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Wilson, Douglas L., ed.; Davis, Rodney O., ed.; Speed, Joshua F. 'Joshua F. Speed to William H. Herndon' in 'Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements About Abraham Lincoln' . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. [format: book], [genre: letter]. Permission: University of Illinois Press
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=herndon498.html


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394. Joshua F. Speed to William H. Herndon [1].

Louisville 6 Decr 1866

Dear Sir

Yours of the 29 Nov. asking my recollections of Mr Lincolns habits — his reading Conversation thought &c &c is at hand —

The field is a wide one, embracing much more than I could find time to write & many things so trivial that they would not be worth recording — As my mind runs back to my long & intimate acquaintance with that great & good man — I endeavour to forget that which is not worth remembering and to treasure only that which is of value —

Mr Lincoln was so unlike all the men — had ever known before or seen or known since that there is no one to whom I can Compare him —

In all his habits of eating, sleeping — reading Conversation & study — he was If I may so express it regularly irregular —

That is he had no stated time for eating, no fixed time for going to bed or getting up —

No course of reading ever was chalked out — He read law History, Browns

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Philosophy or Paley [2] — Burns Byron Milton or Shakespeare — The news papers of the day — and retained them all about as well as an ordinary man would any one of them — who made only one at a time his study —

I once remarked to him that his mind was a wonder to me — That impressions were easily made upon his mind and never effaced — "No said he you are mistaken — I am slow to learn and slow to forget that which I have learned — My mind is like a piece of steel, very hard to scratch any thing on it and almost impossible after you get it there to rub it out" — I give this as his own illustration of the character of his mind — it is as good as any I have seen from any one else —

The beauty of his character was its entire [symplicity?] — he had no affictation in any thing — True to nature true to himself, he was true to every body and every thing about and around him — When he was ignorant on any subject no matter how simple it might make him appear he was always willing to acknowledge it — His whole aim in life was to be true to himself & being true to himself he could be false to no one.

He had no vices — even as a young man — Intense thought with him was the rule and not as with most of us the exception.

He often said that he could think better immediately after Breakfast — and better walking, than sitting, lying or standing —

His world wide reputation for telling anecdotes — and telling them so well — was in my judgement necessary to his very existence — Most men who have been great students such as he was in their hours of idleness have taken to the bottle, to cards or dice — He had no fondness for any of these — Hence he sought relaxation in anecdotes —

So far as I now remember of his study for composition it was to make short sentences & a compact style — Illustrative of this — he was a great admirer of the style of John C Calhoun — I remember reading to him one of Mr Calhouns speeches in reply to Mr Clay in the Senate — in which Mr. Clay had quoted precedent — (I quote from memory.) Mr. Calhoun replied "that to legislate upon precedent is but to make the error of yesterday the law of today" [3] Lincoln thought that was a great truth greatly uttered —

Unlike all other men there was entire harmony between his public and private life — He must believe that he was right and that he had truth and justice with him or he was a weak man — But no man could be stronger if he thought that he was right —

His familiar conversations were like his speeches & letters — In this — That while no set speech [of Mr. Lincoln (save his Gettysburg speech) will be considered

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as entirely artistic complete — Yet when gems of American literature come to be selected from great Authors as many will be selected from Lincolns speeches as from any American Author.

So of his conversation & so of his private correspondence — all abound in jems.

I gave you in a former letter a history of my Mothers presentation of a Bible to him — and of his acknowledgment of it after he was President. I made an error in copying his language which I send on a separate piece of paper.

I hope you will get the letter to Dr Drake.

Your friend
[J. F. Speed]

Written on a photograph of Mr Lincoln.

For Mrs Lucy G. Speed from whose pious hands I accepted the present of an Oxford bible Twenty years ago

A. Lincoln

Washington D.C.
October 3, 1861.

Library of Congress: Albert J. Beveridge Papers, box 411

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Wilson, Douglas L., ed.; Davis, Rodney O., ed.; Speed, Joshua F. 'Joshua F. Speed to William H. Herndon' in 'Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements About Abraham Lincoln' . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. [format: book], [genre: letter]. Permission: University of Illinois Press
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=herndon498.html
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