Six Months at the White House/XXXVIII

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In March, 1864, Edwin Forrest came to Washington to fulfil an engagement at Ford's Theatre. It was announced one day that he was to appear that evening in "Richelieu." I was with the President, when Senator Harris of New York came in. After he had finished his business, which was to secure the remittance of the sentence of one of his constituents, who had been imprisoned on what seemed insufficient grounds, I told the President that Forrest was to play Richelieu that evening, and, knowing his tastes, I said it was a play which I thought he would enjoy, for Forrest's representation of it was the most life-like of anything I had ever seen upon the stage. "Who wrote the play?" said he. "Bulwer," I replied. "Ah!" he rejoined; "well, I knew Bulwer wrote novels, but I did not know he was a play-writer also. It may seem somewhat strange to say," he continued, "but I never read an entire novel in my life!" Said Judge Harris, "Is it possible?" "Yes," returned the President, "it is a fact. I once commenced 'Ivanhoe,' but never finished it." This statement, in this age of the world, seems almost incredible--but I give the circumstance as it occurred.

However it may have been with regard to novels, it is very certain--as I have already illustrated--that he found time to read Shakspeare; and that he was also fond of certain kinds of poetry. N.P. Willis once told me, that he was taken quite by surprise, on a certain occasion when he was riding with the President and Mrs. Lincoln, by Mr. Lincoln, of his own accord, referring to, and quoting several lines from his poem entitled "Parrhasius."

In the spring of 1862, the President spent several days at Fortress Monroe, awaiting military operations upon the Peninsula. As a portion of the Cabinet were with him, that was temporarily the seat of government, and he bore with him constantly the burden of public affairs. His favorite diversion was reading Shakspeare. One day (it chanced to be the day before the capture of Norfolk) as he sat reading alone, he called to his aide[1] in the adjoining room;--"You have been writing long enough, Colonel; come in here; I want to read you a passage in 'Hamlet.'" He read the discussion on ambition between Hamlet and his courtiers, and the soliloquy, in which conscience debates of a future state. This was followed by passages from "Macbeth." Then opening to "King John," he read from the third act the passage in which Constance bewails her imprisoned, lost boy.

Closing the book, and recalling the words,--

"And, father cardinal, I have heard you say

That we shall see and know our friends in heaven:

If that be true, I shall see my boy again,"--

Mr. Lincoln said: "Colonel, did you ever dream of a lost friend, and feel that you were holding sweet communion with that friend, and yet have a sad consciousness that it was not a reality?--just so I dream of my boy Willie." Overcome with emotion, he dropped his head on the table, and sobbed aloud.

  1. Colonel Le Grand B. Cannon, of General Wool's staff.