New Podcast Episode: Peoria, Illinois, In Search of Robert G. Ingersoll, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln, Part 2

Etching of the old Peoria County Courthouse on a granite wall at the new one, Peoria, IL. It shows the portico from which Lincoln delivered his famed Peoria Speech of October 16th, 1854

Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

Peoria, Illinois, July 28th, 2017, continued

~ Dedicated to Shannon Harrod Reyes

I leave the library and begin my afternoon’s site searches at the Peoria County Courthouse. Abraham Lincoln visited this courthouse many times over the years, on some occasions in his capacity as a lawyer and other times in association with his political career. There’s a statue of Lincoln here commemorating a particularly notable occasion: his delivery of a speech from the front portico of the old courthouse on October 16, 1854. This speech was composed and delivered in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, co-authored by Stephen A. Douglas. The Peoria Speech, as it’s now known, was part of a series that took place during that legislative election season where Douglas and Lincoln addressed and rebutted each other’s arguments, sometimes during the same event, sometimes separately. Their exchange would be revived four years later, notably in the series of seven formal debates of 1858. Douglas won that year’s Senate election with 54% of the vote, but Lincoln distinguished himself so well in that campaign season that he won the larger prize two years later. He was elected President in 1860, handily defeating his closest rival Douglas with a 10%+ lead… Read the written version here

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

O.P. Recommends: ‘A Man’s a Man for a’ That: Frederick Douglass in Scotland’ by Andrea Baker for BBC Radio 4

Frederick Douglass daguerreotype, late 1840’s, about how he would have looked when he was in Scotland.

I’m hard at work today researching Frederick Douglass‘ travels in Scotland in 1846 and 1860, and looking forward eagerly to my planned journey(s) following in his footsteps here. I came across this wonderful program by Andrea Baker, an American opera singer who settled here in Scotland, recorded for BBC Radio 4. I think Ms. Baker will convince you as thoroughly as I’m convinced that the story of Douglass in Scotland is absolutely fascinating!

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Happy Birthday, Mary Fairfax Somerville!

Mary Fairfax Somerville by Thomas Phillips at the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Mary Fairfax Somerville, born on December 26, 1780 in Jedburgh, Scotland, was a mathematician of uncommon brilliance. After a very limited formal education, Fairfax educated herself from the family’s library. Though she initially was a poor writer and speller, she was an avid reader and an accomplished painter. Her interest in mathematics was sparked by a series of algebraic symbols and equations used as decoration in a fashion book. Once she began to uncover their meanings, she was hooked, and mathematics became one of the ruling passions and pursuits of her life.

Mary spent much of her time in youth and young adulthood in nearby Edinburgh. She married a cousin, Samuel Greig, at age 24, who didn’t actively interfere with her intellectual pursuits but didn’t support or approve of them, either. He died only three years later.

Back in Scotland, with a newfound independence purchased by her late husband’s money and her respectable status as a young widow with two children, Mary immersed herself in her intellectual pursuits in earnest, despite her family’s disapproval. She solved a mathematical problem placed in the Edinburgh Review by Dr. William Wallace, professor of Mathematics at the University of Edinburgh; her successful solution won her a medal and the interest of the mathematical community. Wallace guided her continuing education and introduced her to other mathematicians and scientists. She began to publish articles and books on a wide variety of mathematical and scientific subjects, including for the Royal Society, and would continue to do so for the rest of her life.

Mary received more moral and financial support when she married again in 1812. Her second husband, William Somerville (another cousin, whose mother nursed Mary as an infant), delighted in her work. They initially settled in Edinburgh, where Mary regularly communed with a small but noteworthy circle of intellectuals which included Wallace, Adam Ferguson, and Sir Walter Scott (a long-time family friend). Mary and William later moved to London for his job, where her impressive intellect and accomplishments brought her greater fame. She became friends with other luminaries such as Sir John Herschel and Annabella Milbanke (Lady Byron), who engaged Mary to tutor her daughter. This daughter, Ada Lovelace, also became a noted mathematician and a founding mother of computer science.

