Lincoln's Personal Life HTML version
The Second Start
Stung by his failure at Washington, Lincoln for a time put his whole soul into the study of
the law. He explained his failure to himself as a lack of mental training. There
followed a repetition of his early years with Logan, but with very much more
determination, and with more abiding result.
In those days in Illinois, as once in England, the judges held court in a succession of
towns which formed a circuit. Judge and lawyers moved from town to town, "rode the
circuit" in company,--sometimes on horseback, sometimes in their own vehicles,
sometimes by stage. Among the reminiscences of Lincoln on the circuit, are his "poky"
old horse and his "ramshackle" old buggy. Many and many a mile, round and round the
Eighth Judicial Circuit, he traveled in that humble style. What thoughts he brooded on in
his lonely drives, he seldom told. During this period the cloud over his inner life is
especially dense. The outer life, in a multitude of reminiscences, is well known. One of
its salient details was the large proportion of time he devoted to study.
"Frequently, I would go out on the circuit with him," writes Herndon. "We, usually, at the
little country inn, occupied the same bed. In most cases, the beds were too short for him
and his feet would hang over the footboard, thus exposing a limited expanse of shin bone.
Placing his candle at the head of his bed he would read and study for hours. I have known
him to stay in this position until two o'clock in the morning. Meanwhile, I and others who
chanced to occupy the same room would be safely and soundly asleep. On the circuit, in
this way, he studied Euclid until he could with ease demonstrate all the propositions in
the six books. How he could maintain his equilibrium or concentrate his thoughts on an
abstract mathematical problem, while Davis, Logan, Swett, Edwards and I, so
industriously and volubly filled the air with our interminable snoring, was a problem
none of, us--could ever solve."
A well-worn copy of Shakespeare was also his constant companion.
He rose rapidly in the profession; and this in spite of his incorrigible lack of system. The
mechanical side of the lawyer's task, now, as in the days with Logan, annoyed him; he
left the preparation of papers to his junior partner, as formerly he left it to his senior
partner. But the situation had changed in a very important way. In Herndon, Lincoln had
for a partner a talented young man who looked up to him, almost adored him, who was
quite willing to be his man Friday. Fortunately, for all his adoration, Herndon had no
desire to idealize his hero. He was not disturbed by his grotesque or absurd sides.
"He was proverbially careless as to his habits," Herndon writes. "In a letter to a fellow
lawyer in another town, apologizing for his failure to answer sooner, he explains: 'First, I
have been very busy in the United States Court; second, when I received the letter, I put it
in my old hat, and buying a new one the next day, the old one was set aside, so the letter
was lost sight of for the time.' This hat of Lincoln's--a silk plug--was an extraordinary