Lincoln's family devotion was unbounded and he loved his children to the verge of folly. He delighted to carry his boys on his back and to take one of them by the hand when he went to town. Their turmoil never disturbed him. Their mischief only amused him; he never viewed it with alarm. "Since I began this letter," he wrote to a friend, "a messenger came to tell me that Bob was lost; but by the time I reached the house his mother had found him and had him whipped, and by now, very likely, he is run away again."
When this same Bob was bitten by a dog, his anxious and always superstitious father dropped everything and took him to Indiana, that a wonderful madstone in that State might be applied to the wound.
The boys could go to Lincoln's law office and pull down the law-books, scatter legal documents over the floor, and bend the points of the pens without ruffling his temper, however much they annoyed his partner.
Here is a rather curious illustration of Lincoln's humor, and likewise his exalted and unusual honesty. In a letter to the proprietors of a wholesale store in Louisville, for whom suit had been brought, after notifying his client of the sale of certain real estate in satisfaction of their judgment, he adds: "As to the real estate, we cannot attend to it. We are not real estate agents, we are lawyers. We recommend that you give the charge of it to Mr. Isaac S. Britton, a trustworthy man, and one whom the Lord made on purpose for such business."
Returning at one time from the circuit he said to his law-partner, Mr. Herndon: "Billy, I heard a good story while I was up in the country. Judge D was complimenting the landlord on the excellency of his beef. 'I am surprised,' he said, 'that you have such good beef; you must have to kill a whole critter when you want any.' 'Yes,' said the landlord, 'we never kill less than a whole critter.'"
Mr. Lincoln was once engaged in the trial of a suit involving the infringement of a patent water-wheel. In his earlier days he had aided in running a sawmill, and he explained in his argument, in a very clear and masterly manner, all the intricate points involved in the action of the water. After the jury retired he became quite anxious and uneasy. The jury were in another building, the windows of which opened on the street, and they had been out about two hours. As Lincoln was passing along the street one of the jurors, on whom he very much relied, as he was a very intelligent man and firm in his convictions, looked out of the window and held up one finger. Mr. Lincoln became very much excited, fearing that it indicated eleven of the jury against him. He knew that if this man was for him he never would yield his opinion, and added that it reminded him very much of another case in which he was involved, and if the two jurors were alike in their action his client was safe. He said that he had been employed to prosecute a suit for divorce. His client was a pretty, refined, and interesting little woman who was in court. The defendant, her husband, was a gross, morose, and uncomfortable man; but although Lincoln was able to prove the use of very offensive and vulgar epithets applied by the husband to his wife, and all sorts of annoyances, yet there were no such acts of personal violence as were required by the statutes to justify divorce. Lincoln did the best he could and appealed to the jury to have compassion for the woman and not to bind her to such a man and such a life as awaited her if required to live longer with him. The jury took about the same view of it in their deliberations. They were anxious to find for the woman, but there was no evidence to justify such a verdict. At last they drew up a verdict for the defendant and all signed but one fellow, who, on being approached, coolly said, "Gentlemen, I am going to lie down to sleep, and when you get ready to give a verdict for that little woman then wake me up and not until then; for before I will give a verdict against her I will lie here till I rot and the pismires carry me out through the keyhole." "Now," observed Mr. Lincoln, "if that juryman would stick like the other fellow, we are safe." Strange to relate, the jury did come in and bring a verdict for the defendant.
Here's a rather homely way in which Lincoln once described the manner in which his memory worked. It was once said to him that his mind was a wonderful one; that impressions were easily made upon it and never effaced. "No," said he, "you are mistaken; I am slow to learn and slow to forget that which I have learned. My mind is like a piece of steelvery hard to scratch anything on it, and almost impossible, after you get it there, to rub it out."
