Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

JAMES FREEMAN CLARKE.

345

I

ONCE had a long day's talk about Abraham Lincoln with a friend in Kentucky, Joshua F. Speed, who had lived in intimate relation with Lincoln when he was a young lawyer in Springfield, just beginning business. He said that every case he had took his whole interest and attention. Once he had to argue a case in which all depended on finding the right boundary for a piece of land on the prairie. There are no stones there for boundaries, and few trees, so the surveyors were in the habit of fixing the corners of the lots by shoveling. up a little heap of earth. But it happened that a prairie squirrel, or gopher, does the same thing. Hence it becomes important to distinguish between the mounds made by the surveyor and those made by the gopher. Lincoln sent to New York to get books to tell him of the habits of the gopher, brought them into court, showed the judge and jury how the gopher built his mound, how it differed from that of the surveyor, and after he had won his case, sat up late in the night still studying about the gopher, so as to be sure he knew all about him.

[ocr errors][merged small]

REPLY TO A COMPANY OF CLERGYMEN.

GENTLEMEN: My hope of success in this great and terrible struggle rests on that immutable foundation, the justice and goodness of God. And when events are very threatening and prospects very dark, I still hope in some way, which man cannot see, all will be well in the end, because our cause is just and God is on our side.

JAMES E. MURDOCH.

347

I

FIRST made Mr. Lincoln's acquaintance in 1860,

while in Springfield, Ill., on professional business. We met in the studio of my friend Mr. Thomas Jones, the sculptor, who was at that time modeling Mr. Lincoln's bust. The circumstances were favorable to a conversation on literary subjects, and I was charmed with the earnestness and originality exhibited in Mr. Lincoln's remarks and criticisms. His clear insight into characterization was apparent in the expression of his conception of the personalities of Falstaff and old Weller, who seemed to be especial favorites with him. He regarded old Weller as a sort of stage-coach embodiment or type of the Fat Knight, the latter being a tavern reflection, as it were, of the velvet-and-brocade or court side of wit and humor, and the other the familiar or road-side phase or expression of it; but both suggestive of "the cap-andbells," and furnishing the materials for wholesome merriment. Speaking of Dickens, he said that his works of fiction were so near the reality that the author seemed to him to have picked up his materials from actual life as he elbowed his way through its crowded thoroughfares, after the manner, in a certain sense, of Shakespeare himself. As there was but little of the metaphysical or speculative element in Mr. Lincoln's mind, though strong in practical philosophy, common sense, and clear moral intuitions, it was not difficult to understand and appreciate the preference he expressed, on this occasion, for the speech of King Claudius: "Oh! my offense is rank and smells to

heaven," over Hamlet's philosophical "To be or not to be." He expressed a wonder that actors should have laid so much stress on the thought contained in the latter soliloquy, and passed with such comparative indifference over the soul-searching expressions of the king, uttered under the stings of self-accusation. "The former," said Mr. Lincoln, "is merely a philosophical reflection on the question of life and death, without actual reference to a future judgment; while the latter is a solemn acknowl edgment of inevitable punishment hereafter, for the infraction of divine law. Let any one reflect on the moral tone of the two soliloquies, and there can be no mistak ing the force and grandeur of the lesson taught by one, and the merely speculative consideration in the other, of an alternative for the ills that flesh is heir to." It was very plain how such a mind as his could not fail to be forcibly struck with the truth and grandeur of the following lines:

"In the corrupted currents of this world,

Offense's gilded hand may shove by justice;
And oft 'tis seen, the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law. But 'tis not so above;
There is no shuffling; there the action lies
In his true nature; and we ourselves compelled,
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults,
To give in evidence."

The conversation turned upon the political condition of the country (it was at the troubled period just previous to Mr. Lincoln's inauguration) and he spoke upon the subject plainly and without hesitation. So deeply was I impressed with his hope and faith for the future of the

JAMES E. MURDOCH.

349

country and the ultimate triumph of right and justice in its affairs, that glowed in the fervor of his simple and unaffected language, and beamed from his benevolent features, that I lost sight of all the previous impressions that his reputed story-telling proclivities and his broad witticisms had made upon me; I saw only the man—as the whole world learned to know him-in whom the sacred principles of eternal justice and human rights were to find an honest and unflinching champion in the bitter hours of trial and affliction.

I will simply add a few words in this connection. with regard to the mirthful element of Mr. Lincoln's character. It has too frequently been misunderstood and unjustly censured. The following anecdote furnishes us an instance of the slight ground upon which rested many of the charges made against Mr. Lincoln, of undignified conduct and heartless expressions upon serious and even solemn occasions. The incident was related to me by one who stood at the President's side at the time of its occurrence. One day, a detachment of troops was marching along the avenue singing the soul-stirring strain of "John Brown." They were walled in on either side by throngs of citizens and strangers, whose voices mingled in the roll of the mighty war-song. In the midst of this exciting scene, a man had clambered into a small tree, on the side-walk, where he clung, unmindful of the jeers of the passing crowd, called forth by the strange antics he was unconsciously exhibiting in his efforts to overcome the swaying motion of the slight stem which bent beneath his weight. Mr. Lincoln's attention was attracted for a moment, and he paused in the serious

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »