parties doubted their compatibility, and a heart chap. xl so affectionate and a conscience so sensitive as Lincoln's found material for exquisite self-torment in these conditions. His affection for his betrothed, which he thought was not strong enough to make happiness with her secure'; his doubts, which yet were not convincing enough to induce him to break off all relations with her; his sense of honor, which was wounded in his own eyes by his own act; his sense of duty, which condemned him in one course and did not sustain him in the opposite one — all combined to make him profoundly and passionately miserable. To his friends and acquaintances, who were unused to such finely wrought and even fantastic sorrows, his trouble seemed so exaggerated that they could only account for it on the ground of insanity. But there is no necessity of accepting this crude hypothesis; the coolest and most judicious of his friends deny that his depression ever went to such an extremity. Orville H. Browning, who was constantly in his company, says that his worst attack lasted only about a week; that during this time he was incoherent and distraught; but that in the course of a few days it all passed off, leaving no trace whatever. " I think," says Mr. Browning, "it was only an intensification of his constitutional melancholy; his trials and embarrassments pressed him down to a lower point than usual."
This taint of constitutional sadness was not peculiar to Lincoln ; it may be said to have been endemic among the early" settlers of the West. It had its origin partly in the circumstances of their lives, the severe and dismal loneliness in which
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From the original in the Keyes Lincoln Memorial Collection, Chicago.
' Western Characters," p. 134.
their struggle for existence for the most part went chap. xi. on. Their summers were passed in the solitude of the woods; in the winter they were often snowed up for months in the more desolate isolation of their own poor cabins. Their subjects of conversation were limited, their range of thoughts and ideas narrow and barren. There was as little cheerfulness in their manners as there was incentive to it in their lives. , They occasionally burst out into wild frolic, which easily assumed the form of comic outrage, but of the sustained cheerfulness of social civilized life they knew very little. One of the few pioneers who have written their observations of their own people, John L. McConnell, says, " They are at the best not a cheerful race; though they sometimes join in festivities, it is but seldom, and the wildness of their dissipation is too often in proportion to its infrequency. There is none of that serene contentment which distinguishes the tillers of the ground in other lands. . . . Acquainted with the character [of the pioneer], you do not expect him to smile much, but now and then he laughs."
Besides this generic tendency to melancholy, very many of the pioneers were subject in early life to malarial influences, the effect of which remained with them all their days. Hewing out their plantations in the primeval woods amid the undisturbed shadow of centuries, breaking a soil thick with ages of vegetable decomposition, sleeping in half-faced camps, where the heavy air of the rank woods was in their lungs all night, or in the fouler atmosphere of overcrowded cabins, they were especially subject to miasmatic fevers. Many
" Western Characters," p. 126.
died, and of those who survived, a great number, after they had outgrown the more immediate manifestations of disease, retained in nervous disorders of all kinds the distressing traces of the maladies which afflicted their childhood. In the early life of Lincoln these unwholesome physical conditions were especially prevalent. The country about Pigeon Creek was literally devastated by the terrible malady called." milk-sickness," which carried away his mother and half her family. His father left his home in Macon County, also, on account of the frequency and severity of the attacks of fever and ague which were suffered there; and, in general, Abraham was exposed through all the earlier part of his life to those malarial influences which made, during the first half of this century, the various preparations of Peruvian bark a part of the daily food of the people of Indiana and Illinois. In many instances this miasmatic poison did not destroy the strength or materially shorten the lives of those who absorbed it in their youth; but the effects remained in periodical attacks of gloom and depression of spirits which would seem incomprehensible to thoroughly healthy organizations, and which gradually lessened in middle life, often to disappear entirely in old age.
Upon a temperament thus predisposed to look at things in their darker aspect, it might naturally be expected that a love-affair which was not perfectly happy would be productive of great misery. But Lincoln seemed especially chosen to the keenest suffering in such a conjuncture. The pioneer, as a rule, was comparatively free from any troubles of the imagination. To quote Mr. McConnell again:
"There was no romance in his [the pioneer's] com- chap. xi. position. He had no dreaminess ; meditation was no part of his mental habit; a poetical fancy would, in him, have been an indication of insanity. If he reclined at the foot of a tree, on a still summer day, it was to sleep; if he gazed out over the waving prairie, it was to search for the column of smoke which told of his enemies' approach; if he turned his eyes towards the blue heaven, it was to prognosticate to-morrow's rain or sunshine. If he bent his gaze towards the green earth, it was to look for 6 Indian sign' or buffalo trail. His wife was only a helpmate; he never thought of making a divinity of her." But Lincoln could never have claimed this happy immunity from ideal trials. His published speeches show how much the poet in him was constantly kept in check; and at this time of his life his imagination was sufficiently alert to inflict upon him the sharpest anguish. His reverence for women was so deep and tender that he thought an injury to one of them was a sin too heinous to be expiated. No Hamlet, dreaming amid the turrets of Elsinore, no Sidney creating a chivalrous Arcadia, was fuller of mystic and shadowy fancies of the worth and dignity of woman than this backwoods politician. Few men ever lived more sensitively and delicately tender towards the sex.
