The Boys' Life of Abraham Lincoln HTML version

Congressman Lincoln
Hopeful and cheerful as he ordinarily seemed, there was in Mr. Lincoln's disposition a
strain of deep melancholy. This was not peculiar to him alone, for the pioneers as a race
were somber rather than gay. Their lives had been passed for generations under the most
trying physical conditions, near malaria-infested streams, and where they breathed the
poison of decaying vegetation. Insufficient shelter, storms, the cold of winter, savage
enemies, and the cruel labor that killed off all but the hardiest of them, had at the same
time killed the happy-go-lucky gaiety of an easier form of life. They were thoughtful,
watchful, wary; capable indeed of wild merriment: but it has been said that although a
pioneer might laugh, he could not easily be made to smile. Lincoln's mind was unusually
sound and sane and normal. He had a cheerful, wholesome, sunny nature, yet he had
inherited the strongest traits of the pioneers, and there was in him, moreover, much of the
poet, with a poet's great capacity for joy and pain. It is not strange that as he developed
into manhood, especially when his deeper nature began to feel the stirrings of ambition
and of love, these seasons of depression and gloom came upon him with overwhelming
During his childhood he had known few women, save his mother, and that kind, God-
fearing woman his stepmother, who did so much to make his childhood hopeful and
happy. No man ever honored women more truly than did Abraham Lincoln; while all the
qualities that caused men to like him--his strength, his ambition, his kindliness--served
equally to make him a favorite with them. In the years of his young manhood three
women greatly occupied his thoughts. The first was the slender, fair-haired Ann
Rutledge, whom he very likely saw for the first time as she stood with the group of
mocking people on the river-bank, near her father's mill, the day Lincoln's flatboat stuck
on the dam at New Salem. It was her death, two years before he went to live at
Springfield, that brought on the first attack of melancholy of which we know, causing
him such deep grief that for a time his friends feared his sorrow might drive him insane.
Another friend was Mary Owens, a Kentucky girl, very different from the gentle, blue-
eyed Ann Rutledge, but worthy in every way of a man's affections. She had visited her
sister in New Salem several years before, and Lincoln remembered her as a tall,
handsome, well-educated young woman, who could be serious as well as gay, and who
was considered wealthy. In the autumn of 1836, her sister, Mrs. Able, then about to start
on a visit to Kentucky, jokingly offered to bring Mary back if Lincoln would promise to
marry her. He, also in jest, agreed to do so. Much to his astonishment, he learned, a few
months later, that she had actually returned with Mrs. Able, and his sensitive conscience
made him feel that the jest had turned into real earnest, and that he was in duty bound to
keep his promise if she wished him to do so. They had both changed since they last met;
neither proved quite pleasing to the other, yet an odd sort of courtship was kept up, until,
some time after Lincoln went to live in Springfield, Miss Owens put an end to the affair
by refusing him courteously but firmly. Meantime he lived through much unhappiness
and uncertainty of spirit, and made up his mind "never again to think of marrying": a
resolution which he kept-- until another Kentucky girl drove it from his thoughts.