Lincoln's life in New Salem has been known with a considerable degree of fullness to biographers. But the episode which must have seemed to Lincoln himself to transcend all other experiences in that brief but important period—his love for Ann Rutledge has been the subject of conjecture, confusion, and doubt. Eminent students have denied altogether the reality of Lincoln's passion for Ann; others have accepted the tradition in general outline.
Now it becomes possible to reveal in full light and at first hand the story—so full of tenderness and hope, so tragic in its close—which has hitherto rested on contestable report. Not only did Lincoln and Ann hold each other dear; the actual letters which passed between them remain. We have also a diary kept by Ann's cousin and intimate, 'Mat' Cameron, naively recording her observations of the courtship. With these precious letters and Mat's unstudied diary have been preserved other fresh and valuable memorabilia of Lincoln. We have letters which he wrote to John Calhoun, former Surveyor of Sangamon County, Illinois, who employed Lincoln and was closely associated with him during the New Salem years; a memorandum written by Calhoun's daughter Sally in 1848, embodying her father's recollections of Lincoln and containing characteristic anecdotes; and, finally, books owned and freely annotated by Lincoln himself, which have descended to me. These materials, never before known or published, form a collection of unique value.
Before presenting these precious memorials it is important to fill in the original setting of the story.
New Salem, Illinois, was a rude log settlement on the Sangamon River, not many miles northwest of Springfield. The town had been established by two families who were related by marriage. James Rutledge, a native of South Carolina, was a kindly, generous man of deeply ingrained religious principles. In January 1808, he had married Mary Ann Miller. They had nine children; Ann, the third child, was born in January 1813, while the family lived in Kentucky; Sally, the youngest, was born in the Tavern at New Salem, October 20, 1829. A sister of Mrs. Rutledge married Thomas Cameron; their son, the Reverend John M. Cameron, born in Kentucky in 1791, and ten years younger than James Rutledge, was thus his nephew by marriage.
The two families decided to move from Kentucky and to settle in Illinois. In February 1828, they bought adjoining farms in a little community at Sand Ridge, a short distance from the later site of New Salem. On the nearby Concord Creek, Cameron erected a small gristmill. But with the coming of summer the flow of water was so meager that the two men decided to look for a better location.
They followed the heavily wooded road that skirted the Sangamon until they reached an abrupt turn of the river from southwest to north. Rising from the river—beautiful at this sudden sweep—was 'a promintory of land that shot out like a peninsula a hundred feet high and approachable only from the west— the brow of the ridge 250 feet broad, gradually widening as it extended westwardly.' They climbed the steep bluff and looked out over the surrounding country. To the west lay a darkly tangled forest, and beyond that broad meadows veined with many little streams that hurried long to empty into the Sangamon. All about lay hills dense with timber—ash, elm, oak, hickory, and basswood—while below the river curved about the wooded point. Here it was decided to settle. Two bins of rather pretentious size were erected to house the eleven Rutledges and the thirteen Camerons. The two families moved from Sand Ridge to the new community on July 9, 1828. A grist and lumber-mill took shape, and then a dam, which cost heroic effort. The mill and the two substantial bins attracted other settlers, and the community began to expand. While new dwellings were in the course of construction the hospitable Rutledge shared his home with the settlers. From this practice he conceived the idea of turning the cabin into a tavern and general store, where meals and supplies could be served to the stragglers who drifted in and out. Finally the settlement assumed the outlines of a village, and its founders, not forgetting their Bibles, christened it New Salem. On Christmas day, 1829, the post office was established.
The people of New Salem were their own carpenters, masons, wheelwrights, and cobblers. The few shoes worn were generally made from the hides of steers, and kept well rubbed with heated mutton tallow to exclude water. 'Vittles' were cooked in black three-legged pots which hung on hooks over the flames on the open hearth. Corn pone was baked in covered iron ovens which sat in the hot coals. Diet varied little; pork, corn pone, hominy, mush, and flapjacks, with sorghum molasses for 'long sweetening' in beverages, were the principal articles of food. Milk could seldom be obtained, and potatoes were a luxury, often eaten raw.
Tables and chairs were for the most part crude slabs, roughhewn with an axe. Hickory was the favorite wood for furniture and for the staves of barrels and buckets; baskets were made of white oak splits. One family in New Salem owned a shaving horse and foot lathe for turning posts. The women grew proficient in making chairs. They 'biled' the backs to make them pliable, then bent them into the desired shape. 'Settin'' chairs had curved backs and rocking-chairs had straight backs. Beds were formed of interlacing rawhide strips suspended from wooden frames. Over the rawhide, straw ticks were spread, or, in families which had the good fortune to own them, feather beds. For the men, board bunks and straw mattresses were provided.
Most citizens of New Salem had never seen a piano or an organ, and their only musical instruments were the jew's-harp and a solitary fiddle. Even at church they sang without accompaniment. The women all had spinning wheels and roughhewn looms, often made by their menfolk, with which they spun their flax into bed linens. Starch had not been introduced in backwoods households, and the voluminous petticoats were made to stand out by the use of a cooked paste made from gluten.
Of the twenty cabins which the town boasted in its heyday, not one was painted either inside or out. The only newspapers or periodicals were those which occasionally found their way to New Salem from other settlements. Light was provided either by whale-oil lamps or tallow candles. Sometimes, when bears intruded in orchards or gardens, the men 'kilt' them with pitchforks or guns; then the candles were made of bear fat.
