Abraham Lincoln to Mary Speed, 27 September 18411Bloomington, Illinois, Sept 27th 18412 Miss Mary Speed Louisville, Ky. My Friend:
Having resolved to write to some of your Mother’s family, and not having the express permission of any one of them do so, I have had some little difficulty in determining on which to inflict the task of reading what I now feel must be a most dull and silly letter; but when I remembered that you and I were something of cronies while I was at Farmington, and that, while there, I once was under the necessity of shutting you up in a room to prevent your committing an assault and battery upon me, I instantly decided that you should be the devoted one—3
I assume that you have not heard from Joshua & myself since we left, because I think it doubtful whether he has written—
You remember there was some uneasiness about Joshua’s health when we left. That little indisposition of his turned out to be nothing serious; and it was pretty nearly forgotten when we reached Springfield. We got on board the Steam Boat Lebanon, in the locks of the Canal about 12 o,clock M. of the day we left, and reached
<Page 2>St Louis the next monday at 8 P.M— Nothing of interest happened during the passage, except the vexatious delays occasioned by the sand bars be thought interesting— By the way, a fine example was presented on board the boat for contemplating the effect of condition upon human happiness. A gentleman had purchased twelve negroes in
diferent parts of Kentucky and was taking ^them^ to a farm in the South. They were chained six and six together— A small iron clevis was around the left wrist of each, and this fastened to the main chain ^by a shorter one^ at a convenient ^distance^ distant from the others; so that the negroes were strung together precisely like so many fish upon a trot-line— In this condition they were being separated forever from the scenes of their childhood, their friends, their fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters, and many of them, from their wives and children, and going into perpetual slavery where the lash of the master is proverbially more ruthless and unrelenting than any other where; and yet amid all these distressing circumstances, as we would think them, they were the most cheerful and apparantly happy creatures on board. One, whose offence for which he had been sold was an over-fondness for his wife, played the fiddle
<Page 3>almost continually; and the others danced, sung, cracked jokes, and played various games with cards from day to day— How true it is that “God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb,” or in other words, that He renders the worst of human conditions tolerable, while He permits the best, to be nothing better than tolerable—4
To return to the narative. When we reached Springfield, I staid but one day when I started on this tedious circuit where I now am—5 Do you remember my going to the city while I was in Kentucky, to have a tooth extracted, and making a failure of it? Well, that same old tooth got to paining me so much, that about a week since I had it torn out, bringing with it a bit of the jawbone; the consequence of which is that my mouth is now so sore that I can neither talk nor eat— I am litterally “subsisting on savoury remembrances”—that is, being unable to eat, I am living upon the remembrance of the delicious dishes of peaches and Cream we used to have at your house—
When we left, Miss Fanny Henning was owing you a visit, as I understood— Has she
<Page 4>paid it yet? If she has, are you not convinced that she is one of the sweetest girls in the world? There is but one thing about her, so far as I could perceive, that I would have otherwise than as it is— That is something of a tendency to melancholly— This, let it be observed, is a misfortune, not a fault— Give her an assurance of my very highest regard, when you see her—6
Is little Siss Eliza Davis7 at your house yet? If she is, kiss her “oer and oer again” for me—
Tell your mother that I have not got her “present” with me; but that I intend to read it regularly when I return home.8 I doubt not that it is really, as she says, the best cure for the “Blues” could one but take it according to the truth— Give my respects to all your sisters (including “Aunt Emma”) and brothers— Tell Mrs Peay, of whose happy face I shall long retain a pleasant remembrance, that I have been trying to think of a name for her homestead, but, as yet, can not satisfy myself with one— I shall be verry happy to receive a line from you, soon after you receive this; and, in case you choose to favour me with one, address it to Charleston, Coles Co. Ills. as I shall be there about the time to receive it—9Your sincere friendA. Lincoln
<Page 5>BLOOMINGTON Il.
Paid 18½Miss Mary Speed LouisvilleKy.
1Abraham Lincoln wrote the entirety of this document, except the address on the final page, which was folded to create an envelope.
2The reason for Lincoln’s presence in Bloomington is uncertain; perhaps it was just the stopping point between Tremont and Clinton.
3In April 1840, the father of Lincoln’s close friend Joshua F. Speed died, and in early 1841, Speed returned to his family’s plantation called Farmington near Louisville, Kentucky. Lincoln visited Speed at his family’s home in August and September of 1841. On August 11, Lincoln was present for the final day of the summer session of the Sangamon County Circuit Court; he may have left for Kentucky the following day.
John Speed’s Gravestone, Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, KY; Appraiser’s Report, 11 August 1841, in Woods, Stacker & Co. v. Taylor, Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, 2d edition (Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 2009), http://lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=140797; Robert L. Kincaid, Joshua Fry Speed: Lincoln’s Most Intimate Friend (Harrogate, TN: Lincoln Memorial University, 1943), 15; David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 86-87; Joshua F. Speed to William H. Herndon, 17 September 1866, Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, eds., Herndon’s Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998), 342.
4Laurence Sterne, author of Tristram Shandy, used this phrase in A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy, first published in 1768.
Laurence Sterne, intr. by Wilbur L. Cross, A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy (New York: J. F. Taylor, 1904), 386.
5Lincoln left Louisville via steamboat for St. Louis on September 7. After reaching home, likely on September 15, Lincoln left for Tremont, where he was present at the Tazewell County Circuit Court on September 20.
The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 7 September 1841, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1841-09-07; 15 September 1841, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1841-09-15; 20 September 1841, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1841-09-20Answer, 20 September 1841, in Mather, Lamb & Co. v. Hawley et al., Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, http://lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=136240.
6Joshua F. Speed married Fanny Henning on February 15, 1842.
Robert L. Kincaid, Joshua Fry Speed: Lincoln’s Most Intimate Friend, 18.
7In The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Roy P. Basler notes this may refer either to the daughter of Mary’s sister Susan Fry Speed Davis, or to Mary’s own younger sister, Eliza Davis Speed.
Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 1:261, n6.
8The present to which Lincoln refers is likely the Oxford Bible gifted to him by Lucy Speed.
Inscription of Abraham Lincoln to Lucy G. Speed on Photograph.
Autograph Letter Signed, 5 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).