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The amazing uneducated/self-educated Abraham Lincoln!
03-18-2013, 12:02 PM
Post: #24
RE: The amazing uneducated/self-educated Abraham Lincoln!
How can we be sure that, every time someone took a book out of the Illinois State Library, the book was officially "signed out"? I'm very skeptical of the notion that Lincoln only availed himself of books from the library on two occasions. He certainly could have read books in the library, and given his proximity to the capitol, and his stature in law and Illinois politics, I wouldn't be surprised if he was able to "borrow" books on an honor system - that is, without signing them out.

Billy Herndon kept a rather substantial library, and there is no question that Lincoln perused it often. Both Herndon and Lincoln subscribed to various newspapers and journals, from what I can recall, and Lincoln was apparently especially well-read on all political news, from all political persuasions (surprise!).

I think Billy H. was the primary source for the idea that Lincoln only read parts of books. Billy may have been correct about that, or he may not actually have been aware of all that Lincoln read. It wouldn't have been the first time that Billy made questionable leaps of judgment about Lincoln's character and conduct. But Billy would often recommend to Lincoln a book that he had just read, which may have prompted Lincoln to take a look at the book in Billy's presence, read parts of it and then, unimpressed, return it to the bookshelf.

Lincoln did not always have the same reading preferences as Billy; and it seemed that he preferred to have Billy give him an oral synopsis of the book's contents, which may have helped him decide whether to read it or not. It also might have been a way for Lincoln to keep abreast of things when he didn't have time to read everything he might have liked to. One thing is for sure - Lincoln seemed to take a dim view of biographies of famous historical figures. Billy might urge him to read a book about such-and-such great man, and Lincoln would take a quick look at it and confirm his suspicion that it was basically meaningless hagiography. Lincoln remarked at least once that, with a lot of those biographies, they were essentially the same, with the exception of names, dates and places.

It's certainly true that Lincoln loved to go back to certain poetry, Shakespeare, the Bible, and other writings again and again. On the other hand, he'd memorized so much of it that he often didn't have to refresh his memory by returning to these writings.

One thing is certain - that Lincoln read to improve his mind, to acquire knowledge in areas that he believed he was deficient in that he shouldn't be deficient in and could do something about, and to gain relief from stress, especially when he was President.

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RE: The amazing uneducated/self-educated Abraham Lincoln! - Liz Rosenthal - 03-18-2013 12:02 PM

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