Up to this time he had not made a study of grammar, but he realized that if he were to speak in public he must learn to speak grammatically. He had no grammar, and did not know where to get one. In this dilemma he consulted the schoolmaster of New Salem, who told him where and from whom he could borrow a copy of Kirkham’s Grammar. The place named was six miles from New Salem. But that was nothing to a youth so hungry for an education as Lincoln. He immediately started for the residence of the fortunate people who owned a copy of Kirkham’s Grammar. The book was loaned to him without hesitation. In a short time its contents were mastered, the student studying at night by the light of shavings burned in the village cooper’s shop. “Well,” said Lincoln to Greene, his fellow-clerk, when he had turned over the last page of the grammar, “if that’s what they call a science, I think I’ll go at another.” The conquering of one thing after another, the thorough mastery of whatever he undertook to do, made the next thing easier of accomplishment than it would otherwise have been. In order to practice debating he used to walk seven or eight miles to debating clubs. No labor or trouble seemed too great to him if by it he could increase his knowledge or add to his acquirements. No matter how hard or exhausting his work, whether it was rail splitting, plowing, lumbering, boating, or store keeping, he studied and read every spare minute, and often until late at night.
But this sketch has already exceeded the limits of Lincoln’s boyhood, for he had reached his twenty-second year while in the store in New Salem. How he was made captain of a company raised to fight against the Indians, how he kept store for himself, learned surveying, was elected a member of the Illinois legislature, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in Springfield, and how he finally became president of the United States,—all this belongs to a later chapter of his life.
Lincoln’s rise from the poorest of log cabins to the White House, to be president of the greatest republic in the world, is one of the most inspiring stories in American biography. Yet he was not a genius, unless a determination to make the most of one’s self and to persist in spite of all hardships, discouragements, and hindrances, be genius. He made himself what he was—one of the noblest, greatest, and best of men—by sheer dint of hard work and the cultivation of the talents that had been given him. No fortunate chances, no influential friends, no rare opportunities played a part in his life. Alone and unaided he made, by the grace of God, the great career which will forever challenge the admiration of mankind.
THE MARBLE WAITETH