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THE BURDEN BEARER
The Burden bearer
AN EPIC OF LINCOLN
FRANCIS HOWARD WILLIAMS
GEORGE W. JACOBS & CO.
This edition of ' * The Burden Bearer ' ' is limited to
Three Hundred copies, of which this is
Copyright, 1908, by
GEORGE W. JACOBS & CO.
Published November, igo8
All rights reserved
Printed in U. S. A.
TO MY WIFE
THE BURDEN BEARER
Of sturdy English stock the Linkhorns came,
People of Norfolk, seeking in the new
For what the old denied, ā a human right
To labor and to worship in God's world
Untrammeled save by conscience and the fear
Of one sole Maker.
So John Linkhorn came
To plant his crops in Pennsylvania soil
And gather fruit beneath Virginia sun;
And after him came Abraham in turn,
Migrating to Kentucky's distant fields;
And after Abraham, Thomas, ā he whose ways
Were never thrifty, though his heart was set
To cozen fortune whose averted face
Shone never on him. Slow of gait was he,
Stoop-shouldered, pausing ever for a jest,
Hard-handed, capable of labor, nor
Striving to shun it when it came his way,
Though scarce alert to seek it out.
His friends, ā
And he had many, ā called him Shiftless Tom, ā
Tom Lincoln, who could make a joint at need
And do such carpentry as few could match,
Yet all unlettered. Patient at his bench
Within the shop of Joseph Hanks he wrought,
And saw the months glide into years and all
The years to bootless issues. Yet a web
Was being spun about his life to lead
To undreamed destinies. For Tom saw oft
His gentle cousin, daughter of the man
Who paid him his scant wage. And Nancy's eyes,
Resting at first complacent on the gaunt
And stooping form at Joseph Hanks's bench,
Little by little took a softer light
And conjured up strange images whereof
They two became a portion. And at last
He spoke, all awkwardly and ill at ease,
Fashioning his untaught phrase to tell his love,-
Unlettered, rough, yet eloquent. And she
Quite understood and loved him that he failed,-
Quite took into her heart his futile trial
To make his plea a poesy; and so
She gave her promise to become his wife.
Time's wheel turns slowly, but at last the day
Set for the marriage came, and Jesse Head,
Exhorter, preacher, and the friend of both,
With ceremony due made these two one
In eyes of God and man.
And Nancy faced
The stern reality of coming trials
With faith which knew no faltering.
Sweet was she
In all the winning ways of womanhood,
Too timid haply for the turbulent stress
Of stern and rugged days. Within her veins
The blood of those who once serenely dwelt
In English Malmsbury flowed inviolate,
And something of the mystic Stonehenge hung
About her presence. Soft and vagrant winds
Whispered their earliest carols to the child
Who knew no struggle till a ruthless world
Startled her sense and dashed her striving life
Against the hardships of the pioneer.
Through tears that told the pain of parting shone
The light of girlish eyes, and from her gaze
Faded Virginia hills, as in her mind
A vision of the far Kentucky rose.
And soon the perils of the journey came,
The Wilderness Road with all its hidden fears,
The bruit of savage Indians and at night
The iterant cry of wolf and wildcat, raised
As though to stem the Western flowing stream
Of active life, grown milder at the hearth
Of human kindliness. Thus did she come
To live and learn and to each daily task
To bring her willing effort. Thus her face
Took on the look of patience, and her eyes
Turned serious, even as our fancy paints
The eyes of Mary when the angel came
To make annunciation. For mayhap
A prescience whispered to the guileless one:
"The day shall come when thou shalt bear a man
To carry high the torch of liberty."
How evermore inscrutable is fate!
How evermore implacable the scales
That weigh life's happenings! A timid bride
Came Nancy to the cabin of the man
Whom she had wedded, unafraid yet frail, ā
Alas! too frail, to cope with those hard days
Which now became her lot.
For Tom had made
A hut of rough-hewn logs, with earth for floor,
Windowless, bare, and open to the blast.
And here he brought the wife whose daily toil,
Faithfully given, of recompense had naught
Save scanty food and clothing, and the leave
For brief respite in weary slumber. Here
Was born the little Sarah, all too soon
To droop and seek again the kindly earth,
Leaving the fragrant memory of her smile.
Then, in the discontent which often breeds
A hope of future betterment, these two, ā
The shiftless pioneer and his fading wife, ā
Moved onward to a little settlement;
Men named it Buffalo, on Nolan Creek,
Meandering through the blue Kentucky fields.
