No reminiscence of the late President
has been given to the public more thoroughly valuable and characteristic than a sketch which appeared in the New York Independent of September 1st, 1864,
from the pen of the Rev. J. P. Gulliver
, of Norwich, Connecticut
It was just after his controversy with Douglas, and some months before the meeting of the Chicago Convention of 1860, that Mr. Lincoln came to Norwich to make a political speech.
It was in substance the famous speech delivered in New York, commencing with the noble words: “There is but one political question before the people of this country, which is this, Is slavery right, or is it wrong?”
and ending with the yet nobler words: “Gentlemen, it has been said of the world's history hitherto that “might makes right;” it is for us and for our times to reverse the maxim, and to show that right makes might!”
The next morning I met him at the railroad station, where he was conversing with our Mayor, every few minutes looking up the track and inquiring, half impatiently and half quizzically, “Where's that ” wagon “ of yours?
Why don't the ” wagon “ come along?”
On being introduced to him, he fixed his eyes upon me, and said: “I have seen you before, sir!”
“I think not,” I replied; “you must mistake me for some other person.”
“No, I don't; I saw you at the Town Hall, last evening.”
“Is it possible, Mr. Lincoln, that you could observe individuals so closely in such a crowd?”
he replied, laughing; “that is my way. I don't forget faces.
Were you not there?”
“I was, sir, and I was well paid for going;” adding, somewhat
in the vein of pleasantry he had started, “I consider it one of the most extraordinary speeches I ever heard.”
As we entered the cars, he beckoned me to take a seat with him, and said, in a most agreeably frank way, “Were you sincere in what you said about my speech just now?”
“I meant every word of it, Mr. Lincoln.
Why, an old dyedin-the-wool Democrat, who sat near me, applauded you repeatedly; and, when rallied upon his conversion to sound principles, answered, “I don't believe a word he says, but I can't help clapping him, he is so pat!”
That I call the triumph of oratory,--
When you convince a man against his will, Indeed, sir, I learned more of the art of public speaking last evening than I could from a whole course of lectures on Rhetoric.”
“Ah! That reminds me,” said he, “of a most extraordinary circumstance which occurred in New Haven the other day. They told me that the Professor of Rhetoric in Yale College,--a very learned man, isn't he?”
“Yes, sir, and a fine critic too.”
“Well, I suppose so; he ought to be, at any rate,--they told me that he came to hear me, and took notes of my speech, and gave a lecture on it to his class the next day; and, not satisfied with that, he followed me up to Meriden the next evening,
and heard me again for the same purpose.
Now, if this is so, it is to my mind very extraordinary.
I have been sufficiently astonished at my success in the West.
It has been most unexpected.
But I had no thought of any marked success at the East, and least of all that I should draw out such commendations from literary and learned men. Now,” he continued, “I should like very much to know what it was in my speech you thought so remarkable, and what you suppose interested my friend, the Professor, so much.”
“The clearness of your statements, Mr. Lincoln; the unanswerable style of your reasoning, and especially your illustrations, which were romance and pathos, and fun and logic all welded together.
That story about the snakes, for example, which set the hands and feet of your Democratic hearers in such vigorous motion, was at once queer and comical, and tragic and argumentative.
It broke through all the barriers of a man's previous opinions and prejudices at a crash, and blew up the very citadel of his false theories before he could know what had hurt him.”
“Can you remember any other illustrations,” said he, “of this peculiarity of my style?”
I gave him others of the same sort, occupying some half-hour in the critique, when he said: “I am much obliged to you for this.
I have been wishing for a long time to find some one who would make this analysis for me. It throws light on a
subject which has been dark to me. I can understand very readily how such a power as you have ascribed to me will account for the effect which seems to be produced by my speeches.
I hope you have not been too flattering in your estimate.
Certainly, I have had a most wonderful success, for a man of my limited education.”
“That suggests, Mr. Lincoln, an inquiry which has several times been upon my lips during this conversation.
I want very much to know how you got this unusual power of “putting things.”
It must have been a matter of education.
No man has it by nature alone.
What has your education been?”
“Well, as to education, the newspapers are correct; I never went to school more than six months in my life.
But, as you say, this must be a product of culture in some form.
I have been putting the question you ask me to myself, while you have been talking.
I can say this, that among my earliest recollections I remember how, when a mere child, I used to get irritated when any body talked to me in a way I could not understand.
I don't think I ever got angry at anything else in my life.
But that always disturbed my temper, and has ever since.
I can remember going to my little bedroom, after hearing the neighbors talk of an evening with my father, and spending no small part of the night walking up and down, and trying to make out what was the exact meaning of some of
their, to me, dark sayings.
I could not sleep, though I often tried to, when I got on such a hunt after an idea, until I had caught it; and when I thought I had got it, I was not satisfied until I had repeated it over and over, until I had put it in language plain enough, as I thought, for any boy I knew to comprehend.
This was a kind of passion with me, and it has stuck by me; for I am never easy now, when I am handling a thought, till I have bounded it North, and bounded it South, and bounded it East, and bounded it West.
Perhaps that accounts for the characteristic you observe in my speeches, though I never put the two things together before.”
