chap. ii. playmates had not; then that he might help his elders by writing their letters, and enjoy the feeling of usefulness which this gave him; and finally that he might copy what struck him in his reading and thus make it his own for future use. He learned to cipher certainly from no love of mathematics, but because it might come in play in some more congenial business than the farm-work which bounded the horizon of his contemporaries. Had it not been for that interior spur which kept his clear spirit at its task, his schools could have done little for him; for, counting his attendance under Biney and Hazel in Kentucky, and under Dorsey, Crawford, and Swaney in Indiana, it amounted to less than a year in all. The schools were much alike. They were held in deserted cabins of round logs, with earthen floors, and small holes for windows, sometimes illuminated by as much light as could penetrate through panes of paper greased with lard. The teachers were usually in keeping with their primitive surroundings. The profession offered no rewards sufficient to attract men of education or capacity. After a few months of desultory instruction young Abraham knew all that these vagrant literati could teach him. His last schooldays were passed with one Swaney in 1826, who taught at a distance of four and a half miles from the Lincoln cabin. The nine miles of walking doubtless seemed to Thomas Lincoln a waste of time, and the lad was put at steady work and saw no more of school.
But it is questionable whether he lost anything by being deprived of the ministrations of the backwoods dominies. When his tasks ended, his studies
became the chief pleasure of Ms life. In all the chap. u.
intervals of his work — in which he never took
delight, knowing well enougH that he was born for
something better than that — he read, wrote, and
ciphered incessantly. His reading was naturally
limited by his opportunities, for books were among
the rarest of luxuries in that region and time. But
he read everything he could lay his hands upon,
and he was certainly fortunate in the few books of
which he became the possessor. It would hardly
be possible to select a better handful of classics for
a youth in his circumstances than the few volumes
he turned with a nightly and daily hand — the
Bible, " ^sop's Fables," " Eobinson Crusoe," " The
Pilgrim's Progress," a history of the United
States, and Weem's " Life of Washington." These
were the best, and these he read over and over till
he knew them almost by heart. But his voracity
for anything printed was insatiable. He would sit
in the twilight and read a dictionary as long as he
could see. He used to go to David Turnham's, the
town constable, and devour the " Eevised Statutes
of Indiana," as boys in our day do the "Three
/ Guardsmen." Of the books he did not own he took
f voluminous notes, filling his copy-book with choice
extracts, and poring over them until they were
/ fixed in his memory. He could not afford to waste
paper upon his original compositions. He would sit by the fire at night and cover the wooden shovel with essays and arithmetical exercises, which he would shave off and then begin again. It is touching to think of this great-spirited child, battling year after year against his evil star, wasting his ingenuity upon devices and makeshifts, his high intelli-
chap. ii. gence starving for want of the simple appliances of education that are now offered gratis to the poorest and most indifferent,,. He did a man's work from the time he left school; his strength and stature were already far beyond those of ordinary men. He wrought his appointed tasks ungrudgingly, though without enthusiasm; but when his employer's day was over, his own began.
John Hanks says: " When Abe and I returned to the house from work he would go to the cup-wH board, snatch a piece of corn-bread, take down a '^Li?eof book, sit down, cock his legs up as high as his Llp?37D" head, and read." The picture may be lacking in grace, but its truthfulness is beyond question. The habit remained with him always. Some of his greatest work in later years was done in this grotesque Western fashion,— " sitting on his shoulder-blades."
