lincoln portrait Young Lincoln portrait

by Edward J. Kempf, M.D. Wading River, N.Y.

Preference for photograhphs of right side of face

The collected photographs of Lincoln published by Frederick Hill Meserve and Carl Sandburg,{15} and by Stefan Lorant,{16} show that in many of them he has a similar serious, solemn, dignified, unsmiling but kindly, reposeful, mentally inactive facial expression. In a few, the face is so moody, depressed, and unusually perplexed, and the eyestrain so pronounced, that many people doubt whether they are authentic reproductions. Not until one examines the lines of the eyes, mouth, and skin closely in such photographs is the identity fully established.*

Lincoln’s usual facial expression, when not being photographed, was that of patient humility, kindness and naturalness of attitude, honesty, simplicity, and serenity of thought, with the tendency to smile pleasantly or to burst into a good-humored laugh. His face also showed great self-reliance, courage, and firmness, with thoroughgoing dignity and repose, when he was not tending to lapse into dull conscious detachment. The left side of his face, being less mobile and not in completely harmonious affective tone with the right, and contributing less volitional kinesthesis to his brain, was less truly representative of his state of mind.

The differences in expression seem to have influenced Lincoln, or his photographers, to prefer photographs of the right side of his face, since most photographs were taken from the right quarter or the profile. Only a few were taken from the left side or from the front.* Although a great laugher, he tended to keep his mouth closed firmly, with more protrusion of the right lower lip than of the left when being photographed. Even though Mrs. Lincoln chided him for persisting in looking too solemn, he could not be persuaded to smile freely before the camera. Herndon said that from the moment Lincoln faced the camera his face would grow serious and sad.{2}

Lincoln's face was completely shaven until, in his campaign for the Presidency in 1860, he was persuaded to grow a beard. The numerous changes in the style of cutting his beard and hair indicate that he and his barbers or Mrs. Lincoln indulged in no little experimentation for the best effect. His photographs show they tried a number of different trimmings, with one constant feature, namely, shaving the upper lip, lower lip, and upper half of the chin, while letting a beard grow on the lower half of the chin and throat and the sides of his face. The coarse, black hair on his head was generally cut so as to remain unusually long, probably for reducing the prominence of his ears. He liked to play with his hair and parted it on either the right or the left side, as he fancied. Its generally disheveled appearance indicates that he habitually, self-consciously mussed it with his fingers.

* Dr. Frechette's emphasis

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