, and tasteful and elegant in every word and comma.” Another observed “We know not where to look for a more admirable speech than the brief one which the President made at the close of Mr. Everett’s oration…” Long after his death people must have developed an affection for it as it is now inscribed on the memorial that bears Lincoln’s name and likeness and nearly every American child has memorized the speech at one time or another. And of course Oxford University had a copy of the speech engraved and placed on permanent display as an example of the highest mastery of the english language.
I am not intimidated.
Early reviews of my speech are uniformly positive. One reviewer was quoted as saying “it’s pretty good” and another said “I liked it.” That is clearly higher praise than Lincoln received after the initial delivery of his “little speech.” Now a common obersvation of Lincoln’s speech is that it has no lighter moments to break up the serious tone. My speech will alternate perfectly between levity and seriousness; between laughter and tears. The speech will terminate with a whisper and will result in long moments of awed silence before the room slowly erupts in a slow clap, that build build to a roar as women dab their eyes with their handkerchiefs and men struggle to regain their composure. Ticker tape will fly and toasts will be raised in my honor. I expect to have to remind everyone that this day is in honor of Susanna and Rick.
While the speech is already in a near perfect format, following a good half hour of writing time, I continue to try different openings. So far the battle is between “One score and two years ago…” or “Friends, Georgians, countrymen! Lend me your ears!” I am also considering beginning with “Ask not what your husband can do for you, but what you can do for your husband!” But I have already said too much! At this point I will leave you to consider how your world will change when you read the text of the speech, for on Saturday (or perhaps Sunday) I will post the words right here. I expect Oxford to contact me by Monday with news of a bigger and shinier plaque to hang immediately above the one dedicated to Lincoln.
I like shiny things…