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 Thus far we have dealt primarily with the environments of Lincoln's religious life. We have not been able to escape the conviction that Lincoln's religious life was an evolution, influenced by his environment and experience. We have considered in these successive chapters some matters in detail which seemed to belong particularly to the respective periods of which those chapters have treated; but we have reserved, in general, the evidence that bears upon his religion as a whole for more critical examination. Particularly have we reserved those portions of the evidence which, first published after his death, belong to no one epoch of his life and have become the occasion of controversy. What kind of man he was religiously in 1865 we shall hope to know better; indeed, it is not unreasonable to hope that examination may show in part the processes by which his religion found its final form and expression. We know already that there had been a development. We know that the Abraham Lincoln who in 1834 delivered his political opinions in labored and florid style and with the logic current in stump oratory had undergone mental development and had emerged into the Lincoln who delivered his thoughts in translucent Anglo-Saxon at Gettysburg and the Second Inaugural. That there had been a moral and spiritual development also we have already been assured. Perhaps it was greater than he himself consciously understood. We shall now endeavor to ascertain what it had come to be.
In this inquiry we have no easy task. The mass of evidence is great, and the contradictions are many. There were[Pg 102] contradictions in the personality of the man himself, and many contradictions in the views which men, even honest and unprejudiced men, had of him; and not all the testimony is unprejudiced.
Lincoln was a man of many moods. He reacted differently to different stimuli, and to the same stimulus at different times. His feelings ran the gamut from abysmal dejection to rollicking gaiety: and he never revealed his whole nature to any one man, nor showed the whole of his nature at any one time. He cannot be judged by the mechanical tests of a rigid consistency: for he was not that kind of man.
When Dr. J. G. Holland went to Springfield immediately after the death of Lincoln to gather material for his biography he was surprised beyond measure to find how conflicting were the local judgments of Lincoln's character. Concerning this he wrote:
"Such a nature and character seem full of contradictions; and a man who is subject to such transitions will always be a mystery to those who do not know him wholly. Thus no two men among his intimate friends will agree concerning him.
"The writer has conversed with multitudes of men who claimed to know Mr. Lincoln intimately; yet there are not two of the whole number who agree in their estimate of him. The fact was that he rarely showed more than one aspect of himself to one man. He opened himself to men in different directions. It was rare that he exhibited what was religious in him; and he never did this at all, except when he found just the nature and character that were sympathetic with that aspect and element of his character. A great deal of his best, deepest, largest life he kept almost constantly from view, because he would not expose it to the eyes and apprehension of the careless multitude.
"To illustrate the effect of the peculiarity of Mr. Lincoln's intercourse with men, it may be said that men who knew him through all his professional and political life have offered opinions as diametrically opposite as these, viz.: that he was a very ambitious man, and that he was without a particle of ambition; that he was one of the saddest men that ever lived, and that he was one of the jolliest men that ever lived; that[Pg 103] he was very religious, but that he was not a Christian; that he was a Christian, but did not know it; that he was so far from being a religious man or a Christian that 'the less said upon the subject the better'; that he was the most cunning man in America, and that he had not a particle of cunning in him; that he had the strongest personal attachments, and that he had no personal attachments at all—only a general good feeling toward everybody; that he was a man of indomitable will, and that he was a man almost without a will; that he was a tyrant, and that he was the softest-hearted, most brotherly man that ever lived; that he was remarkable for his pure-mindedness, and that he was the foulest in his jests and stories of any man in the country; that he was a witty man, and that he was only a retailer of the wit of others; that his apparent candor and fairness were only apparent, and that they were as real as his head and his hands; that he was a boor, and that he was in all essential respects a gentleman; that he was a leader of the people, and that he was always led by the people; that he was cool and impassive, and that he was susceptible of the strongest passions. It is only by tracing these separate streams of impression back to their fountain that we are able to arrive at anything like a competent comprehension of the man, or to learn why he came to be held in such various estimation. Men caught only separate aspects of his character—only the fragments that were called into exhibition by their own qualities."—Holland: Life of Lincoln, pp. 241-42.
Some writers, and more orators, have professed to see in the character of Lincoln a perfect balancing of all desirable qualities. Bishop Fowler, in what was perhaps the most widely popular of all popular orations on Lincoln, attributed his own inability to analyze the character of Lincoln to its perfect sphericity, a consistency such that any attempt to consider any quality by itself met the counterbalancing consideration of all the other qualities. But the antitheses in Lincoln's character were not those of a perfect consistency.[27] They were of a sort[Pg 104] which puzzled those who knew him best, and were most easily explained by those who gave least study to the man himself and most to their own theories of what a man like Mr. Lincoln must have been.
Of these sharp antitheses in Lincoln's character, Col. Clark E. Carr, who knew him well, said in an address which I heard:
"Abraham Lincoln was the drollest man I ever saw.