George W. Miner tells the following story of the manner in which Mr. Lincoln handled a jury: "In the spring term of the Tazewell County Court, in 1847, I was detained as a witness. Lincoln was employed in several suits, and among them was one of Case vs. Snow Brothers. The Snow Brothers (who were both minors) had purchased from a Mr. Case what was then called a 'prairie team,' consisting of two or three yoke of oxen and a prairie plow, giving therefore their joint note for some two hundred dollars; but when pay-day came they refused to pay, pleading the minor act. The note was placed in Lincoln's hands for collection. The suit was called and a jury impaneled. The Snow Brothers did not deny the note, but pleaded through their counsel that they were minors, and that Mr. Case knew they were at the time of the contract and conveyance. All this was admitted by Mr. Lincoln, with his peculiar phrase, 'Yes, gentlemen, I reckon that's so.' The minor act was read and its validity admitted in the same manner. The counsel for the defendants were permitted without question to state all these things to the jury, and to show by the statute that these minors could not be held responsible for their contract. By this time you may well suppose that his client became quite uneasy. 'What!' thought I, 'this good old man who confided in these boys to be wronged in this way, and even his counsel, Mr. Lincoln, to submit in silence.' I looked at Judge Treat, but could read nothing in his calm and dignified demeanor. Just then Mr. Lincoln slowly rose to his strange, half-erect attitude and in clear, quiet accents began: 'Gentlemen of the jury, are you willing to allow these boys to begin life with this shame and disgrace attached to their character? If you are, I am not. The best judge of human character that ever wrote has left these immortal words for us to ponder:
"Good name in man or woman, dear my lord,
"Then rising to his full height, and looking upon the defendants with the compassion of a brother, his long arm extended toward the opposing counsel, he continued: 'Gentlemen of the jury, these poor innocent boys would never have attempted this low villainy had it not been for the advice of these lawyers.' Then for a few minutes he showed how even the noble science of law may be prostituted. With a scathing rebuke to those who thus belittle their profession, he concluded: 'And now, gentlemen, you have it in your power to set these boys right before the world.' He pleaded for the young men only; I think he did not mention his client's name. The jury, without leaving their seats, decided that the defendants must pay the debt; and the latter, after hearing Lincoln, were as willing to pay it as the jury were determined they should. I think the entire argument lasted not above five minutes."
To a man who once offered him a case the merits of which he did not appreciate he made, according to his partner, Mr. Herndon, the following response:
"Yes, there is no reasonable doubt that I can gain your case for you. I can set a whole neighborhood at loggerheads; I can distress a widowed mother and her six fatherless children, and thereby get for you six hundred dollars which rightly belong, it appears to me, as much to them as it does to you. I shall not take your case, but I will give you a little advice for nothing. You seem a sprightly, energetic man. I would advise you to try your hand at making six hundred dollars in some other way."
Once he was prosecuting a civil suit, in the course of which evidence was introduced showing that his client was attempting a fraud. Lincoln rose and went to his hotel in deep disgust. The judge sent for him; he refused to come. "Tell the judge," he said, "my hands are dirty; I came over to wash them."
At another time, when he was engaged with Judge S. C. Parks in defending a man accused of larceny, he said, "If you can say anything for the man, do itI can't; if I attempt it, the jury will see I think he is guilty, and convict him."
This is from Chauncey M. Depew: "President Lincoln told me once that, in his judgment, one of the two best things he ever originated was this. He was trying a case in Illinois where he appeared for a prisoner charged with aggravated assault and battery. The complainant had told a horrible story of the attack, which his appearance fully justified, when the district-attorney handed the witness over to Mr. Lincoln for cross-examination. Mr. Lincoln said he had no testimony, and unless he could break down the complainant's story he saw no way out. He had come to the conclusion that the witness was a bumptious man, who rather prided himself upon his smartness in repartee, and so, after looking at him for some minutes, he inquired, 'Well, my friend, what ground did you and my client here fight over?' The fellow answered, 'About six acres.' 'Well, said Mr. Lincoln, 'don't you think this is an almighty small crop of fight to gather from such a big piece of ground?' The jury laughed, the court and district-attorney and complainant all joined in, and the case was laughed out of court."
