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The following anecdote of the late President Lincoln has never been published, I think, and unlike, perhaps, some of the stories attributed to him, is an actual fact, for I have it from one who
was present at the time and sat next the hero.
During Mr. Lincoln’s practice of his profession
of the law, long before he was thought of for President,
he was attending the Circuit Court which
met at Bloomington, Illinois. The Prosecuting Attorney,
a lawyer by the name of Lamon, was a man
of great physical strength, and took particular pleasure
in athletic sports, and was so fond of wrestling
that his power and experience rendered him a formidable
and generally successful opponent. One
pleasant day in the fall Lamon was wrestling near
the court-house with some one who had challenged
him to a trial, and in the scuffle made a large rent
in the rear of his unmentionables. Before he had
time to make any change he was called into court
to take up a case. The evidence was finished, and
Lamon got up to address the jury, and having on a
somewhat short coat his misfortune was rather apparent.
One of the lawyers, for a joke, started a
subscription paper, which was passed from one member
of the bar to another as they sat by a long table
fronting the bench, to buy a pair of pantaloons for
Lamon, “he being,” the paper said, “a poor but
worthy young man.” Several put down their names
with some ludicrous subscription, and finally the
paper was laid by some one in front of Mr. Lincoln,
on a plea that he was engaged in writing at the
time. He quietly glanced over the paper, and immediately
took up his pen and wrote after his name, “I can contribute nothing to the end in view.”
–George William Curtis, The Editor’s Drawer, Harper’s Magazine, March 1866.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”