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The everyday life of Abraham Lincoln-5

Article by Jerry Como

While in Crawford’s school the lad wrote his first compositions. The exercise was not required by the teacher, but, as Nat Grigsby has said, “he took it up on his own account.” At first he wrote only short sentences against cruelty to animals, but at last came forward with a regular composition on the subject. He was annoyed and pained by the conduct of the boys who were in the habit of catching terrapins and putting coals of fire on their backs. “He would chide us,” says Grigsby, “tell us it was wrong, and would write against it.”

One who has had the privilege of looking over some of the boyish possessions of Lincoln says: “Among the most touching relics which I saw was an old copy-book in which, at the age of fourteen, Lincoln had taught himself to write and cipher. Scratched in his boyish hand on the first page were these lines:Abraham Lincoln his hand and pen. he will be good but god knows When”

14The boy’s thirst for learning was not to be satisfied with the meagre knowledge furnished in the miserable schools he was able to attend at long intervals. His step-mother says: “He read diligently. He read everything he could lay his hands on, and when he came across a passage that struck him he would write it down on boards, if he had no paper, and keep it until he had got paper. Then he would copy it, look at it, commit it to memory, and repeat it. He kept a scrap-book into which he copied everything which particularly pleased him.” Mr. Arnold further states: “There were no libraries and but few books in the back settlements in which Lincoln lived. If by chance he heard of a book that he had not read he would walk miles to borrow it. Among other volumes borrowed from Crawford was Weems’s Life of Washington. He read it with great earnestness. He took it to bed with him in the loft and read till his ‘nubbin’ of candle burned out. Then he placed the book between the logs of the cabin, that it might be near as soon as it was light enough in the morning to read. In the night a heavy rain came up and he awoke to find his book wet through and through. Drying it as well as he could, he went to Crawford and told him of the mishap. As he had no money to pay for the injured book, he offered to work out the value of it. Crawford fixed the price at three days’ work, and the future President pulled corn for three days, thus becoming owner of the coveted volume.” In addition to this, he was fortunate enough to get hold of Æsop’s Fables, Pilgrim’s Progress, and the lives of Benjamin Franklin and Henry Clay. He made these books his own by conning them over and over, copying the more impressive portions until they were firmly fixed in his memory. Commenting upon the value of this sort of mental training, Dr. Holland wisely remarks: “Those who have witnessed the dissipating effect of many books upon the minds of modern children do not find it hard to believe that Abraham Lincoln’s 15poverty of books was the wealth of his life. The few he had did much to perfect the teaching which his mother had begun, and to form a character which for quaint simplicity, earnestness, truthfulness, and purity, has never been surpassed among the historic personages of the world.”

It may well have been that Lincoln’s lack of books and the means of learning threw him upon his own resources and led him into those modes of thought, of quaint and apt illustration and logical reasoning, so peculiar to him. At any rate, it is certain that books can no more make a character like Lincoln than they can make a poet like Shakespeare.”By books may Learning sometimes befall, But Wisdom never by books at all,”—

a saying peculiarly true of a man such as Lincoln.

A testimonial to the influence of this early reading upon his childish mind was given by Lincoln himself many years afterwards. While on his way to Washington to assume the duties of the Presidency he passed through Trenton, New Jersey, and in a speech made in the Senate Chamber at that place he said: “May I be pardoned if, upon this occasion, I mention that away back in my childhood, in the earliest days of my being able to read, I got hold of a small book—such a one as few of the younger members have seen, Weems’s Life of Washington. I remember all the accounts there given of the battle-fields and struggles for the liberties of the country; and none fixed themselves upon my imagination so deeply as the struggle here at Trenton. The crossing of the river, the contest with the Hessians, the great hardships endured at that time, all fixed themselves in my memory more than any single Revolutionary event; and you all know, for you have all been boys, how these early impressions last longer than any others. I recollect thinking then, boy even 16though I was, that there must have been something more than common that these men struggled for. I am exceedingly anxious that that thing which they struggled for, that something even more than National Independence, that something that held out a great promise to all the people of the world for all time to come, I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people, shall be perpetuated in accordance with the original idea for which that struggle was made.”

