Lincoln the Lover

III. The Tragedy


When we took leave of Lincoln and Ann Rutledge in the preceding paper, Lincoln had just heard that Ann had gone to work in the friendly household of Uncle Jimmy Short at Sand Ridge. Lincoln was distressed at the news; he felt as a reproach to himself that he could not protect Ann from such necessities, and he wrote the noble which letter has come down to me among the other Lincoln keepsakes preserved by Ann's cousin and bosom friend, Matilda Cameron.

'I try to persuade myself that my unlucky star has not overshadowed you,' Lincoln wrote. 'Molly Prewitt told me about you going to work for James Short's family. You are too frail for that hard work. My treasured one, I should now be standing between you and such trials. O! when will success crown my untiring efforts. But hope was at work as well as impatience. Later in the letter Lincoln expressed it more cheerfully: 'I feel unusally lifted with hope of relieving your present worry at an early date and likewise doing myself the best turn of my life.'

The year was 1834. Lincoln, heavily in debt, served as postmaster of New Salem, actively practiced surveying, and was a candidate for the state legislature. James Rutledge and John Cameron had given up the effort to make a success of their New Salem projects and had retired to what was originally the Cameron farm at Sand Ridge, a few miles away. The older girls in both families had been compelled to 'work out.' The Cameron farm had been bought, before his departure from New Salem, by John McNamar, to whom Ann Rutledge had first been engaged. He was an upright and industrious young merchant who had achieved remarkable success in a very short time. But he had called himself McNeil on his arrival in the town, and when it became known that he had been living under an assumed name, suspicion was aroused. He explained that when his father had suffered financial reverses he had wished to cut himself off from the past and make his fortune unimpeded, but this explanation did little to set gossip at rest. McNamar had left for New York in 1832, promising to return quickly with his parents, but actually he did not make his way back to New Salem for three years. Whatever correspondence may have passed in the meantime between him and Ann Rutledge eventually came to an end. In the absence of word from him, and led into doubt and distrust by the suspicion which his conduct had provoked, Ann yielded to the force of a new affection. Lincoln came into her life as a more absorbing influence, and she gave him a love which she could not have given McNamar.

Ann did not leave Lincoln's letter unanswered. She sent him in return a precious possession, a bible1 which had belonged to her mother. With the stout little volume came these few lines:—

It was my mothers she giv it to me. I love it so much that I want you to hav it. pleas read it all. it will make you feel diferent.

Of all the Lincoln possessions which have descended to me, and which have never before been published or known,—letters, diaries, books,— surely none is more precious that this Bible. Not only was it a lover's gift from Ann to Abraham, but it has been marked with Lincoln's own writing, and he has left in it impulsive traces of this thought or emotion. Let us follow his steps, and examine the pages of the yellowed old Bible which has come down from his own hands.

The engraved title-page of the volume bears this legend:—


At the bottom of the title-page is the endorsement in Lincoln's hand: 'New Salem— 1834.'

On the opposite the title, Lincoln has written:—

Presented to me by Ann Mayes Rutledge, that I may read and subdue [obscure] my mind to its valued teachings.

And at the bottom of the page: —

I will be diligent in my reading
                   A. Lincoln

No doubt when Ann sent Lincoln her Bible and wrote, 'pleas read it all. it will make you feel different,' she had in mind Lincoln's independence toward the accepted religious convictions of the village. Both the Rutledge and the Cameron families were Cumberland Presbyterians, as Mat Cameron informs us. They, with the responsible citizens of New Salem generally, were staunch supporters of the literal Scripture as they had been taught to understand it, and any deviation from the received views they felt to be dangerously tainted with sin. Lincoln, who had read Gibbon and Tom Paine, and possessed a naturally unfettered mind, did not escape the common accusation of atheism which was apt to be indiscriminately hurled at dissent of any degree or variety. That he read even Ann's bible without surrendering his independence of mind is evident from the words he wrote opposite the concluding verse of the book of Judges.

The familiar verse reads, "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.' Lincoln has enclosed the lines in pen strokes and written underneath in the margin: —

a good precept I would say

Among the writings which Lincoln knew and which we might expect him to apply to his love for Ann Rutledge, perhaps we should not naturally look for the Song of Solomon. But expectation is a poor guide among facts. It is a pleasure sharpened by delicious contrasts to find the marks of Lincoln's pen about a little group of verses in the Song of Songs. They are the first five verses of chapter four.

BEHOLD, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves' eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats that appear from mount Gilead.

2. Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.

3. Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a pomegranate within thy the locks.

4. Thy neck is like the tower of David, builded for an armoury, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.

5. Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies.

Above the first line of these verses and in the margins down the sides Lincoln has drawn lines in ink. In the bottom margin below the column is pen check, with the words 'to Ann.'

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