CLOSE
Original image
Brown University Library, Wikipedia/Public Domain

Lincoln’s Famous Letter of Condolence to a Grieving Mother Was Likely Penned by His Secretary

Original image
Brown University Library, Wikipedia/Public Domain

Despite his lack of formal schooling, Abraham Lincoln was a famously eloquent writer. One of his most renowned compositions is the so-called “Bixby letter,” a short yet poignant missive the president sent a widow in Boston who was believed to have lost five sons during the Civil War. But as Newsweek reports, new research published in the journal Digital Scholarship in the Humanities [PDF] suggests that Lincoln’s private secretary and assistant, John Hay, actually composed the dispatch.

The letter to Lydia Bixby was written in November 1864 at the request of William Shouler, the adjutant general of Massachusetts, and state governor John Albion Andrew. “I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming,” it read. “But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.”

Unknown to Lincoln, Bixby had actually only lost two sons in battle; the others had deserted the army, were honorably discharged, or died a prisoner of war. Nevertheless, word of the compassionate presidential gesture spread when the Boston Evening Transcript reprinted a copy of the 139-word letter for all to read.

Nobody quite knows what happened to Bixby’s original letter—some say she was a Confederate sympathizer and immediately burnt it—but for years, scholars debated whether Hay was its true author.

During Hay’s lifetime, the former secretary-turned-statesman had reportedly told several people in confidence that he—not Lincoln—had written the renowned composition, TIME reports. The rumor spread after Hay's death, but some experts interpreted the admission to mean that Hay had transcribed the letter, or had copied it from a draft.

To answer the question once and for all, a team of forensic linguists in England used a text analysis technique called n-gram tracing, which identifies the frequency of linguistic sequences in a short piece of writing to determine its true author. They tested 500 texts by Hay and 500 by Lincoln before analyzing the Bixby letter, the researchers explained in a statement quoted by Newsweek.

“Nearly 90 percent of the time, the method identified Hay as the author of the letter, with the analysis being inconclusive in the rest of the cases,” the linguists concluded.

According to Atlas Obscura, the team plans to present its findings at the International Corpus Linguistics Conference, which will take place at England’s University of Birmingham from Monday, July 24 to Friday, July 28.

[h/t Newsweek]

Original image
Lucy Stockton/National Trust Images
arrow
This Just In
The Tiny, Pretty Diamond Spider Isn't Extinct After All
Original image
Lucy Stockton/National Trust Images

An elusive spider that was believed to be extinct in Britain has been spotted for the first time in nearly 50 years, according to The Telegraph.

Pretty little Thanatus formicinus—more commonly known as the diamond spider—is just a third of an inch long and gets its name from the thin black diamond on its hairy gray abdomen. The spider typically lives in damp areas with moss and flowering plants, like heather and purple moor grass. But since the arachnid was last spotted in England’s Ashdown Forest in 1969, conservationists assumed that it had fallen victim to habitat loss.

Turns out, the spider wasn’t extinct—it was just laying low for a few decades. While conducting an ecological survey of Clumber Park—an expanse of heath, woods, and parkland in Nottinghamshire—two volunteers with England’s National Trust conservation organization recently spotted the long-lost arachnid.

“The spider ran away from me twice, but with persistence and some luck, I caught it,” said Lucy Stockton, the National Trust volunteer who sighted the arachnid along with companion Trevor Harris.

The duo’s discovery in Clumber Park marks just the fourth time the spider had ever been recorded in the UK, and the only time it's been seen in the north of the country. “We are absolutely delighted that this pretty, little spider has been re-found, we had almost given up hope,” commented Mark Shardlow, the chief executive of Buglife, an English conservation group. “It is a testament to the crucial importance of charities like the National Trust saving and managing heathland habitats.”

[h/t The Telegraph]

Original image
iStock
arrow
This Just In
Help Wanted: Web Producer
Original image
iStock

Our New York office is looking for an entry-level web producer to transform the stories our writers create into posts that are ready to venture out into the web. Your job will include building stories in our CMS, finding products for our Smart Shopping vertical, and working with our editorial team to make sure everything's running smoothly. You'll also have the opportunity to pitch and write stories.

Ideal candidates will have:

- Experience working in a CMS
- Experience with Photoshop
- Ability to work quickly and manage their time
- A creative personality
- An eye for design
- Basic knowledge of HTML

How to Apply:

- Send your resume and cover letter to jobs@mentalfloss.com
- Put the name of the job you're applying for in the subject line

We offer health, dental, vision, and life insurance coverage, an optional 401k enrollment, FSA/transit flexible spending, 15 vacation days, plus various discounts on gym memberships, entertainment, etc. We look forward to hearing from you!

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios