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that you can now drop the subject, dismiss your thoughts (if you ever had any) from me forever, and leave this letter unanswered, without calling forth one accusing murmur from me. And I will even go further, and say, that, if it will add any thing to your comfort or peace of mind to do so, it is my sincere wish that you should. Do not understand by this that I wish to cut your acquaintance. I mean no such thing. What I do wish is, that our further acquaintance shall depend upon yourself. If such further acquaintance would constitute nothing to your happiness, I am sure it would not to mine. If you feel yourself in any degree bound to me, I am now willing to release you, provided you wish it; while, on the other hand, I am willing, and even anxious, to bind you faster, if I can be convinced that it will, in any considerable degree, add to your happiness. This, indeed, is the whole question with me. Nothing would make me more miserable than to believe you miserable, — nothing more happy than to know you were so.
In what I have now said, I think I cannot be misunderstood; and to make myself understood is the only object of this letter.
A long life and a
If it suits you best to not answer this, farewell. merry one attend you. But, if you conclude to write back, speak as plainly as I do. There can be neither harm nor danger in saying to me any thing you think, just in the manner you think it. My respects to your sister.
After his second meeting with Mary, Mr. Lincoln had little time to prosecute his addresses in person; for early in December he was called away to his seat in the Legislature; but, if his tongue was silent in the cause, his pen was busy.
During the session of the Legislature of 1836-7, Mr. Lincoln made the acquaintance of Mrs. O. H. Browning, whose husband was also a member. The acquaintance ripened into friendship, and that winter and the next Mr. Lincoln spent a great deal of time in social intercourse with the Brownings. Mrs. Browning knew nothing as yet of the affair with Miss Owens ; but as the latter progressed, and Lincoln became more and more involved, she noticed the ebb of his spirits, and often rallied him as the victim of some secret but consuming passion. With this for his excuse, Lincoln wrote her, after the adjournment of the Legislature, a full and connected account of the manner in which he had latterly been making “a fool of" himself. For many reasons the publication of this letter is an extremely painful duty. If it could be withheld, and
the act decently reconciled to the conscience of a biographer professing to be honest and candid, it should never see the light in these pages. Its grotesque humor, its coarse exaggerations in describing the person of a lady whom the writer was willing to marry, its imputation of toothless and weatherbeaten old age to a woman really young and handsome, its utter lack of that delicacy of tone and sentiment which one naturally expects a gentleman to adopt when he thinks proper to discuss the merits of his late mistress, all these, and its defective orthography, it would certainly be more agreeable to suppress than to publish. But, if we begin by omitting or mutilating a document which sheds so broad a light upon one part of his life and one phase of his character, why may we not do the like as fast and as often as the temptations arise? and where shall the process cease? A biography worth writing at all is worth writing fully and honestly; and the writer who suppresses or mangles the truth is no better. than he who bears false witness in any other capacity.
In April, 1838, Miss Owens finally departed from Illinois; and in that same month Mr. Lincoln wrote Mrs. Browning
SPRINGFIELD, April 1, 1838.
Dear Madam, —Without appologising for being egotistical, I shall make the history of so much of my life as has elapsed since I saw you the subject of this letter. And, by the way, I now discover, that, in order to give a full and inteligible account of the things I have done and suffered since I saw you, I shall necessarily have to relate some that happened before.
It was, then, in the autumn of 1836, that a married lady of my acquaintance, and who was a great friend of mine, being about to pay a visit to her father & other relatives residing in Kentucky, proposed to me that on her return she would bring a sister of hers with her on condition that I would engage to become her brother-in-law with all convenient despatch. I, of course, accepted the proposal, for you know I could not have done otherwise, had I really been averse to it; but privately, between you and me, I was most confoundedly well pleased with the project. I had seen the said sister some three years before, thought her inteligent and agreeable, and saw no good objection to plodding life through hand in hand with her. Time passed on, the lady took her journey, and in due time returned, sister in company, sure enough. This astonished me a little; for it appeared to me that her coming so readily showed that she was a trifle too willing; but, on
reflection, it occurred to me that she might have been prevailed on by her married sister to come, without any thing concerning me ever having been mentioned to her; and so I concluded, that, if no other objection presented itself, I would consent to wave this. All this occurred to me on hearing of her arrival in the neighborhood; for, be it remembered, I had not yet seen her, except about three years previous, as above mentioned. In a few days we had an interview; and, although I had seen her before, she did not look as my imagination had pictured her. I knew she was oversize, but she now appeared a fair match for Falstaff. I knew she was called an "old maid,” and I felt no doubt of the truth of at least half of the appelation; but now, when I beheld her, I could not for my life avoid thinking of my mother; and this, not from withered features, for her skin was too full of fat to permit of its contracting into wrinkles, but from her want of teeth, weather-beaten appearance in general, and from a kind of notion that ran in my head that nothing could have commenced at the size of infancy and reached her present bulk in less than thirty-five or forty years; and, in short, I was not at all pleased with her. But what could I do? I had told her sister that I would take her for better or for worse; and I made a point of honor and conscience in all things to stick to my word, especially if others had been induced to act on it, which in this case I had no doubt they had; for I was now fairly convinced that no other man on earth would have her, and hence the conclusion that they were bent on holding me to my bargain. "Well," thought I, "I have said it, and, be the consequences what they may, it shall not be my fault if I fail to do it." At once I determined to consider her my wife; and, this done, all my powers of discovery were put to work in search of perfections in her which might be fairly sett off against her defects. I tried to imagine her handsome, which, but for her unfortunate corpulency, was actually true. Exclusive of this, no woman that I have ever seen has a finer face. I also tried to convince myself that the mind was much more to be valued than the person; and in this she was not inferior, as I could discover, to any with whom I had been acquainted.