For the rest of her long life (she died on November 29th, 1872, about a month before she would have turned 92), Mary continued her research, problem-solving, and writing in science and mathematics, publishing many important works. Her success enabled her to support her family after her husband lost his money in an unsuccessful investment, then had to retire from work due to ill health. She became an active feminist, joining London’s General Committee for Women’s Suffrage and signing John Stuart Mill’s 1866 petition for women’s right to vote.

Learn more about this brilliant woman at:

Mary Fairfax, Mrs William Somerville, 1780 – 1872. Writer on science ~ site page for her portrait at the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Mary Fairfax Somerville ~ by Shane Wood for Biographies of Women Mathematicians, Agnes College

Mary Somerville: British Science Writer ~ by Erik Gregersen for the Encyclopædia Britannica

Mary Somerville: Pioneer Woman Mathematician and Scientist ~ by Jone Johnson Lewis for

Mary Somerville: Queen of Science ~ by Ruth Boreham for

Mary Somerville, Scientist, Writer and a Woman of Her Time ~ by Alice Prochaska, Somerville College, Oxford

Personal Recollections, from Early Life to Old Age, of Mary Somerville ~ by Mary Somerville, edited and annotated by her daughter Martha Somerville, published in 1874

Scientist Mary Somerville to Appear on Scottish £10 Note ~ by Rob Davies for The Guardian, Feb 10th,  2016

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

New Podcast Episode: Peoria, Illinois, In Search of Robert G. Ingersoll, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln, Part 1

Abraham Lincoln portrait head, cast of Gutzon Borglum model for Mount Rushmore at Tower Park, Peoria Heights. Other versions of this sculpture are at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, the Lincoln Tomb, and the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

Peoria, Illinois, July 28th, 2017

I awake in a spotlessly clean, perfectly comfortable, aggressively unimaginative Motel 6 hotel room on the north end of Peoria, Illinois. I’ve noticed that Motel 6’s are much better than they used to be when I was a child and young adult, at least in terms of cleanliness and amenities. They were never glamorous, but they now have less character. For many years, for example, the beds sported these wonderfully colorful blankets printed with stylized images of famous cities and landscapes all over the United States. Now, the rooms and draperies are beige highlighted with rust-orange, furnished with the plainest of midcentury-style designs, angular objects only occasionally relieved by a sleek curve here and there.

My term for this sort of accommodation is ‘people storage’: strictly utilitarian, uninspired, and uninspiring. Perhaps that’s a good thing for my purposes: I fled the room as soon as I could to place myself in a more interesting environment. Still, I’m irritated as I so often am with modern architecture and interior design. Why have we stopped bothering to go on artistic flights of fancy, then directing the inspirations found there towards making these things beautiful?

My first destination is a quick stop to see a bust of Abraham Lincoln at Tower Park in Peoria Heights… Read the written version here

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!


New Podcast Episode: Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois – Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas Debate

Knox College, George Davis Hall at E. South and S. Cherry Streets, Galesburg, Illinois

Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois, July 27, 2017

After exploring Fort Robinson for a couple of hours yesterday morning, I washed my face, changed my clothes, ate a hearty cooked breakfast in the restaurant in the main lodge, and drove east across Nebraska.

The drive was beautiful, vast blue-blue-blue skies with towering puffy clouds and occasional gray ones that blew through and dropped a little rain on the way. Rainbows faded in and out of view. The green and gold fields sometimes laid flat and sometimes rolled over gentle slopes and undulations. The road ran straight and wound among them accordingly. Tidy farmhouses were scattered across the land, and silos and grain elevators rose high near little town clusters, some full of quiet life on this warm summer afternoon, some nearly or entirely abandoned and decayed. I drove through the early evening until I decided I could no longer do without a nice shower and a proper bed. So I found a little hotel in Missouri Valley, Iowa and got a good night’s rest. This morning, I linger until nearly noon to finish writing up and publishing one of my pieces for this series.

