Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 2. His Lack of Precocity

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XXII. Lincoln

§ 2. His Lack of Precocity

It is significant that he was not precocious. The touching picture, preserved in several memories—the lonely, illiterate boy with a passion for reading, indulging the passion at night by a cabin fire—this picture has nothing of early cleverness. Of the qualities that appear after his advent, it is the moral not the mental ones that were clearly foreshadowed in his youth. The simplicity, the kindliness, the courage, the moderation of the matured man have their evident beginnings in the boy. His purely mental characteristics appeared so gradually, so unostentatiously, that his neighbours did not note their coming. Today, seen in the perspective of his career, their approach is more discernible. To one who goes carefully through the twelve volumes of the chronological edition of Lincoln’s writings, though the transition from characterlessness to individuality is nowhere sudden, the consciousness of a steady progress in mental power, of a subtle evolution of the literary sense, is unmistakable. The revelation gains in celerity as one proceeds. But there is no sunburst, no sudden change of direction. And yet, for all the equivocality of the early years, one ends by wondering why the process has seemed vague. It is like that type of play whose secret is not disclosed until just before the curtain but which, once disclosed, brings all preceding it into harmony.