Page images

astounded when the high-spirited belle announced her betrothal to the tall, loosely-knit lawyer. Relatives felt that they were not suited, and expressed forebodings. There were jars and misunderstandings. Douglas, fated to be a rival at every turn, was also a suitor for the hand of Mary Todd. Gossip said that Lincoln was devoted to Matilda Edwards, and that he told Mary so. Many thoughts must have crossed his mind as to the different roads they had traveled to their meeting, and he doubted his ability to make such a woman happy. Torn betwixt love and morbid misgivings, he took counsel of Joshua Speed, by whose advice he sought release, only to find himself more closely bound. The wedding day came but the marriage was not solemnized. Of so much we are sure; and the report is that Lincoln, who did not appear, was found by his friends wandering in utter despair, actually, it is said, contemplating suicide.1

Still, he was at his desk the next day in the Assembly, then in special session, though he did not appear often until later in the month. On the 19th J. J. Hardin announced his illness in the House, but he returned in time to take part in fighting a scheme to "reform " the judiciary, whereby the artful Douglas hoped to secure a seat on the Supreme Bench. Toward the close of the session some one twitted him on his experience with women, and he replied in his best vein of humor. But it was all on the outside. Inwardly he was tortured not only by the fact that he had wronged another, but by the feeling that he had lost his own self-respect. Which humiliation was the deeper, he knew not. Major Stuart was away in Congress, and what business the firm had fell on him, but neither work nor politics brought him relief. Near the end of the month he wrote to his partner, in a mood of dismal melancholy:

For not giving you a general summary of news, you must 1 Herndon's account of this incident is undeniably vivid, and some think it highly embellished (Vol. 1, pp. 191-207). This and kindred questions will be considered in the review of the Herndon biography in a subsequent chapter. At any rate, the "fatal 1st of January," 1841, stands out in the life of Lincoln.

pardon me; it is not in my power to do so. I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me. I say this because I fear I shall not be able to attend to any business here, and a change of scene might help me. If I could be myself, I would rather remain at home with Judge Logan. I can write no more.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

But there was more to the matter, if we may judge from his letters to Speed, which Herndon secured with difficulty and not without some omissions. Those letters, unique in their intimate disclosures, had to do with matters about which men seldom speak, much less write. The two friends seem to have talked about marriage until they had become fearful of it, as though it were a perilous leap into an abyss. Speed was passing through a similar ordeal of misgiving with regard to it, and Lincoln lectured him about his doubts and forebodings, probably at the same time arguing against his own. He warned his friend against too much solitude and self-torture; against mistaking the depressing influence of the weather for a suggestion of the devil; against an "intensity of thought which will sometimes wear the sweetest idea threadbare, and turn it into the bitterness of death." Such a state of mind he attributed to nervous debility in Speed, and hinted as much in his own case. Writing to Mary Speed, he tells of seeing a band of slaves, chained together, going South, the most cheerful and happy folk on board the boat. This leads him to reflect on the effect of condition upon human happiness, and he adds: "How true it is that 'God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb,' or in other words, that he renders the worst human condition tolerable, while he permits the best to be nothing better than tolerable." Thus he lived in a dun-colored world, sensitive to its plaintive, minor note, under a sky as gray as a tired face.

[ocr errors]

In April following "the fatal 1st of January" for so Lincoln always referred to his wedding day-the firm of

"Stuart & Lincoln " was dissolved, and the junior member was offered a partnership with Stephen T. Logan, a former Judge of the Circuit Court. This offer was accepted, and the training which Lincoln received in the office of that precise, methodical jurist was one of the best parts of his education. Judge Logan was a little, weasened man, with a high, shrill voice, a keen, shrewd face, and a shock of yellow white hair - picturesque in his old cape, and admittedly the best trial lawyer in the State. He was devoted equally to the philosophy and the art of the law, re-reading Blackstone every year, and was such an adept at splitting hairs that a jury of farmers could see the divisions. The two men had little in common, beyond the fact that both were good Whigs and exceedingly anxious for political honors. Logan loved money, and kept most of the earnings; but this did not trouble Lincoln, who loved fame more than money, and regarded wealth as simply a superfluity of things we don't need." That summer he visited Speed, who had sold his interests and moved back to Kentucky, and was much helped by the change of scene. Returning, he bent to his work, in his easy-going, unsystematic way, keeping an eye on the eddies of politics, and playing hide and seek with his shadowy melancholy.

