Chapter 5

  1. Herndon and Weik, Herndon's Life of Lincoln, 120.

    “…his training had been different from mine; hence there was not that congeniality which would have otherwise existed.”  

    A slightly more complete quote from Herndon reads: "I think I did on one occasion say to my sister, who was very anxious for us to be married, that I thought Mr. Lincoln was deficient in those little links which made up the chain of women's happiness-at least it was so in my case.   Not that I believed it proceeded from a lack of goodness of heart, but his training had been different from mine; hence there was not that congeniality which would other wise have existed."

  2. Herndon, Life of Lincoln, 116.

“…she lingered long enough to make an impression on Lincoln.”

A slightly more complete from quote from Herndon reads: "Lincoln was a frequent visitor at the house of Able, and a warm friend of the family.   During the visit of Miss Owens in 1833, though only remaining a month, she lingered long enough to make an impression on Lincoln; but returned to Kentucky and did not reappear in New Salem till 1836."

  1. Lincoln, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, vol. 1, 117.

“…saw no good objection to plodding life through hand in hand with her.”

A more complete from Lincoln, writing to Mrs. Orville H. Browning, April 1836:   “It was then, in the Autumn of 1836, that a married lady of my acquaintance, and who was a great friend of mine, being about to pay a visit to her father and other relatives residing in Kentucky, proposed to me, that on her return she would bring a sister of hers with her, upon condition that I would engage to become her brother-in-law with all convenient dispatch.   I, of course, accepted the proposal; for you know I could not have done otherwise, had I really been adverse to it; but privately between you and me, I was most confoundedly well pleased with the project.   I had seen the said sister some three years before, thought her intelligent and agreeable, and saw no good objection to plodding life through   hand in hand with her."

  1. Herndon, Life of Lincoln, 118.

“If Mary Owens ever returned to Illinois a second time, he would marry her.”

A slightly more complete quote from Herndon reads: "One of Miss Owens' descendants is authority for the statement that Lincoln had boasted that 'if Mary Owens ever returned to Illinois a second time he would marry her;' that a report of this came to her ears, whereupon she left her Kentucky home with a pre-determination to show him if she met him that she was not to be caught simply be the asking.   On this second visit Lincoln paid her more marked attention than before, and his affections became more and more enlisted in her behalf.   During the earlier part of their acquaintance, following the natural bent of her temperament she was pleasing and entertaining to him.   Later on he discovered himself seriously interested in the blue-eyed Kentuckian, whom he had really underestimated in his preconceived opinions of her.”

  1. Reep, Lincoln at New Salem, 83.

“True to his word, Lincoln called upon the young lady; [but] instead of the slender, blooming maiden of his former acquaintance, he found a mature woman with an over-abundance of adipose tissue.”

A slightly more complete quote reads: "Among Lincoln's intimate friends, were Dr. Bennett Abell and his wife, Elizabeth who lived near New Salem.   Mrs. Abell's maiden name was Owens and she was born and reared in the state of Kentucky.   Her sister, Mary, had visited Mrs. Abell a year or two before, and Lincoln had met her.   On an occasion a year after Ann Rutledge's death, when Lincoln delivered a letter to Mrs. Abell, she told him the letter was from her sister, Mary, and that she was shortly to go to Kentucky for a visit and was going to bring Mary back with her with the hope and expectation that Lincoln would become her brother-in-law; that he had reached the age and time of life when he needed a wife to make a home for him, and Lincoln, falling in with her suggestion, stated that if she would do this and he did not become her brother -in-law, it would be through no fault of his.   In due time, the trip was made and Mrs. Abell returned, her sister accompanying her.   True to his word, Lincoln called upon the young lady.   Instead of the slender, blooming maiden of his former acquaintance, he found a mature woman with an over-abundance of adipose tissue and with teeth indicating an excessive use of sweets."

  1. Herndon, Life of Lincoln, 119.

“Really, [Mr. Herndon,] you catechize me in true lawyer style.”

A letter to Herndon from Mary S. Vineyard reads: "My Dear Sir:   Really, you catechise me in true lawyer style; but I feel you will have the goodness to excuse me if I decline answering all your questions in detail, being well assured that few women could have ceded as much as I have under all the circumstances.

