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formed. The exercise was, indeed, as good as a school to him ; for there is no better discipline, for any mind, than that of giving definite expression to thought in language. Much of his subsequent power as a writer and speaker was undoubtedly traceable to this early discipline.
The books which Abraham had the early privilege of reading were the Bible, much of which he could repeat, Æsop's Fables, all of which he could repeat, Pilgrim's Progress, Weems' Life of Washington, and a Life of Henry Clay which his mother had managed to purchase for him. Subsequently he read the Life of Franklin and Ramsay's Life of Washington. In these books, read and re-read, he found meat for his hungry mind. The Holy Bible, Æsop and John Bunyan :—could three better books have been chosen for him from the richest library ? For those who have witnessed the dissipating effects of many books upon the minds of modern children it is not hard to believe that Abraham's poverty of books was the wealth of his life. These three books did much to perfect that which his mother's teachings had begun, and to form a character which for quaint simplicity, earnestness, truthfulness and purity has never been surpassed among the historic personages of the world. The Life of Washington, while it gave to him a lofty example of patriotism, incidentally conveyed to his mind a general knowledge of American history; and the Life of Henry Clay spoke to him of a living man who had risen to political and professional eminence from circumstances almost as humble as his own. The latter book undoubtedly did much to excite his taste for politics, to kindle his ambition, and to make him a warm admirer and partizan of Henry Clay. Abraham must have been very young when he read Weems' Life of Washington, and we catch a glimpse of his precocity in the thoughts which it excited, as revealed by himself in a speech made to the New Jersey Senate, while on his way to Washington to assume the duties of the Presidency. Alluding to his early reading of this book, he says: “I remember all the accounts there given of the battle fields and struggles for the liberties of the country, and none fixed themselves upon my imagination so deeply as the struggle here at Trenton, New Jersey. * * * I recollect thinking then, boy even though I was, that there must have been something more than common that those men struggled for.” Even at this
age, he was not only an interested reader of the story, but a student of motives. .
Ramsay's Life of Washington was borrowed from his teacher, Andrew Crawford, and an anecdote connected with it illustrates Abraham's conscientiousness and characteristic honesty. The borrowed book was left unguardedly in an open window. A shower coming on, it was wet and nearly ruined. Abraham carried it to Mr. Crawford in great grief and alarm, and, after explaining the accident, offered to pay for the book in labor. Mr. Crawford accepted the proposal, and the lad “pulled fodder” three days to pay, not for the damages, but for the book itself, which thus became one of his own literary treasures.
In the autumn or early winter of 1819, somewhat more than a year after the death of Mrs. Lincoln, Abraham passed into the care of a step-mother. His father married and brought to his home in Indiana, Mrs. Sally Johnston, of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, undoubtedly one of his old acquaintances. She brought with her three children, the fruit of her previous marriage; but she faithfully fulfilled her assumed maternal duties to Thomas Lincoln's children. The two families grew up in harmony together, and the many kind offices which she performed for Abraham were gratefully returned then and in after years by him. She still survives, having seen her young charge rise to be her own ruler, and the ruler of the nation, and to fall amid expressions of grief from the whole civilized world.
As Abraham grew up, he became increasingly helpful in all the work of the farm, often going out to labor by the day for hire. Abundant evidence exists that he was regarded by the neighbors as being remarkable, in many respects, above the lads of his own age, with whom he associated. In physical strength and sundry athletic feats, he was the master of them all. Never quarrelsome or disposed to make an unpleasant show of his prowess, he was ready to help all who were in need of help, to do their errands, write their letters, and lighten their burdens.
An instance of his practical humanity at this early period of his life may be recorded. One evening, while returning from a “raising” in his wide neighborhood, with a number of companions, he discovered a straying horse, with saddle and bridle upon him. The horse was recognized as belonging to a man who was accustomed to excess in drink, and it was suspected at once that the owner was not far off. A short search only was necessary to confirm the suspicions of the young men. The poor drunkard was found in a perfectly helpless condition, upon the chilly ground. Abraham's companions urged the cowardly policy of leaving him to his fate, but young Lincoln would not hear to the proposition. At his request, the miserable sot was lifted to his shoulders, and he actually carried him eighty rods to the nearest house. Sending word to his father that he should not be back that night, with the reason for his absence, he attended and nursed the man until the morning, and had the pleasure of believing that he had saved his life.
