Collaterally with law and politics, Lincoln was at this time engaged with that almost grotesque courtship which led to his marriage. The story is a long and strange one; in its best gloss it is not agreeable, and in its worst version it is exceedingly disagreeable. In any form it is inexplicable, save so far as the apparent fact that his mind was somewhat disordered can be taken as an explanation. In 1839 Miss Mary Todd, who had been born in Lexington, Kentucky, December 13, 1818, came to Springfield to stay with her sister, Mrs. Ninian W. Edwards. The Western biographers describe her as “gifted with rare talents,” as “high-bred, proud, brilliant, witty,” as “aristocratic” and “accomplished,” and as coming from a “long and distinguished ancestral line.” Later in her career critics with more exacting standards gave other descriptions. There is, however, no doubt that in point of social position and acquirements she stood at this time much above Lincoln.
Upon Lincoln’s part it was a peculiar wooing, a series of morbid misgivings as to the force of his affection, of alternate ardor and coldness, advances and withdrawals, and every variety of strange language and freakish behavior. In the course of it, oddly enough, his omnipresent competitor, Douglas, crossed his path, his rival in love as well as in politics, and ultimately outstripped by him in each alike. After many months of this queer, uncertain zigzag progress, it was arranged that the marriage should take place on January 1, 1841. At the appointed hour the company gathered, the supper was set out, and the bride, “bedecked in veil and silken gown, and nervously toying with the flowers in her hair,” according to the graphic description of Mr. Herndon, sat in her sister’s house awaiting the coming of her lover. She waited, but he came not, and soon his friends were searching the town for him. Towards morning they found him. Some said that he was insane; if he was not, he was at least suffering from such a terrible access of his constitutional gloom that for some time to come it was considered necessary to watch him closely. His friend Speed took him away upon a long visit to Kentucky, from which he returned in a much improved mental condition, but soon again came under the influence of Miss Todd’s attractions.
The memory of the absurd result of the recent effort at marriage naturally led to the avoidance of publicity concerning the second undertaking. So nothing was said till the last moment; then the license was procured, a few friends were hastily notified, and the ceremony was performed, all within a few hours, on November 4, 1842. A courtship marked by so many singularities was inevitably prolific of gossip; and by all this tittle-tattle, in which it is absolutely impossible to separate probably a little truth from much fiction, the bride suffered more than the groom. Among other things it was asserted that Lincoln at last came to the altar most reluctantly. One says