Close by the cabin bubbled one clear spring,
In cool seclusion, from beneath a rock
That kept it ever shadowed; so they named
The new place Rock Spring Farm.
And ere a year
Had seen the little family settled there,
A mystery seemed to brood upon the house;
And on a day God called a soul to life,
And Abraham Lincoln lived.
Haply the dawns
That press their wan cheeks on the uncumbered hills,
Nor fret upon the angled works of men,
Bring yet a finer essence to new day
And bathe the spirit in a rarer joy
Than those who dwell in towns have dreamed upon.
So loving Nature's compensations keep
Her scales at balance, and for us who seek
To see in retrospect those rugged days
In the gaunt wilderness, there is strange joy
To think upon the vigor and the life
Which from the first imbued that infant form,
And through the tender veins of him whose fate
Enwrapt America, poured vital strength
To build at last the stature of a man.
Patient the mother was, as true the wife.
The first rude learning which to Thomas came
He gained from Nancy's hands. So, too, the child,
Turning from infancy at the mother's knee,
Was taught to read from the scant printed page,
And gathered lore of holy men of old,
Ever more thoughtful with the growing years.
Of schooling nothing worthy of the name,
Of preaching little, save when some lean man
Came hungry on his circuit through the wilds,
Pronouncing with thin lips the living word
And in grim mien and manner setting forth
The stern necessity of struggle here
Or misery hereafter. 'Twas as though
Fate hung a hopeless veil before the child,
Who evermore sought shelter in himself,
And as he learned to work, learned also well
To hoard the hours for study. Then there came
The move to Knob Creek, and again the change
To friendlier soil in far and fallow fields
Wrung by hard toil from Indiana's huge
And overshadowing forests. Gentryville
Became the new abode, forlorn and bare.
A cabin rough-hewn, into whose rude logs
Had bit the hatchet of that seven-year boy,
Laboring each day beside his father, reared
Its inhospitable unlovely shape, ā
Haply a shelter but no whit a home;
And here each evening closed a day of toil.
Ah, who that dwells in curtained ease can know
The stress of those stern pioneers whose hands
Wrought out the miracle of a Nation's growth?
Who, fashioned in the large luxurious mold
Of this our day's prosperity, may dream
How Nature's face a century ago
Wore frowns where now she smiles?
Hard, hard the times,
And grim the struggle for existence waged
In those far settlements, those outer posts
Where Thomas Lincoln and his fading wife
Wrung a bare living from the grudging soil.
Meagre their fare and their utensils few,
Their raiment scarce above the garments made
By silent squaws in the red Indians' tents;
And if perchance the mother's patient hands
Wrought homespun clothing, 'twas for Sunday wear,
Above the daily uses of the farm.
So Abraham, the child of such hard days,
Grew into youthful stature, garnering strength.
At night he sought the fitful glare of logs
Burning upon the hearth to con the lore
Of Thomas Lincoln's Bible, or to find
In Bunyan's allegory food for dreams.
The Life of Washington, a precious part
Of the slim stock of books, was evermore
An inspiration and an upward call
To a soul bent on duty. Nor the least
Of these prized helps to gropings of the mind
Was that loved book of human tinctured rimes,
The poems of Robert Burns. So evermore
The earnest boy, after the hours of toil,
Fed his young mind and built his seeking soul;
And so the years sped till there came a night
When Nancy Lincoln reached the end of care,
And, folding her thin hands across her breast,
Whispered a blessing in her husband's ear,
Looked with a mother's lovelight in her eyes
On little Sarah and on Abraham,
And, with a sigh, passed out into the light.
How doubly solemn is death's whisper heard
Through the green aisles, the lonesome sacristies,
Of the primeval forest! Rude and plain
The burial of Nancy, with no word,
No sentence spoken, and no voice upraised
In solace or in song. And Abraham grieved
And brooded long on such a sore neglect,
Till, hearing that one David Elkin rode
To nearby settlements, ā a man of God,
Itinerant preacher and exhorter he, ā
He wrote beseeching that some service meet
Be rendered at his mother's humble grave;
And David traveled o'er the weary miles
On horseback to the cabin, and from far
About the country silent neighbors came,
And gathered at the grave, now grown with grass,
Beneath a stately sycamore; and there
A sermon preached, a hymn sung and a prayer
Hallowed the ground where Nancy Lincoln slept.
Less prompt the foot of toil to meet each day
The daily strife, when at the heart there tugs
The sorrow of a parting. Yet the task
Waits not upon the pleasure of the man,
And so the father and the son toiled on.
