Slike strani

as hammered out under the blows of difficulties and disasters, and as pressed beneath the weight of the nation's burdens, until was at last produced the finely tempered nature of the man we know, the Lincoln of history, that exquisite combination of sweetness of nature and strength of character. The type is described in Schiller's Song of the Founding of the Bell:

Denn, wo das strenge mit dem zarten,
Wo mildes sich und starkes paarten,
Da giebt es einen guten Klang.

There is a tendency to apply the term “miraculous” to the career of every hero, and in a sense such description is, of course, true. The life of every man, however restricted its range, is something of a miracle; but the course of a single life, like that of humanity, is assuredly based on a development that proceeds from a series of causations. Holmes says that the education of a man begins two centuries before his birth. We may recall in this connection that Lincoln came of good stock. It is true that his parents belonged to the class of poor whites; but the Lincoln family can be traced from an eastern county of England (we might hope for the purpose of genealogical harmony that the county was Lincolnshire) to Hingham in Massachusetts, and by way of Pennsylvania and Virginia to Kentucky. The grandfather of our Abraham was killed, while working in his field on the Kentucky farm, by predatory Indians shooting from the cover of the dense forest. Abraham's father, Thomas, at that time a boy, was working in the field where his father was murdered. Such an incident in Kentucky simply repeated what had been going on just a century before in Massachusetts, at Deerfield and at dozens of other settlements on the edge of the great forest which was the home of the Indians. During the hundred years, the frontier of the white man's domain had been moved a thousand miles to the south-west and, as ever, there was still friction at the point of contact.

The record of the boyhood of our Lincoln has been told in dozens of forms and in hundreds of monographs. We know of the simplicity, of the penury, of the family life in the little oneroomed log hut that formed the home for the first ten years of Abraham's life. We know of his little group of books collected with toil and selfsacrifice. The series, after some years of strenuous labour, comprised the Bible, Æsop's Fables, a tattered copy of Euclid's Geometry, and Weems's

[ocr errors]

Life of Washington. The Euclid he had secured as a great prize from the son of a neighbouring farmer. Abraham had asked the boy the meaning of the word “demonstrate." His friend said that he did not himself know, but that he knew the word was in a book which he had at school, and he hunted up the Euclid. After some bargaining, the Euclid came into Abraham's possession. In accordance with his practice, the whole contents were learned by heart. Abraham's later opponents at the Bar or in political discussion came to realise that he understood the meaning of the word “demonstrate. In fact, references to specific problems of Euclid occurred in some of his earlier speeches at the Bar.

A year or more later, when the Lincoln family had crossed the river to Indiana, there was added to the “library” a copy of the revised Statutes of the State. The Weems's Washington had been borrowed by Lincoln from a neighbouring farmer. The boy kept it at night under his pillow, and on the occasion of a storm, the water blew in through the chinks of the logs that formed the wall of the cabin, drenching the pillow and the head of the boy (a small matter in itself) and wetting and almost spoiling the book. This was a grave misfortune. Lincoln took his damaged volume to the owner and asked how he could make payment for the loss. It was arranged that the boy should put in three days' work shucking corn on the farm. “Will that work pay for the book or only for the damage?” asked the boy. It was agreed that the labour of three days should be considered sufficient for the purchase of the book.

The text of this biography and the words of each valued volume in the little “library” were absorbed into the memory of the reader. It was his practice when going into the field for work, to take with him written-out paragraphs from the book that he had at the moment in mind and to repeat these paragraphs between the various chores or between the wood-chopping until every page was committed by heart. Paper was scarce and dear and for the boy unattainable. He used for his copying bits of board shaved smooth with his jack-knife. This material had the advantage that when the task of one day had been mastered, a little labour with the jack-knife prepared the surface of the board for the work of the next day. As I read this incident in Lincoln's boyhood, I was reminded of an experience of my own in Louisiana. "It happened frequently during the campaign of 1863 that our supplies were cut off through the capture of our waggon trains by that active Confederate commander, General Taylor. More than once, we were short of provisions, and, in one instance, a supply of stationery for which the adjutants of the brigade had been waiting, was carried off to serve the needs of our opponents. We tore down a convenient and unnecessary shed and utilised from the roof the shingles, the clean portions of which made an admirable substitute for paper. For some days, the morning reports of the brigade were filed on shingles.

Lincoln's work as a farm-hand was varied by two trips down the river to New Orleans. The opportunity had been offered to the young man by the neighbouring store-keeper, Gentry, to take part in the trip of a flat-boat which carried the produce of the county to New Orleans, to be there sold in exchange for sugar or rum.

Lincoln was, at the time of these trips, already familiar with certain of the aspects and conditions of slavery, but the inspection of the slave-market in New Orleans stamped upon his sensitive imagination a fresh and more sombre picture, and made a lasting impression of the iniquity and horror of the institution. From the time of his

« PrejšnjaNaprej »