You say you have heard why our acquaintance terminated as it did.   I too have heard the same bit of gossip; but I never used the remark which Madame Rumor says I did to Mr. Lincoln.   I think I did on one occasion say to my sister, who was very anxious for us to be married, that I thought Mr. Lincoln was deficient in those little links which made up the chain of woman/s happiness-at least it was so in my case."

  1. Herndon, Life of Lincoln, 121; Hertz, The Hidden Lincoln, 302.

“We never had any hard feelings towards each other that I know of….[Yet] I thought him lacking in smaller attentions. Once circumstance presents itself just now to my mind’s eye. There was a company of us going up to Uncle Billy Greene’s. Mr. Lincoln was riding with me, and we had a very bad branch to cross.   The other gentlemen were very officious in seeing that their partners got safely over. We were behind, he riding in, never looking back to see how I got along. When I rode up beside him, I remarked, “You are a nice fellow! I suppose you did not care whether my neck was broken or not.” He laughingly replied (I suppose by way of compliment), that he knew I was plenty smart to take care of myself.

In many things he was sensitive almost to a fault. He told me of an incident: that he was crossing a prairie one day and saw before him, “a hog mired down,” to use his own language. He was rather “fixed up,” and he resolved that he would pass on without looking at the shoat. After he had gone by, he said the feeling was irresistible; and he had to look back, and the poor thing seemed to say wistfully, “There now, my last hope is gone.”; that he deliberately got down and relieved it from its difficulty.”

From Herndon: As I said to you in a former letter, I thought him lacking in smaller attentions.   One circumstance presents itself just now to my mind's eye.   there was a company of us going to Uncle Billy Greene's.   Mr. Lincoln was riding with me, and we had a very bad branch to cross.   The other gentlemen were very officious in seeing that their partners got safely over.   We were behind, he riding in, never looking back to see how I got along.   When I rode up beside him , I remarked, 'You are a nice fellow!   I suppose you did not care whether my neck was broken or not.'   He laughingly replied (I suppose by way of compliment), that he knew I was plenty smart to take care of myself..

                In many things he was sensitive almost to a fault.   He told me of an incident: that he was crossing a prairie one day and saw before him, 'a hog mired down,' to use his own language.   He was rather 'fixed up,' and he resolved that he would pass on without looking at the shoat.   After he had gone by, he said the feeling was irresistible; and he had to look back, and the poor thing seemed to say wistfully, 'There now, my last hope is gone'; that he deliberately got down and relieved it from its difficulty."

  1. Herndon, Life of Lincoln, 120; Lamon, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, 174.

  2. From the handwritten original, with all spellings, dashes, cross-outs, punctuation, and emphases retained as closely as possible.   Particular credit is due John Rhodehamel, Norris Foundation curator and of American History at the Huntington Library, for his detection of details of words and phrases in the letter through careful paper and light examinations.

“To Mrs. Orville H. Browning

Springfield, April 1, 1838

Dear Madam:

Without apologising for being egotistical, I shall make the history of so much of my own life, as has elapsed since I saw you, the subject of this letter--And by the way I now discover, that, in order to give a full and intelligible account of the things I have done and suffered since I saw you, I shall necessarily have to relate some that has happened before—

It was, then, in the autumn of 1836, that a married lady of my acquaintance, and who was a great friend of mine, who being about to pay a visit to her father and other relatives residing in Kentucky, proposed to me, that on her return she would bring a sister of hers with her, upon condition that I would engage to become her brother-in-law with all convenient dispatch—I, of course, accepted the proposal; for you know I could not have done otherwise, had I really been adverse to it; but privately between you and me, I was most confoundedly well pleased with the project—I had seen that said sister some three years before, thought her intelligent and agreeable, and saw no good objection to plodding through life hand in hand with her—Time passed on, the lady took her journey, and in due time returned, sister in company sure enough—This stomached me a little; for it appeared to me, that her coming so readily showed that she was a trifle too willing; but on reflection it occurred to me, that she might have been prevailed upon by her married sister to come, without any thing concerning me ever having been mentioned to her; and so I concluded that if no other objection presented itself, I would consent to wave this—All this occurred on my   hearing of her arrival in the neighborhood; for, be it remembered, I had not yet seen her, except about three years previous, as before mentioned—