Shortly after this, without attempting to come to any positive understand ing with her, I sat out for Vandalia, when and where you first saw me. During my stay there I had letters from her which did not change my opinion of either her intelect or intention, but, on the contrary, confirmed it in both.
All this while, although I was fixed, "firm as the surge-repelling rock," in my resolution, I found I was continually repenting the rashness which had led me to make it. Through life, I have been in no bondage, either real or imaginary, from the thraldom of which I so much desired to be free. After my return home, I saw nothing to change my opinions of her in any particular. She was the same, and so was I. I now spent my time in planing how I might get along through life after my contemplated change of circumstances should have taken place, and how I might procrastinate the evil day for a
time, which I really dreaded as much, perhaps more, than an Irishman does the halter.
After all my suffering upon this deeply-interesting subject, here I am, wholly, unexpectedly, completely, out of the "scrape;" and I now want to know if you can guess how I got out of it, — out, clear, in every sense of the term; no violation of word, honor, or conscience. I don't believe you can guess, and so I might as well tell you at once. As the lawyer says, it was done in the manner following, to wit: After I had delayed the matter as long as I thought I could in honor do (which, by the way, had brought me round into the last fall), I concluded I might as well bring it to a consumation without further delay; and so I mustered my resolution, and made the proposal to her direct: but, shocking to relate, she answered, No. At first I supposed she did it through an affectation of modesty, which I thought but ill became her under the peculiar circumstances of her case; but, on my renewal of the charge, I found she repeled it with greater firmness than before. I tried it again and again, but with the same success, or rather with the same want of success.
I finally was forced to give it up; at which I verry unexpectedly found myself mortified almost beyond endurance. I was mortified, it seemed to me, in a hundred different ways. My vanity was deeply wounded by the reflection that I had so long been too stupid to discover her intentions, and at the same time never doubting that I understood them perfectly; and also that she, whom I had taught myself to believe nobody else would have, had actually rejected me with all my fancied greatness. And, to cap the whole, I then, for the first time, began to suspect that I was really a little in love with her. But let it all go. I'll try and outlive it. Others have been made fools of by the girls; but this can never with truth be said of me. I most emphatically, in this instance, made a fool of myself. I have now come to the conclusion never again to think of marrying, and for this reason: I can never be satisfied with any one who would be blockhead enough to have me. When you receive this, write me a long yarn about something to amuse me. Give my respects to Mr. Browning.
Your sincere friend,
MRS. O. H. BROWNING.
HE majority of Mr. Lincoln's biographers- and they are many and credulous - tell us that he walked from New Salem to Vandalia, a distance of one hundred miles, to take his seat, for the first time, in the Legislature of the State. But that is an innocent mistake; for he was resolved to appear with as much of the dignity of the senator as his circumstances would permit. It was for this very purpose that he had borrowed the two hundred dollars from Coleman Smoot; and, when the choice between riding and walking presented itself, he sensibly enough got into the stage, with his new clothes on, and rode to the scene of his labors.
When he arrived there, he found a singular state of affairs. Duncan had been chosen Governor at the recent August election by "the whole-hog Jackson men;" but he was absent in Congress during the whole of the campaign; and, now that he came to the duties of his office, it was discovered that he had been all the while an anti-Jackson man, and was quite willing to aid the Whigs in furtherance of some of their worst schemes. These schemes were then just beginning to be hatched in great numbers; but in due time they were enacted into laws, and prepared Illinois with the proper weights of public debt and "rag" currency, to sink her deeper than her neighbors into the miseries of financial ruin in 1837. The speculating fever was just reaching Illinois; the land and town-lot business had barely taken shape at Chicago; and State banks and multitudinous internal improvements were yet to be invented. But this Legislature was a very wise one