Yesterday my worthy colleague Phillip Blanchard posted this opening from a New York Times article on Daniel Day-Lewis and his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in the new Steven Spielberg film about Lincoln's last days:
“NOW he belongs to the ages,” Edwin Stanton, Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war, said at the president’s deathbed. “And to the studios,” he could have added.
Perhaps we should be grateful that Charles McGrath, the writer, did not clunk up the lead by adding at the end of that sentence: had he lived in the twenty-first century rather than the nineteenth. Still, the anachronism grates.
But the opening irritates for a larger reason. "Now he belongs the the ages," the words Stanton uttered as the mortally wounded president's struggles finally ended on the morning of April 15, 1865, is one of those sentences that everyone remembers. It is formal, dignified, elegiac. It is historic.
"And to the studios" is deflationary. It is, in its own little maladroit way, a classic example of bathos, in which some lofty sentiment results in a pratfall, of which the writer is usually unaware.
The rest of the article, or what I read of it before my interest dwindled, seems unremarkable in both matter and style. But that opening! What editor let it through? An editor's job is to protect a writer from his own worst impulses and lapses of judgment.
Sometimes I wonder whether the best term to describe the writer/editor relationship is folie a deux.