The Suicide's Soliloquy

"The Suicide's Soliloquy" is an unsigned poem, likely written by Abraham Lincoln,[1] first published on August 25, 1838, in The Sangamo Journal, a four-page Whig newspaper in Springfield, Illinois.

"The Suicide's Soliloquy"
AuthorAnonymous (possibly Abraham Lincoln)
PublishedAugust 25, 1838
PublisherThe Sangamo Journal

Shortly after Lincoln's assassination, one of Lincoln's personal friends, Joshua Speed, told William Herndon, Lincoln's biographer, that Lincoln had written and published "a few lines under the gloomy title of Suicide". No one had found the actual article. In 1997, independent writer Richard Lawrence Miller found The Suicide's Soliloquy and, in 2002, came to realize that it matched the descriptions of Lincoln's missing article. Although it seems to follow the same themes and style as Lincoln's other works, there is still controversy over whether it was actually written by Lincoln.

Lincoln authorship controversyEdit

Arguments in favor of Lincoln authorshipEdit

  • The poem was published in the Sangamo Journal,[2] a newspaper that Lincoln had published other works in before.
  • The poem was published in 1838, the same date given by Lincoln's friend, Joshua Speed.[3]
  • The poem shares a similar meter, syntax, diction, and tone with many other poems published by Lincoln and, according to Richard Miller, the man who discovered the poem, the theme of the interplay between rationality and madness is "especially Lincolnian in spirit".[4]
  • Many of the symptoms of depression that Lincoln expressed in letters and several other pieces are discussed in the poem. For example, one of Lincoln's symptoms was described as a "storm in his brain, punctuated by thunderclaps of thought--self-critical, fearful, despairing".[5] This symptom was demonstrated in one of Lincoln's other pieces in which he wrote of an "intensity of thought, which will some times wear the sweetest idea thread-bare and turn it to the bitterness of death". This symptom comes into the poem when the narrator claims "To ease me of this power to think,/ That through my bosom raves,/ I'll headlong leap from hell's high brink,/ And wallow in its waves."

Arguments against Lincoln authorshipEdit

  • Lack of agreement on the year the poem was published. Jesse Weik, the co-author of Lincoln's biography stated that the lost Lincoln poem was published in 1841, while William Herndon's notes from an interview with Lincoln's closest friends, Joshua Speed, said that the lost poem was published in 1838. When Herndon checked the paper from the exact day of 1838, when the poem was supposedly published, he discovered that someone had cut out something from the paper. Whether the fact that someone cut something out of the paper points toward something suspicious or not, the date the poem was published is significant because of these inconsistencies in reports. There was a period during 1835 when Lincoln's friends became concerned for his safety due to his talk of suicide and created what would be considered today a suicide watch.[6]


  1. ^ Shenk, Joshua Wolf (June 2004). "The Suicide Poem". The New Yorker.
  2. ^ "The Suicide's Soliloquy". Sangamo Journal: 2. 1838 – via Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections.
  3. ^ Shenk, Joshua Wolf. "The Suicide Poem". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2020-10-27.
  4. ^ ""The Suicide's Soliloquy" by Abraham Lincoln – Shenandoah". Retrieved 2020-10-27.
  5. ^ Shenk, Joshua Wolf (October 2005). "Lincoln's Great Depression". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2017-05-30.
  6. ^ Robert Siegel (October 26, 2005). Exploring Abraham Lincoln's 'Melancholy', All Things Considered, NPR