We should perhaps be right in associating his curious record, of right and high regard for women and inefficiency where a particular woman’s happiness depended on him, with the belief in Woman Suffrage, which he early adopted and probably retained. Be that as it may, this part of his story points to something which runs through his whole character, something which perhaps may be expressed by saying that the natural bias of his qualities was towards the negative side. We hear, no doubt, of occasions when his vigour was instant and terrible—like that of Hamlet on the ship for England; but these were occasions when the right or the necessity of the case was obvious. We have seen him also firm and absolutely independent where his conviction had already been thought out. Where there was room for further reflection, for patiently waiting on events, or for taking counsel of wise friends, manly decision had not come easily to him. He had let a third person almost engage him to Miss Owens. Once in this relation to her, he had let it be the woman’s part and not the man’s to have decision enough for the two. Speed had to tell him that he must face Miss Todd and speak to her, and Speed again had to make clear to him what the effect of his speaking had been. In time he decided what he thought his own feelings were, but it was by inference from the feelings of Speed. Lastly, it seems, the troubles of his married life were met by mere patience and avoidance. All this, of course, concerned a side of life’s affairs in regard to which his mind had suffered painful shocks; but it shows the direction of his possible weakness and his possible strength in other things. It falls in with a trait which he himself noted in one of the letters to Speed: “I have no doubt,” he writes, “it is the peculiar misfortune of both you and me to dream dreams of Elysium far exceeding all that anything earthly can realise.” All such men have to go through deep waters; but they do not necessarily miss either success or happiness in the end. Lincoln’s life may be said to have tested him by the test which Mr. Kipling states in his lines about Washington:—
“If you can dream—and
not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim.”
He was to prove that he could do this; it is for the following pages to show in how high a degree. Meanwhile one thing should already be clear about him. No shrewd judge of men could read his letters to Speed with care and not feel that, whatever mistakes this man might commit, fundamentally he was worthy of entire trust. That, as a matter of fact, is what, to the end of his life, Speed and all the men who knew him and an ever widening circle of men who had to judge by more casual impressions did feel about Lincoln. Whatever was questionable in his private or public acts, his own explanation, if he happened to give one, would be taken by them as the full and naked truth, and, if there was no known explanation, it remained to them an irrebuttable presumption that his main intention was right.