400. Grant Goodrich to William H. Herndon.
Chicago Decr. 9/66
Your favor of the 5th is received. In reply I have to say, Mr Lincoln was my associate first in the trial of the cases vs Grace [Lawrence?] in 1845, for fraud and misrepresentations, in the sale of land. The cases were severely contested, Mrss Butterfield & Collins & Ewd. Baker Esqr. being counsel for deft. Mr Lincoln in closing the case made the best Jury argument I ever heard him make. Judge Pope, said it was one of the best he ever heard.
The Case of Parker vs Hoyt was for infringement of a patent water wheel.
510testimony was procured, but under the rulings of the Court, was excluded for the main purpose for which it was offered, but was admitted for an other purpose. We placed great reliance on an elder patent to establish the want of novelty in the invention of the plaintiff
The case was prosecuted with great zeal & ability, & the trial lasted for several days. Mr Lincoln took a great interest in the case. He had tended a saw-mill for some time, & was able in his arguments to explain the action of the water upon the wheel, in a manner so clear & inteligable, that the jury was enabled to comprehend the points and the line of defense. It was evident he had carried the jury with him, in a most Masterly argument, the force of which could not be broken by the reply of the opposing Counsel. But the Court was evidently infused with the Conviction that the plaintiff should recover, and charged on every material point for the plaintiff; & in effect told the jury that the prior patent on which we so much relied was no defense.
After the jury had retired Mr Lincoln became very anxious & uneasy. The jury was in another building, the windows of which opened on the Street. They had been out for some two hours — In passing along the Street, one of the jury, on whom we had very much relied, he being a very inteligent man & firm in his convictions, held up to him one finger — Mr Lincoln became very much excited, fearing it indicated that eleven of the jury were against him.
He was assured, that if this man was for him, he would never yield his opinion — He replied, if he was like a juryman he had in Tazwell County, the defendant was safe — That he was there employed to prosecute a suit for a divorce — His client was a very pretty refined & interesting woman in Court. The defendant was a rather gross, morose, querulous, fault finding, cross, & un comfortable person, entirely unfitted for the husband of such a woman. And though he was able to prove the use of very offensive & vulgar epithets applied by him to his wife, & all sorts of anoyances, but no such acts of personal violence assigned by the statute to justify a divorce. He did the best he could & appealed to the jury to have compassion on the woman & not bind her to a man & such a life as awaited her, as the wife of such a man. The jury took about this same view of it in their deliberations. They desired to find for her, but could find no evidence which would really justify a verdict for her; and drew up a verdict for the defendant and all signed but one, who when asked to do so, said, "gentlemen, I am going to lie down to sleep, & when you get ready to give a verdict for that woman, wake me up, for before I will give a verdict — against her, I will lie here until I rot, & the pis-mires carry me out of the Keyhole." Now said Mr. Lincoln, if that jury man will stick like that man, we are safe.
In a short time the jury came in with a verdict for the defendant. He always regarded this as one of the most gratifying triumphs of his professional life — He was afterward employed in one or two other patent suits, but they never came to a final trial. He had a great deal of Mechanical genius, could understand readily the principles & mechanical action of machinery, & had the power, in his clear, simple illustrations & Style to make the jury comprehend them.
The most important Case he ever had here, & the one in which his powers were exhibited to the most advantage, was the Rock Island Bridge Case.
And now friend Herndon, I have complied with your request, imperfectly it is true, but as well as I could.
You will admit, that while I say, I have none but the tendrest feelings for you, you have never given me occasion to entertain any others. I therefore, as your friend, & the friend of Mr Lincoln, propose to say a few things, prompted by that friendship — but which I know the vanity of all men rebels against —
1st In my opinion, you are the last man who ought to attempt to write a life of Abraham Lincoln — Your long & intimate association with him, unfits you for the task. No one holding the intimate relations to another, which you did to him, ever has succeeded. There may be exceptions, but I cannot now remember one. They are mere eulogists — or having known him, in other conditions than on those fields, & in those departments where his fame was won, he regards, & exhibits him in those humble, & different, aspects, & characteristics, in which the public have no taste, & which bring him down from the high sphere of his tryumphs, to the hum drum everyday affairs of life, which are stale & incipid to the public. To enter into the private every day life of ordinary or extraordinary men, can only be made indurable to readers, or safe to the fame of the subject, without the most discriminating taste & art; & no one is safe to undertake it without much practice, & knowledge of the public taste. Again, contact with great men, always dispells something of the awe with which they are contemplated at a distance. In intimate association, we fix upon some characteristic or peculiarity, & fail to catch other liniaments, We can only regard them as the kind friend, amusing companion, & generous mind — In the distance, we see the bold outline of the mountain; its sumits wraped in sunshine, or swathed in cloud. When we approach it, we catch a view of, of the deep it may be dark gorges — the ragged cliffs, the lean rocks — & distorted outlines — So in the characters of our dearest friends. See how Boswell, with all his literary abilities failed in his life of Johnson — No blow so severe was ever struck at Johnson — Think of these things.
If I am to judge of what your production will be by the publication of a portion of your Salem lecture,
Besides, your style is not well adapted to such an undertaking. The want of
512practice is palpable — Your style is purely legal. Such an one as is acquired by drawing legal documents & pleadings, and is [illegible] different from one formed by familiarity with the best writers — It is rugged, abounding in adjectives & explications — full of climaxes — & hard, dry words — It reads as if it had been jerked out, word by word — it gives one the sense you have in riding in a lumber wagon over a frozen road — or the noise made in machinery when a cog has been broken.
Now my friend I have spoken plainly, but sincerely — I may do you injustice, but it is not intentional I may lose your friendship by it, but I have only done what I would wish one to do to me under the same circumstances. And I have observed in myself & others, that the very points in which Strength is supposed, are the very points of weakness
I am Yours &c
Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 2876 — 79