In a few days before we had an interview, and although I had seen her before, she did not look as my imagination had pictured her –I knew she was oversize, but she now appeared a fair match for Falstaff; I knew she was called an “old maid”, and I felt no doubt of at least half of the appellation; but now, when I beheld her, I could not for my life avoid thinking of my mother, and this, not from withered features, for her skin was too full of fat to permit its contracting into wrinkles; but from her want of teeth, and weather-beaten appearance in general, and from a kind of notion that ran in my head, that nothing could have commenced at the size of infancy, and reached her present bulk in thirty-five or forty years; and, in short, I was not all pleased with her—But what could I do? I told her sister that I would take her for better or for worse; and I made a point of honor and conscience in all things, to stick to my word, especially if others had been induced to act on it, which in this case, I doubted not they had, for I was now fairly convinced, that no other man on earth would have her, and hence the conclusion that they were bent on holding me to my   bargain—Well, thought I, I have said it, and, be consequences what they may; it shall not be my fault if I fail to do it—At once I determined to consider her my wife; and this done, all my powers of discovery were put to the rack, in search of perfections in her, which might be fairly set-ff against defects—I tried to imagine she was handsome, which, but for her unfortunate corpulency, was actually true—Exclusive of this, no woman that I have seen has a finer face—I also tried to convince myself that the mind was much more to be valued than the person; and in this, she was not inferior, as I could discover, to   any with whom I had been acquainted—

Shortly after this, without attempting to come to any positive understanding with her, I set out for Vandia, where and when you first saw me—During my stay there, I had letters from her, which did not change my opinion either of her intellect or intention; but on the contrary, confirmed it in both—

All this while, although I was fixed “firm as the surge repelling rock,” in my resolution, I found I was continually repenting the rashness, which had led me to make it—Through life I had been in no bondage, either real or imaginary from the thralldom of which I so much desired to be free—

After my return home, I saw nothing to change my opinion of her in any particular—She was the same and so was I—I now spent my time between planning how I might get along through life after my contemplated change of circumstances should have taken place; and how I might procrastinate the evil day for a time, which I really dreaded as much—perhaps more than an Irishman does the halter—

After all my suffering upon this deeply interesting subject, here I am, wholly unexpectedly, completely out of the “scrape”; and I now want to know, if   you can guess how I got out of it—Out clear in ever sense of the term; no violation of word, honor, or conscience—I don’t believe you can guess, and so I may as well tell you at once—As the lawyers say, it was done in the manner following, towit—After I had delayed the matter as long as I thought I could in honor do, which by the way had brought me ‘round to this last fall, I concluded I might as well bring it to a consummation without further delay; and so I mustered my resolution, and made the proposal to her direct; but, shocking to relate, she answered, No—At first I suppose she did it through an affectation of modesty, which I thought but ill-became her, under the peculiar circumstances of her case; but on my renewal of the charge, I found she repelled it, with greater firmness than before—I tried it again and again, but with the same success, or rather with the same want of success—I finally was forced to give it up, and which I very unexpectedly   found myself mortified almost beyond endurance—I was mortified, it seemed to me, in a hundred different ways—My vanity was deeply wounded by the reflection, that I had so long been too stupid to discover her intentions, and at the same time, never doubting that I understood them perfectly; and also, that she whom I had taught myself to believe nobody else would have, had actually rejected me with all my fancied greatness; and to cap the whole, I then, for the first time, began to suspect that I was really a little in love with her—But let it all go—I’ll try and out live it—Others have been made fools of by the girls; but this can never be with truth said of me—I most emphatically, in this instance, made a fool of myself—I have now come to the conclusion never again to think of marrying; and for this reason; I can never be satisfied with anyone who would be block-headed enough to have me—

When you receive this, write me a long yarn about something to amuse me—Give my respects to Mr. Browning—

Your sincere friend,

A. Lincoln”

  1. This and other Browning quotes are from Orville Browning himself, who on June 17, 1875, was interviewed by one of Lincoln's former secretaries, John Nicolay.   It became one of "The Springfield Interviews" now in An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln: John G, Nicolay's Interviews and Essays, edited by Michael Burlingame, page 4.

