Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/388

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it is impossible to read them into confusion—as is so easy to do with the idea-patterns of ordinary writers. And with this sense of the idea-pattern grew up at last a sense of cadence most delicately and beautifully accompanying, and reinforcing, the movement of the ideas. In 1832 there were but gleams of all this—but genuine gleams.

The ten years following, sterile from the point of view of production, are none the less to the student of Lincoln's mind most important. As to literary workmanship in these years, what he did to develop his power of expression—in all but the vaguest outline the story is gone. That he read insatiably, that he studied and practised law, that he won local fame as an oral story-teller and as an impromptu debater, these details are preserved. With these is another tradition borne out by his writing. He was a constant reader of the Bible. This introduces the most perplexing question of his inner life. What was his religion? The later Lincoln—the one to whom, perhaps, we get the clue in these ten years between twenty-three and thirty-three—is invariably thought of in popular local tradition as a man of piety. But on this point what do we know? Lincoln has left us no self revelation. His letters, with the exception of one group, are not intimate. His native taciturnity, in this respect, was unconquerable.

Though born in a family of Baptists, he never became a member of the Baptist or of any church. Except for one amazing fragment he has left no writings that are not more or less obscure where they touch on religious themes. It is a curious fact that in the index to the voluminous official Life the word religion does not occur. As against this singular negative evidence there are anecdotes of a religious attitude. But the historian learns to question the value of all anecdotes. Nevertheless the tradition of Lincoln's piety—of his essentially religious nature —will not down. A rooted tradition, almost contemporary, is more significant than anecdotes, less susceptible of that constant dramatic heightening which makes the anecdote in retelling more and more positive. Now, the traditional Lincoln is a man overshadowed, a man of infinite gentleness whose pity seems to be more than mere friendliness or generosity. His own world, though uninformed as to his specific beliefs, persistently conceived of him as a mystic, as a walker apart with God. For