Post Reply 
The amazing uneducated/self-educated Abraham Lincoln!
06-23-2013, 05:13 PM
Post: #45
RE: The amazing uneducated/self-educated Abraham Lincoln!
(06-13-2013 09:32 AM)Eva Elisabeth Wrote:  Laurie, there are so many other witnesses who said Lincoln was able to quote Shakespeare off the top of his head that I -whatever Herndon said- would believe he read Shakespeare more acute than just superficially. I like the quote from Hamlet Lincoln alledgedly liked best: "There's a divinity that shapes our ends. Rough-hew them how we will!" (Act 5; scene 2)

William Kelley wrote in the book, "Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln," (Chap XIV - pages 263 - 270):

There were persons who knew of Mr. Lincoln but as a storyteller, and believed him to be devoted to intercourse with men who enjoyed hearing and knew how to tell mirth-provoking stories. Of this class was my friend, the late John McDonough, a celebrated actor, who was an intensely partisan Democrat, and had accepted the theory that Mr. Lincoln was a mere buffoon, whose official duties were performed by his Cabinet. I may without injustice to the memory of a valued friend make this statement, for after the incident to which I am about to refer he made the utmost atonement for any injustice he might have done Mr. Lincoln.

Mr. McDonough was to play an engagement at the National Theatre, in which he was to appear as "Mrs. Pluto," in an extravaganza entitled The Seven Sisters. After much persuasion, he consented to go with me to the White House the evening preceding the opening of his engagement. Pursuant to promise he called at my rooms, and found with me Rev. Benj. R. Miller, a devoted Wesleyan, and chaplain of the 119th Pennsylvania Volunteers, who had proposed to devote the first evening of a brief furlough to a conference with his personal friend and Congressional representative.

The night was terribly stormy, but in spite of wind and rain I proposed an early start for the White House, the more certainly to secure the interview I hoped to bring about. Thanks to the condition of the weather, we found the President alone; and disclaiming any desire for employment or patronage of any kind, I said we might, however, vex him with some problems, as we represented the stage, the pulpit, and the forum, and introduced my friends as "Parson Miller" and "Mrs. Pluto."

After a playful remark or two about the possibility of discord in a household that embraced "Mrs. Pluto" and an orthodox clergyman, the President turned to the chaplain and created not a little surprise on the part of my friends, showing that it was not necessary for him to inquire from what corps a representative of the 119th Pennsylvania came, by asking about the condition of certain officers and bodies of troops of whom the chaplain of a regiment in their division would probably be able to tell him.

Having thus for the present disposed of the chaplain, Mr. Lincoln turned to Mr. McDonough, who seemed lost in contemplation of the grave and dignified man who, despite the cares of his great office, was so easy in social intercourse, and said, "I am very glad to meet you, Mr. McDonough, and am grateful to Kelley for bringing you in so early, for I want you to tell me something about Shakespeare's plays as they are constructed for the stage. You can imagine that I do not get much time to study such matters, but I recently had a couple of talks with Hackett -- Baron Hackett, as they call him -- who is famous as Jack Falstaff, but from whom I elicited few satisfactory replies, though I probed him with a good many questions."

Mr. McDonough avowed his willingness to give the President any information in his possession, but protested that he feared he would not succeed where his friend Hackett had failed. "Well, I don't know," said the President, "for Hackett's lack of information impressed me with a doubt as to whether he had ever studied Shakespeare's text, or had not been content with the acting edition of his plays."

He arose, went to a shelf not far from his table, and having taken down a well-thumbed volume of the Plays of Shakespeare, resumed his seat, arranged his glasses, and having turned to HenryVI. and read with fine discrimination an extended passage, said, "Mr. McDonough, can you tell me why those lines are omitted from the acting play? There is nothing I have read in Shakespeare, certainly nothing in Henry VI.or the Merry Wives of Windsor, that surpasses its wit and humor."

The actor suggested the breadth of its humor as the only reason he could assign for its omission, but thoughtfully added that it was possible that if the lines were spoken they would require the rendition of another or other passages which might be objectionable.

"Your last suggestion," said Mr. Lincoln, "carries with it greater weight than anything Mr. Hackett suggested, but the first is no reason at all;" and after reading another passage, he said, "This is not withheld, and where it passes current there can be no reason for withholding the other."

But, as if feeling the impropriety of preferring the player to the parson, he turned to the chaplain and said: "From your calling it is probable you do not know that the acting plays which people crowd to hear are not always those planned by their reputed authors. Thus, take the stage edition of Richard III. It opens with a passage from Henry VI., after which come portions of Richard III, then another scene from Henry VI., and the finest soliloquy in the play, if we may judge from the many quotations it furnishes, and frequency with which it is heard in amateur exhibitions, was never seen by Shakespeare, but was written, was it not, Mr. McDonough, after his death, by Colley Cibber?"

Having disposed, for the present, of questions relating to the stage editions of the plays, he recurred to his standard copy, and, to the evident surprise of Mr. McDonough, read or repeated from memory extracts from several of the plays, some of which embraced a number of lines.

It must not be supposed that Mr. Lincoln's poetical studies had been confined to his plays. He interspersed his remarks with extracts striking from their similarity to, or contrast with, something of Shakespeare's, from Byron, Rogers, Campbell, Moor, and other English poets.

The time had come for our departure, and Mr. McDonough had thanked the President warmly for the pleasure he had afforded him, and we were about to take our leave, when Mr. Lincoln said: "But there is much genuine poetry floating about anonymously. There is one such poem that is my almost constant companion; indeed, I may say it is continually present with me, as it crosses my mind whenever I have relief from anxiety. It opens thus:

Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a swift-fleeting meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave,
He passes from life to his rest in the grave.
. . . .

It was now past eleven o'clock. We had been with him more than four hours, and when I expressed regret for the thoughtlessness which had detained him so long, he responded:

"Kelley, I assure your friends that in bringing them here this evening you have given me the benefit of a long holiday. I have not enjoyed such a season of literary recreation since I entered the White House, and I feel that a long and pleasant interval has passed since I closed my routine work this afternoon.

Before you go I want to make a request of each of you, and exact a promise that you will grant it if it shall ever happen that you can do so. The little poem I just now brought to your notice is truly anonymous. Its author has been greatly my benefactor, and I would be glad to name him when I speak of his poem; and the request I make of you is, that should you ever learn his name and anything of his story you will send it to me, that I may treasure it as a memorial of a dear friend."

"So very difficult a matter is it to trace and find out the truth of anything by history." -- Plutarch
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
Post Reply 

Messages In This Thread
RE: The amazing uneducated/self-educated Abraham Lincoln! - David Lockmiller - 06-23-2013 05:13 PM

Forum Jump:

User(s) browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)