A certain morning in April, 1831, was the occasion of an incident which brought the entire population of New Salem to the river bank. On the Rutledge mill dam a flatboat had stranded, its snub nose hanging perilously over the water. On the boat was a grotesque figure, tall and gangling to a degree surpassing anything which the people of New Salem had ever seen. His buckskin trousers, much too wide, were rolled up, revealing long bare legs and great feet, blue from the cold water in which he stood. A linsey-woolsey shirt—a size too small—and a rusty, low-crowned felt hat with a broad brim completed his costume.
Near the Rutledge mill was a store owned by the Clary brothers, and out of this came Abe Clary with an auger, which he handed to the young fellow on the boat. When this loose-strung giant prepared to bore a hole in the bottom of the boat, the group on the bank felt their sense of the ridiculous almost painfully gratified. Among the onlookers who took in the delicious sight and guffawed, no doubt Ann Rutledge and her cousin, Mat Cameron, were present. But the hole in the bow, where the boat projected over the dam, allowed the water which had accumulated in it to escape, and, together with the transfer of part of the cargo to the bank, helped to float the stranded craft over the dam. The talents of the gangling young fellow began to command respect.
Noon brought the crew, of the flatboat into the Rutledge Tavern. They were Denton Offutt, owner and commander of the boat; Abraham Lincoln, whose exploit with the auger had already made him conspicuous; John Hanks, a distant cousin to Lincoln; and John D. Johnston, Lincoln's step-brother. They gathered about the rough table for the noon meal, and we can form the picture of Ann Rutledge waiting on the hungry men and listening to the talk and stories of the tall' young fellow called 'Abe.'
Ann was eighteen years old at this time. She was beautiful, popular, quick, industrious, and an excellent housekeeper; not cultivated, but richly endowed with natural graces and refinements. Her quilting, embroidery, and crochet work were the talk of the countryside. Ann was engaged to marry John McNeil, a prosperous young merchant who had come to New Salem in 1829.
During the meal Lincoln asked questions about New Salem, and said that if ever navigation up and down river were established from Illinois to New Orleans 'he guessed he'd stop off some day at Salem and see what he could do to hurry the town up a little.' The same sort of talk continued that evening when the flatboatmen and a number of townspeople gathered in the Tavern to enjoy the warmth of the fire after supper. Ann, when she had finished her work, found a place in shadows and listened to the general talk. The subject uppermost in the minds of the group was the navigation of the river, and Lincoln dwelt at length on the experiences of his own first voyage to New Orleans. His hearers were not long in recognizing his whimsical humor, and the qualities of his alert mind. As he talked, he became the dominating figure in the little assembly.
In the spring of 1828, James Gentry, the founder of Gentryville, Indiana, had hired Lincoln to build a flatboat. In April the boat was finished, loaded with pork and grain, and started down the Ohio for New Orleans, Gentry's son, Allen, in charge, and Lincoln serving as bow hand. Lincoln was paid eight dollars a month. It was during this voyage, while the boat was moored a plantation not far from New Orleans that a party of negroes with clubs boarded the craft as Lincoln and Gentry slept. Lincoln woke, seized a cudgel of his own, and laid about him furiously. With Gentry he drove off and pursued the marauders.
The voyage which had brought Lincoln to New Salem had been undertaken when John Hanks had asked Lincoln to go to Decatur to meet Offutt. Lincoln and Hanks agreed with Offutt to man a boat carrying pork and grain New Orleans. The boat was to be loaded in Springfield, but the man who had promised to furnish it to Offutt disappointed him. Lincoln, Hanks, and Johnston, who had joined the expedition, splashed back through the mud as far as the Congress lands on the Sangamon, where they cut logs and floated them down to a mill in Sangamontown. In four weeks a boat had been built and loaded, and this was the craft which had caught on the Rutledge dam.
During Lincoln's recital, he had been holding Ann's little sister Sally on his lap with much enjoyment. She was a baby of two years, and used to the petting of the Rutledges and their neighbors. Ann at length offered to take the child, but Lincoln said, 'Let me hold her a little longer. You know, I've a sister Sally myself.'
'And do you hold her?' asked Ann.
'It would not be befitting, as she is two years older than me,' was Lincoln's answer.
Sally had dropped asleep, however, and Lincoln remarked, 'She has winked out.' This was a favorite expression with him when someone fell asleep or when a project failed.1
Next morning the flatboat continued its journey toward New Orleans.
At the time of this second voyage, Lincoln was twenty-two years old. He had been born on February 1, 1809, in a little dirt-floored cabin in Kentucky, the son of Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks Lincoln. The extreme privation of' his first years is well known. In 1816 Thomas Lincoln made his way by flatboat to Indiana, and there chose a new site for a home. He returned for his family—Nancy, Abraham, and Sarah, his sister. With their painfully small array of household goods tied to their horses, they set out together on the exhausting journey to Spencer County in Southern Indiana. Abraham, seven years old, was required to walk many weary miles ahead of the horses, slashing right and left with an axe to cut a passage through the thick growth.