Leonard Swett, of Chicago, for years an intimate associate, and himself one of the most famous of American lawyers, says that "sometimes, after Lincoln entered upon a criminal case, the conviction that his client was guilty would affect him with a sort of panic. On one occasion he turned suddenly to his associate and said, 'Swett, the man is guilty; you defend him, I can't,' and so gave up his share of a large fee."
It was a common thing for Lincoln to discourage unnecessary lawsuits, and consequently he was continually sacrificing opportunities to make money. One man who asked him to bring suit for two dollars and a half against a debtor who had not a cent with which to pay, would not be put off in his passion for revenge. His counsel therefore gravely demanded ten dollars as a retainer. Half of this he gave to the poor defendant, who thereupon confessed judgment and paid the $2.50. Thus the suit was ended, to the entire satisfaction of the angry creditor.
The son of Jack Armstrong, the champion of Clary's Grove, whose loyal friendship Lincoln had won by whipping him in open battle at New Salem, was on trial for killing a man. Jack was in his grave, but his widow turned to Lincoln to save her boy. He gratefully remembered that the poor woman had been almost a mother to him in his friendless days and that her cabin had been his home when he had no other. He laid aside everything else and went to her aid. The defendant's guilt was extremely doubtful.
The chief witness testified that he saw the boy strike the fatal blow and that the affair occurred about eleven o'clock at night. Lincoln inquired how he could have seen so clearly at that late hour. By the moonlight, the witness answered. Was there light enough to see everything that happened? Lincoln asked. The moon was about where the sun would be at ten o'clock in the morning and nearly full, the man on the stand replied. Almost instantly Lincoln held out a calendar. By this he showed that on the night in question the moon was only slightly past its first quarter, that it set within an hour after the fatal occurrence, and that it could therefore have shed little or no light on the scene of the alleged murder. The crowded court was electrified by the disclosure.
"Hannah," whispered Lincoln, as he turned to the mother, "Bill will be cleared before sundown." And he was.
An anecdote is related in connection with a case involving a bodily attack. Mr. Lincoln defended, and told the jury that his client was in the plight of a man who, in going along the highway with a pitchfork over his shoulder, was attacked by a fierce dog that ran out at him from a farmer's door-yard. In warding off the brute with the fork its prongs pierced and killed him.
"What made you kill my dog?" said the farmer.
"What made him bite me?"
"But why did you not go after him with the other end of the pitchfork?"
"Why did he not come at me with his other end?"
At this Mr. Lincoln whirled about, in his long arms an imaginary dog, and pushed his tail toward the jury. This was the defensive plea of "Son assaut demesne"loosely, that "The other fellow brought on the fight" quickly told in a way the dullest mind would grasp and retain.
Gen. John H. Littlefield, who studied law with Abraham Lincoln, tells this anecdote in his recollections of this great figure: "All clients knew that, with 'Old Abe' as their lawyer, they would win their caseif it was fair; if not, that it was a waste of time to take it to him. After listening some time one day to a would-be client's statement, with his eyes on the ceiling, he swung around in his chair and exclaimed: 'Well, you have a pretty good case in technical law, but a pretty bad one in equity and justice. You'll have to get some other fellow to win this case for you. I couldn't do it. All the time while standing talking to that jury I'd be thinking, "Lincoln, you're a liar," and I believe I should forget myself and say it out loud.'"
This document, signed by Lincoln's old friend, Judge Davis, recalls a very interesting period of his early career while he was practicing law on the old Eighth Circuit in Central Illinois. Lincoln and the Judge were fast friends from the beginning, the Judge having always evinced a particular appreciation of Lincoln's stories.
