Lincoln’s Famous Letter of Condolence to a Grieving Mother Was Likely Penned by His Secretary

Brown University Library, Wikipedia/Public Domain
Brown University Library, Wikipedia/Public Domain

Despite his lack of formal schooling, Abraham Lincoln was a famously eloquent writer. One of his most renowned compositions is the so-called “Bixby letter,” a short yet poignant missive the president sent a widow in Boston who was believed to have lost five sons during the Civil War. But as Newsweek reports, new research published in the journal Digital Scholarship in the Humanities [PDF] suggests that Lincoln’s private secretary and assistant, John Hay, actually composed the dispatch.

The letter to Lydia Bixby was written in November 1864 at the request of William Shouler, the adjutant general of Massachusetts, and state governor John Albion Andrew. “I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming,” it read. “But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.”

Unknown to Lincoln, Bixby had actually only lost two sons in battle; the others had deserted the army, were honorably discharged, or died a prisoner of war. Nevertheless, word of the compassionate presidential gesture spread when the Boston Evening Transcript reprinted a copy of the 139-word letter for all to read.

Nobody quite knows what happened to Bixby’s original letter—some say she was a Confederate sympathizer and immediately burnt it—but for years, scholars debated whether Hay was its true author.

During Hay’s lifetime, the former secretary-turned-statesman had reportedly told several people in confidence that he—not Lincoln—had written the renowned composition, TIME reports. The rumor spread after Hay's death, but some experts interpreted the admission to mean that Hay had transcribed the letter, or had copied it from a draft.

To answer the question once and for all, a team of forensic linguists in England used a text analysis technique called n-gram tracing, which identifies the frequency of linguistic sequences in a short piece of writing to determine its true author. They tested 500 texts by Hay and 500 by Lincoln before analyzing the Bixby letter, the researchers explained in a statement quoted by Newsweek.

“Nearly 90 percent of the time, the method identified Hay as the author of the letter, with the analysis being inconclusive in the rest of the cases,” the linguists concluded.

According to Atlas Obscura, the team plans to present its findings at the International Corpus Linguistics Conference, which will take place at England’s University of Birmingham from Monday, July 24 to Friday, July 28.

[h/t Newsweek]

This Smart Accessory Converts Your Instant Pot Into an Air Fryer

Amazon
Amazon

If you can make a recipe in a slow cooker, Dutch oven, or rice cooker, you can likely adapt it for an Instant Pot. Now, this all-in-one cooker can be converted into an air fryer with one handy accessory.

This Instant Pot air fryer lid—currently available on Amazon for $80—adds six new cooking functions to your 6-quart Instant Pot. You can select the air fry setting to get food hot and crispy fast, using as little as 2 tablespoons of oil. Other options include roast, bake, broil, dehydrate, and reheat.

Many dishes you would prepare in the oven or on the stovetop can be made in your Instant Pot when you switch out the lids. Chicken wings, French fries, and onion rings are just a few of the possibilities mentioned in the product description. And if you're used to frying being a hot, arduous process, this lid works without consuming a ton of energy or heating up your kitchen.

The lid comes with a multi-level air fry basket, a broiling and dehydrating tray, and a protective pad and storage cover. Check it out on Amazon.

For more clever ways to use your Instant Pot, take a look at these recipes.

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Mental Floss Is Up for a Webby Award—Here’s How to Help Us Win!

This woman doesn't work for us, but she sure is happy about our Webby Award nomination!
This woman doesn't work for us, but she sure is happy about our Webby Award nomination!
Andrea Piacquadio, Pexels

The writers, editors, videographers, tech whizzes, and everybody else on the Mental Floss team began today like any other: guzzling coffee by the gallon, eager to deliver a blend of zany and informative content straight to the brains of our readers. By mid-morning, our makeshift home offices were buzzing with a heightened, electric energy—because we’d just been nominated for a Webby Award, and we’re really excited about it.

The International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences (IADAS) has included Mental Floss in the “Weird” general website category, which highlights sites “that reflect a fresh perspective in thought and action strong enough to start a revolution, change a behavior pattern, or advance old thinking lodged in bad habits, or that are just plain weird.”

Basically, there are two winners for each category. The Webby Award is chosen by IADAS members like Arianna Huffington, Monica Lewinsky, Darren Aronofsky, and representatives from just about every other industry out there. The IADAS has honored Mental Floss with two Webby Awards in the past; the website won one in 2013 for best cultural blog, and John Green nabbed another in 2015 for being the much-beloved host of our YouTube channel.

The Webby People’s Voice Award, on the other hand, is voted on by the public. So if you think Mental Floss embodies any (or all) of the aforementioned criteria for Best Weird General Website, you can help us win a People’s Voice Award by voting here. We’re up against some steep competition, including Brand Name Pencils, the world’s largest collection of vintage brand-name pencils, and Amazon Dating, a completely fake dating site modeled after Amazon’s homepage.

Voting is open through Thursday, May 7, and the winners will be announced on Tuesday, May 19, before a special online celebration called “Webbys From Home” that’ll showcase some of the internet’s best content from the past year.

You can explore all the nominees and vote in other categories here.