Friday, June 1, 2012

Lincoln Author, William Lee Miller, Passes Away

Earlier today, I came across an obituary for William Lee Miller, the University of Virginia professor who authored Lincoln's Virtues and President Lincoln, both of which might be described as moral biographies of the 16th President.  Having heard Miller lecture once on Lincoln, I was impressed with his erudition and his passion.

I have mixed feelings about his books.  I highly recommend Lincoln's Virtues, particularly the opening chapters, as a long-overdue addition to the Lincoln biography.  However, I struggle to appreciate the book on Lincoln's presidency, as I've written in a review of that book, finding it too hagiographic.  Although I don't know if I wrote it in the review, I also strongly suspect that the book is narratively mis-framed with the chapters on foreign reputation.

My critique, though negative at times, came from my respect for Miller's scholarship, which allowed him to write influential books on multiple subjects, including several presidents of different centuries.  And I mourn his loss, selfishly, because I know that he had been researching a project on Lincoln's use of Shakespeare.  I can imagine few people who could tackle that enormous subject well, but I think that Miller, with his curiosity, his intellect, and his ability to describe things of complexity with subtle and flowing prose, would have been up to the task.