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Grigsby — a good match, apparently, for both; yet in a year she died in child-bed. Of this family, that left Kentucky ten years before, there remained in 1828 only the father and son, whom neither hardship nor malaria had dangerously affected.
In the spring of 1828 Abraham gladly accepted the offer of Mr. Gentry to take charge, in connection with his son Allen, of a flatboat cargo of produce to be sold along the “sugar-coast” of Louisiana and in New Orleans. For a youth of nineteen, who was expected to bear the brunt of the undertaking, this commission was a great affair; and it gave him, for the first time, (in reality, not in dream,) a long outlook and excursion among far-off places and people. Of this voyage it is not known that he ever gave any detailed account beyond that of a single adventure-a memorable onetoo briefly told.
Looking back at this day through the intervening time, it has much more significance than his modest words would imply that it had in his own mind. In disposing of that part of their cargo intended for sale along the river in Louisiana, the boatmen lingered on their way, pausing at one and another plantation. Just below Baton Rouge, one night, they had cabled their craft to the shore, expecting to remain until morning. But their repose was disturbed by a party of seven negroes, who came on board with the evident purpose of surprising them in sleep, and taking possession of their boat. It was a fight for life, and surely a hopeless one but for the remarkable strength and dexterity of young Lincoln. The murderous looting party — the first of their race with whom he had come in direct contact — were beaten off, and the victors made no delay in pulling out into the current, floating miles away when morning dawned.
After successfully accomplishing their business in New Orleans, they undoubtedly gave some time to observation. Could they have omitted to visit the famous battle-ground of 1815? The West was still proudly exulting in the glories of that field, in which the “hunters of Kentucky” so honorably shared. Jackson himself had lately made his excursion down the river, amid fireworks and huzzas, on invitation to a grand celebration at the scene of his victory, meant to give a good send-off to his candidacy in the Presidential canvass of this year. Returning by steamboat to Rockport, the young navigators were at home again before the end of June.
From Lincoln's birth until the close of his Indiana life and his minority there are no contemporary letters or other writings of himself, or of any associate, to give material help to the biographer. No acquaintance of his in those years ever came to marked distinction. The local gossip of a later generation and the crude recollections of garrulous Dennis Hanks must not be taken at their face value, and they seldom touch the things we would most like to know. Through this haze, however, we may partly discover and securely infer that young Lincoln, like a stolen prince among herdmen, was of different mould from those around him — freely associating with them, but having an independent life of his own. If he had associates that did not contribute to his refinement, he was never subject to them, and could always rise above their influence. Drinking habits were prevalent, but he had no relish for strong liquors, and seldom if ever tasted any. He shrank from causing needless suffering, and could not bear to see any wanton infliction of pain. This may have been one reason that he had so little to do with hunting and fishing. He was helpful to “ the women folks," and in general was liked by them. The oft-told incident of his finding a drunken man lying in the road on a freezing night, and carrying him without help to a cabin, in spite of a companion's advice to “let the drunkard alone,” illustrates the habitual kindness of Lincoln in these as in later years. He joined in wrestling and other trials of strength and skill, and was usually the winner. He seems to have been credited with a strength of mind in proportion to his superior physical force and stature.
He helped organize a debating club, and indulged elsewhere occasionally in at least a burlesque harangue. We may credit the report that under provocation he even wrote satiric “chronicles," and that one of these, said to have been preserved, is altogether genuine, though not in all respects commendable. It deserves no special outpouring of censure, however; and its good English and easy style prove that its author had no need to ask the aid of a schoolmaster, as related of Lincoln years later, in framing a political manifesto.
He wrote two or three short contributions, which, under friendly encouragement, were sent to a newspaper editor, who published them.
He was much given to reading when he could get a book and a chance — sometimes by day in the
open more commonly at night by the light of an open fire or
of a tallow dip or taper in his loft. He transcribed passages to be pondered over after the borrowed book was gone. He worked out “sums” in arithmetic with pen and ink, and practiced penmanship in a copy-book or on blank leaves, apparently furnished him by Mr. Jones or some one else from an old ledger. Among the latter exercises were eight lines, of which Mr. Herndon says:
Nothing indicates that they are borrowed, and I have always, therefore, believed that they were original with him." These were in fact the once familiar lines of an older date, beginning:
“Time, what an empty vapor 'tis;
And days, how swift they are;
Or like a shooting star.”
Mr. Herndon says positively that certain lines, of which he found a copy in the neighborhood, — alleged to have been sung at Sarah's wedding in 1826 — were posed in honor of the event by Abe himself,” but the production was not his, and his connection with the paper at all lacks proof. *
Having as yet no access to libraries, he borrowed a volume here and there as he could — including Ram
*The “tiresome doggerel," as Herndon calls it, begins:
"When Adam was created
He dwelt in Eden's shade,” etc.
An old and yellowed manuscript agreeing substantially with the Gentryville document, as far as the latter goes, but of greater length, is in possession of the present writer, to whom it came as a family relic, handed down from generation to generation since its date, August 21, 1786. It was writter, in Massachusetts, but its origin may have been more remote.
sey's Life of Washington and a History of the United States. Another was the peculiar biography of Washington by Weems, at one time very popular with young readers in the West, and notably mentioned by him in a speech at Trenton while on his last journey to the national capital. The book is a compound of fiction and fact, even the author's claim (on his title page) to have been “ formerly rector of Mt. Vernon ” being disputed by Bishop Meade. Imaginary conversations abound in its pages; unheroic realities are freely embellished, if not elevated, by incidental inventions; and the famous hatchet story is among the less ambitious original creations with a moral purpose. We may also add the Autobiography of Franklin, which would do much in this case to encourage a laudable ambition. * He as yet knew little of Shakespeare or Burns, afterward his favorite poets. The few novels within his reach tempted him little, though later he enjoyed the “ Leather Stocking Tales” and other American fiction less permanently in repute. He found solid satisfaction in a copy of the “Statutes of Indiana,” more especially from the fact of much moment that the volume also contained the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence.
*Mr. J. L. Scripps stated in a biographical sketch submitted to Lincoln in 1860, that the latter read at this period the "Life of Franklin," and Plutarch's " Lives.” The Plutarch was first read much later, Lincoln said, but the Franklin reading was by silence afirmed. See letter in Cranbrook Press reprint of Scripps, p. 8.