Besides his step-mother, who was a plain, Godfearing woman, he had not known many others until he came to live in New Salem. There he had made the acquaintance of the best people the settlement contained, and among them had become much attached to a young girl named Ann Rut-ledge, the daughter of one of the proprietors of the
192 ABEAHAM LINCOLN
chap. xl place. She died in her girlhood, and though there does not seem to have been any engagement between them, he was profoundly affected by her death. But the next year a young woman from Kentucky appeared in the village, to whom he paid such attentions as in his opinion fully committed him as a suitor for her hand. He admired her, and she seems to have merited the admiration of all the manhood there was in New Salem. She was handsome and intelligent and of an admirable temper and disposition. While they were together he was constant in his attentions, and when he was at Yandalia or at Springfield he continued his assiduities in some of the most singular love-letters ever written. They are filled mostly with remarks about current politics, and with arguments going to show that she had better not marry him! At the same time he clearly intimates that he is at her disposition if she is so inclined. At last, feeling that his honor and duty were involved, he made a direct proposal to her, and received an equally direct, kind, and courteous refusal. Not knowing but that this indicated merely a magnanimous desire to give him a chance for escape, he persisted in his offer, and she in her refusal. When the matter had ended in this perfectly satisfactory manner to both of them, he sat down and wrote, by way of epilogue to the play, a grotesquely comic account of the whole affair to Mrs. O. H. Browning, one of his intimate Yandalia acquaintances.
This letter has been published and severely criticised as showing a lack of gentlemanlike feeling. But those who take this view forget
JOSHUA SPEED AND WIFE,
that he was writing to an intimate friend of a chap. xl matter which had greatly occupied his own mind for a year; that he mentioned no names, and that he threw such an air of humorous unreality about the whole story that the person who received it never dreamed that it recorded an actual occurrence until twenty-five years afterwards, when, having been asked to furnish it to a biographer, she was warned against doing so by the President himself, who said there was too much truth in it for print. The only significance the episode possesses is in showing this almost abnormal development of conscience in the young man who was perfectly ready to enter into a marriage which he dreaded simply because he thought he had given a young woman reason to think that he had such intentions. While we admit that this would have been an irremediable error, we cannot but wonder at the nobleness of the character to which it was possible.
In this vastly more serious matter, which was, we may say at once, the crucial ordeal of his life, the same invincible truthfulness, the same innate goodness, the same horror of doing a wrong, are combined with an exquisite sensibility and a capacity for suffering which mark him as a man "picked out among ten thousand." His habit of relentless self-searching reveals to him a state of feeling which strikes him with dismay; his simple and inflexible veracity communicates his trouble and his misery to the woman whom he loves; his freedom, when he has gained it, yields Mm nothing but an agony of remorse and humiliation. He could not shake off his pain, like men of cooler
194 ABRAHAM LINCOLN
chap. xi. heads and shallower hearts. It took fast hold of him and dragged him into awful depths of darkness and torture. The letter to Stuart, which we have given, shows him emerging from the blackest period of that time of gloom. Immediately after this, he accompanied his close friend and confidant, Joshua F. Speed, to Kentucky, where, in a way so singular that no writer of fiction would dare to employ the incident, he became almost cured of his melancholy, and came back to Illinois and his work again.
Mr. Speed was a Kentuckian, carrying on a general mercantile business in Springfield — a brother of the distinguished lawyer, James Speed, of Louisville, who afterwards became Attorney-Greneral of the United States. He was one of those men who seem to have to a greater extent than others the genius of friendship, the Pythias, the Pylades, the Horatios of the world. It is hardly too much to say that he was the only— as he was certainly the last — intimate friend that Lincoln ever had. He was his closest companion in Springfield, and in the evil days when the letter to Stuart was written he took him with brotherly love and authority under his special care. He closed up his affairs in Springfield, and went with Lincoln to Kentucky, and, introducing him to his own cordial and hospitable family circle, strove to soothe his perturbed spirit by every means which unaffected friendliness could suggest. That Lincoln found much comfort and edification in that genial companionship is shown by the fact that after he became President he sent to Mr. Speed's mother a photograph of himself, inscribed, " For Mrs. Lucy
Gr. Speed, from whose pious hand I accepted the chap, xl present of an Oxford Bible twenty years ago."