And little Sarah childishly essayed
A woman's labors. Abraham, between
The hours of heavy work upon the farm,
Sought how to add to their too scanty means,
Doing such service as he might, perchance
Splitting the rails for a far neighbor's fence
Or ferrying some traveler o'er the stream,
Content with what he got, the while he gave
A conscientious measure for his wage.
The quiet evenings were in study spent;
The boy, intent on education, strove
To garner fruitage from that arid soil,
And prospered so that soon the neighbors said
He had become the oracle of law.
At Jones's store the Solons of the place
Discussed the politics of State and town
And wrestled with the problems which their lives
Made very real and earnest. When the court
At Boonville held its session, Abraham came,
Listening with admiration to the pleas, ā
Returning to his cabin then to dream,
Through the long silence of the sombre nights,
Of legal tilts and tourneys and the joy
Of swaying men by brilliancy of mind
And all the force of logic. But at home
There was scant comfort. Son and father felt
The need of all the thousand ministries
Of woman's hand. Neglected were the chores
Of the poor household, rusted and ill-kept
The homely vessels of the kitchen shelf,
Unmended the mean clothing. 'Twas perchance
Rather necessity than sentiment
Which spurred the elder Lincoln to make choice
Of Sarah Johnson as a second mate;
Yet was the choice most happy, for she proved
As noble as affectionate, as wise
As she was tender. And her stepson grew
All soon to love her from a heart as true
And crystalline as Nature.
The struggling family in fair Illinois
Sought an amended fortune, she who brought
Her little store of household goods to fill
The ever pressing needments, carried too
The sunshine of her soul to that far home
To soften every hardship. Abraham now
Feeling the hour had struck that he should seek
To make his own place in a wider world,
Engaged with Denton Offutt to bring down
A flatboat to New Orleans, loaded deep
With such provision as should find a sale
In that great mart. 'Twas there his quick eyes found
The many avenues to giant trade;
'Twas there his nature turned in sudden shock
To see the flesh and blood of men bid off
Like chattels at an auction. With what mad
Grief and wild indignation did he cry:
"By God! if ever in the days to come
I have the chance to strike so vile a trade,
I shall strike hard !"
Ah, wondrous prophecy!
Sublime forecast of a sublime event,
To give our wisdom pause!
The country store
At primitive New Salem scarce could give
The inspiration for a destiny
So great as Lincoln dreamed. Yet mid the stress
Of that rude life he found the dreamer's hour
To fashion visions in his spacious mind.
Then came the Black Hawk war with quick alarm
To summon men to action, and he went
Undaunted by the meagreness of means,
A poor equipment of a frontier town.
With what strange interest does our thought revert
To that rough camp on the Rock River's banks, ā
A camp which unto us of later days
Seems history's microcosm; for its lines
Enclosed, in comradeship of soldiers' lives,
Zachary Taylor, Robert Anderson,
Immortal Lincoln and ā a name less blest ā
Jefferson Davis; mounted rangers all,
And all as brave as hardy. When again
A respite came from Indian alarms,
The many-sided man put by his arms
And, as postmaster of his little town,
Gave honest labor for a meagre wage.
Anne Rutledge! What a perfume seems to haunt
The syllables of that mellifluous name!
Imagination dwells upon her face,
And fancy wreathes her form in symmetry.
Slowly both face and form became a part
Of each day's dreaming of the earnest youth,
And Abraham Lincoln knew the deepest love
That ever in his heart made melody.
At night he glimpsed her eyes among the stars,
And in the twilights he repeated soft
The verses of a song which seemed to hold
The essence of her being. But too soon
Fate passed a subtle hand across her brows,
And she was fallen on sleep ere yet the joy
Of love had reached its ripening.
Alone his bitterness, nor made loud moan;
But those about him saw a shadow creep
In darker emphasis to mark new lines
And write its message on that virile face;
And ever after in the deep-set eyes
Dwelt the strange pathos of an untold pain, ā
The mist of unshed tears.
To the small home
Had come the stealthy tread of Death to claim
The cherished form of Sarah, and once more
Father and son looked on a new-made grave
Beneath the whispering trees.
And Abraham wrought
With still redoubled vigor at his tasks,
Haply with hope to dull the edge of grief
Upon the unchanging round of daily toil.
