Six Months at the White House/LXI
Visitors to the Executive Chamber, during the administration of Mr. Lincoln, will remember the lithographic map, showing the slave population of the Southern States in graduated light and shade, which usually leaned against a leg of his desk or table, and bore the marks of much service. The States and counties most abounding in slaves were indicated on this map by degrees of blackness, so that by a glance the proportion of whites and blacks in the different States at the commencement of the Rebellion could be easily comprehended.
Wishing to introduce this map into my picture, I carried it off one day, without the President's knowledge, and as the copying of it was a tedious affair, it remained in the studio for some time. This chanced to be during the week of Kilpatrick's great cavalry raid in Virginia. One afternoon the President came in alone, as was his wont,--the observation of the daily progress of the picture appearing to afford him a species of recreation. Presently his eye fell upon the map, leaning against a chair, as I had left it after making the study. "Ah!" said he, "you have appropriated my map, have you? I have been looking all around for it." And with that he put on his spectacles, and, taking it up, walked to the window; and sitting down upon a trunk began to pore over it very earnestly. He pointed out Kilpatrick's position, when last heard from, and said:--
"It is just as I thought it was. He is close upon ---- County, where the slaves are thickest. Now we ought to get a 'heap' of them, when he returns."
This conversation occurred, I recollect, just after his solitary lunch,--the family being away at the time. It was often a matter of surprise to me how the President sustained life; for it seemed, some weeks, as though he neither ate nor slept. His habits continued as simple as when he was a practising lawyer in Springfield, but they came to be very irregular. During the months of my intercourse with him he rarely entertained company at dinner. Almost daily, at this hour, I met a servant carrying a simple meal upon a tray up-stairs, where it was received, perhaps two hours later, in the most unceremonious manner. I knew this irregularity of life was his own fault; but the wonder as to how his system endured the strain brought to bear upon it was not lessened by this knowledge.
All familiar with him will remember the weary air which became habitual during his last years. This was more of the mind than the body, and no rest and recreation which he allowed himself could relieve it. As he sometimes expressed it, the remedy "seemed never to reach the tired spot."
Mr. Lincoln's height was six feet three and three-quarter inches "in his stocking-feet." He stood up, one day, at the right of my large canvas, while I marked his exact height upon it.
His frame was gaunt but sinewy, and inclined to stoop when he walked. His head was of full medium size, with a broad brow, surmounted by rough, unmanageable hair, which, he once said, had "a way of getting up as far as possible in the world." Lines of care ploughed his face,--the hollows in his cheeks and under his eyes being very marked. The mouth was his plainest feature, varying widely from classical models,--nevertheless expressive of much firmness and gentleness of character.
His complexion was inclined to sallowness, though I judged this to be the result, in part, of his anxious life in Washington. His eyes were blueish-gray in color,--always in deep shadow, however, from the upper lids, which were unusually heavy, (reminding me, in this respect, of Stuart's portrait of Washington,)--and the expression was remarkably pensive and tender, often inexpressibly sad, as if the reservoir of tears lay very near the surface,--a fact proved not only by the response which accounts of suffering and sorrow invariably drew forth, but by circumstances which would ordinarily affect few men in his position.
The Hon. Mr. Frank, of New York, told me that just after the nomination of Mr. Chase as Chief Justice, a deeply interesting conversation upon this subject took place one evening between himself and the President, in Mrs. Lincoln's private sitting-room. Mr. Lincoln reviewed Mr. Chase's political course and aspirations at some length, alluding to what he had felt to be an estrangement from him personally, and to various sarcastic and bitter expressions reported to him as having been indulged in by the ex-Secretary, both before and after his resignation. The Congressman replied that such reports were always exaggerated, and spoke very warmly of Mr. Chase's great services in the hour of the country's extremity, his patriotism, and integrity to principle. The tears instantly sprang into Mr. Lincoln's eyes. "Yes," said he, "that is true. We have stood together in the time of trial, and I should despise myself if I allowed personal differences to affect my judgment of his fitness for the office of Chief Justice."