“Mr. Lincoln, I thank you for this.
It is the most splendid educational fact I ever happened upon.
This is genius, with all its impulsive, inspiring, dominating power over the mind of its possessor, developed by education into talent, with its uniformity, its permanence, and its disciplined strength,--always ready, always available, never capricious,--the highest possession of the human intellect.
But, let me ask, did you prepare for your profession?”
I “read law,” as the phrase is; that is, I became a lawyer's clerk in Springfield, and copied tedious documents, and picked up what I could of law in the intervals of other work.
But your question reminds me of a bit of education I had, which I am bound in honesty to mention.
the course of my law-reading, I constantly came upon the word demonstrate. I thought at first that I understood its meaning, but soon became satisfied that I did not. I said to myself, “What do I mean when I demonstrate more than when I reason or prove? How does demonstration differ from any other proof?”
I consulted Webster's Dictionary.
That told of “certain proof,” “proof beyond the possibility of doubt;” but I could form no idea what sort of proof that was. I thought a great many things were proved beyond a possibility of doubt, without recourse to any such extraordinary process of reasoning as I understood “demonstration” to be. I consulted all the dictionaries and books of reference I could find, but with no better results.
You might as well have defined blue to a blind man. At last I said, “Lincoln, you can never make a lawyer if you do not understand what demonstrate means;” and I left my situation in Springfield, went home to my father's house, and stayed there till I could give any proposition in the six books of Euclid at sight.
I then found out what “demonstrate” means, and went back to my law-studies.”
I could not refrain from saying, in my admiration at such a development of character and genius combined: “Mr. Lincoln, your success is no longer a marvel.
It is the legitimate result of adequate causes.
You deserve it all, and a great deal more.
If you will permit me, I would like to use this fact
It will be most valuable in inciting our young men to that patient classical and mathematical culture which most minds absolutely require.
No man can talk well unless he is able first of all to define to himself what he is talking about.
Euclid, well studied, would free the world of half its calamities, by banishing half the nonsense which now deludes and curses it. I have often thought that Euclid would be one of the best books to put on the catalogue of the Tract Society, if they could only get people to read it. It would be a means of grace.”
“I think so,” said he, laughing; “I vote for Euclid.”
Just then a gentleman entered the car who was well known as a very ardent friend of Douglas.
Being a little curious to see how Mr. Lincoln would meet him, I introduced him after this fashion:-- “Mr. Lincoln, allow me to introduce Mr. L-, a very particular friend of your particular friend, Mr. Douglas.”
He at once took his hand in a most cordial manner, saying: “I have no doubt you think you are right, sir.”
This hearty tribute to the honesty of a political opponent, with the manner of doing it, struck me as a beautiful exhibition of a large-hearted charity, of which we see far too little in this debating, fermenting world.
As we neared the end of our journey, Mr. Lincoln turned to me very pleasantly, and said: “I want to thank you for this conversation.
enjoyed it very much.”
I replied, referring to some stalwart denunciations he had just been uttering of the demoralizing influences of Washington upon Northern politicians in respect to the slavery question, “Mr. Lincoln, may I say one thing to you before we separate?”
“Certainly, anything you please.”
“You have just spoken of the tendency of political life in Washington to debase the moral convictions of our representatives there by the admixture of considerations of mere political expediency.
You have become, by the controversy with Mr. Douglas, one of our leaders in this great struggle with slavery, which is undoubtedly the struggle of the nation and the age. What I would like to say is this, and I say it with a full heart, Be true to your principles and we will be true to you, and God will be true to us all!”
His homely face lighted up instantly with a beaming expression, and taking my hand warmly in both of his, he said: “I say Amen to that — Amen to that!”
There is a deep excavation in the rock shown to visitors, among the White Mountains, into which one of the purest of the mountain streams pours itself, known as “The pool.”
As you stand by its side at an ordinary time you look down upon a mass of impenetrable green, lying like a rich emerald in a setting of granite upon the bosom of the mountain.
But occasionally the noon-day sun darts through it a vertical ray which penetrates to its
very bottom, and shows every configuration of the varied interior.
I felt at that moment that a ray had darted down to the bottom of Abraham Lincoln's heart, and that I could see the whole.
It seemed to me as beautiful as that emerald pool, and as pure.
I have never forgotten that glimpse.
When the strange revocation came of the most rational and reasonable proclamation of Fremont,-- “The slaves of Rebels shall be set free,” --I remembered that hearty “Amen,” and stifled my rising apprehensions.
I remembered it in those dark days when McClellan, Nero-like, was fiddling on James River, and Pope was being routed before Washington, and the report came that a prominent Cabinet Minister had boasted that he had succeeded in preventing the issue of the Emancipation Proclamation; I said: “Abraham Lincoln will prove true yet.”
And he has! God bless him!
he has. Slow, if you please, but true.
Unimpassioned, if you please, but true. Jocose, trifling, if you please, but true. Reluctant to part with unworthy official advisers, but true himself--true as steel! I could wish him less a man of facts, and more a man of ideas.
I could wish him more stern and more vigorous: but every man has his faults, and still I say: Amen to Abraham Lincoln! 1
Though he is of the same opinion still.