But why, may I ask, said Mr. Bevins, should there be different rules for children than for the rest of us? It does not seem fair.

d'après une photographie prise par Mathew Brady à Washington, D.C. peu de temps avant la mort de Willie Lincoln (source)


He was the child in whom Lincoln had invested his fondest hopes; a small mirror of himself, as it were, to whom he could speak frankly, openly, and confidingly.
In “Reckoning: An Insider’s Memories of Difficult Times,” by Tyron Philian.

Will was the true picture of Mr. Lincoln, in every way, even to carrying his head slightly inclined toward his left shoulder.
Burlingame, op. cit., account of a Springfield neighbor.

One feels such love for the little ones, such anticipation that all that is lovely in life will be known by them, such fondness for that set of attributes manifested uniquely in each: mannerisms of bravado, of vulnerability, habits of speech and mispronouncement and so forth; the smell of the hair and head, the feel of the tiny hand in yours—and then the little one is gone! Taken! One is thunderstruck that such a brutal violation has occurred in what had previously seemed a benevolent world. From nothingness, there arose great love; now, its source nullified, that love, searching and sick, converts to the most abysmal suffering imaginable.
In “Essay Upon the Loss of a Child,” by Mrs. Rose Milland.

*  *  *  *  *

Willie Lincoln was the most lovable boy I ever knew, bright, sensible, sweet-tempered and gentle-mannered.
In “Tad Lincoln’s Father,” by Julia Taft Bayne.

He was the sort of child people imagine their children will be, before they have children.
Randall, op. cit.

*  *  *  *  * 

He sat, distraught and shivering, seeking about for any consolation.
He must either be in a happy place, or some null place by now.
Thought the gentleman.
In either case is no longer suffering.
Suffered so terribly at the end.
(The racking cough the trembling the vomiting the pathetic attempts to keep the mouth wiped with a shaky hand the way his panicked eyes would steal up and catch mine as if to say is there really nothing Papa you can do?)
And in his mind the gentleman stood (we stood with him) on a lonely plain, screaming at the top of our lungs.
Quiet then, and a great weariness.
All over now. He is either in joy or nothingness.
(So why grieve?
The worst of it, for him, is over.)
Because I loved him so and am in the habit of loving him and that love must take the form of fussing and worry and doing.
Only there is nothing left to do.
Free myself of this darkness as I can, remain useful, not go mad.
Think of him, when I do, as being in some bright place, free of suffering, resplendent in a new mode of being.
Thus thought the gentleman.
Thoughtfully combing a patch of grass with his hand.
roger bevins iii

*  *  *  *  * 

Did I murder Elmer? the woman said.
You did, said the Brit.
I did, said the woman. Was I born with just those predispositions and desires that would lead me, after my whole preceding life (during which I had killed exactly no one), to do just that thing? I was. Was that my doing? Was that fair? Did I ask to be born licentious, greedy, slightly misanthropic, and to find Elmer so irritating? I did not. But there I was.
And here you are, said the Brit.
Here I am, quite right, she said.
And here I am, said the Vermonter. Did I ask to be born with a desire to have sex with children? I don’t remember doing so, there in my mother’s womb. Did I fight that urge? Mightily. Well, somewhat mightily. As mightily as I could. As mightily as someone could who had been born with that particular affliction, in that particular measure. Upon leaving that previous place, did I attempt to make that case, to those who arraigned me?
I expect that you did, the woman said.
Of course I did, the Vermonter said indignantly.
And how did they respond? asked the Brit.
Not very well, the Vermonter said.
We have had a great deal of time to think upon these matters, said the woman.
Rather too much, said the Vermonter.
Listen, the bass lisper intoned. At the time Marie and I did away with that baby, we felt ourselves to be working in the service of good. Honestly! We loved one another; the baby was not quite right; was an impediment to our love; its (his) stunted development impeded the natural expression of our love (we could not travel, could not dine out, were rarely given the slightest degree of privacy) and so it seemed (to us, at that time) that to remove the negative influence that was that baby (by dropping him into Furniss Creek) would free us up; to be more loving, and be more fully in the world, and would relieve him of the suffering entailed in being forevermore not quite right; would, that is, free him up from his suffering as well, and maximize the total happiness.
It seemed that way to you, the Brit said.
It did, it truly did, the bass lisper said.
Does it seem that way to you now? the woman asked.
Less so, the bass lisper said sadly.
Then your punishment is having the desired effect, the woman said.
the reverend everly thomas

We were as we were! the bass lisper barked. How could we have been otherwise? Or, being that way, have done otherwise? We were that way, at that time, and had been led to that place, not by any innate evil in ourselves, but by the state of our cognition and our experience up until that moment.
By Fate, by Destiny, said the Vermonter.
By the fact that time runs in only one direction, and we are borne along by it, influenced precisely as we are, to do just the things that we do, the bass lisper said.
And then are cruelly punished for it, said the woman.
Our regiment was being badly cut up by the Baluches, the Brit said. But then the tide turned, and a mess of them surrendered to us, with a white flag, and, well—down into the ditch they went, and the men fired, upon my command (none of them unhappily, mind you), and we threw in their white flag on top of the savages and covered them up. How could I have done otherwise? With time flowing in only one direction and myself made just as I was? With my short temper and my notions of manhood and honor, my schoolboy history of being beaten to within an inch of my life by three older brothers, that rifle feeling so beautiful in my hands and our enemies appearing so loathsome? How was I (how are any of us) to do other than that which we, at that time, actually do?
And did that argument persuade? the woman said.
You know very well, you tart, that it did not! the Brit said. For here I am.
Here we all are, said the Vermonter.
And ever shall be, said the Brit.
Nothing to be done about it, said the bass lisper.
Nothing ever to have been done about it, said the woman.
roger bevins iii

George Saunders - Lincoln in the Bardo (Random House, 2017)