Their first shelter in Indiana was a pole shack, open on one side, in a half-acre which, Thomas Lincoln cleared on Little Pigeon Creek, not far from the Ohio River. Later they moved into a more substantial cabin; but about them grew a poisonous plant, variously known as snakeroot, deerwort, squawweed, or by other names. Cows eating it developed a strange malady which attacked also the people who drank their milk. With this mysterious disease Nancy became infected. Betsy and Thomas Sparrow, Nancy's aunt and uncle, who, with her cousin Dennis Hanks, had come to live with the Lincolns, had already been stricken and died. Now, in October 1818, Nancy herself succumbed.
Existence had been bleak enough for the Lincoln children in the cabin without door, floor, or windows. It sank now to a lower level of dreariness. But a year later their father returned to Kentucky, and married Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow with three children, John, 'Betsy,' and Matilda. Thomas Lincoln's second wife was kindly, capable, of strong and decisive character, and she was an ideal mother, fostering her step-children with the same loving care which she gave to her own brood. She brought bedsteads and bedding, tables, chairs, cooking utensils, whale-oil lamps, a spinning wheel and a loom, and other improvements to the backwoods cabin, and at her insistence doors and windows were provided.
A great affection soon sprang up between the boy Lincoln and his new mother. She was his friend and confidante, and to her he owed much of the shaping of his character. Years later, in 1848, when Lincoln was in Washington as representative in Congress of the Seventh District of Illinois, he wrote to his friend John Calhoun, whose acquaintance he made during his life at New Salem, a letter in which occurred an eloquent tribute to this second wife of Thomas Lincoln. The letter, from my collection, should set at rest the question whether Lincoln, in his familiar tributes, referred to Nancy Hanks or to his stepmother; that it must have been the latter is evident from the fact that John Calhoun never knew Nancy Hanks and could not have rendered her any service:—
H. R. WASHINGTON, July 22 —1848
DEAR OLD FRIEND
Yours of May 6th received, it greatly amused me to note your comments on our recent House conflict. You are right, no sooner do we battle one thing through—than we gird on our armor for the next fray. Sometimes I feel a very tired old man doubting my efficiancy for this position, then again I hoist my colors and rejoice in my opportunities. Jed was here and called on me about a month ago. he told me of your trip to Gentryville and your clearing the boundries, titles etc; Dear John at this time I want to extend my deepest gratitude for the service rendered my Mother; 'God bless my Mother' the part that is best in me, and the ability to give it to the world,' is my inheritance from her. that is the reason John I will never stop in my endeavor to achieve that which is best for the people as I see it. I shall await with joy the prospect of your early visit as I know you to keep your promise Mary is well thank the Lord and joins in love to you and yours.
In 1830 occurred another epidemic of 'milk-sick.' Mrs. Lincoln was alarmed, and again the family moved, Thomas Lincoln disposing of his land to James Gentry, and journeying with his wife and Abraham two hundred miles through forest and swamp and over rolling prairies to a thickly wooded spot on the bluffs of the Sangamon River about six miles west of Decatur in Macon County, Illinois. Sarah, who had married Aaron Grigsby, remained behind.
Across the Sangamon and three miles from the Lincoln farm was the home of Major Robert Warnick of Macon County. Abraham was hired to split fence rails for him, the famous three thousand. At Major Warnick's the project of the second voyage to New Orleans had been broached to him by John Ranks, the voyage which first brought him to New Salem, and from which he returned to settle there.
It was about the middle of May when the flatboat reached New Orleans. John Hanks had left the expedition at St. Louis to return to his family. Offutt, Johnston, and Lincoln spent the succeeding weeks in the town disposing of their cargo.
New Orleans in 1881 was a commercially thriving and cosmopolitan city, abounding in contrasts between the Creoles, the rising native American party, and the groups of Germans, French, Spanish, negroes, and Indians who made its life still more complex. Godey had begun the publication of his Lady's Book in Philadelphia, and it became the criterion of style and etiquette for all fashionable America. Frivolous lacy parasols, sheer dresses of many saucy ruffles, twinkling slippers with high French heels that clicked their way along, must have met the unaccustomed eye of Lincoln as he strolled about the streets. His first stay in New Orleans had been brief, and had not afforded opportunities for sight-seeing; but now, at twenty-two, possessed of what may well have seemed to him a princely wage, he had both leisure and inclination to look about the city. He saw men in white flannels topped by finely woven straws at the horse races, eating, drinking. He saw them in evening clothes escorting lovely, bejeweled women to the opera. From the levee where darkies sang as they grappled huge bales of cotton, through the length of Canal Street to the quaint cemeteries at the far end, Lincoln wandered. Down at the great market place he marveled at the huge gray mounds of oyster shells, and watched old men with queer knives extracting the oysters.
Presently his wanderings took him to the slave market. An auction was in progress; planters were weaving in and out among the frightened groups of negroes. On the block was young mulatto woman . . . . So, at least, we may picture the scene which has passed into tradition. It is a familiar record that, on such an occasion 'the iron entered his soul,' and that he made the vow, 'If ever I get a chance to hit that thing, I will hit it hard.'
Among the letters which have descended to me is one written by Lincoln later to John Calhoun— a letter reflecting the emotions to which his experience in New Orleans gave rise. Its date torn off, and its first lines defaced, it speaks from the heart the first instinctive reaction of Lincoln to the problem of the slave.
