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he had heard, many a time, of his father's thrilling escape
from the red man's clutches, and of his grandfather's cruel death in the Kentucky “clearing”; and when he withdrew his fascinated attention from the vivid pages of Cooper's novel, he almost expected to see the painted savages lurking in the outskirts of the forest so near at hand. Another book, borrowed from one of the few and distant neighbors, was Burns's Poems, a thick and chunky volume, as he afterwards described it, bound in leather and printed in very small type. This book he kept long enough to commit to memory almost all its contents. And ever after, to the day of his death, some of the familiar lines of the Scottish poet were as ready on his lips as those of Shakespeare, the only poet who was, in Lincoln's opinion, greater than Robert Burns.
His step-mother said of him: “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 by him until he could get paper. Then he would copy it, look at it, commit it to memory, and repeat it.” In this way he collected a great many things from books that he did not own and could not keep. We have heard of writers and scholars who make a commonplace book in which may be recorded things noteworthy and memorable. Abraham Lincoln, at the age of ten, kept such a book. It written on wooden “shakes” with charcoal. Transferred to paper with pen and ink, and repeated often, the noble thoughts and melodious lines of famous
men had already become a part of the education of the President that was to be.
But although young Lincoln devoured books with a hunger that was almost pathetic, and sorely tried his eyes with study by the light of blazing pineknots on the hearth, he was no milksop, no weakly bookworm. In the athletic sports of the time, and in the manual dexterity so helpful in those frontier pursuits, he was the master of every other boy of his age. He had learned the use of tools, could swing the maul and chip out “shakes" and shingles, lay open rails and handle logs as well as most men. Although not a quarrelsome boy, he could “throw" any of his weight and years in the neighborhood, and far and near “Abe Lincoln” was early known as a capital wrestler and a tough champion at every game of muscular skill.
School and its coveted facilities for getting knowledge was now within reach. Hazel Dorsey was the name of a new schoolmaster on Little Pigeon Creek, a mile and a half from the Lincoln homestead; and thither was sent the brood of young ones belonging to the Lincoln family. These backwoods children had the unusual luxury of going all together to a genuine school. True the schoolhouse was built of logs; but all the youngsters of the school came from log cabins; and even the new meeting-house, which was an imposing affair for those woods, was log-built up to the gables, and thence finished out with the first sawn lumber ever used to any considerable extent in the region.
Young Abraham made the most of his opportu
nities, and, when he found the days too short for his school studies and his tasks about the farm, he sat up by the fire of "lightwood” late into the night. What dreams had come to him in those far-off days? Did he begin to think that he might "be somebody” in the great and busy world of which he had heard faint echoes? It would seem likely. Following the plow, or whirling the mighty maul, as he wrought at splitting rails, he pondered deeply the lessons that he had learned at school and from the few books at his command. When he was a grown man, it fell to his lot to pronounce a eulogy on Henry Clay, whom he had learned to idolize in his youth; and the growing young statesman said of Clay, among other things: “His example teaches us that one can scarcely be so poor but that, if he will, he can acquire sufficient education to get through the world respectably.” If the example of Abraham Lincoln, the admirer and eulogist of Henry Clay, teaches anything to the boys of this generation, it teaches just what he said of Henry Clay's life. As his mental vision widened, there was nothing too abstruse for Lincoln to grapple with, nothing so far out of the knowledge of those about him that he could not take it up. Algebra, Euclid, Latin, came later on in life; but even in his early youth, hearing of these, he resolved to master them as soon as he could get the needed books.
Through all the wide neighborhood, Abe Lincoln was known as an honest, laborious, and helpful lad. Coming home one night, when the early winter frosts were sharp and nipping, he and a comrade found by
the roadside the horse of one of the settlers who was a notorious drunkard. There had been a houseraising in the vicinity, and the rider, overcome with the strong drink too common on those semi-festive occasions, had probably fallen off and been left by his steed, while passing through the woods. Young Lincoln was for hunting up the missing man. “Oh, come along home," said his companion; "what business is it of yours if he does get lost?”
“But he will freeze to death, if he is left on the trail this cold night.'
The kind-hearted young fellow, hater though he was of the stuff that had laid low his neighbor, was too compassionate to leave its victim to freeze. He found the man, took him, all unconscious as he was, on his own stalwart back, and actually carried him eighty rods to the nearest house, where, after sending word to his father that he must stay out all night, he sat by the half-frozen man and brought him back to consciousness and restored faculties. He saved the life of the sinner while he hated the sin.
Before he was seventeen years old, he attended court in Boonville, the county-seat of Warrick, where a man was on trial for murder. It was his first look into what seemed to him the great world outside the wilderness. An accident led him into the vicinity, and, hearing that one of the famous Breckinridges of Kentucky was to speak for the defence, he went on to Boonville, and, open-mouthed with wonder, heard the first great speech of his life. He could not restrain his admiration, and when the arguments were over and the case had gone to the
jury, and the eminent lawyer, flushed with conscious pride, was passing out of the courthouse, he was intercepted by a tall, overgrown youth, exceedingly awkward, horny-handed and evidently of the “poor white” class. The youth, his face shining with honest enthusiasm, held out his brown hand to the well-dressed lawyer, and told him how much he had enjoyed his wonderful speech. The aristocratic Breckinridge stared with surprise at the intrusive stranger, and haughtily brushed by the future President of the United States. This was not the boy's first lesson in social distinctions, but it was his first lesson in oratory; and he was just as grateful to Breckinridge as he would have been if the great man had been as gracious then as he was years after, when he was reminded by the President, in Washington, of an incident in Boonville which the Breckinridge had forgotten and the Lincoln could not forget.
From that time, young Lincoln practised speechmaking. He took up any topic that happened to be uppermost in the rural neighborhood—a question of roads, or trails, the school-tax, a bounty on wolves or bears offered by the Legislature, or any kindred question of the day; or he got up mock trials, arraigned imaginary culprits, and, himself, acted as prosecuting attorney, counsel for the defendant, judge, and foreman of the jury, making their appropriate addresses in due course. He threw himself into these debates with so much ardor that his father was obliged to interfere and forbid the speeches during hours for work. The old man grumbled: “When Abe begins to speak, all hands flock to hear him.'