« PreviousContinue »
to a creek, and while the horses were drinking, Hardin rode up. “Where is Lincoln?' said one. 'Oh, when I saw him last he had two little birds in his hand hunting for their nest.' In perhaps an hour he came. They laughed at him. He said, with much emphasis, ‘Gentlemen, you may laugh, but I could not have slept well to-night if I had not saved those birds. Their cries would have rung in my ears.'”
Mary Todd – A Broken Engagement - Depression — Visit to Kentucky — Letter to Miss Speed — An
Interesting I.aw Case.
It was about the year 1839 that Lincoln first met Miss Mary Todd. Born at Lexington, Kentucky, December 13, 1818, she was one of four daughters of Robert S. Todd by his first wife, whose maiden name was Elizabeth Parker. Mary was quite young at the time of her mother's death, and ere long came under the care of a stepmother. She received a good education in the higher schools of her native city, and learned to read and speak the French language in the private school of a French lady, nearly opposite the “Ashland” mansion of Henry Clay. The house of her eldest sister at Springfield, after the latter's marriage to Mr. Edwards — colleague of Lincoln in the Legislature, and son of a former United States Senator — was open to Mary and her other sisters whenever they chose to be there, rather than with their stepmother and a number of brothers and sisters of the half-blood. Mary came to live there soon after her school-days at Lexington were ended. Major Stuart was her cousin, his mother being a daughter of Levi Todd, Mary's grandfather. Her sisters Frances and Anne were married in Springfield — the former to Dr. Wallace, and the other, later, to a successful merchant of that place, Mr. C. M. Smith. A young lady of unusual personal attractions and bright intellectual faculties, Mary was also of agreeable manners. She was not long without admirers, if she may not have been properly called the “ belle” of the place. The higher and more exclusive circles of her native city to which she belonged were unsurpassed in social refinement and mental cultivation in any Southern community of the time west of the Alleghanies.
Of all her sex with whom Lincoln had become acquainted, Mary Todd was undoubtedly the one best suited to win his admiration and a more tender regard. Aside from the dissimilarity in their earlier training and position, however, there was a considerable difference in their years, he being past thirty, and she little more than twenty. At his age, an attachment of this sort is likely to be very earnest; at hers, the spirits more volatile, with any young tendency to coquetry yet undisciplined, and with maidenly ways sometimes provocative of resentment or despair in a sensitive lover. The lady was ambitious; dazzled by the glory of the great statesman to whom her father was a personal and political friend, her highest ideal of manhood was typified by the eloquent orator and expectant President. She received attentions from two persons who took a leading part, on opposite sides, in the Harrison canvass — one tall and ungainly, yet amiable, modest, kind-hearted, already noted as a speaker and aspiring to a higher position than he had been given by prolonged legislative service; the other low in stature, but strong in energy and pluck, graceful in manner, bold, ready, and pleasing in speech, as ambitious as his rival, and deemed by his friends a more eloquent orator, though on what was to her the wrong side. She preferred the principles and habits of Lincoln to those of Douglas, as she avowed afterward; and if she was also influenced by ambition, her political intuition — famous in later life — was not now at fault. To a friend of her girlhood she wrote of her engagement, speaking plainly of the defects of her intended husband, in personal appearance especially, and adding: “But I mean to make him President of the United States. You will see that, as I always told you, I will yet be the President's wife.”
They were to have been married on New Year's day, 1841, but Lincoln failed to keep that engagement. Without being reasonably accounted for, his conduct was unpardonable. Months afterward it certainly was pardoned, hence it must have been somehow explained to the person who had a right to know the reason. Whether the alarming depression previously noticed as of this period began before or after the appointed wedding day — whether it was in this instance in some degree cause or effect — is not clear. Lincoln was superstitious, and that New Year's fell on a Friday. Did that have any effect? How happened it, then, that the marriage subsequently took place on the same discredited day of the week? All that is said of the matter in his intimate correspondence with Mr. Speed reveals little more than that both these bachelors — like so many others (Thomas Carlyle, for one) — had a morbid dread or misgiving on coming directly in face of the matrimonial altar.
While absent in Kentucky during much of the summer of 1841, at the homestead of the Speed family, the invalid proved to be neither intractable nor unsusceptible to their well-advised remedies. There were outdoor activities and trips to Lexington and elsewhere; new acquaintances were made; the two old friends confided to each other their very hearts; and Lincoln was introduced to a black-eyed lady whom Speed was to marry. If the terrible depression had any relation to Ann Rutledge — as Herndon imagined — not a breath of it was lisped, as naturally would have happened, to Speed, now or ever after. To him the legend was “all new” when Herndon made the suggestion to him — so he expressly said — in 1866.
Lincoln and Speed returned to Illinois together, going by steamboat to St. Louis, and thence more directly to Springfield, where the former found business awaiting him and a tour of the circuit to be made. He was now apparently in as good spirits as ever; his company just as much sought; his talk just as entertaining. While in McLean County he wrote this letter, acknowledging the kindness received from his Farmington friends:
BLOOMINGTON, ILL., September 27, 1841. Miss Mary Speed, Louisville, Ky.
MY FRIEND:—Having resolved to write to some of your mother's family, and not having the express permission of any one of them to do so, I have had some little difficulty in determining on which to inflict the task of reading what I now feel must be a most dull and silly letter ; but when I renembered that you and I were something of cronies while I was at Farmington, and that while there I was under the necessity of shutting you up in a room to prevent your com