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394. Joshua F. Speed to William H. Herndon.

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


Philosophy or Paley — 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" 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


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



1. The original of this letter is not in the Herndon-Weik Collection, and its location is unknown. Fortunately, the original was in the collection when consulted by Albert J. Beveridge in the 1920s, and the text given here is transcribed from a white on black photostat in the Beveridge Papers that lacks the final page of the letter. The text for this missing page, which appears within brackets, is taken from an accompanying transcript. Two typographical errors in the transcript — "pice" and "Douke" — are assumed to have been made by the typist and have been corrected.

2. Presumably, Thomas Brown (1778 — 1820), a Scottish philosopher, whose Lectures on the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1820) had a considerable vogue in England and America in the 1830s; William Paley (1743 — 1805), an English divine, whose writings on the natural basis for Christian beliefs were widely read in the nineteenth century.

3. See Calhoun's Senate speech of January 13, 1834, in Robert E. Meriwether, W. Edwin Hemphill, and Clyde N. Wilson, eds., The Papers of John C. Calhoun, (1959 — ), 12:214.