“[A] Boston gentleman who had been a publisher…came there to Washington…gathering material for a…..book about Mr. Lincoln. He came to see Mrs. Browning and said he had understood she had in her possession a very amusing letter written at an early day by Mr. Lincoln, and asked her to let him have it. Mrs. Browning, however, refused….

A few days after this interview she was at the White House, and mentioned the subject to Mr. Lincoln. He then, very much to her surprise told her that there was much more truth in that letter than she supposed, and told her he would rather she would not for the present give it to any one, as there were persons yet living who would be greatly pained by its publication.”

  1. Lamon, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, 180-81.

“For many reasons the publication of this letter is an extremely painful duty. If it could not be withheld, and the act decently reconciled to the conscience of a biographer professing to be honest and candid, it should never see light in these pages. Its grotesque humor, its coarse exaggerations in describing…a lady whom the writer was willing to marry, its of toothless and weather-beaten old age to a woman really young and handsome is [completely unacceptable].”

A slightly more complete quote reads: "With this for his excuse, Lincoln wrote her, after the adjournment of the Legislature, a full and connected account of the manner in which he had latterly been making 'a fool of' himself.   For many reasons the publication of this letter is an extremely painful duty.   If it could be withheld, and the act decently reconciled to the conscience of a biographer professing to be honest and candid, it should never see the light in these pages.   Its grotesque humor, its coarse exaggerations in describing the person of a lady whom the writer was willing to marry, its imputation of toothless and weather-beaten old age to a woman really young and handsome, its utter lack of delicacy and tone and sentiment which one naturally expects a gentleman to adopt when he thinks proper to discuss the merits of his late mistress,-all these, and its defective orthography, it would certainly be more agreeable to suppress than to publish."

  1. Reep, Lincoln at New Salem, 83.

“…an excessive use of sweets.”

A skightly more complete quote reads: "True to his word, Lincoln called upon the young lady.   Instead of the slender, blooming maiden of his former acquaintance, he found a mature woman with an over-abundance of adipose tissue and with teeth indicating an excessive use of sweets."

Also see footnote 5, Chapter 5.

  1. Burlingame, The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln, 138.

“…little filial devotion to the memory of a mother.”

A slightly more complete quote reads: "Writing to Mrs. Orville H. Browning about how Mary Owens had changed between the first time he saw her in 1836 and her return to Illinois after two years, Lincoln said, 'I could not for my life avoid thinking of my mother; and this, not from withered features, for her skin was too full of fat; but from her want of teeth, [and] weather-beaten appearance in general.'   The tone of this document suggests little filial devotion to the memory of a mother.   In his autobiographical sketches, Lincoln says much about his father's family but almost nothing about Nancy Hanks and hers.   he seldom if ever visited his mother's grave, nor did he have it marked with a stone.   Herndon thought Lincoln was ashamed of his mother's family."

  1. The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud, originally published in German (1905).   The present English edition (Modern Library) was translated and edited by A. A. Brill.   Book IV, cited here, is from "The Technique of Wit," parts II and III in Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious.   Heinecitation is on page 673 in all editions before 1995, and on page 641 in all subsequent editions and printings.   The plates are identical for all copies; however, the pagination was changed by the present publisher's decision to delete a useful thirty-two-page introduction by A. A. Brill.   Freud's writings-The Psychology of Wit, Psychopathology of Everyday Life, and most of his Interpretation of Dreams-unlike his psychiatry, fully hold up to this day.

“This woman resembles the Venus de Milo in many points. Like her, she is extremely old, has no teeth, and has white spots on the yellow surface of her body.”

  1. Whitney, Life on the Circuit With Lincoln, 174.

“In our walks about the little towns where courts were held, he saw ludicrous elements in everything, and could either narrate some story from his storehouse of jokes, else he could improvise one; he saw the ludicrous in an assemblage of fowls, in a man spading his garden, in a clothes-line full of clothes, in a group of boys, in a lot of pigs rooting at a mill   door, in a mother duck learning her brood to swim; in any thing and everything Lincoln saw some ludicrous incident.”