Otherwise his life at this time differed little from that of ordinary farm-hands. His great strength and intelligence made him a valuable laborer, and his unfailing good temper and flow of rude rustic wit rendered him the most agreeable of comrades. He was always ready with some kindly act or word for others. Once he saved the life of the town drunkard, whom he found freezing by the roadside, by carrying him in his strong arms to the tavern, and working over him until he revived. It is a curious fact that this act of common humanity was regarded as something remarkable in the neighborhood; the grateful sot himself always said " it was mighty clever of Abe to tote me so far that cold night." It was also considered an eccentricity that he hated and preached against
cruelty to animals. Some of his comrades remem- chap. n. ber still his bursts of righteous wrath, when a boy, against the wanton murder of turtles and other creatures. He was evidently of better and finer clay than his fellows, even in those wild and ignorant days. At home he was the life of the singularly assorted household, which consisted, besides his parents and himself, of his own sister, Mrs. Lincoln's two girls and boy, Dennis Hanks, the legacy of the dying Sparrow family, and John Hanks (son of the carpenter Joseph with whom Thomas Lincoln learned his trade), who came from Kentucky several years after the others. It was probably as much the inexhaustible good nature and kindly helpfulness of young Abraham which kept the peace among all these heterogeneous elements, effervescing with youth and confined in a one-roomed cabin, as it was the Christian sweetness and firmness of the woman of the house. It was a happy and united household : brothers and sisters and cousins living peacefully under the gentle rule of the good stepmother, but all acknowledging from a very early period the supremacy in goodness and cleverness of their big brother Abraham. Mrs. Lincoln, not long before her death, gave striking testimony of his winning and loyal character. She said to Mr. Herndon: " I can say, what scarcely one mother in a thousand can say, Abe never gave me a cross word or look, and never refused in fact or appearance to do anything I asked him. His mind and mine—what little I had—seemed to run together. ... I had a son John, who was raised with Abe. Both were good boys, but I must say, both now being dead, that Abe was the best boy I
chap. ii. ever saw or expect to see." Such were the beginnings of this remarkable career, sacred as ,we see from childhood, to duty and to human kindliness.
"We are making no claim of early saintship for him. He was merely a good boy, with sufficient wickedness to prove his humanity. One of his employers, undazzled by recent history, faithfully remembers that young Abe liked his dinner and his pay better than his work: there is surely nothing alien to ordinary mortality in this. It is also reported that he sometimes impeded the celerity of harvest operations by making burlesque speeches, or worse than that, comic sermons, from the top of some tempting stump, to the delight of the hired hands and the exasperation of the farmer. His budding talents as a writer were not always used discreetly. He was too much given to scribbling coarse satires and chronicles, in prose, and in something which had to him and his friends the air of verse. From this arose occasional heart-burnings and feuds, in which Abraham bore his part according to the custom of the country. Despite his Quaker ancestry and his natural love of peace, he was no non-resistant, and when he once entered upon a quarrel the opponent usually had the worst of it. But he was generous and placable, and some of his best friends were those with whom he had had differences, and had settled them in the way then prevalent,—in a ring of serious spectators, calmly and judicially ruminant, under the shade of some spreading oak, at the edge of the timber.
Before we close our sketch of this period of Lincoln's life, it may not be amiss to glance for a
moment at the state of society among the people chap. n. with whom his lot was east in these important years.
In most respects there had been little moral or material improvement since the early settlement of the country. Their houses were usually of one room, built of round logs with the bark on. We have known a man to gain the sobriquet of " Split-log Mitchellw by indulging in the luxury of building a cabin of square-hewn timbers. Their dress was still mostly of tanned deer-hide, a material to the last degree uncomfortable when the wearer was caught in a shower. Their shoes were of the same, and a good "Western authority calls a wet moccasin " a decent way of going barefoot." About the time, however, when Lincoln grew to manhood, garments of wool and of tow began to be worn, dyed with the juice of the butternut or white walnut, and the hides of neat-cattle began to be tanned. But for a good while it was only the women who indulged in these novelties. There was little public worship. Occasionally an itinerant preacher visited a county, and the settlers for miles around would go nearly in mass to the meeting. If a man was possessed of a wagon, the family rode luxuriously; but as a rule the men walked and the women went on horseback with the little children in their arms. It was considered no violation of the sanctities of the occasion to carry a rifle and take advantage of any game which might be stirring during the long walk. Arriving at the place of meeting, which was some log cabin if the weather was foul, or the shade of a tree if it was fair, the assembled worshipers threw their provisions into a common store and picnicked
. il in neighborly companionship. The preacher would then take off his coat, and go at his work with an energy unknown to our days.
There were few other social meetings. Men came together for " raisings/' where a house was built in a day; for " log-rollings," where tons of excellent timber were piled together and wastefully burned; for wolf -hunts, where a tall pole was erected in the midst of a prairie or clearing, and a great circle of hunters formed around it, sometimes of miles in diameter, which, gradually contracting with shouts and yells, drove all the game in the woods together at the pole for slaughter; and for horse-races, which bore little resemblance to those magnificent exhibitions which are the boast qf Kentucky at this time. In these affairs the women naturally took no part ; but weddings, which were entertainments scarcely less rude and boisterous, were their own peculiar province. These festivities lasted rarely less than twenty-four hours. The guests assembled in the morning. There was a race for the whisky bottle ; a midday dinner ; an afternoon of rough games and outrageous practical jokes ; a supper and dance at night, interrupted by the successive withdrawals of the bride and of the groom, attended with ceremonies and jests of more than Rabelaisian crudeness ; and a noisy dispersal next day.