I continue east towards Peoria, and about an hour before I reach that city, I spot a highway sign for an Abraham Lincoln historical site in Galesburg, Illinois. I turn off the highway and follow the signs to Knox College… Read the written version here

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Enlightenment Scotland: Advocates Library, Edinburgh

Interior of the Advocates Library, Edinburgh

This September, I visited the Advocates Library at Parliament House on the Royal Mile. It was open to the public during Edinburgh’s annual Doors Open Days. I had long wanted to visit Advocates’ Library and was planning to contact Parliament Hall to arrange one, but DOD made this much easier!

The philosopher who first brought me here to Edinburgh, David Hume, was the keeper of the Advocates’ Library from 1752-1757. The Library was founded by  George Mackenzie in 1682. Now strictly a law library, it originally acted as Scotland’s library of deposit, which, since 1925, is now the function of the National Library of Scotland.

The original building which housed the Advocates Library burned down in the great fire of 1824. Just as it happened with the destruction of two-thirds of the Library of Congress’ original collection in 1851, once Thomas Jeffersons’ private library, the surviving books from the original Advocates’ Library collection retain scorch marks. The library I visit today was completed in 1830 and designed by renounced Edinburgh architect William Playfair.

The Advocates Library and the Scottish Enlightenment, placard at Parliament Hall, Edinburgh for Doors Open Days

Keeper of the Advocates Library chair and desk. David Hume was the keeper of the Library from 1752-1757. The position was a poorly paid one, but it gave Hume access to a treasure trove of resources for his History of England, which brought him wealth and fame

Ways to enter the original Advocates Library, placard at Parliament Hall, Edinburgh

Interior of the Advocates Library, Edinburgh

Samuel Johnson and James Boswell‘s Visit to the Advocates Library, placard near the entrance from Parliament Hall, Edinburgh for Doors Open Days

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Hannibal and Florida, Missouri, in Search of Mark Twain

Mark Twain Memorial Bridge on the Missouri River, view from the riverside at the foot of Hill St, Hannibal, Missouri

Journal: Hannibal, Missouri, evening of July 31st, 2017

I’m sitting here on the waterfront between the Mississippi River and the train tracks, facing northwest. My back is leaning against a stone wall. The train whistle was deafening, but now the engine has passed and the freight cars are rumbling slowly by. The low, warm, dark peach last light of sunset is glowing gently through the steel truss bridge. I have a bottle of wine at my side and my laptop computer on my lap. The night is warm and humid. I’ve found a dark alcove beneath the park’s perimeter footpath so I can better see the last light of the sunset, and to avoid the clouds of mayflies swarming in the light around every post lamp.

Hannibal, Missouri, view towards the lighthouse from Main Street, evening

John Marshall Clemen’s office across from the family home on Hill St, Hannibal, Missouri

Old town Hannibal is very old-timey America. Lots of brick, and false fronts, and clapboard siding. Look to the west end of the street and you’ll see a steep tree-covered hill with a perfect little white lighthouse perched on its side. The main street’s storefronts are mostly full, with antique and novelty shops, souvenir shops, cafes, ice cream and candy parlors, and bars and restaurants. Walk only a block or two south up the hill and it’s half ghost town. The economy of the historic downtown, like so many in America, appears to be driven by tourism.

I walked to the old town’s main sights earlier this evening: the great American author Mark Twain’s boyhood home, his father’s law office, and so on, and photographed their exteriors. I’ll go inside these places tomorrow.

I must go now, the mosquitoes have found me and they’re swarming, out for my blood. I’ll camp tonight near the caves, in the campground that a local man I chatted with earlier directed me to.

Samuel Clemens’ family home on the side facing Hill St, Hannibal, Missouri

Hannibal, Missouri, evening of July 31st, 2017

When I arrive in Hannibal (from New Salem via the 72 West), it’s in the soft light of early evening. It’s still pretty warm, the road food I brought with me, celery, peanut butter, apples, are softened, wilted from the heat of the day. The car’s air conditioning is good but I find I need to alternate with fresh air, even when it’s hot. The conditioned air is refreshingly dry on these muggy midwest summer days but after sitting in it for too long, I feel suddenly as if I’m desiccating. Then the windows come down.

