HIS FAVORITE POEM.
The evening of March 22d, 1864, was a most interesting one to me. I was with the President alone in his office for several hours. Busy with pen and papers when I went in, he presently threw them aside and commenced talking to me of Shakspeare, of whom he was very fond. Little "Tad," his son, coming in, he sent him to the library for a copy of the plays, and then read to me several of his favorite passages. Relapsing into a sadder strain, he laid the book aside, and leaning back in his chair, said:--
"There is a poem which has been a great favorite with me for years, which was first shown to me when a young man by a friend, and which I afterwards saw and cut from a newspaper and learned by heart. I would," he continued, "give a great deal to know who wrote it, but I have never been able to ascertain."
Then, half closing his eyes, he repeated the verses to me. Greatly pleased and interested, I told him I would like some time to write them down. A day or two afterwards, he asked me to accompany him to the temporary studio in the Treasury Department of Mr. Swayne, the sculptor, who was making a bust of him. While "sitting," it occurred to me that then would
be a good opportunity to secure the lines. He very willingly complied with my request to repeat them, and, sitting upon some books at his feet, as nearly as I remember, I wrote the verses down, one by one, as he uttered them: * --
Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be
Like a swift-fleeting meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave,
He passeth from life to his rest in the grave.
The leaves of the oak and the willow
Be scattered around, and together be laid;
And the young and the old, and the low and the high,
Shall moulder to dust, and together shall lie.
The infant a mother attended and
The mother, that infant's affection who proved
The husband, that mother and infant who blest,--
Each, all, are away to their dwellings of rest.
[The maid on whose cheek, on whose brow, in whose eye,
Shone beauty and pleasure--her triumphs are by;
And the memory of those who loved her and praised,
Are alike from the minds of the living erased.]
The hand of the king, that the sceptre hath borne,
The brow of the priest, that the mitre hath worn,
The eye of the sage, and the heart of the brave,
Are hidden and lost in the depths of the grave.
The peasant, whose lot was to sow and to reap,
The herdsman, who climbed with his goats up the steep,
The beggar, who wandered in search of his bread,
Have faded away like the grass that we tread.
[The saint, who enjoyed the communion of heaven,
The sinner, who dared to remain unforgiven,
The wise and the foolish, the guilty and just,
Have quietly mingled their bones in the dust.]
So the multitude goes--like the flower or the weed,
That withers away to let others succeed;
So the multitude comes--even those we behold,
To repeat every tale that has often been told:
For we are the same our fathers have been;
We see the same sights our fathers have seen;
We drink the same stream, we view the same sun,
And run the same course our fathers have run.
The thoughts we are thinking, our fathers would think;
From the death we are shrinking, our fathers would shrink;
To the life we are clinging, they also would cling--
But it speeds from us all like a bird on the wing.
They loved--but the story we cannot unfold;
They scorned--but the heart of the haughty is cold;
They grieved--but no wail from their slumber will come;
They joyed--but the tongue of their gladness is dumb.
They died--ay, they died--we things that are now,
That walk on the turf that lies over their brow,
And make in their dwellings a transient abode,
Meet the things that they met on their pilgrimage road.
Yea! hope and despondency, pleasure and pain,
Are mingled together in sunshine and rain;
And the smile and the tear, the song
and the dirge,
Still follow each other, like surge upon surge.
'Tis the wink of an eye,--'tis the
draught of a breath;
From the blossom of health to the paleness of death,
From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud:--
Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Discussing briefly the merits of this poem, and its probable authorship, Mr. Lincoln continued:--
"There are some quaint, queer verses, written, I think, by Oliver
Wendell Holmes, entitled 'The Last
Leaf,' one of which is to
me inexpressibly touching." He then repeated these also from memory. The verse he referred to occurs in about the middle of the poem, and is this:--
"The mossy marbles rest
On the lips that he has pressed
In their bloom,
And the names he loved to hear
Have been carved for many a year
On the tomb."
As he finished this verse he said, in his emphatic way: "For pure pathos, in my judgment, there is nothing finer than those six lines in the English language!"
Mr. R. McCormick, in some "Reminiscences," published in the Evening Post, says that Mr. Lincoln was fond of the works of
Robert Burns; and although I myself never heard him allude to the great Scottish poet, I can readily conceive that it may have been true. "There was something," says Mr. McCormick, "in the humble origin of Burns, and in his checkered life, no less than in his tender, homely
songs, that appealed to the great heart of the plain man who, transferred
from the prairies of Illinois to the Executive Mansion at Washington at a time of immense responsibility, gave a fresh and memorable illustration of the truth that
'The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The man's the gowd for a' that.'"