Surveyor was he, boatman, rail-splitter,
Builder of rough-hewn cabins. In the woods
A wielder of the axe, and in the fields
A tiller of the soil. Yet all the while
He delved amid the precedents of law,
Studied the commentaries, ā the debates ;
Not seldom brought the logic of his wit
To bear upon the issues of some feud
Among his neighbors of that countryside,
Till people came to him for argument,
And afterwards for justice, and the folk,
Finding him ever jealous of the right,
And all unbending to mere policy,
Bowed to his will, and called him "Honest Abe,"
Nor questioned his decisions.
So the man
Became the politician in a sense
Worthy of all approval, and appealed
To fellow citizens for proof of faith
In his staunch loyalty; and at the polls
They showed their faith, and sent him to the halls
Of legislation at Vandalia.
So, in the early manhood of a life
Rooted in rugged nature, and upbuilt
Amid the strenuous ways and days of toil,
Came Abraham Lincoln to the open door
Of statesmanship. And we who, looking back
Down the perspective of the vanished years,
May mark the epochs of a great career,
Are conscious of an exultation born
Of knowledge that within that open door
Stood the sublimest fruitage of the time,
To adorn the annals of America.
Honor that oft doth seem too coy to list
The lofty wooing of a noble mind!
Fame whose blown hair and sun-illumined eyes
Not always bring their glory to the dreams
Of worthiest seekers; ye are hovering near,
To touch with eloquence a lagging pen
And fling new radiance o'er the historic page.
A new career hath opened to the man
Whose mind accepted destiny the while
His hand wrought out his own.
His steady eyes
Had fixt their questioning purpose on the words
Of prophecy and promise, ā had indrawn
The spiritual essence of the sacred text,
And winnowed meanings, symbolisms, truth,
From the large utterance of inspired lips.
Within the ample storehouse of his mind
Were garnered phrases of an import rich
In comfort to the soul, and through his heart
The melody of love, vibrating, kept
Its unabated sway. From Avon's source
Of wit and wisdom flowed the exhaustless stream
Of wide humanity, touched by the hand
Of art inimitable, and upon its breast
Floated rich argosies, which the seeking mind
Of Lincoln seized and fed upon, and throve,
So grafting beauty on the stock of strength,
That perfect manhood should at last bloom forth,
Life's ultimate fruit and flower. His studious ways
Held him aloof from many a social scene,
Yet left him time for civic duties, deemed
The prime commands, laid on an honest soul.
From Blackstone, Kent, the elementary law
Was slowly made his portion. Physics soon
Became his study. Manly, gentle, true,
He grew to be the master of such speech
As made him Nature's orator. His style,
Concise and clear, simple, and more than all
Marked with the Anglo-Saxon nervous force
Which makes a sentence vital and a phrase
Now there came a further call
To serve his State in legislative halls,
First at Vandalia, then in later days
At Springfield, whither the gaunt giant rode
On a poor borrowed horse, and owning naught
But saddle-bags, three law books and such clothes
As poverty might claim.
His good friend Speed
Was waiting, and to him the traveler came
Asking the cost of lodging, and, when told,
Turning in sad and melancholy plight,
Saying: "I have not wherewithal to pay,
But if you'll let me share your room, I'll make
My credit good by Christmas." So the two
Lived in the humble quarters, and the town,
From that time forward till the crowning year
Which summoned Lincoln to his high estate,
Became a patriot's home.
Now did the law
Absorb his every thought; the Federal courts
Drew to themselves the talent of the State,
Which, sparsely settled with a hardy race,
Yet furnished matter for continual feud
At bench and bar. The court-house, oft of logs
Though sometimes framed and boarded, bore small
Of the robed majesty whence precedents
And legal cues were drawn. The judge was placed
Upon a platform of unsightly boards,
Raised to lend dignity where oft, alas!
No dignity abode; and at his side
The clerks, on comfortless unstable stools;
And on the benches, further down the room,
The patient jury. It were hard to tell
Why, in the rude and restless days which then
Filled out the passing year, the people found
So great attraction in the court-house, yet
It seemed the Mecca for all seeking minds
To journey to, and, having found, to keep.
Fitted to diverse needs, it held the place
Of lecture and of theatre, or the scenes
Of nightly revelry which Eastern taste
Turned to for respite from a world of work.
Riding the circuit had its hardships then,
Yet knew its compensations. Oft, perchance,
Adventure seasoned travel, and the men
Who rode together, making light the way
With joke and sally, fording swollen streams,
And sleeping in mean quarters, met in fierce
And wordy opposition at the court,
Intent to snatch, each for his client, all
That might be got by pleading, or the wit
To make a jury laugh.