I’m in an excited mood. There’s always a feeling of discovery in crossing a river, I think, even in these days when wide, smooth highway bridges can make you forget to notice what you’re passing over one. When you do notice, though, you get the feeling that a river crossing is significant, like an anniversary or a holiday. River crossings used to be difficult, and something deep within us remembers that. Anniversaries, holidays, rivers are all markers that remind us, with a jolt, that though we once came from someplace, sometime, we’re now somewhere else, sometime later. We humans like these markers and boundaries. They place us so that, for a moment at least, we’ve on one shore or another, no longer adrift.

And I recall that young Samuel Clemens, like young Abraham Lincoln, had once been a river craft pilot: Lincoln of flatboats, Clemens of steamboats. Both took their crafts to New Orleans, and both were amazed, delighted, and impressed by what they saw there… and sometimes dismayed. As President during the great American war over slavery, Lincoln had many occasions to recall his first sight of chained slaves on their way to market in New Orleans. While his parents hated slavery and taught him that it was wrong, it was this experience that revealed its horrific reality to him, especially upon recollection and reflection. After Samuel Clemens renamed himself Mark Twain, a riverboat pilot’s term indicating a safe depth for passage, he realized that the slavery he grew up with and took for granted was a great moral wrong. Few works of scholarship, art, or literature reveal this to the moral imagination as impactfully and durably as his magnum opus Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Home of Tom Blankenship on North St, Hannibal, Missouri. Blankenship was the inspiration for Huckleberry Finn’s character in the novel of the same name; there’s a placard in the window identifying it as the ‘Huck Finn House’.

Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn sculpture, Hannibal, Missouri

I pull off on the side of North St, just north of N. Main St to stretch and look around. To my right, there’s a clapboard building on little grassy slope. I approach: there’s a plaque in the window identifying it as the ‘Huck Finn House.’ A little ahead of me to my left, there’s a little park with a sculpture on a pedestal in its center. I clamber onto the low wall surrounding it for a closer look. Yes, the two figures do portray Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. I return to the car, pull it into a nearby parking lot, tuck my laptop into my bag, and head towards Main Street. Before I leave the parking lot, a man and I exchange greetings. He’s organizing a town revitalization event. I can’t accept his kind invitation to attend, however, since I’ll be leaving town before it happens. But we chat awhile about Hannibal, its past and its future, and I follow his pointing finger to the main Twain sites. I visit and map them out in my mind so I can explore them tomorrow during business hours, and chat with some local ladies hanging outside of the Main Street Wine Stoppe.

Journal: Hannibal, Missouri, night of July 31st,  2017

I reach the campground. There are no lights on in the registration office; it’s clearly no longer staffed for the night. I enter the campground and choose a spot among many that lack registration cards clipped to the signs. I’ll pay in the morning. I set up my simple camp to the parking lights of the rental car. In my little niece’s cast-off backyard camping tent, I feel like Abraham Lincoln in a guesthouse. I sleep at an angle so I don’t have to double up my legs. Invariably, however, I wake up in this tent with my head pressing one corner and my feet another.

As I write, the sweat is rolling over me in big drops though this tent is lightweight and all the flaps are open, allowing the mesh panels to let in all the air that they’ll allow through. I unzip the tent’s front opening and stick my head out. It’s much cooler outside but I dare not leave the flap open given the ferocity of the mosquito attack earlier. Hope I can sleep.