"He could make a cat laugh. Never was another man so vivacious; never have I seen another who provoked so much mirth, and who entered into rollicking fun with such glee. He was the most comical and jocose of human beings, laughing with the same zest at his own jokes as at those of others. I did not wonder that, while actively engaged in party politics, his opponents who had seen him in these moods called Abraham Lincoln a clown and an ape.
"Abraham Lincoln was the most serious man I ever saw.
"When I heard him protest against blighting our new territories with the curse of human slavery, in his debates with Senator Douglas, no man could have been more in earnest, none more serious. In his analysis of legal problems, whether in the practice of his profession or in the consideration of State papers, he became wholly absorbed in his subject. Sometimes he lapsed into reverie and communed with his own thoughts, noting nothing that was going on about him until aroused, when perhaps he would enter into a discussion of the subject that had occupied his mind, or perhaps break out into laughter and tell a joke or story that set the table in a roar.
"When I saw him at Gettysburg as he exclaimed, 'That we here highly resolve that the dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom, and that the government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth!'—when I heard him declare in his second inaugural address, 'Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of[Pg 105] war may speedily pass away. Yet if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled up by the bondman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years, so still it must be said, "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."... With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right,'—as I looked upon him and heard him utter these sentiments, upon these occasions, Abraham Lincoln was the most solemn, the most dignified, the most majestic, and at the same time the most benignant human being I ever saw.
"Rochefoucauld says that 'Gravity is a mystery of the body invented to conceal defects of the mind.' Lord Shaftesbury says that 'Gravity is the very essence of imposture.' Abraham Lincoln had none of this.
"Man is the most serious of animals. Man is the most frivolous of animals. It is said that man is the only animal that can both laugh and cry. Abraham Lincoln gave full vent to his emotions. He went through life with no restraints nor manacles upon his human nature. He was honest in the expression of his feelings, whether serious or otherwise, honest in their manifestation, honest with himself.
"It was because Abraham Lincoln was the most human of human beings that he is loved as has never been any other man that ever lived."—Clark E. Carr: My Day and Generation, pp. 107-9.
There was much reason for this wide disparity of opinion in the varying moods of Lincoln himself, and the contrary aspects of his personality. But this was not the sole reason. Springfield itself was greatly divided concerning Mr. Lincoln. There were lawyers who had been on opposing sides of cases against him and had sometimes won them. There were all the petty animosities which grow up in a small city. Furthermore, Springfield was moderately full of disappointed people who had expected that their friendship for Lincoln would have procured for them some political appointment. Any political aspirant living in Maine or Missouri who had a fourth cousin[Pg 106] living in Springfield and possessed of a speaking acquaintance with Mr. Lincoln, felt that he and his kinsfolk suffered an unmerited discourtesy if Mr. Lincoln through such influence did not produce on application a commission as Major-General or an appointment as Ambassador to some foreign court.
We have a yet further difficulty to face in the conflict of testimony of habitually truthful people. If it were becoming in the author of a book such as this to pass any general criticism upon those authors who have preceded him in the same field, it might, perhaps, be counted not invidious to say that for the most part writers on the religion of Lincoln have been content to adduce the testimony of a limited number of apparently truthful witnesses in support of their theory, but have not given the evidence very much examination beyond the general fact that the witnesses were habitually truthful people. We shall not arrive at the truth in this fashion.
We may borrow an illustration from a field which lies just outside the scope of our present inquiry. Even to this day it is possible to start a warm discussion almost anywhere in Springfield over the question of Lincoln's domestic affairs. It is possible to prove on the testimony of unimpeached witnesses that Lincoln loved his wife passionately, and that he did not love her at all; that he married Mary Todd because he loved her and had already answered in his own heart all his previous questions and misgivings, and that he married her because she and her relatives practically compelled him to do so, and that he went to the marriage altar muttering that he was going to hell; that Mary Todd not only admired Abraham Lincoln, but loved him with a beautiful and wifely devotion, and that she hated him and never ceased to wreak revenge upon him for having once deserted her upon the eve of their announced marriage; that Mary Todd wore a white silk dress on the night of her wedding, and that she never owned a white silk dress until she had become a resident of the White House; that the wedding was a gay affair, with a great dinner, and was followed by a reception for which several hundred printed invitations were issued, and that the wedding was hastily performed on a Sunday evening, Mr. Dresser, the minister, cut[Pg 107]ting short his evening service and dropping in on the way home to solemnize a quickly extemporized marriage contract. It would seem fairly easy to discover from a calendar of the year 1842 at least what day in the week was chosen for the wedding, but few if any of the disputants, or even of the biographers, appear to have taken this pains. If the present writer should ever have occasion to write abo............
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