"I was never fined but once for contempt of court," says one of the clerks of the court in Lincoln's day. "Davis fined me five dollars. Mr. Lincoln had just come in, and leaning over my desk had told me a story so irresistibly funny that I broke out into a loud laugh. The Judge called me to order, saying, 'This must be stopped. Mr. Lincoln, you are constantly disturbing this court with your stories.' Then to me: 'You may fine yourself five dollars.' I apologized, but told the Judge the story was worth the money. In a few minutes the Judge called me to him. 'What was that story Lincoln told you?' he asked. I told him, and he laughed aloud in spite of himself. 'Remit your fine,' he ordered."
In the early days of Illinois, when Lincoln was a young lawyer, it was the custom of the profession to go from one county-seat to another for the trial of cases. These journeys were made on horseback, and on one occasion a party of lawyers, among them Mr. Lincoln, were riding across the country in the central part of the State.
The road took them through a grove, and as they passed along, a little bird which had fallen from the nest lay fluttering on the ground and was noticed by several of the horsemen, including Mr. Lincoln.
After riding a short distance he said to his companions, "Wait a moment, I want to go back," and as they stopped for him he was seen to ride back, dismount, and pick up the little fledgling and carefully put it in the nest.
When he rejoined the party they said: "Why, Lincoln, you need not have stopped for such a trifle as that," but, pausing a little while, he answered, quietly, "Well, I feel better for doing it, anyhow."
At the time of the first Republican Convention in Philadelphia, in 1856, Lincoln was following Judge Davis around the circuit in Illinois and attending a special term of the court in Urbana.
Mr. Whitney relates that Judge Davis and the non-resident lawyers were quartered at the leading hostelry of the place. Their slumbers in the early dawn having too often been disturbed by the tones of a vibrant gong summoning them to breakfast, they decided one morning that the offending instrument must be removed or in some way forever silenced. By a majority vote Mr. Lincoln was chosen to carry out the decree. Accordingly, a little earlier than usual before noon that day, he was seen to leave the courtroom and hasten to the hotel. Slipping unobserved into the dining-room, he managed to secure the gong, secreted it under his coat, and was in the act of making off with it when Whitney and Judge Davis suddenly appeared on the scene. The former held in his hand a copy of the Chicago Tribune, which had just reached town. It contained the surprising and gratifying announcement that Mr. Lincoln had received one hundred and ten votes for Vice-President at the Philadelphia Convention the day before.
"Great business, this," chuckled Davis, "for a man who aspires to be Vice-President of the United States!"
Lincoln only smiled. "Davis and I," declared Whitney, "were greatly excited, but Lincoln was listless and indifferent. His only response was:
"'Surely it ain't me; there's another great man named Lincoln down in Massachusetts. I reckon it's him.'"
Lincoln was once arguing a case against an opponent who tried to convince the jury that precedent is superior to law, and that custom makes things legal in all cases. Lincoln's reply was one of his many effective analogies in the form of a story.
Lincoln told the jury that he would argue the case in the same way as his opponent, and began:
"Old Squire Bagley, from Menard, came into my office one day and said:
"'Lincoln, I want your advice as a lawyer. Has a man what's been elected justice of the peace a right to issue a marriage license?'
"I told him no; whereupon the old squire threw himself back in his chair very indignantly and said:
"'Lincoln, I thought you was a lawyer. Now, Bob Thomas and me had a bet on this thing, and we agreed to let you decide; but if this is your opinion I don't want it, for I know a thunderin' sight better. I've been a squire eight years, and I've issued marriage licenses all the time.'"
One day Lincoln and a certain judge who was an intimate friend of his were bantering each other about horses, a favorite topic. Finally Lincoln said:
"Well, look here, Judge! I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll make a horse-trade with you, only it must be upon these stipulations: Neither party shall see the other's horse until it is produced here in the courtyard of the hotel and both parties must trade horses. If either party backs out of the agreement, he does so under a forfeiture of twenty-five dollars."
"Agreed," cried the judge, and both he and Lincoln went in quest of their respective animals.
