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ON returning to his home, Mr. Lincoln entered upon the duties of his profession, and devoted himself to them through a series of years, less disturbed by diversions into state and national politics than he had been during any previous period of his business life. It was to him a time of rest, of reading, of social happiness and of professional prosperity. He was already a father, and took an almost unbounded pleasure in his children.* Their sweet young natures were to him a perpetual source of delight. He was never impatient with their petulance and restlessness, loved always to be with them, and took them into. his heart with a fondness which was unspeakable. It was a fondness so tender and profound as to blind him to their imperfections, and to expel from him every particle of sternness in his management of them. It must be said that he had 'very little of what is called parental government. The most that he could say to any little rebel in his household was, "you break my heart, when you act like this;" and the loving eyes and affectionate voice and sincere expres
*Mr. Lincoln had four children, all sons, viz: Robert Todd, Edwards, who died in infancy, William, who died in Washington during Mr. Lincoln's presidency, and Thomas. The oldest and youngest survive. The latter became the pet of the White House, and is known to the country as “Tad.” This nickname was conferred by his father who, while Thomas was an infant in arms, and without a name, playfully called him "Tadpole." This was abbreviated to the pet name which he will probably never outlive.
sion of pain were usually enough to bring the culprit to his senses and his obedience. A young man bred in Springfield speaks of a vision that has clung to his memory very vividly, of Mr. Lincoln as he appeared in those days. His way to school led by the lawyer's door. On almost any fair summer morning, he could find Mr. Lincoln on the sidewalk, in front of his house, drawing a child backward and forward, in a child's gig. Without hat or coat, and wearing a pair of rough shoes, his hands behind him holding to the tongue of the gig, and his tall form bent forward to accommodate himself to the service, he paced up and down the walk, forgetful of everything around him, and intent only on some subject that absorbed his mind. The young man says he remembers wondering, in his boyish way, how so rough and plain a man should happen to live in so respectable a house.
The habit of mental absorption-absent mindedness, as it is called—was common with him always, but particularly during the formative periods of his life. The New Salem people, it will be remembered, thought him crazy, because he passed his best friends in the street without seeing them. At the table, in his own family, he often sat down without knowing or realizing where he was, and ate his food mechanically. When he " came to himself," it was a trick with him to break the silence by the quotation of some verse of poetry from a favorite author. It relieved the awkwardness of "the situation," served as a blind to the thoughts which had possessed him, and started conversation in a channel that led as far as possible from the subject that he had set aside.
Mr. Lincoln's lack of early advantages and the limited character of his education were constant subjects of regret with him. His intercourse with members of Congress and with the cultivated society of Washington had, without doubt, made him feel his deficiencies more keenly than ever before. There is no doubt that his successes were a constant surprise to him. He felt that his acquisitions were very humble, and that the estimate which the public placed upon him was, in some respects, a blind and mistaken one. It was at this period
that he undertook to improve himself somewhat by attention to mathematics, and actually mastered the first six books of Euclid. In speaking of this new acquisition to a friend, he said that, in debates, he had frequently heard the word "demonstration" used, and he determined to ascertain for himself what it meant. After his mastery of geometry, he had no further uncertainty on the subject.
Allusion has been made to Mr. Lincoln's mechanical genius. That he had enough of this to make him a good mechanic, there is no doubt. With such rude tools as were at his command he had made cabins and flat-boats; and after his mind had become absorbed in public and professional affairs he often recurred to his mechanical dreams for amusement. One of his dreams took form, and he endeavored to make a practical matter of it. He had had experience in the early navigation of the Western rivers.. One of the most serious hinderances to this navigation was low water, and the lodgment of the various craft on the shifting shoals and bars with which these rivers abound. He undertook to contrive an apparatus which, folded to the hull of a boat like a bellows, might be inflated on occasion, and, by its levity, lift it over any obstruction upon which it might rest. On this contrivance, illustrated by a model whittled out by himself, and now preserved in the patent office at Washington, he secured letters patent; but it is certain that the navigation of the Western rivers was not revolutionized by it.
Mr. Lincoln never made his profession lucrative to himself. It was very difficult for him to charge a heavy fee to anybody, and still more difficult for him to charge his friends anything at all for professional services. To a poor client, he was quite as apt to give money as to take it from him. He never encouraged the spirit of litigation. Henry McHenry, one of his old clients, says that he went to Mr. Lincoln with a case to prosecute, and that Mr. Lincoln refused to have anything to do with it, because he was not strictly in the right. "You can give the other party a great deal of trouble," said the lawyer, "and perhaps beat him, but you had better let the suit alone."