« AnteriorContinuar »
book he could find, and could spell down the whole country.” He read early the Bible, Æsop's "Fables," "Robinson Crusoe,” “Pilgrim's Progress,” a history of the United States, Weems's “Life of Washington," Franklin's “Autobiography"; later, the life of Clay and the works of Burns and Shakspere. Not a bad list of books if taken seriously and not mixed with trash; for, of course, culture has to do not so much with the extent of the information as with the depth of the impression.
The youthful Lincoln pondered also
the Revised Statutes of Indiana; and “he would sit in the twilight and read a dictionary as long as he could see." John Hanks said: “When Abe and I returned to the house from work he would go to the
cupboard, snatch a piece of cornbread, take down a book, sit down, cock his legs up as high as his head, and read.”
At twenty-four, when he was supposed to be keeping a shop, Nicolay and Hay speak of the “grotesque youth, habited in homespun tow, lying on his back, with his feet on the trunk of the tree, and poring over his book by the hour, grinding around with the shade as it shifted from north to east.”
The youth not only read and thought, but wrote, among other things, nonsensical verses; and he composed speeches. He went early into politics, and soon became a thoughtful and effective speaker and debater. Of the language that Lincoln heard and used in boyhood, says Nicolay, in an essay on “Lincoln's Literary Experiments” printed since the “Life” was issued, “though the vocabulary was scanty, the words were short and forcible." He learned among men and women poor and inured to hardship how the plain people think and feel.
In his young manhood at Springfield he measured wits with other bright young lawyers, in plain and direct language before plain and simple-minded auditors, either in political discussion or in the court-room; either in the capital or in the country towns of Illinois. His mathematical and legal studies were an aid to precise statement, and his native honesty made him frank and convincing in argument. He felt himself to be a poor defender of a guilty client, and sometimes shirked the job.
If for a brief period in his youth he indulged in anything resembling the spread-eagle style of oratory, he was quick, as Nicolay declares, to realize the danger and overcome the temptation. His secretary relates that in his later years he used to repeat with glee the description of the Southwestern orator of whom it is said: “He mounted the rostrum, threw back his head, shined his eyes, and left the consequences to God.”
By practice in extemporary speaking Lincoln learned to do a most difficult thing-namely, to produce literature on his legs. It is difficult thus to produce literature, because the words must flow with immediate precision. It is unusual for a politician to go through life always addressing audiences, and yet always avoiding the orator's temptation to please and captivate by extravagant and false sentiment and statement. The writer, and particularly the political writer, is tempted to this sort of immorality, but still more the speaker, for with the latter the reward of applause is prompt and seductive. It is amazing to look over Lincoln's record and find how seldom he went beyond bounds, how fair and just he was, how responsible and conscientious his utterances long before these utterances became of national importance. Yet it was largely because of this very quality that they assumed national importance. And then both his imagination and his sympathy helped him here, for while he saw and keenly felt his own side of the argument, he could see as clearly, and he could sym