Such men were they
Who, humble then, were giants when there came
The stress and strain of war. The names stand large
On history's page. Logan, the partner, friend
And counsellor of Lincoln. Douglas, he
Whose burning eloquence was yet to thrill
A Nation and touch wide the fount of tears, ā
He whose supreme invective was to meet
The solid sense and humor of that man
Who conquered through simplicity. Bissell,
Stuart and Baker, Trumbull, Browning, all
Intent to carve out fortune, though the world
Stood with averted face. Now the campaign
Which carried the first Harrison to fame, ā
"Log cabin" hero first, then President, ā
Broke into wordy fury, and the Whigs
Knew no more valiant champion than he
Who spoke but by conviction, and so held
Respect of enemy as love of friend.
But not alone did politics enthrall
Or civic duty bind him. For there came
From Lexington to Springfield Mary Todd,
Young, witty, ever ardent and withal
Disposed to arrogance in claiming suit
Of many brilliant suitors, and to her
Lincoln made court; and soon the vixen Chance
Threw in the way of both the hot-blood youth
Of James Shields, who found grievance in a jest,ā
A paper satire born of Mary's pen, ā
And made demand for satisfaction. So
Lincoln, whose chivalry was of the sort
Which acts nor mouths its presence, stepped before
Her anonymity, and bore the blame,
Accepting challenge, and, while loath to fight,
Refusing naught which honor might demand.
Then Shields was satisfied, and Mary felt
Her first light liking ripening into love
For one whose gaunt form held a knightly soul.
Then, as October glories turned to brown,
These two were plighted, nor postponed for long
The benediction that should make them one.
So, in the record of a great career,
Another leaf was turned, ā a new bright page
Opened to meet the seeker's scrutiny,
And teach the lesson of a life.
The silver-tongued Demosthenes held Greece
Struck into admiration and dumb awe,
'Twas whispered that the gods had leaned to earth
To pour their miracle of words upon
The favored lips of men. And as the thrill
Of cadenced eloquence enthralled the souls
Of listening multitudes a deeper faith
Became the human dower.
So to our land, ā
Dove-eyed America whose vizor rests
Above her brow serene, ā came now a voice
To sway men to its will. Lincoln, inspired
By loftiness of theme or righteous cause,
Oft rose to heights sublime. Awkward at first,
Ungainly in his mien, nor having care
For outward accessories, when his soul
Rose in the majesty of spiritual power
To lift the banner of eternal right,
He seemed the avatar of Justice, crowned
With her undying bays. His attitude
Unconsciously took on a classic mold;
The lines of that lean figure fell apace
Into the forms of beauty. From his eyes, ā
Those sentient pools wherein strange shadows lay, ā
Flashed forth the lightnings of a noble wrath,
And flamed the indignation of a god.
Invective from his agile tongue poured out
A withering sarcasm, doubly barbed mayhap
By the scarce uttered jest. The anecdote, ā
As coarse perchance as Nature's under side,
Yet like to Nature strong, unerring, true, ā
Served as the vestibule to temples wrought
To ultimate perfection. To the jest
So flavored with the salt of Attic wit
That none could miss its purpose, oftentimes
Succeeded, in one vital moment, words
Fraught with the pathos of a woe concealed, ā
Touched with the minor music of men's tears.
That tall shape, stooping as at first it rose,
That homely visage, as at first it turned
Full-featured on a half believing throng,
Became transfigured until they who gazed
Visioned a nimbus seeming to surround
The dark dishevelled hair.
Such was the man
Who now brought to his country's Congress all
A patriot's fervor. He had followed close
Upon the heels of Stephen Douglas, he
Who seemed designed of destiny to be
Rival of Lincoln with such rivalry
As brought undying fame to Illinois,
Which both claimed as a mother.
In the House,
As fellow members, Winthrop, Collamer,
John Quincy Adams, Andrew Johnson, he
Whom coming years brought to a doubtful fame,
And Alexander Stephens, whose worse fate
Foredoomed him to rebellion, sat and oft
Met Lincoln in debate. Here, too, were Toombs,
And fiery Rhett, and Cobb, who served his State
Forgetful of his country.
As rivals in the Senate, Benton, Dix,
Keen Simon Cameron and Lewis Cass,
Grave Daniel Webster, master orator,
And Hale, and Crittenden, and John Calhoun,
And (name replete with memoried regret)
Through long strenuous years
Douglas, the leader of Democracy,
Had faced on many a field of hot debate