Sunday, January 25, 2009

'His Own, Still Unshaped Personality'

Fourth of 45 excerpts from Lincoln by David Herbert Donald:
The earnestness of Lincoln's efforts to impose rationality on public life reflected his intense internal struggle to bring coherency to this own, still unshaped personality. He was not yet sure who he was or how he wished to be perceived. He liked to associate with the "aristocratic" element of Springfield . . . but he also wanted, as he said, to be "one of the boys," the young and active workingmen and clerks who time after time supported his election to the state legislature In his role of courteous gentleman he could write a gallant letter to Mrs. Browning, urging her to accompany her husband to the meeting of the legislature in Springfield, where he promised to "render unto your Honoress due attention and faithful obedience"; but he knew that many in the house of representatives joined [Thomas] Ewing in thinking him a "course and vulgar fellow."

. . . Similarly conflicted and contradictory were his attitudes toward women. Lincoln liked women and wanted to know them . . . But he was awkward and uncomfortable when he was around them. He did not know how to behave. Sometimes he turned up for evening affairs wearing his rough Conestoga boots, and he once disrupted a party by commenting, "Oh boys, how clean these girls look."

The Edwards entourage included the most attractive young women in Springfield . . . but nobody in the Edwards circle attracted more interest than Mrs. Edwards' younger sister, Mary Todd.

. . . In receiving Lincoln's attentions, Mary had to think of him, as she did of the other young men who gathered around her, as a potential husband. Marriage was now very much on her mind. She was just short of becoming an old maid, and, except for schoolteaching, no other career was open to women of her class. . . . Lincoln looked increasingly attractive. He lacked social graces, but his honesty, his courtesy, and his considerateness compensated for the deficiency.

The Edwardses favored the match. Ninian Edwards said he desired it "for policy." He did not explain his meaning, but doubtless he had in mind linking to his already influential family a promising young lawyer and politician. Mrs. Edwards also encouraged it, recognizing that Lincoln was "a rising man." Sometime around Christmas [1839], Abraham and Mary became engaged.

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