« PreviousContinue »
LIFE OF LINCOLN
[Autobiography given to J. W. Fell 20 December 1859.]
I was born February 12, 1809, in Hardin county, Kentucky. My parents were both born in Virginia, of undistinguished families-second families, perhaps I should say. My mother, who died in my tenth year, was of a family of the name of Hanks, some of whom now reside in Adams, and others in Macon county, Illinois. My paternal grandfather, Abraham Lincoln, emigrated from Rockingham county, Virginia, to Kentucky about 1781 or 1782, where a year or two later he was killed by the Indians, not in battle, but by stealth, when he was laboring to open a farm in the forest. His ancestors, who were Quakers, went to Virginia from Berks county, Pennsylvania. An effort to identify them with the New England family of the same name ended in nothing more definite than a similarity of Christian names in both families, such as Enoch, Levi, Mordecai, Solomon, Abraham, and the like.
My father, at the death of his father, was but six years of age, and he grew up literally without education. He removed from Kentucky to what is now Spencer county, Indiana, in my eighth year. We reached our new home about the time the State came into the Union. It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. There I grew up. There were some schools, so called, but no qualification was ever required of a teacher beyond "readin', writin', and cipherin'" to the rule of three. If a straggler supposed to understand Latin happened to sojourn in the neighborhood he was looked upon as a wizard. There was absolutely nothing to excite ambition for educa
tion. Of course, when I came of age did not know much. Still, somehow, I could read, write, and cipher to the rule of three, but that was all. I have not been to school since. The little advance I now have upon this store of education I have picked up from time to time under the pressure of necessity.
I was raised to farm work, which I continued till I was twenty-two. At twenty-one I came to Illinois, Macon county. Then I got to New Salem, at that time in Sangamon, now in Menard county, where I remained a year as a sort of clerk in a store. Then came the Black Hawk war, and I was elected a captain of volunteers, a success which gave me more pleasure than any I have had since. I went the campaign, was elated, ran for the legislature the same year (1832), and was beaten-the only time I ever have been beaten by the people. The next and three succeeding biennial elections I was elected to the legislature. I was not a candidate afterward. During this legislative period I had studied law and removed to Springfield to practise it. In 1846 I was once elected to the lower house of congress. Was not a candidate for reëlection. From 1849 to 1854, both inclusive, practiced law more assiduously than ever before. Always a Whig in politics, and generally on the Whig electoral tickets, making active canvasses. I was losing interest in politics when the repeal of the Missouri compromise aroused me again. What I have done since then is pretty well known.
If any personal description of me is thought desirable it may be said I am, in height, six feet four inches, nearly; lean in flesh, weighing on an average one hundred and eighty pounds; dark complexion, with coarse black hair and gray eyes. No other marks or brands recollected.
In this little autobiographical sketch Lincoln covers the
facts of his early life; the letters and addresses with their annotations make unnecessary in this place any addition in regard to the later years. As to that strange character Lincoln's own words must speak,—it is to his expression of himself in his relations with his friends and his enemies that one must turn. The contents of this volume have been carefully chosen to show every phase of his nature. Time which tempers all judgments has in the case of Lincoln been swift to bring the eulogies of this generation to follow the criticisms of his own. It was but natural that during a period of intense feeling different factions should emphasize different phases of one of the most complex characters in history. Now that the wounds of that time are almost healed and men and women are middle-aged who were born after Lincoln had passed to give an account of his great trust, it is possible to see him as he was,—a man of deepest melancholy yet overflowing to coarseness with animal spirits, a man of the "plain people" with all their plainness in small things yet in great matters a model of high courtesy, sensitive to unpopularity yet ready to stand alone because he saw so clearly the goal before him, a shrewd politician yet an unselfish statesman, an uncompromising commander yet a friend tenderly considerate of all human weakness. In the stately simplicity of Lowell's tribute to the murdered president there is the note of prophecy:
He knew to bide his time
And can his fame abide,
Still patient in his simple faith sublime,
Great captains with their guns and drums
Disturb our judgment for the hour,
But at last silence comes;
These all are gone, and, standing like a tower,
Our children shall behold his fame.
The kindly, earnest, brave, foreseeing man, Sagacious, patient, dreading praise, not blame, New birth of our new soil, the first American.
THE STORY OF THE BOOK
The books and pamphlets in existence which bear on the life and tragic death of Abraham Lincoln form a collection so vast that the mere enumeration of their titles would go far towards filling a volume. Nine-tenths of these publications are campaign documents and tributes called forth by his assassination. Mr. Andrew Boyd of Albany who published a Lincoln bibliography in 1870 owned a collection of 404 funeral orations alone, exclusive of poems and other tributes. From a gentleman in Chili, from a missionary in Hayti, from a Jew in Wilna, from innumerable sources and in a dozen languages these pamphlets poured. From Vienna came a play dealing with the dramatic incidents in the life of the dead president. And so one might go on indefinitely. More, probably, has been written of Lincoln than of any man of his century, Napoleon excepted.
Even the question of the speeches and the various forms in which they have been given to the public is too large to be properly treated here. The book-worm must turn to Mr. Boyd's bibliography for the best information in regard to works published prior to 1870; since then the volumes have been sufficiently few and important to find a place in the catalogue of any large library.
Mr. Nicolay in making his exhaustive collection of Lincoln material for the two volumes of the Century Co's edition of the Complete Works devoted years to research and verification. At an early date he began keeping scrapbooks and from his appointment as private secretary to the president-elect he of course let nothing pass him. For the early letters he, as well as every other biographer, was indebted to Mr. Herndon for persistent efforts to bring to