Yours. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I regret you feel so . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
of the opposition reg . . . me a . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I am not a 'nigger lover' by any . . . . . . . . . . . .
also know how greatly disturbed I ever am over distress of man or beast, unwarranted abuse is a repulsive thing to my mind and John I never have forgotten a single instant of my memorable stay in New Orleans which was so marked by the atrocious cruelty practiced by many slave holders, at this writing comes an instance to my mind, I had stopped to question an old slave who appeared dejected at his task. I questioned him, are you happy in slavery? the old fellow unbent his back as much as possible and raising a face of hopeless resignation answered—'No—no Marse I nevah is happy no mo. whippins is things that black folks nevah can stop remembrin about—they hurt so.' this is one I forgot to tell you before. but John I guess it takes a queer fellow like me to sympathise with the put upon and downtrodden. those blacks John dont live—they simply exist. I never trapped an animal in my life and slavery to me is just that both filling my soul with abhorrence. do not espouse my vindication, it is only the tongue of the wise who can offend and they are incapable of such an act, hence I shall pursue my wonted course though half the world disagrees with me. I feel I am right. My tenderest greetings to your esteemed family
Yours forever A. LINCOLN
Offutt often discussed Lincoln's attitude toward slavery in the Tavern in New Salem. And Scott Greene, the son of William Graham Greene, the 'Billy' who was such a close friend of Lincoln that the two boys slept together when they were employed in Offutt's store in New Salem, recently said to the author, 'My father, then a lad of nineteen, was clerking in the same store with Abe, and the two became fast friends. Abe often told Father about the slave market in New Orleans, and how, even then, he was formulating plans to stop that practice of selling.'
Early in June Offutt sold the flatboat, and the men boarded a river steamer for the return voyage. Lincoln had been impressed with New Salem, and suggested to Offutt that it might be profitable to try a business venture there. Offutt warmed to the scheme at once. It was agreed that Lincoln should go to New Salem and find a place where merchandise, which Offutt proposed to buy in Springfield, might be stored. At St. Louis the friends parted. When Lincoln returned to New Salem, he found an abandoned shack near the mill, and, learning that he might use it to store the goods which Offutt intended to secure, he put up shelves and set out promptly for Springfield. The twenty miles between New Salem and Springfield were not a difficult walk for the young man who, in his boyhood in Indiana, had often tramped farther in a day to hear lawyer Brackenridge plead his cases.
Lincoln spent a week with Offutt choosing the stock for the store. Then he returned to New Salem and secured room and board at the Cameron cabin. At supper he was dismayed to see eleven girls, the daughters of the Reverend John Cameron, file in and take their places at the table. After their first appearance, they seem never to have made a perturbing impression on Lincoln.
As usual, Offutt was delayed. Lincoln was still without employment when, on the first of August, an election for Governor and members of Congress took place. The voting was in the Cameron cabin, and one of the clerks, none other than John McNeil, had been taken sick. Newton Mentor Graham, the schoolmaster, who served as the other clerk, asked Lincoln if he could write, and learned that he could 'make a few rabbit tracks.' Lincoln was enlisted as assistant clerk, and so made his first entry into politics.
At last Offutt and his goods arrived. In September, Offutt bought for ten dollars a site for the store on the river bank near the Rutledge mill, a spot which he hoped would prove strategic in catching the river trade. A log structure was thrown up, and the two men entered actively into business.
Offutt, whom biographers have in turn called a 'rogue,' a 'schemer,' a 'noisy braggart,' a 'wild and reckless speculator who would not disdain fraud when it served his ends,' 'a man windy, rattle-brained, unsteady and improvident,' had more truly the character of the inveterate promoter. If at times he erred in judgment on account of his impulsiveness, his honesty forbade that others should suffer by his misadventures.
On either side of the crooked lane that was the Main Street of New Salem, Reuben Radford, the Crisman brothers, the Herndon brothers, and John McNeil in partnership with Sam Hill had set up stores. The Clary boys ran a smithy and repair shop for farm implements near the Offutt store and the mill. All these establishments vied with each other for the meagre trade of a town which never boasted more than twenty buildings, or a population of over a hundred souls. Very little money was exchanged; credit played a large part in every transaction; commodities were purchased 'on tick'; land and stores frequently changed hands with signed notes in lieu of money, and interest was seldom demanded.
Offutt soon realized these conditions, but he believed too that, if navigation were established on the Sangamon River, New Salem would become a thriving little city. He placed his store near the proposed steamboat wharf, rented the Rutledge mill, and formed ambitious plans for buying outmost of the other merchants.
From the outset he had a great admiration for Lincoln. He placed him in charge of the store and the mill at a salary of two dollars a week. Since Lincoln had to divide his time between the two establishments, a clerk was needed. William Graham Greene, then a lad of nineteen, was employed for this purpose. Lincoln presently moved his scant belongings from the Camerons' to the back of the store and slept with Billy. Such was their intimacy that 'when one turned over, the other did likewise.'
