Inspiration From The Distant Past

Inspiration From The Distant Past
Found note in an old book... warms the cockles of my bookish heart...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tuesday Treasures: The Boy's Life of Abraham Lincoln

 Tuesday Treasures is a recurrent feature in which I share the bookish distractions that catch my eye in the school library I work in on Tuesday. I'm not the librarian; I am the speech pathologist. You will hear no complaints from me about sharing a workspace-- this little old school library collection is chock full of wonderful treasures. Plus, I get to release my inner-librarian. The students who wander in looking for books assume I am the Tuesday Librarian.

Can't believe it has been so long since I've posted a Tuesday Treasures! My only excuse is personal difficulty with the space/time continuum that the school had no heat for over a month and it was too cold  in the cavernous library to think let alone take photos with frozen fingers. (FYI: articulation therapy is not good when the speech path is chattering from the cold; now I have stutters to fix.)

Today, I spotted a very ugly book on the library cart...
See.. isn't it ugly? Poor dingy grey thing. Never one to judge a book by its cover, I took a peek inside and it is an absolute treasure!

Can you believe that books this old are still in the school library?! Makes my little bookish heart go pitter-pat.  The first few pages are a bit worn and torn but the book is in remarkable condition considering how many book reports it has aided over the last century. Don't you wish more hardbacks today had sewn bindings?

Helen Nicolay, the author, was the daughter of Abraham Lincoln's secretary, John G. Nicolay.  You can read more about them here.  Very interesting-- especially the part about Mary Todd Lincoln not trusting Mr. Nicolay. Bet there is a good story there.

Anyhoo, back to Helen:  As a young woman, she took dictation for her father's ten volume biography of Lincoln. Following her father's death, she began writing her own books of history and biography, as well as becoming a recognized artist. This talented lady wrote many books for children to make 'history seem alive and interesting to young people'.  

Helen sure succeeded with this one. It is very engaging and informative and I lost myself in several chapters!

The book is loaded with compelling black and white illustrations. Here are a few...

'He borrowed every book in the neighborhood.'   Gotta love a bookworm!
"He always brought a cheery atmosphere into the dining-room."   Lincoln told great stories and loved to jest. If political dicussions became too hot, he was able to soothe any ruffled feathers. 

I didn't get a photo of Lincoln scything hay/wheat but apparently politicians were expected to prove their muscle and mettle out on the campaign trail. Lincoln won many a vote by helping out farmers or joining a game of quoits.

The house in which Abraham Lincoln was married. I'd like to pop right in this one-- in living color, of course, not black and white.

"The lad took her picture from his pocket and showed it to him." 

This illustration refers to a meeting with soldier William Scott who was sentenced to be shot for falling asleep on his watch within range of enemy fire.  Lincoln heard about the incident and went himself to talk to the young man. After chatting awhile, the president kindly said... 

"My boy, you are not going to be shot to-morrow. I believe you when you tell me that you could not keep awake. I am going to trust you, and send you back to your regiment. Now, I want to know what you intend to pay for all this?" 

The young man had no money but said his family might mortage the family farm or, if the president could wait till payday,  perhaps his comrades would help. The President replied:

"My bill is a great deal more than that, it is a very large one. Your friends cannot pay it, nor your family, nor your farm. There is only one man in the world who can pay it, and his name is William Scott. If from this day he does his duty so that when he comes to die he can truly say 'I have kept the promise I gave the President. I have done my duty as a soldier,' then the debt will be paid."

William Scott fell in battle a few months later and the debt was paid.  Can hardly bear that one, bloggy friends!  You know how battle, honor and glory affect me...  

There are funny little penciled notes scrawled here and there throughout the book but look what I found on the back of one illustration:  notes for a whole book report assignment! Some of it makes no sense.  Number three reads 'His reason in writing this book'... hmm...

Like I mentioned before,  this biography has been well used by a century of students (and still being used). I really really had to fight the urge to swipe it for it's own protection but if it has survived this long...  

If you are interested in The Boy's Life of Abraham Lincoln,  the text is available to read online or for ebook download at


  1. Oh wow! How fascinating!
    And too too funny!
    That incident (W. Scott) was pretty moving.
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. I love old books. I wish more hardbacks were sewn too.

    I also love it when there are handwritten notes in old books. That book report doesn't sound too good though!

  3. Wow! This makes me want to start paying closer attention to - and checking out! - the "ugly" books at my local library!

  4. Lesa, I have a library confessions. and no, it's not racy.. sorry all you lurkers. The first book i checked out at the library was a biography of A. Lincoln. I was in first grade. After that, libraries were my happy, it's closer to the bathtub with a glass of wine, but still!
    library love...

  5. Oh my gosh, what a find. I've been obsessed with Lincoln ever since visiting Ford's Theater. This books sounds marvelous, not only is it about Lincoln, its got its own rich history.

  6. I do judge a book by its cover, but what a find! I think learning about the boy before the man would be so illuminating and fascinating. Thanks!

  7. Helen Nicolay is a good writer, and has many many books for adolescent readers. You will enjoy them all. - - J V, nephew of John G Nicolay who was father of Helen Nicolay . . .


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