That Abraham Lincoln was entirely content with the humdrum life he was living, or the prospects which it presented to him, is not probable. He had caught glimpses of a life of greater dignity and significance. Echoes from the great centers of civilization had reached his ears. When he was eighteen years old he conceived the project of building a little boat, and taking the produce of the Lingoln farm down the river to a market. He had learned the use of tools, and possessed considerable mechanical talent, as will appear in some other acts of his life. Of the voyage and its results we have no knowledge, but an incident occurred before starting which he related in later life to his Secretary of State, Mr. Seward, that made a very marked and pleasant impression upon his memory. As he stood at the landing, a steamer approached, coming down the river. At the same time two passengers came to the river's bank who wished to be taken out to the
packet with their luggage. Looking among the boats at the landing, they singled out Abraham's, and asked him to scull them to the steamer. This he did, and after seeing them and their trunks on board, he had the pleasure of receiving upon the bottom of his boat, before he shoved off, a silver half dollar from each of his passengers. “I could scarcely believe my eyes,” said Mr. Lincoln, in telling the story. “You may think it was a very little thing," continued he, “but it was a most important incident in my life. I could scarcely believe that I, a poor boy, had earned a dollar in less than a day. The world seemed wider and fairer before me. I was a more hopeful and confident being from that time.”
A little incident occurred during these hard years in Indiana which illustrates the straits to which the settlers were subjected. At one time Abraham was obliged to take his grist upon the back of his father's horse, and go fifty miles to get it ground. The mill itself was very rude, and driven by horse-power. The customers were obliged to wait their turn, without reference to their distance from home, and then use their own horses to propel the machinery. On one occasion, Abraham, having arrived at his turn, fastened his mare to the lever, and was following her closely upon her rounds, when, urging her with a switch, and “clucking” to her in the usual way, he received a kick from her which prostrated him, and made him insensible. With the first instant of returning consciousness, he finished the cluck, which he had commenced when he received the kick, (a fact for the psychologist) and with the next he probably thought about getting home, where he arrived at last, battered, but ready for further service.
At the age of nineteen, Abraham made his second essay in navigation, and this time caught something more than a glimpse of the great world in which he was destined to play so important a part. A trading neighbor applied to him to take charge of a flat-boat and its cargo, and, in company with his own son, to take it to the sugar plantations near New Orleans. The entire business of the trip was placed in Abraham's hands. The fact tells its own story touching the young man's reputation for capacity and integrity. He had never made the trip, knew nothing of the journey, was unaccustomed to business transactions, had never been much upon the river; but his tact, ability and honesty were so far trusted that the trader was willing to risk his cargo and his son in his care.
The delight with which the youth swung loose from the shore upon his clumsy craft, with the prospect of a ride of eighteen hundred miles before him, and a vision of the great world of which he had read and thought so much, may be imagined. At this time, he had become a very tall and powerful young man.
He had reached the remarkable height of six feet and four inches, a length of trunk and limb remarkable even among the tall race of pioneers to which he belonged.
The incidents of a trip like this were not likely to be exciting, but there were many social chats with settlers and hunters along the banks of the Ohio and Mississippi, and there was much hailing of similar craft afloat. Arriving at a sugar plantation somewhere between Natchez and New Orleans, the boat was pulled in, and tied to the shore for purposes of trade; and here an incident occurred which was sufficiently exciting, and one which, in the memory of recent events, reads somewhat strangely. Here seven negroes attacked the life of the future liberator of their race, and it is not improbable that some of them have lived to be emancipated by his proclamation. Night had fallen, and the two tired voyagers had lain down upon their hard bed for sleep. Hearing a noise on shore, Abraham shouted: “Who's there?” The noise continuing, and no voice replying, he sprang to his feet, and saw seven negroes, evidently bent on plunder. Abraham guessed the errand at once, and seizing a hand-spike, rushed toward them, and knocked one into the water the moment that he touched the boat. The second, third and fourth who leaped on board were served in the same rough way. Seeing that they were not likely to make headway in their thieving enterprise, the remainder turned to flee. Abraham and his companion growing excited and warm with their work, leaped on shore, and followed them. Both were too swift of foot for the negroes,