A slightly more complete quote reads: "His powers as a story-teller can never be appreciated by those who did not know him personally.   In our walks about the little towns where courts were held, he saw ludicrous elements in everything, and could either narrate some story from his storehouse of jokes, else he could improvise one; he saw the ludicrous in an assemblage of fouls, in a man spending spading his garden, in a clothes-line full of clothes, in a group of boys, in a lot of pigs rooting at a mill door, in a mother duck learning her brood to swim; in anything and everything Lincoln saw some ludicrous incident; but his wit never wounded anyone; his stories had no barb or sting, and did not leave upon the hearer any impression that the narrator was either trifling, frivolous or light-minded."

  1. Rice, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, 1909 ed., 240.   From Titland J. Coffey's contribution.

“They presented their case as earnestly as possible, and, besides his fitness for the place, they urged that he was in bad health, and a residence in a balmy climate would be of great benefit to him.”

A slightly more complete quote reads: "They presented their case as earnestly as possible, and , besides his fitness for the place, they urged that he was in bad health, and a residence in that balmy climate would be of great benefit to him.   The President closed the interview with this discouraging remark:

'Gentlemen, I am sorry to say that there are eight other applicants for that place, and they are all sicker than your man.'"

  1. Rice, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, 1909 ed., 240.

“Gentlemen, I am sorry to say there are eight other applicants for that place, and they are all sicker than your man.”

See note 16: "Gentlemen, I am sorry to say that there are eight other applicants for that place, and they are all sicker than your man."

  1. Herndon, Life of Lincoln, 479.

“…blushed and squirmed with the awkward diffidence of a schoolboy.”

A slightly more complete quote reads: "It startled the speaker and audience, and kindled a storm of unsuppressed laughter and applause.   Everyone looked back to ascertain the cause of the demonstration, and was greatly surprised to find that it was Mr. Lincoln.   He blushed and squirmed with the awkward diffidence of a schoolboy.   What prompted him to laugh no one was able to explain."

  1. Hertz, Hidden Lincoln, 415.  

“[Lincoln] was not impulsive, fanciful, or imaginative, but cold, calm, precise and exact. …Lincoln’s fault if any was that he saw things less than they really were;…less beautiful and more frigid. In his mental view he crushed the unreal, the inexact, the hollow and the sham….”

Anyone wishing to delve further into Herndon's rich thoughts and observations beyond their relatively narrow coverage here will find more in Emanuel Hertz's Hidden Lincoln, pages 412-16, and in Francis Carpenter, Six Months at the White House, pages 327-28.   Herndon also included more in his own biography of Lincoln, pages 475-76, although Weik seems to have edited out much of it.

A slightly more complete quote reads: "There was no diffraction or refraction there, in this man's brains; he was not impulsive, fanciful, pr imaginative but cold, calm, precise, and exact; he threw his whole mental light around the object seen or felt and in time, quality, substance, person, thing, stood apart; form and color and size took their appropriate places and all was keenly, clearly, and cleanly seen in perfect exactness in his mind.   Lincoln's fault if any was that he saw things or persons less than they really were; he stripped off all extraneous clothing from around them, made them less beautiful and more frigid.   In his mental view he crushed the unreal, the inexact, the hollow and the sham."

  1. Herndon, Life of Lincoln, 475.

“To some men the world of matter and of man comes ornamented with beauty, life, and action; and hence [is] more or less false and inexact.”

A slightly more complete quote reads: "Everything came to him in its precise shape and color.   to some men the world of matter and the world of man comes ornamented with beauty, life, and action; and hence more or less false and inexact.   No lurking illusion or other error, false in itself and clad for the moment in robes of splendor, ever passed undetected or unchallenged over the threshold of his mind – that point which divides vision from the realm and home of thought."

  1. Lincoln, Collected Works, vol. 1, 54.

Lincoln complains of his “mortification” at “looking in the Post-Office [every day] for your letter and not finding it.”

A slightly more complete quote reads: "I have been sick ever since my arrival here, or I should have written sooner.   It is but little difference, however, as I have very little even yet to write.   And more, the longer I can avoid the mortification of looking in the Post Office for your letter and not finding it, the better.   you see I am mad about that old letter yet.   I don't like very well to risk you again.   I'll try you once more anyhow."

 

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