A crowd gathered, anticipating some fun, and when the judge returned first the laugh was uproarious. He led, or rather dragged, at the end of a halter the meanest, boniest, rib-staring quadrupedblind in both eyesthat ever pressed turf. But presently Lincoln came along carrying over his shoulder a carpenter's sawhorse. Then the mirth of the crowd was furious. Lincoln solemnly set his horse down, and silently surveyed the judge's animal with a comical look of infinite disgust.
"Well, Judge," he finally said, "this is the first time I ever got the worst of it in a horse-trade."
Lincoln, who was one of the most generous and kind-hearted of men, often said that there was no act which was not prompted by some selfish motive. He was riding in a stage from Springfield, Illinois, to a neighboring town and was discussing this philosophy with a fellow-passenger.
As the stage rumbled past a ditch which was filled with mud and mire the passengers could see a small pig, caught fast in the muck, squealing and struggling to free himself. Many persons in the stage laughed heartily, but Mr. Lincoln, then a lawyer, asked the driver to stop for a few moments.
Leaping from the stage, he walked to the ditch over his shoetops in mud and picked the little animal up, setting it on the solid road.
"Now, look here," said the passenger with whom he had been talking, "you cannot say that was a selfish act."
"Extremely selfish," said Mr. Lincoln. "If I had left that little fellow in there the memory of his squealing would have made me uncomfortable all day. That is why I freed him."
He was a poor money-maker. Daniel Webster, who sent him a case, was amazed at the smallness of his bill, and his fellow-lawyers looked upon his charges as very low. This was his only fault, in their eyes. Once, when another attorney had collected $250 for their joint services, he refused to accept his share until the fee had been reduced to what he considered fair proportions and the overcharge had been returned to the client. When David Davis, the presiding judge of the circuit, heard of this, he indignantly exclaimed, "Lincoln, your picayune charges will impoverish the bar."
He was equally ready to take up a just case without hope of pay as he was to refuse an unjust one even at the loss of a good fee. He once dragged into court a pension agent who insisted on keeping for himself half of a $400 claim which he had collected for a poor widow. There, in his own expressive phrase, he "skinned" him, moved the jury to tears by his stirring appeal for justice to the old woman, and won the verdict, all without charge to his client.
In another interesting and important case he laid down the rule that people had as much right to cross rivers as they had to go up and down them. This trial arose from the building of the first bridge over the Mississippi and from the fight which the boatmen made against it as an obstruction to their business.
Lincoln was once opposed to his former preceptor, Judge Logan, in the trial of a suit. Logan was a very dignified gentleman, but somewhat careless in matters of dress, often appearing with neither collar nor necktie. Lincoln, knowing his man, proceeded to undo him before the jury in the following manner:
"Gentlemen," began Lincoln, "you must be careful and not permit yourselves to be overborne by the eloquence of the counsel for defense. Judge Logan, I know, is an effective lawyer; I have met him too often to doubt that. But shrewd and careful though he be, still he is sometimes wrong. Since this trial began I have discovered that, with all his caution and fastidiousness, he hasn't knowledge enough to put his shirt on right."
It then transpired that Logan was wearing his shirt with the plaited bosom behind, and his embarrassment was so great and the laughter of the jury so uproarious, that he completely lost his balance and effectiveness during the remainder of the trial.
The terms of his partnership with Judge Logan are not known, but it is fair to assume that his share was a very small one, for the Judge was a very thrifty man and not given to generosity. And even after his marriage to Mary Todd, in 1842, Lincoln declined an invitation to Kentucky, saying "that he was so poor and made so little headway that he dropped back in a month of idleness as much as he gained in a year's sowing."
No man had a greater respect for real learning, but for the display article he had naught but contempt. Once a lawyer arrayed against him made use of a Latin maxim for the evident purpose of impressing his hearers or to perplex Mr. Lincoln, to whom he said, "Is not that so?"
"If that is Latin," dryly said Lincoln, "I think you had better call another witness."
A young lawyer once asked Mr. Lincoln if the county-seat of Logan County was named after him. "Well, it was named after I was," he gravely replied.