The qualities by which Lincoln endeared himself to his fellow men are now known to all the world; but the range of his friendships in New Salem, and the odd contrasts between different members of his acquaintance, form an extraordinary picture. Besides the Rutledges and the Camerons, with whom he was always on cordial terms, he acquired a wide variety of followers. Newton Mentor Graham, the mild mannered Scots schoolmaster, a tall, gaunt man with a long, narrow face and deep, intelligent eyes, suggested books which would be useful to Lincoln, helped him to borrow them, and helped also to make their meaning clear. He taught in a log schoolhouse, where Lincoln often went to sit among the children. An associate of Mentor Graham in founding a temperance society, Dr. John Allen, was also a staunch friend of Lincoln. He had organized the first Sunday School in New Salem, and was its superintendent.
But not all Lincoln's friends were as reputable as Mentor Graham and Dr. Allen. About six miles southwest of New Salem was a strip of timber known as 'Clary's Grove.' It was the head quarters of a group of young toughs, wild, rowdy, lawless, fond of crude practical jokes, heavy drinkers, but with the rough virtues of loyalty and honesty. Their leader was Jack Armstrong, who had enjoyed but three weeks of schooling in his life, but 'reckoned he did pretty well because he learned all but two letters of the alphabet.' He was champion wrestler of Sangamon County, and in the natural course of events the gigantic and powerful Lincoln was brought into contest with him. It was a memorable fight—so memorable that accounts of it have differed. Whether Lincoln was merely unsubdued, or whether he gave Armstrong the thrashing which some reporters have declared, he made a friend of his opponent and acquired the entire Clary's Grove gang as a devoted and boisterous Praetorian Guard, which formed, indeed, the nucleus of Lincoln's first political success.
Lincoln was welcomed into the Armstrong home as one of the family. Hannah, Jack's wife, mended his clothes, and in return he chopped wood, carried water, and rocked the eight children. It was William 'Duff' Armstrong, one of these children, whom Lincoln later defended against the charge of murder in the most famous of all his cases at law. The distracted Hannah came to appeal for her son, and was rewarded, although the boy was acquitted 'not by any want of testimony against him, but by the irresistible appeal of Mr. Lincoln in his favor.'
Another friend who was of great service to Lincoln was John Bowling Green, the influential Justice of the Peace in New Salem. Bowling Green was corpulent and jovial. Lincoln contrived a crude checkerboard, with a little box to hold the checkers. He had a passion for the game, which was shared by Bowling Green, and before long the two became the best players in the country.
In 1883, when Lincoln was acting as postmaster of New Salem, he made the acquaintance of John Calhoun, County Surveyor of Sangamon. The district was being rapidly settled, and Calhoun needed an assistant. This post Lincoln secured, and by a remarkable feat of application he acquired the necessary knowledge to perform his duties, although he had a poor head for figures. It was to John Calhoun that the two letters already quoted in this text were written, and the surveyor observed Lincoln's advancement in mind and position with the confidence that he was watching the first steps of a great career.
We have a crude surveyor's sketch of New Salem in 1889, made by John Calhoun which serves to bring the little settlement before our eyes almost in its native likeness. But more precious is a memorandum which Calhoun's daughter Sarah wrote out in 1848 at her father's suggestion, containing what he remembered of Lincoln and what he thought of him in those significant New Salem years. The diary was composed in St. Joseph, Missouri, while Lincoln himself was in Washington serving as a Representative in Congress. Fresh and natural as a conversation with a citizen of New Salem itself is Sally Calhoun's diary in the anecdotes and memorabilia of Lincoln which it preserves. What better picture could we form of Lincoln's relations with another of his New Salem friends—the scholar, idler, and drunkard Jack Kelso, who whiled away his days on the river bank fishing for croppies and catfish—than this initial page of Sally's manuscript?
ST. JOE Mo. June 2nd 1848
Page I (Lincoln Memo.) of Sarah Calhoun
Father predicts great things in the future for Lincoln, for he says Lincoln has character, Lincoln never holds a personal gruge, but will fight bitterly for the right of the masses. Father says he therefore should be a great man for the benifit of the masses. Father also says the 'under-dog' is Lincolns first consideration, that for instance one time shortly after Lincoln came to Salem—Jack Kelso (who was the villiage drunkard) got into a fight in front of the Tavern and Lincoln rescued him and the viliage folks asked him why he should take the part of such a fellow when they knew he did not like drunkards. he answered 'I don't care what you folks do with the drunkard part of him—but I will not allow you to thrash up the intelligent part of him, because he is teaching me to read Shakspeare and I am not through my studies.
It has been said that Lincoln was unresponsive to nature, but Calhoun's recollection, as reported by Sally, was otherwise. Besides the backwoodsman's intimate knowledge of the types and uses of trees, and of the habits of animals, Lincoln possessed the faculty of looking imaginatively upon nature. Here is another leaf of Sally's diary.
ST. JOE Mo. 1848
Page V of 'Sally' Sarah Calhoun
Father says Lincoln was a great lover of nature, he would wander to the wood any where they chanced to be, he says Lincoln used to name certain trees for certain people, he said they reminded him of his friends and acquaintances, the tall straight ones, the bent narled ones, the cowardly ones that aliways bent before the wind and let their branches grow that way. then some would lean on another tree and some were spinless allways. weaving hither and thither. some were sturdy with knots all over them, they were the aggressivies. Father is allways amused at the unusual things Lincoln thinks and does, he seems to partake of every character who crosses his path or is unlike any body else in the scope of Fathers observations. he very often refers to himself as 'a queer fellow' when he read he allways forgot to eat otherwise he was a great eater. a healthy one.