[ocr errors]

The next winter, 1842, he took part in the Washingtonian temperance crusade, making several speeches, one of which has come down to us. Comparing it with his former efforts, one discovers a marked advance in restraint of style, which became every year less decorative and more forthright, simple, and thrusting; and the style was the man.1 Rarely has that difficult theme been treated in so calm, earnest, and judicious a manner, with surer insight or a finer spirit. He was already dreaming, it would seem, of a time when there should be neither a slave nor a drunkard in the republic. But his address, so far from finding favor, excited hostility, for, speaking out of his wide knowledge of men, and the wise pity which

1 See an admirable thesis of Prof. D. K. Dodge, of the University of Illinois, entitled, Abraham Lincoln: The Evolution of His Literary Style (1900). Also, a paper before the Royal Historical Society, London, by I. N. Arnold, entitled Abraham Lincoln (1881).

such knowledge begets, he was led to say, frankly, that those who had never fallen into the toils of the vice had escaped more by lack of appetite than by any moral superiority, and that taken as a class, drinking men would compare favorably in head and heart with any other class. This was as a red rag to the more intemperate of the temperance reformers, to whom drinking was a crime a temper of mind to which Lincoln, as abstemious in habit as in speech, was averse. Indeed, his pre-eminent sanity in the midst of extremists was one of the chief attractions of his life.

By this time Speed had made the awful leap into matrimony, and Lincoln was anxious to know his fate. His letter of inquiry, which between any other two men would have been grossly intrusive, elicited a reply so startlingly favorable that he could hardly credit it. He himself was thinking of marriage again, friends having brought the former fiancés together during the summer, to an accompaniment of a comic duel. Lincoln had ridiculed James Shields, a Democratic politician, in an anonymous letter in the Sangamon Journal. Mary Todd and her friend Julia Jayne - afterwards the wife of Lyman Trumbull - added to the fun by writing other similar letters over the same signature, followed by some verses. Shields was furious, and Lincoln, to protect the women, took the blame of it upon himself. The result was a challenge to fight a duel, in which no blood but much ink was spilled a performance of which Lincoln had the good sense to be ashamed. He disliked, in later years, any mention of it. On November 4, 1842, he was safely married, tormented by his old morbid misgivings to the very last. He lived at the Globe Tavern, kept by a widow of the name of Beck, paying four dollars a week for board.

Hitherto he had owned a horse, and was fond of riding; but he made a poor income, as he confided to Speed, and was now and then pinched to distress, and went to bed with no notion of how he should meet the claims of the morrow. For nearly one-fifth part of his life he owed money he could not pay, and while of easy disposition, debt galled him and hastened his wrinkles. His marriage, though not without its

jars as might have been expected between two persons so unlike in temper, training, and habits of life was in every way advantageous to him. It whetted his industry, did not nurse too much the penchant for home indolence that he had, and taught him, particularly, that there was such a thing as society, which observed a man's boots as well as his principles. He was always a loyal and reverent husband, a gentle but not positive father, and the towering ambition of his wife out-topped his own. It was at the old Globe Tavern that his first son, Robert, was born. Some months later he purchased a house on Eighth Street, formerly owned by a minister, where he made him a home. A narrow yard and palings shut it from the street; the door was in the middle, and was approached by four or five wooden steps; and on the abutment beside these he stood after his nomination in 1860, in a blaze of torches, the thunder of huzzas breaking around him, the only solemn man in Springfield.


Returning to Herndon, we find him studying law in the office of "Logan & Lincoln," at the invitation of the junior partner. He was an excellent student and became an able attorney, but he seems never to have liked the law. Herndon was a strange mixture of extremes, complex where Lincoln was simple; a man of no personal dignity, yet gifted and lovable; one moment talking in a lofty strain, and the next telling yarns that smelled of the barnyard; given to escapades of sentiment, yet withal sagacious and astute; impetuous and impulsive, but honest, sincere, and loyal. By nature an enthusiast, a colorist, and a radical, he embraced at one leap all the social reforms, from the abolition of slavery to the right of woman suffrage. That was temperament. All through his career, after it had a beginning, he had a hard fight with the drink habit, with many victories and occasional bitter defeats; a battle which Lincoln watched with never-failing pity. That was environment, very tragical in his case, and characteristic of the period. But Lincoln knew Herndon, his abilities and

« PreviousContinue »