Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/387

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369
First Period

worth and go in debt to be able to write so fine a piece." Even in the first period of his maturity he could still lapse into verse. A visit to his former home in 1844 called forth two poems that have survived. One was a reverie in the vein of

O Memory! thou midway world
    Twixt earth and Paradise,
Where things decayed and loved ones lost
    In dreamy shadows rise.

The other was a description of an idiot, long a familiar village figure. Commenting on this poem, Lincoln refers to his " poetizing mood." His official biographers tell us that his favourite poets were Shakespeare, Burns, Byron, and Tom Hood, and add that his taste was "rather morbid." Byron's Dream was one of his favourites. It is a commonplace that he never tired of the trivial stanzas beginning

Oh why should the spirit of mortal be proud.

When his writings come to be edited as literary remains—not merely as historical data—the period of his juvenilia will close with the year 1842. The first period of his maturity will extend to the close of his one term in Congress. Or, it may be, these two periods will be run together. To repeat, there are no sharp dividing lines across this part of his life. He was thirty-three in 1842; forty when he retired from Congress. Either age, in such a connection, is strangely removed from the precocious. In his writings before the end of his thirty-third year there is nothing that would have kept his name alive. However, even as early as twenty-three, in an address to the "People of Sangamon County" submitting himself as a candidate for the legislature, Lincoln revealed two, at least, of the characteristics of his eventual style—its lucidity and its sense of rhythm. Boy as he was, he was little touched by the bombastic rhetoricality of his day. On this side, from the first, he had purity of taste. His sense of rhythm—faintly to be sure—was also beginning to assert itself in 1832. Lincoln's sense of rhythm was far deeper, far more subtle, than mere cadence. In time it became a marvellous power for arranging ideas in patterns so firmly, so clearly, with such unfaltering disposition of emphasis that