But the principal means by which the current of his thoughts was changed was never dreamed of by himself or by his friend when they left Illinois. During this visit Speed himself fell in love, and became engaged to be married; and either by a singular chance or because the maladies of the soul may be propagated by constant association, the feeling of despairing melancholy, which he had found so morbid and so distressing an affliction in another, took possession of himself, and threw him into the same slough of despondency from which he had been laboring to rescue Lincoln. Between friends so intimate there' were no concealments, and from the moment Lincoln found his services as nurse and consoler needed, the violence of his own trouble seemed to diminish. The two young men were in Springfield together in the autumn, and Lincoln seems by that time to have laid aside his own peculiar besetments, in order to minister to his friend. They knew the inmost thoughts of each other's hearts and each relied upon the honesty and loyalty of the other to an extent rare among men. When Speed returned to Kentucky, to a happiness which awaited him there, so bright that it dazzled and blindedhis moral vision, Lincoln continued his counsels and encouragements in letters which are remarkable for their tenderness and delicacy of thought and expression. Like another poet, he looked into his own heart and wrote. His own deeper nature had suffered from these same fantastic sorrows and terrors; of his own grief he made a medicine for his comrade.
196 ABEAHAM LINCOLN
chap. xl While Speed was still with him, he wrote a long letter, which he put into his hands at parting, full of wise and affectionate reasonings, to be read when he should feel the need of it. He predicts for him a period of nervous depression — first, because he will be " exposed to bad weather on his journey, and, secondly, because of the absence of all business and conversation of friends which might divert his mind and give it occasional rest from the intensity of thought which will sometimes wear the sweetest idea threadbare, and turn it to the bitterness of death." The third cause, he says, " is the rapid and near approach of that crisis on which all your thoughts and feelings concentrate." If in spite of all these circumstances he should escape without a " twinge of the soul," his friend will be most happily deceived; but, he continues, " if you shall, as I expect you will at some time, be agonized and distressed, let me, who have some reason to speak with judgment on the subject, beseech you to ascribe it to the causes I have mentioned, and not to some false and ruinous suggestion of the devil." This forms the prelude to an ingenious and affectionate argument in which he labors to convince Speed of the loveliness of his betrothed and of the integrity of his own heart; a strange task, one would say, to undertake in behalf of a young and ardent lover. But the two men understood each other, and the service thus rendered was gratefully received and remembered by Speed all his life.
Lincoln wrote again on the 3d of February, 1842, congratulating Speed upon a recent severe illness of his destined bride, for the reason that "your
present distress and anxiety about her health must chap. xl forever banish those horrid doubts which you feel as to the truth of your affection for her." As the period of Speed's8 marriage drew near, Lincoln's letters betray the most intense anxiety. He cannot wait to hear the news from his friend, but writes to him about the time of the wedding, admitting that he is writing in the dark, that words from a bachelor may be worthless to a Benedick, but still unable to keep silence. He hopes he is happy with his wife, " but should I be mistaken in this, should excessive pleasure still be accompanied with a painful counterpart at times, still let me urge you, as I have ever done, to remember in the depth and even agony of despondency, that very shortly you are to feel well again." Further on he says: "If you went through the ceremony calmly, or even with sufficient composure not to excite alarm in any present, you are safe beyond question," seeking by every device of subtle affection to lift up the heart of his friend.
With a solicitude apparently greater than that of the nervous bridegroom, he awaited the announcement of the marriage, and when it came he wrote (February 25): "I opened the letter with intense anxiety and trepidation; so much that, although it turned out better than I expected, I have hardly yet, at the distance of ten hours, become calm. I' tell you, Speed, our forebodings, for which you and I are peculiar, are all the worst sort of nonsense. I fancied from the time I received your letter of Saturday that the one of Wednesday was never to come, and yet it did come, and, what is more, it is perfectly clear, both from its tone and handwriting,
198 ABBAHAM LINCOLN
chap. xl that . . . you "had obviously improved at tlie very time I had so much fancied you would have grown worse. You say that something indescribably horrible and alarming still haunts you. You will not say that three months from now, I will venture." The letter goes on in the same train of sympathetic cheer, but there is one phrase which strikes the keynote of all lives whose ideals are too high for fulfillment: " It is the peculiar misfortune of both you and me to dream dreams of Elysium far exceeding all that anything earthly can realize." But before long a letter came from Speed, who had settled with his black-eyed Kentucky wife upon a well-stocked plantation, disclaiming any further fellowship of misery and announcing the beginnings of that life of uneventful happiness which he led ever after. His peace of mind has become a matter of course; he dismisses the subject in a line, but dilates, with a new planter's rapture, upon the beauties and attractions of his farm. Lincoln frankly answers that he cares nothing about his farm. "I can only say that I am glad you are satisfied and pleased with it. But on that other subject, to me of the most intense interest whether in joy or sorrow, I never had the power to withhold my sympathy from you. It cannot be told how it now thrills me with joy to hear you say you are 'far happier than you ever expected to be.' . . I am not going beyond the truth when I tell you that the short space it took me to read your last letter gave me more pleasure than the total sum of all I have enjoyed since the fatal 1st of January, 1841. Since then it seems to me I should have been entirely happy, but for the