The first time I met Mr. Lincoln was during his contest with Douglas. I was a young clergyman in a small Illinois country town. I was almost a stranger there when Lincoln was announced to make a speech. I went to the hall, got a seat well forward and asked a neighbor to point out Mr. Lincoln when he came in. "You won’t have no trouble knowin’ him when he comes," said my friend, and I didn’t. Soon a tall, gaunt man came down the aisle and was greeted with hearty applause.
I was specially impressed with the fairness and honesty of the man. He began by stating Douglas’ points as fully and fairly as Douglas could have done. It struck me that he even overdid it in his anxiety to put his opponent’s argument in the most attractive form. But then he went at those arguments and answered them so convincingly that there was nothing more to be said.
Mr. Lincoln’s manner so charmed me that I asked to meet him after the address, and learning that he was to be in town the next day attending court I invited him to dine with me. He came, and we had an interesting visit.
The thing that most impressed me was his reverence for learning. Recently come from divinity studies, I was full of books, and he was earnest in drawing me out about them. He was by no means ignorant of literature, but as a man of affairs naturally he had not followed new things nor studied in the lines I had. Philosophy interested him particularly, and after we had talked about some of the men then in vogue he remarked how much he felt the need of reading and what a loss it was to a man not to have grown up among books.
"Men of force, " I answered, "can get on pretty well without books. They do their own thinking instead of adopting what other men think."
"Yes," said Mr. Lincoln, "but books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new, after all."
I met Mr. Lincoln several times later, the next time a long while after in another place. I thought he would have forgotten me, but he knew me on sight and asked in the gentlest way possible about my wife, who had been ill when he came to see us.
But of all my memories of Lincoln the one that stands out strongest was his interest in poetry and theology. He loved the thing of the spirit.—A Clergyman.