Lincoln was now living in a religious community. Dancing, naturally, was forbidden; church, 'huskin'' and 'quiltin'' bees, and spelling matches were the social outlet of the godly. Drinking, wrestling, and chicken fights satisfied the instinct for self-expression in the rowdies.
Important in Lincoln's life were the debating societies to which he gave a great portion of his time and effort. The New Salem Literary Society had been founded by James Rutledge, with meetings in the Tavern, and Lincoln allied himself with it. Debating brought Lincoln in close contact with Rowan Herndon, and night after night the two sat closeted for hours in Herndon's house working up material. Both men enjoyed these sessions in the extreme, and placed a high value on the exercise of their persuasive powers. Late as their vigils kept them, Lincoln was up with the dawn next day.
The people of New Salem and Sand Ridge never forgot Lincoln's first debate. He had worked on it for weeks, declaiming it to the trees by the river and rehearsing it to stray dogs. At last he rose to face his audience in the crowded little Tavern. Ill at ease and uncertain, he shuffled to his post, lifted his heavy eyebrows, shifted his weight, and began in a thin tremulous voice, at a loss for words. A titter ran through the crowd. But as Lincoln overcame his self-consciousness, his awkward frame acquired dignity and his voice fullness and earnestness. Gradually he drew his hearers under the spell of the natural qualities of his mind, and the final impression which he made was gratifyingly successful.
A picture of these contests and of Lincoln's charm is preserved for us by Sally Calhoun. Two other leaves of her diary remain to put us as much in the presence of the eager young debater as written words can well hope to do:—
Lincoln used to quote poetry and prose at the Literary Society in Salem, he had a remarkable memory, but his selections were mostly about deeds of valor and high-minded themes. Father says he is a great one to tell jokes, that he usually tells them to cheer some one, if he sees anyone downcast he will say—'Oh! I get that way often, but let me tell you something which has struck my funny-bone' and then he would soon have them smiling.
Father says Lincoln is a clever debater he remembers at New Salem that Lincoln and Newton Graham were to debate 'Fire vs: Water' and Newton said Lincoln knew too much about water, so he should take fire. Lincoln laughed and said 'all right I'll take fire—you see I may have to know a lot about fire in the here-after, so its well I should be beginning to enlighten myself now' and he won the debate. he took 'Dog instinct vs: Cat instinct' once, he chose the dog, and after winning so easily some one asked him how he knew so much about dogs—he replied 'I was never above speaking to any dog I chanced to meet hence they have given me a lot of information' Father says dogs realy did follow him about. he was kind to all animals and that was one reason any one would loan him a horse to ride, they knew the horse would receive good treatment.
Settled in business, Lincoln found larger opportunities for study. In the store he read 'stretched at full length on the counter, his head propped on a stack of calico prints.' At other times he would sit under the shade of some inviting tree and study 'barefooted and grinding around with the shade, varying his attitude by lying on his back and putting his feet up the tree.' Another favorite spot was the cellar door, where he would lie prone for hours, a book propped before his eyes. He always read aloud, and even 'when he wrote he spoke the words as he wrote them; weighing each one as he uttered and recorded it.'
Books in New Salem were few and far between, and many are the miles Lincoln walked that he might borrow one. He had already at various times read with remarkable thoroughness such books as the Bible, Aesop's Fables, Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrim's Progress, the now notorious Parson Weems's Life of Washington, and the Statutes of Indiana.
Two volumes and the title-page of a third have come down to me which are of especial value for the notations in Lincoln's own hand which they contain. The title-page is that of a work comprising the first six books of Euclid, with supplements by the author, John Playfair. The volumes are Samuel P. Newman's Practical System of Rhetoric, and An Essay on Elocution, by Samuel Kirkham. Playfair's Elements of Geometry was published at Philadelphia in 1832. On the page which is all that remains of Lincoln's copy the owner's name is written across the top in large letters, while lower down, in Lincoln's own hand, appear the words:—
from M. D. Judkins to
At the bottom of the page his hand again appears. He has written:—
I have greatly appreciated this gift. 'the good that men do live after them.'
More fully annotated and more significant as a record of Lincoln's mind are the brown leaves of A Practical System of Rhetoric: Or the Principles & Rules of Style, Inferred from Examples of Writing, by Samuel P. Newman. This book was published in 1829 by Shirley and Hyde, Portland, and Mark Newman, Andover. It is inscribed on the flyleaf: 'Miss Susan Y. Baker, March 15 Eastport Academy.' At the bottom of the title-page is the signature 'A. Lincoln; Gentryville.' At the top of the page appear other lines in Lincoln's hand:—
this book— Into my hand from valued hand of friend She gave—that better style unto my english it would lend;
Gratitude to Miss Baker and hard for me to construct.
One could brood over the notes which Lincoln has left in this quaint Rhetoric and record many degrees of charm, respect, and pleasure which the casual words evoke. On the page opposite the title Lincoln has scribbled, somewhat imperfectly, the famous stanza of Burns, 'Many and sharp the num'rous ills Inwoven with our frame,' underscoring emphatically the concluding lines, 'Man's inhumanity to man Makes countless thousands mourn!' And below appear the lines:—
To be, or not to be?—that is the question.— Whether 't is nobler in the mind to suffer— The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or to take up arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing, end them!