Another incident in regard to the ruined volume which Lincoln had borrowed from Crawford is related by Mr. Lamon. “For a long time,” he says, “there was one person in the neighborhood for whom Lincoln felt a decided dislike, and that was Josiah Crawford, who had made him pull fodder for three days to pay for Weems’s Washington. On that score he was hurt and mad, and declared he would have revenge. But being a poor boy, a fact of which Crawford had already taken shameful advantage when he extorted three days’ labor, Abe was glad to get work anywhere, and frequently hired out to his old adversary. His first business in Crawford’s employ was daubing the cabin, which was built of unhewn logs with the bark on. In the loft of this house, thus finished by his own hands, he slept for many weeks at a time. He spent his evenings as he did at home,—writing on wooden shovels or boards with ‘a coal, or keel, from the branch.’ This family was rich in the possession of several books, which Abe read through time and again, according to his usual custom. One of the books was the ‘Kentucky Preceptor,’ from which Mrs. Crawford insists that he ‘learned his school orations, speeches, and pieces to write.’ She tells us also that ‘Abe was a sensitive lad, never coming where he was not wanted’; that he always lifted his hat, and bowed, when he made his appearance; and that ‘he was tender and kind,’ like his sister, who was at the same time her maid-of-all-work. His pay was twenty-five cents a day; ‘and when 17he missed time, he would not charge for it.’ This latter remark of Mrs. Crawford reveals the fact that her husband was in the habit of docking Abe on his miserable wages whenever he happened to lose a few minutes from steady work. The time came, however, when Lincoln got his revenge for all this petty brutality. Crawford was as ugly as he was surly. His nose was a monstrosity—long and crooked, with a huge mis-shapen stub at the end, surmounted by a host of pimples, and the whole as blue as the usual state of Mr. Crawford’s spirits. Upon this member Abe levelled his attacks, in rhyme, song, and chronicle; and though he could not reduce the nose he gave it a fame as wide as to the Wabash and the Ohio. It is not improbable that he learned the art of making the doggerel rhymes in which he celebrated Crawford’s nose from the study of Crawford’s own ‘Kentucky Preceptor.'”

Lincoln’s sister Sarah was warmly attached to him, but was taken from his companionship at an early age. It is said that her face somewhat resembled his, that in repose it had the gravity which they both inherited from their mother, but it was capable of being lighted almost into beauty by one of her brother’s ridiculous stories or sallies of humor. She was a modest, plain, industrious girl, and was remembered kindly by all who knew her. She was married to Aaron Grigsby at eighteen, and died a year later. Like her brother, she occasionally worked at the houses of the neighbors. She lies buried, not with her mother, but in the yard of the old Pigeon Creek meeting-house.

A story which belongs to this period was told by Lincoln himself to Mr. Seward and a few friends one evening in the Executive Mansion at Washington. The President said: “Seward, you never heard, did you, how I earned my first dollar?” “No,” rejoined Mr. Seward. “Well,” continued Mr. Lincoln, “I belonged, you know, to what they call down South the ‘scrubs.’ We had succeeded in raising, chiefly by my labor, sufficient 18produce, as I thought, to justify me in taking it down the river to sell. After much persuasion, I got the consent of mother to go, and constructed a little flatboat, large enough to take a barrel or two of things that we had gathered, with myself and the bundle, down to the Southern market. A steamer was coming down the river. We have, you know, no wharves on the Western streams; and the custom was, if passengers were at any of the landings, for them to go out in a boat, the steamer stopping and taking them on board. I was contemplating my new flatboat, and wondering whether I could make it stronger or improve it in any way, when two men came down to the shore in carriages with trunks. Looking at the different boats, they singled out mine and asked, ‘Who owns this?’ I answered somewhat modestly, ‘I do.’ ‘Will you take us and our trunks to the steamer?’ asked one of them. ‘Certainly,’ said I. I was glad to have the chance of earning something. I supposed that each of them would give me two or three bits. The trunks were put on my flatboat, the passengers seated themselves on the trunks, and I sculled them out to the steamer. They got on board, and I lifted up their heavy trunks and put them on the deck. The steamer was about to put on steam again, when I called out to them that they had forgotten to pay me. Each man took from his pocket a silver half-dollar and threw it into the bottom of my boat. I could scarcely believe my eyes. Gentlemen, you may think it a little thing, and in these days it seems to me a trifle; but it was a great event in my life. I could scarcely credit that I, a poor boy, had earned a dollar in less than a day,—that by honest work I had earned a dollar. The world seemed wider and fairer to me. I was a more hopeful and confident being from that time.”

About the Author

Jerry Como is a photography nut. He has created a blog that can lead you to the best camera tripods of the market so click on camera tripod.

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