Once opposing counsel objected to a juror on the ground that he knew Mr. Lincoln, and as this was a reflection upon the honor of a lawyer, Judge Davis promptly overruled the objection. But when Mr. Lincoln, following the example of his adversary, examined two or three of the jury and found that they knew his opponent, the Judge interfered.
"Now, Mr. Lincoln," he observed, severely, "you are wasting time. The mere fact that a juror knows your opponent does not disqualify him."
"No, your Honor," responded Mr. Lincoln, dryly, "but I am afraid some of the gentlemen may not know him, which would place me at a disadvantage."
His advice to lawyers was sound and clear. Herndon quotes him as saying: "Don't shoot too high. Aim lower, and the common people will understand you. They are the ones you want to reachat least they are the ones you ought to reach. The educated and refined people will understand you, anyway. If you aim too high, your ideas will go over the heads of the masses and only hit those who need no hitting."
Speaking of some lawyer whose name is unknown he said, "He can compress the most words into the smallest ideas of any man I ever met."
Herndon relates, as an instance of Lincoln's moral honesty and his horror of a lie, that he (Herndon) once drew up a dilatory plea for the purpose of delaying a case for another term. But when it came to Lincoln's attention he promptly repudiated it.
"Is this founded on fact?" Lincoln inquired, and when Herndon admitted it was done merely to save their client's interests, which might otherwise be endangered, Lincoln instantly replied:
"You know it is a sham, and a sham is very often but another name for a lie. Don't let it go on record. The cursed thing may come staring us in the face long after this suit is forgotten." And the plea was withdrawn.
This is a sample of the way business was conducted in the Illinois courts. "The first term of Davis's court that I attended," relates Major Whitney, "the Judge was calling through the docket for the first time, in order to dispose of such cases as could be handled summarily, and likewise to sort the chaff from the wheat, when he came across a long bill in chancery, drawn by an excellent but somewhat indolent lawyer. On glancing at it he exclaimed: 'Why, Brother Snap, how did you rake up energy enough to get up such a long bill?'
"'Dunno, Jedge,' replied the party addressed, squirming in his seat and uneasily scratching his head. The Judge unfolded and held up the bill. 'Astonishing, ain't it? Brother Snap did it. Wonderfuleh, Lincoln?'
"This amounted to an order on Lincoln for a joke at this point, and he was ready, of coursehe had to be; he never failed. 'It's like the lazy preacher,' drawled he, 'that used to write long sermons, and the explanation was, he got to writin' and was too lazy to stop.'"
Here is a scene from the circuit graphically described by Whitney: "In the evening all assembled in the Judge's room, where the blazing fagots were piled high and the yule-log was in place, and there were no strays there, although the door was not locked. Davis's methods were known, and his companions well-defined, and if a novice came he soon found out both. For instance, an unsophisticated person might become attracted to the Judge's room by our noise, supposing it to be 'free for all.' If Davis wanted him he was warmly welcomed, the fatted calf was killed, and the ring put on his finger; but if he was really not desired he was frozen out by the Judge thus: 'Ah, stop a minute, Lincoln! Have you some business, Mr. Dusenberry?' If Mr. Dusenberry should venture, 'Well, no! I came designin'" Davis would interrupt him: 'Swett, take Mr. Dusenberry out into the hall and see what he wants, and come right back yourself, Swett. Shut the door. Now, go ahead, Lincoln! You got as far asha! ha! ha! "She slid down the hill, and" But wait for Swett. Swett! Swett!' called he. 'Hill' (to Lamon), 'call Swett in. Now, Lincoln, go ahead' (and so forth). 'She slid down the hill, you know. Ho! ho! ho!' Any one who knew Davis would recognize this. This was a characteristic scene with Lincoln as the headpiece, though we often discussed philosophy, politics, and other human interests."
Lincoln's guileless exterior concealed a great fund of shrewdness and common sense about ordinary matters, as well as genius in the higher realms.