Again the last line is underscored, and beneath are the words '(quoted) A. Lincoln.'
It would not be unprofitable to go adventuring in the pages of Newman's Rhetoric even where they have not been annotated by Lincoln, if only to see what sort of intellectual nourishment he found there. We may notice at least two examples which Mr. Newman quotes for the edification of his readers.
We shall choose from a passage in which he is expatiating on the force obtained in description when all the details are appropriate to a well-conceived general purpose.
The following example [says Mr. Newman] is taken from Everett's description of the Pilgrim Fathers on their voyage to America.
'I see them driven in fury before the raging tempest, on the high and giddy waves. The awful voice of the storm howls through the rigging. The labouring masts seem straining from their base;—the dismal sound of the pumps is heard; the ship leaps as it were madly from billow to billow;- the ocean breaks and settles with engulphing floods over the floating deck, and beats with deadening, shivering weight, against the staggered vessel.'
The design of the writer in this passage, is to excite emotion in the minds of his readers. He would have them shudder in view of the dangers, by which the frail bark he describes is encompassed, and regard with deep commiseration the noble adventurers it bears. If now we notice the circumstances which make up the description, as they tend to this design of the writer, we may learn at once, why the passage, as a description, excites our admiration. The 'howling voice of the storm,' 'the straining of the masts,' 'the dismal sound of the pumps,' 'the leaping of the ship,' 'the overflowing of the deck,' and 'the deadening shock of the ocean,' all tend to impress the mind most deeply with horror at the scene, and commiseration for those who are exposed to its dangers.
I give one example more, in which it is the design of the writer to excite emotions of a ludicrous nature. It is Irving's description of Ichabod Crane. 'He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his, whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat at top, with large ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weathercock perched upon his spindle neck, to tell which way the wind blew. To see him striding along the profile of a hill on a windy day, with his clothes bagging and fluttering about him, one might have mistaken him for the genius of famine descending upon the earth, or some scarecrow eloped from a cornfield.'
Now there is no one, who, in reading this passage, does not admire it as a description. And anyone in assigning the reason of his admiration, would at once pronounce it a fine description, because all the circumstances mentioned tend so admirably to the design of the writer.
We may pause in admiration not only before the picture of Ichabod Crane, as commended by Mr.Newman for its literary taste; but also before the picture of Lincoln, lying, perhaps, on his back, with his feet 'up a tree,' studying a portrait for which, with a few features amended, he might himself have sat.
Among the passages which Mr. Newman quotes was one which struck home to Lincoln with peculiar force and which touched upon an emotion that he has dignified in unsurpassed tributes.
Mrs. Hemans thus describes a mother's love;
There is none
In all this cold and hollow world, no fount
Of deep, strong, deathless love, save that within
A mother's heart.—You ne'er made
Your breast the pillow of his infancy,
While to the fulness of your heart's glad heavings
His fair cheek rose and fell; and his bright hair
Waved softly to your breath!—You never kept
Beside him, till the last pale star had set,
And morn, all dazzling, as in triumph broke
On your dim weary eye; not yours the face
Which, early faded through fond care for him,
Hung o'er his sleep, and duly, as heaven's light;
Was there to greet his wakening! You ne'er
His couch, ne'er sung him to his rosy rest,
Caught his least whisper, when his voice from
Had learned soft utterance; pressed your lip to
When fever parched it; hushed his wayward
With patient, vigilant, never-wearied love!
No! these are woman's tasks!
Lincoln has drawn irregular lines in ink across the top and down the sides of the first lines of this passage; and in the lower margin of the page has written:—
no truer words were ever spoken. I feel the import of them.
Another passage Lincoln has significantly scored. After quoting a writer in the Edinburgh Review, Mr. Newman remarks:—
The same writer, in describing the sophistry and unfair statements of those, who tell us to judge of Civil Liberty from the outrages and violent acts which attend revolutions, says,
'It is just at this crisis of revolution that its enemies love to exhibit it. They pull down the scaffolding from the half finished edifice; they point to the flying dust, the falling bricks, the comfortless rooms, the frightful irregularity of the whole appearance; and then ask in scorn, where the promised splendour and comfort is to be found.'
Lincoln has underlined the words 'who tell us to judge of Civil Liberty from the outrages and violent acts which attend revolutions,' and has again drawn marginal lines about the passage.
Chapter V in Mr. Newman's Rhetoric is entitled 'On Style,' and, save for a group of exercises and specimens, concludes the volume. It is a quaint discussion of elegance and propriety and vivacity,—the latter one of Mr. Newman's favorite eulogisms,—but it concludes with a few sentences on which the hungry Lincoln must have seized like a creature suddenly breathing his native element after forced respiration in an alien atmosphere.
A good style is an attainment, which amply repays all the effort that has here been enjoined. It is to the scholar, a consummation of his intellectual discipline and acquirements. He, who in this land of free institutions holds an able pen, has a weapon of powerful efficacy both for defence and attack; and if this weapon be wielded with honest and patriotic motives, he who wields it, may become a public benefactor.
Again Lincoln has drawn his irregular line across the top of this passage and down either side. Underneath he has added:—
a truth very well constructed. A. L.
