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Reading a speech of Abraham Lincoln's, I ran across a construction which confused me:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

The phrase "which are of so extraordinary a nature" really confuses me, especially "a nature"; what does it mean?

Source: The first paragraph of Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation, dated October 3, 1863.

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  • What specifically don't you understand? Note that ELU isn't here to paraphrase vast chunks of 150-year-old text. We address specific features of language usages, not "general comprehension". FWIW, Lincoln is taking a sideswipe at people who don't normally think of thanking God for the good things He gives them. Jan 15 '17 at 15:39
  • the clause "which are of so extraordinary a nature" confusing me,especially "a nature"
    – peter jams
    Jan 15 '17 at 15:43
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    @peter jams: If you edit your question to include that, you might just save it from being closed as "Unclear what you're asking". But also tell us what you do understand about the use of the words "which are of so extraordinary a nature", or it'll still get closed for lack of prior research. Note that adding clarification in comments won't help, because they're likely to be deleted at some point - all relevant details need to be in the question text. Jan 15 '17 at 15:47
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    '... which are of such an extraordinary kind' comes close. Jan 15 '17 at 15:48
  • @Edwin: Or just which are so extraordinary. I don't think it really makes any difference whether the relevant bounties are intrinsically extraordinary (because of their nature), or just happen to be extraordinary in the context within which they occur (i.e. - in the mind of an early American politician seeking to unify the "newly-created nation" under the banner of Christianity). Jan 15 '17 at 15:55
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Yeah, there is a good reason people don't talk like that any more.

The year that is drawing towards its close (1), has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies (2).

To these bounties (3), which are so constantly enjoyed (4) that we are prone to forget the source from which they come (5), others have been added (6), which are of so extraordinary a nature (7), that they cannot fail (8) to penetrate and soften even the heart (9) which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God (10).

  1. It is November 28, 1861, so the year is almost over. Let's talk about 1861.
  2. We have been having good weather, so the harvest has been good.
  3. In addition to the good weather and the good harvest
  4. Good weather and good harvest are common
  5. (4) is so common, we don't even think about where they come from (God)
  6. Other good stuff has happened
  7. The good stuff from (6) is unusual.
  8. Because the unusual good is unusual, it is going to have an effect
  9. The effect is changing the minds of people like Bob
  10. People like Bob usually don't think about God.

Item (7) is really your answer. The nature (the innate characteristics) of some of the events of 1861 was extraordinary.

I still don't know what Lincoln was talking about. 1861 was a terrible year in American history, arguably the worst year in American history. A third of the country had decided that keeping slavery was more important than the country itself. The Union was disintegrating into fratricidal war. Thousands of young men were slaughtering each other every day. The First Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of Corrick's Ford, the Battle of Wilson's Creek, the invasion of Kentucky, Santa Rosa Island, Ball's Bluff, Belmont, Round Mountain: so far from softening the hearts of the irreligious, the "bounty" of 1861 might make the pious question the existence of God.

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  • And what is the good reason people don't "talk like that" anyone?
    – Lambie
    Jan 15 '17 at 18:35
  • Because no one could understand a fucking thing they were saying! It took me almost a minute to decode that trainwreck of a sentence, and then 10 minutes to explain it to someone else. Compare it to other things that the famously plain-spoken Lincoln said: "Whatever you are, be a good one." "No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar." "Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm." As long-winded Polonius said, "Brevity is the soul of wit." Jan 15 '17 at 18:42
  • thank you!but i still don't undentstang why "nature" used with a,not with the
    – peter jams
    Jan 15 '17 at 23:43
  • That's a completely different question. Ask it here, something like "Why do we say 'it is of A nature' instead of 'of THE nature'?" Jan 16 '17 at 2:04
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He's talking about other "bounties"

... which are of so extraordinary a nature ...

Now, nature here means

  1. character, kind, or sort: two books of the same nature.

From TheFreeDictionaryOnline

So that part of Lincoln's passage could be rephrased and simplified as

To these good things have been added other good things, and these are so wonderful that even people who don't normally notice such things would be affected by them.

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1) "The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.=Everything is good in the country." There are many bounties [good things]. 2) To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

  • Nature: The nature of something, is what something is like: what kind of thing it is. For example: What is the nature of your problem? = What kind of problem do you have. The nature of my problem is that it is very serious.

  • The nature of the bounties = the kind of bounties (good things); what the good things are like.

  • to be of some nature** = to be of some kind; to have some qualities.

The nature of the bounties are of such an extraordinary nature [kind, type] that they will soften the heart and penetrate the heart [of those people] who are not normally sensitive to fact that God is "watching over" [taking care of] human beings.

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