"I remember once," writes Whitney, "that while several of us lawyers were together, including Judge Davis, Lincoln suddenly asked a novel question regarding court practice, addressed to no one particularly, to which the Judge, who was in the habit certainly of appropriating his full share of any conversation, replied, stating what he understood the practice should be. Lincoln thereat laughed and said: 'I asked that question, hoping that you would answer. I have that very question to present to the court in the morning, and I am very glad to find out that the court is on my side.'"
A long letter about a law case, containing a desire to retain him, he returned with the endorsement: "Count me in. A. Lincoln."
His first pair of spectacles, which he purchased in a small shop in Bloomington, with the remark that he "had got to be forty-seven years old and kinder needed them," cost him thirty-seven and a half cents.
At one o'clock, on a night after Lincoln had been away for a week, his Springfield neighbor heard the sound of an ax. Looking out of his window, he saw Lincoln in the moonlight chopping wood for his solitary supper.
"We had concluded a murder case," writes Whitney, "once in Champaign at noon, in which we had no chance of acquittal, and hoped the jury would disagree. In the afternoon a young lawyer from another county was making a rousing speech in a whisky-selling case, although there was nothing to talk about; but the chap was 'wound up' for a big speech and he couldn't stop till he had run down. We were in one corner of the court-room, anxiously hoping that our jury, which still remained out, would stay so, and finally disagree. Meanwhile, we were bored and amused at the Demosthenean effort going on in a plain case of selling whisky. 'I wish that fellow would stop,' said Lincoln. 'I am afraid our jury will agree for the sake of getting in to hear his speech.'
"At the White House once I was regaling him with local news from Champaign (which he was always ready to hear), and I said, 'Blank is dead; his extremely disloyal sentiments so provoked his neighbors that there was serious talk of inflicting vengeance on him, and he was found dead in bedcaused largely by fright.' This man was an old Whig friend of Lincoln, but the reason of his exit from life's trials amused him. His comment was, 'He died, then, to save his life, it seems.'"
Whitney says that one of the most obvious of Mr. Lincoln's peculiarities was his dissimilitude of qualities, or inequality of conduct, his dignity of deportment and action, interspersed with freaks of frivolity and inanity; his high inspiration and achievement, and his descent into the most primitive vales of listlessness and the most ridiculous buffoonery.
Lincoln once told this story: A balloon ascension occurred in New Orleans "befo' da wa'," and after sailing in the air for several hours the aeronaut, who was arrayed in silks and spangles like a circus-performer, descended in a cotton-field, where a gang of slaves were at work. The frightened negroes took to the woodsall but one venerable man, who was rheumatic and could not run, and who, as the resplendent aeronaut approached, having apparently just dropped from heaven, said, "Good mornin', Massa Jesus; how's yo' pa?"
A New York firm applied to Lincoln some years before he became President for information as to the financial standing of one of his neighbors. This was the answer:
"Yours of the 10th received. First of all, he has a wife and baby; together they ought to be worth $500,000 to any man. Secondly, he has an office in which there is a table worth $1.50 and three chairs worth, say, $1. Last of all, there is in one corner a large rat-hole, which will bear looking into.
While walking along a dusty road in Illinois in his circuit days Lincoln was overtaken by a stranger driving to town. "Will you have the goodness to take my overcoat to town for me?" asked Lincoln. "With pleasure; but how will you get it again?" "Oh, very readily. I intend to remain in it," was Lincoln's prompt reply.
"Billy," he said to his partner Herndon, "over sixteen years together, and we have not had a cross word during all that time, have we?"
"Don't take the sign down, Billy; let it swing, that our clients may understand that the election of a President makes no change in the firm of Lincoln & Herndon. If I live, I'm coming back, and we will go right on practicing law as if nothing had ever happened." Then the two went down the stairs and across the town to the railroad station, Lincoln never to return alive.
|Lincoln's Own Stories|