An additional evidence that this passage impressed Lincoln seems to appear in the fact that he has written it in another book which he later owned, apparently forgetting the authorship of the words, since below them he has made the note:—
quoted from 'Hooker and Barrow.'
The volume in which these sentences have been jotted down is An Essay on Elocution, Designed for the Use of Schools and Private Learners, by Samuel Kirkham. It was published in New York by Robinson, Pratt and Company, in 1838. Lincoln has underscored the words 'private learners' in the title, and has written below, 'especially me.' At the bottom of the page appears the signature:—
On a flyleaf preceding the title is the penciled endorsement:—
Permealy C. M. Corbett to Abe Lincoln
and below, in ink,
The volume is rich in annotations. In the table of contents Lincoln has marked such titles as 'Messiah,' by Pope; 'On receiving his Mother's Picture,' by Cowper; 'The Broken Heart,' by Irving; 'Parting of the Three Indian Friends,' by Moore; and 'The Wisdom and Majesty of God, attested by the Works of Creation,' by Dr. Chalmers. He has marked in the text the famous stanza of Byron containing the line 'On with the dance! let joy be unconfined,' and concluding with the sullen interruption of the cannon of Waterloo. He has marked also these other lines of Byron, which have been entitled 'Bliss of the Future State.'
In darkness spoke Athena's wisest son,
'All that we know, is, nothing can be known:'
Yet doubting pagans dreamed of bliss to come—
Of peace upon the shores of Acheron.
'T is ours, as holiest men have deemed, to see
A land of souls beyond that sable shore,
To shame the doctrine of the sadducee
And sophists, madly vain of dubious lore:
[This line heavily underscored]
How sweet 't will be in concert to adore
With those who made our mortal labours light!
To hear each voice we feared to hear no more
Of Christian martyrs, prophets gone before!
Behold each mighty shade revealed to sight,
The Bactrian, Samian sage, and all who taught
Byron again drew Lincoln's fire with the lines:—
What is the end of fame? 't is but to fill
A certain portion of uncertain paper.
Lincoln has underlined the words 'to fill,' and has written in the margin 'a grave of certain feet.'
Three couplets have been singled out for emphasis; they are marked by parenthetical strokes of ink.
A day, an hour, of virtuous liberty,
Is worth a whole eternity in bondage.
Shall I, too, weep? Where, then, is fortitude?
And, fortitude abandoned, where is man?
Place me where winter breathes his keenest air,
And I will sing, if liberty be there.
Two other fragments of verse received Lincoln's especial attention.
If hinderances obstruct thy way,
Thy magnanimity display,
And let thy strength be seen;
But O! if fortune. . fill thy sail
With more than a propitious gale,
Take half thy canvass in.
Alas! alas! doth hope. . deceive us?
Shall friendship, love—shall all those ties
That bind a moment, and then leave us,
Be found again where nothing dies?
Oh! if no other boon were given
To keep our hearts from wrong and stain,
Who would not try to win a . . Heaven,
Where all we love, shall live again?
In the margins beside these verses, irregular lines have been drawn in ink. Lincoln has underscored the last six verses, and close by them has written the words, 'Thus I pray.'
Mr. Kirkham has suggested the declamatory emphasis which he desires his readers to cultivate by means of italics and other devices. Lincoln, however, evidently read the selections with more at heart than the study of elocution. Beneath the first stanzas of 'The Burial of Sir John Moore,' Lincoln has written the rather curious comment:—
If my Publick whom I have served, would lay me away like 'Sir John' I could rest in peace,
The stanza of Burns which he wrote in his copy of Newman's Rhetoric Lincoln has again signalized in Kirkham's volume. Two pen strokes lead out from the last two lines,—
Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn,
to a note in Lincoln's own hand: 'and enslaves his fellow-man.'
Lincoln has so left his impress upon his fellow men that we should not willingly lose his most casual marginalia. But of no casual interest for these New Salem years are many entries in Kirkham's Elocution. Here, for example, are further lines which Mr. Kirkham quotes:—
If that high world which lies beyond
Our own, surviving love endears;
If there the cherished heart be found,
The eye the same, except in tears;
How welcome those untrodden spheres!
How sweet this very hour to die!
To soar from earth, and find all fears
Lost in thy light ... Eternity!
Beside these lines are the simple words 'To Ann,' and the signature 'A. Lincoln.'
On the back flyleaf of the volume is an endorsement in the hand of Sally Calhoun:—
St. Joe Mo. 1859.
This was the property of Mr. Lincoln, he left it with my Father on a visit to our home in Springfield Ill; I shall all ways cherish this book as it is so intimately marked in memory of his little sweetheart Ann. Mr. Lincoln recited many of these poems.
The relations of Ann Rutledge, John McNeil, and Lincoln, and the brief courtship of Lincoln and Ann, so bright in its inception, so tragic in its conclusion, must be recounted in further papers. It will then be my privilege to present to readers of the Atlantic the actual letters which passed between Lincoln and Ann—messages precious, unstudied, and moving and the opinions of those who knew and watched them as recorded in their diaries and recollections.
('The Courtship' is the title of Miss Minor's next Lincoln paper)
1. Many of the details of this scene in the Rutledge Tavern I owe to Scott Greene, son of William Graham Greene, one of Lincoln's closest intimates in New Salem.—Author