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it deflects into actual rhythm and rhyme: Fondly do we hope— fervently do we
prayThat this mighty scourge of war may
speedily pass away.
This does not spoil, but it somewhat injures, one of the most memorable of his writings.
Then there is in Lincoln a quaintness, a homeliness and humor of illustration, along with a most engaging frankness and intellectual honesty. The reader has both an intellectual and moral satisfaction in the clearness and fairness of the statement. All this affects agreeably the literary form, and helps to give Lincoln's style at times the charm of imaginative utterance; for imagination in literature is, essentially, the faculty of seeing clearly and the
art of stating clearly the actual reality. There was nothing of invention in Lincoln's imagination; his was the imagination that is implied in a strong realization of the truth of things in the mind of the writer or speaker.
When these letters and speeches of Lincoln were appearing in the papers as part of the news of the day, I wonder how many of us who were then living appreciated them from the literary point of view. I remember that at a certain period, some time after the war, I seemed for the first time to awake fully to the attraction of Lincoln's style. Beginning with the famous and familiar speech at Gettysburg, I reread many of his writings, and felt everywhere his genius for expression.
Where and how did Lincoln
gain this mastery of expression? He said of himself:
The aggregate of all his schooling did not amount to one year.
He was never in a college or academy as a student. What he has in the way of education he has picked up. After he was twenty-three and had separated from his father, he studied English grammar-imperfectly, of course, but so as to speak and write as well as he now does. He studied and nearly mastered the six books of Euclid since he was a member of Congress. He regrets his want of education and does what he can to supply the want.
As a boy at home we are told that he would write, and do sums in arithmetic, on the wooden shovel by the fireside, shaving off the used surface and beginning again. At nineteen it is recorded that he “had read every
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 over 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