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39. John L. Scripps to William H. Herndon.

Chicago June 24th 1865

My Dear Herndon:

Yours of yesterday is at hand, and its tenor induces me to reply more specifically to your previous note of inquiry respecting my little campaign Life of Lincoln. I believe I try to satisfy my conscience in whatever I do; and I assure you I never performed a work more conscientiously in my life than the production of that biographical sketch. I am also very sure that Mr. Lincoln was equally sincere and conscientious in furnishing me with the facts connected with his own and his family's history. The chief difficulty I had to encounter, was to induce him to communicate the homely facts and incidents of his early life. He seemed to be painfully impressed with the extreme poverty of his early surroundings — the utter absence of all romantic and heroic elements, and I know he thought poorly of the idea of attempting a biographical sketch for campaign purposes — "Why Scripps" said he, on one occasion, "it is a great piece of folly to attempt to make anything out of my early life. It can all be condensed into a single sentence, and that sentence you will find in Gray's Elegy:

‘The short and simple annals of the poor.’
That's my life, and that's all you or any one else can make of it."

Mr. Lincoln communicated some facts to me concerning his ancestry which he did not wish to have published, and which I have never spoken of or alluded to before. I do not think, however, that Dennis Hanks, if he knows anything about these matters, would be very likely to say anything about them. At all events, if his statements conflict with those of the biography, it is a question of veracity or of memory between him and Mr Lincoln.

To show you how careful I was in the matter let me relate an incident:

When the pamphlet was printed, I sent a few copies to Mr. Lincoln, and in an accompanying note, I said to him, I was in doubt only as to one statement I had made — and that was as to whether or not he had read "Plutarchs Lives". I had trusted somewhat to my memory on the subject of his early reading; and while I was not certain he had enumerated this book among them he had read in his boy hood, yet as I had grown up in about such a settlement of people as he had in Indiana, and as I had read Plutarch in my boy-hood, I presumed he had had access to it also. If I was mistaken in this supposition, I said to him, it was my wish that he should at once get a copy, and read it, that I might be able to testify as to the perfect accuracy of the entire sketch. Mr Lincoln did not reply to my note, but I heard of his frequent humorous allusions to it.

I have no copy of the campaign Life on hand, nor can I find one. Soon after the death of Lincoln, I succeeded in finding a copy, but I let Dr Holland have it. Can you find me a copy in Springfield? By the way, are you preparing a life of Lincoln? I am afraid neither Holland nor Dale Owen, will give the time and


attention to the subject necessary for such a life of Lincoln as we want and ought to have.

Very Truly Yours
J. L. Scripps.

Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 2207 — 8; Huntington Library: LN2408, 2:289 — 92



1. John Locke Scripps, Life of Abraham Lincoln (Chicago, 1860); also published as Tribune Tracts, no. 6 (New York, 1860).