The one point at which they instinctively clung to civilization was their regard for law and reverence for courts of justice. Yet these were of the simplest character and totally devoid of any ad-ventitious accessories. An early jurist of the country writes: "I was Circuit Prosecuting At-
p.1 let torney at the time of the trials at the falls of Fall
Creek, where Pendleton now stands. Four of the chap. n. prisoners were convicted of murder, and three of them hung, for killing Indians. The court was held in a double log cabin, the grand jury sat upon a log in the woods, and the foreman signed the bills of indictment, which I had prepared, upon his knee; there was not a petit juror that had shoes on ; all wore moccasins, and were belted around the waist, and carried side-knives used by the hunters." Yet amidst all this apparent savagery we see justice was done, and the law vindicated even against the bitterest prejudices of these pioneer jurymen.
They were full of strange superstitions. The belief in witchcraft had long ago passed away with the smoke of the fagots from old and New England, but it survived far into this century in Kentucky and the lower halves of Indiana and Illinois — touched with a peculiar tinge of African magic. The pioneers believed in it for good and evil. Their veterinaiy practice was mostly by charms and incantations; and when a person believed himself bewitched, a shot at the image of the witch with a bullet melted out of a half-dollar was the favorite curative agency. Luck was an active divinity in their apprehension, powerful for blessing or bane, announced by homely signs, to be placated by quaint ceremonies. A dog crossing the hunter's path spoiled his day, unless he instantly hooked his little fingers together, and pulled till the animal disappeared. They were familiar with the ever-recurring mystification of the witch-hazel, or divining-rod; and the "cure by faith" was as well known to them as it has since become in a more sophisticated state of society. The commonest occurrences
chap. ii. were heralds of death and doom. A bird lighting in a window, a dog baying at certain hours, the cough of a horse in the direction of a child, the sight, or worse still, the touch of a dead snake, heralded domestic woe. A wagon driving past the house with a load of baskets was a warning of atmospheric disturbance. A vague and ignorant astronomy governed their plantings and sowings, the breeding of their cattle, and all farm-work. They must fell trees for fence-rails before noon, and in the waxing of the moon. Fences built
p. 44. when there was no moon would give way; but that was the proper season for planting potatoes and other vegetables whose fruit grows underground; those which bore their product in the air must be planted when the moon shone. The magical power of the moon was wide in its influence; it extended to the most minute details of life.
Among these people, and in all essential respects one of them, Abraham Lincoln passed his childhood and youth. He was not remarkably precocious. His mind was slow in acquisition, and his powers of reasoning and rhetoric improved constantly to the end of his life, at a rate of progress marvelously regular and sustained. But there was that about him, even. at the age of nineteen years, which might well justify his admiring friends in presaging for him an unusual career. He had read every book he could find, and could " spell down nthe whole county at their orthographical contests. By dint of constant practice he had acquired an admirably clear and serviceable handwriting. He occasionally astounded his companions by such glimpses
of occult science as that the world is round and that chap. n. the sun is relatively stationary. He wrote, for his own amusement and edification, essays on politics, of which gentlemen 'of standing who had been favored with a perusal said with authority, at the cross-roads grocery, " The world can't beat it." One or two of these compositions got into print and vastly increased the author's local fame. He was also a magnanimous boy, with a larger and kindlier spirit than common. His generosity, courage, and capability of discerning two sides to a dispute, were remarkable even then, and won him the admiration of those to whom such qualities were unknown. But perhaps, after all, the thing which gained and fixed his mastery over his fellows was to a great degree his gigantic stature and strength. He attained his full growth, six feet and four inches, two years before he came of age. He rarely met with a man he could not easily handle. His strength is still a tradition in Spencer Ljm&T' County. One aged man says that he has seen him pick up and carry away a chicken-house weighing six hundred pounds. At another time, seeing some men preparing a contrivance for lifting some large posts, Abe quickly shouldered the posts and took them where they were needed. One of his employers says, " He could sink an axe deeper into wood than any man I ever saw." With strength like this and a brain to direct it, a man was a born leader in that country and at that time.
There are, of course, foolish stories extant that Abraham used to boast, and that others used to predict, that he would be President some day. The same thing is daily said of thousands of boys