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From this time onward, in daily conversation, in argument at the bar, in political consultation and discussion, Lincoln's life gradually broadened into contact with the leading professional minds of the growing State of Illinois. The man who could not pay a week's board bill was twice more elected to the legislature, was invited to public banquets and toasted by name, became a popular speaker, moved in the best society of the new capital, and made what was considered a brilliant marriage.
Lincoln's stature and strength, his intelligence and ambition-in short, all the elements which gave him popularity among men in New Salem, rendered him equally attractive to the fair sex of that village. On the other hand, his youth, his frank sincerity, his longing for sympathy and encouragement, made him peculiarly sensitive to the society and influence of women. Soon after coming to New Salem he chanced much in the society of Miss Anne Rutledge, a slender, blue-eyed blonde, nineteen years old, moderately educated, beautiful according to local standards—an altogether lovely, tender-hearted, universally admired, and generally fascinating girl. From the personal descriptions of her which tradition has preserved, the inference is naturally drawn that her temperament and disposition were very much akin to those of Mr. Lincoln himself. It is little wonder, therefore, that he fell in love with her. But two years before she had become engaged to a Mr. McNamar, who had gone to the East to settle certain family affairs, and whose absence became so unaccountably prolonged that Anne finally despaired of his return, and in time betrothed herself to Lincoln. A year or so after this event Anne Rutledge was taken sick and died-the neighbors said of a broken heart, but the doctor called it brain fever, and his science
was more likely to be correct than their psychology. Whatever may have been the truth upon this point, the incident threw Lincoln into profound grief, and a period of melancholy so absorbing as to cause his friends apprehension for his own health. Gradually, however, their studied and devoted companionship won him back to cheerfulness, and his second affair of the heart assumed altogether different characteristics, most of which may be gathered from his own letters.
Two years before the death of Anne Rutledge, Mr. Lincoln had seen and made the acquaintance of Miss Mary Owens, who had come to visit her sister Mrs. Able, and had passed about four weeks in New Salem, after which she returned to Kentucky. Three years later, and perhaps a year after Miss Rutledge's death, Mrs. Able, before starting for Kentucky, told Mr. Lincoln, probably more in jest than earnest, that she would bring her sister back with her on condition that he would become her-Mrs. Able's-brother-in-law. Lincoln, also probably more in jest than earnest, promptly agreed to the proposition; for he remembered Mary Owens as a tall, handsome, dark-haired girl, with fair skin and large blue eyes, who in conversation could be intellectual and serious as well as jovial and witty, who had a liberal education, and was considered wealthy-one of those well-poised, steady characters who look upon matrimony and life with practical views and social matronly instincts.
The bantering offer was made and accepted in the autumn of 1836, and in the following April Mr. Lincoln removed to Springfield. Before this occurred, however, he was surprised to learn that Mary Owens had actually returned with her sister from Kentucky, and felt that the romantic jest had become a serious and practical question. Their first interview dissipated
some of the illusions in which each had indulged. The three years elapsed since they first met had greatly changed her personal appearance. She had become stout; her twenty-eight years (one year more than his) had somewhat hardened the lines of her face. Both in figure and feature she presented a disappointing contrast to the slim and not yet totally forgotten Anne Rutledge.
On her part, it was more than likely that she did not find in him all the attractions her sister had pictured. The speech and manners of the Illinois frontier lacked much of the chivalric attentions and flattering compliments to which the Kentucky beaux were addicted. He was yet a diamond in the rough, and she would not immediately decide till she could better understand his character and prospects, so no formal engagement resulted.
In December, Lincoln went to his legislative duties at Vandalia, and in the following April took up his permanent abode in Springfield. Such a separation was not favorable to rapid courtship, yet they had occasional interviews and exchanged occasional letters. None of hers to him have been preserved, and only three of his to her. From these it appears that they sometimes discussed their affair in a cold, hypothetical way, even down to problems of housekeeping, in the light of mere worldly prudence, much as if they were guardians arranging a mariage de convenance, rather than impulsive and ardent lovers wandering in Arcady. Without Miss Owens's letters it is impossible to know what she may have said to him, but in May, 1837, Lincoln wrote to her:
“I am often thinking of what we said about your coming to live at Springfield. I am afraid you would not be satisfied. There is a great deal of flourishing
about in carriages here, which it would be your doom to see without sharing it. You would have to be poor, without the means of hiding your poverty. Do you believe you could bear that patiently? Whatever woman may cast her lot with mine, should any ever do so, it is my intention to do all in my power to make her happy and contented; and there is nothing I can imagine that would make me more unhappy than to fail in the effort. I know I should be much happier with you than the way I am, provided I saw no signs of discontent in you. What you have said to me may have been in the way of jest, or I may have misunderstood it. If so, then let it be forgotten; if otherwise, I much wish you would think seriously before you decide. What I have said I will most positively abide by, provided you wish it. My opinion is that you had better not do it. You have not been accustomed to hardship, and it may be more severe than you now imagine. I know you are capable of thinking correctly on any subject, and if you deliberate maturely upon this before you decide, then I am willing to abide your decision."
Whether, after receiving this, she wrote him the "good long letter" he asked for in the same epistle is not known. Apparently they did not meet again until August, and the interview must have been marked by reserve and coolness on both sides, which left each more uncertain than before; for on the same day Lincoln again wrote her, and, after saying that she might perhaps be mistaken in regard to his real feelings toward her, continued thus:
"I want in all cases to do right, and most particularly so in all cases with women. I want at this particular time, more than anything else, to do right with you; and if I knew it would be doing right, as I rather suspect it would, to let you alone, I would do it. And
for the purpose of making the matter as plain as possible, I now say 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 anything 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 contribute 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."
All that we know of the sequel is contained in a letter which Lincoln wrote to his friend Mrs. Browning nearly a year later, after Miss Owens had finally returned to Kentucky, in which, without mentioning the lady's name, he gave a seriocomic description of what might be called a courtship to escape matrimony. He dwells on his disappointment at her changed appearance, and continues:
"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,'