Mark Twain Cave Campground, Hannibal, Missouri

Journal – Hannibal, Missouri, Tuesday morning, August 1st, 2017

I woke up rather early this morning and emerged from my tent to retrieve my little thermos of coffee and a bagel from the car. It was a beautiful morning. I felt very lazy and sat on the picnic bench for quite awhile watching my fellow campers rise, make breakfast, and walk their dogs. It’s one of the best campgrounds I’ve stayed in, spacious with roomy campsites, very well kept, lush with lots of trees. My coffee and bagel long finished, though, I finally bestirred myself and went for a jog, my stiffness and minor backache reminding me I haven’t gotten nearly enough exercise in the past week.  Then I took a shower, washing some of my clothes along with myself. This is one of my road trip tactics which allows me to travel without carrying along too much clothing. I went and paid for the campsite, since I arrived too late last night to do so, but decided against visiting the caves. They’re privately run and the entrance fees are higher than I want to pay; I’ve already seen some incredible caves on this trip and I’m trying to keep a lid on what I spend. After all, right now, I’m both homeless and jobless for the first time in a very, very long time. Somehow, that state of affairs feels okay.

View of Hannibal, Missouri, from the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse

Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse, Hannibal, Missouri

Right now, I’m at the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse, a little white wood structure built to honor the great author in 1935. It’s reached by 244 steps, which makes me happy. I’ve been missing my California hills and this climb is a break from the nearly unrelenting flatness of the Great Plains and the Midwest. My legs welcome the gentle, pleasant burn. I’m drenched with sweat before the exercise even begins; in fact, I never really dried off after my shower. It’s very humid and already very warm at 11 am.

I’m going down to go on the tour of Mark Twain’s childhood home, the fee there is very reasonable. I’m still deciding where I’ll head just after that…

Hannibal, Missouri,  August 1st, 2017

Descending from the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse, I stop at a sort of brick- and concrete- paved little park with a concrete railing on the southeast end. There’s a plaque on the railing that identifies it as the abutment of the first Mark Twain Memorial Bridge, built in 1935 to mark the centennial of his birth, dedicated in September 1836 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The one that crosses the Mississippi here now and which I gazed at the sunset through last night opened in 2000.

Paved park and remaining railing at the foot of the original 1936 Mark Twain Memorial Bridge, Hannibal, Missouri

I continue my descent to Main St, then buy my tour ticket at the Mark Twain Interpretive Center on Main St between North and Hill. It costs $11.00 and gives access to the Mark Twain, Huck Finn, and Becky Thatcher houses, the John Marshall Clemens law office and eventually, when it re-opens after restoration, Grant’s Drug Store. John Marshall Clemens, Sam’s father, was in turn (and sometimes, concurrently) a lawyer, farmer, land speculator, shopkeeper, court clerk, attorney general, and justice of the peace, and failed to succeed financially at all of them. He was a stern man with a cold and upright demeanor, very different than his vivacious, emotive wife Jane Lampton. The story that Twain later repeated was that this unlikely pair married upon Jane’s whim to spite another suitor, a move she later regretted. Husband and wife were respectful to one another but never warm or demonstrative. John died in 1847, leaving his family very badly off. It was up to the children to support the family then. Like all of his brothers, Samuel went to work in the newspaper trade at age twelve as a printer’s apprentice. He earned no wages then, only his board, food, and clothing, but this at least eased the burden on the family’s finances. Sam was able to continue his studies independently, part-time, so between that and his work immersed in communication, his skills in the English language apparently didn’t suffer a bit.

Model for a planned 1935 Mark Twain Centennial sculpture at Mark Twain Interpretive Center, Hannibal, Missouri

Samuel Clemens at fifteen, holding a printer’s composing stick with letters SAM. Daguerreotype, Hannibal, Missouri, 1850

In the Interpretive Center, I peruse photographs and informational placards about Samuel Clemens’ and his later alter ego Mark Twain’s life and work. I’m especially taken by a model for a planned 1935 centennial sculpture that never materialized. It features characters from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper, and Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. I’m a bit surprised that since the artist chose to memorialize characters from only four novels, they chose to include many from Joan of Arc. It’s probably the most overlooked of all of his works to this day.

Twain’s fascination with Joan of Arc began, he reminisced, while he was still a printer’s apprentice. A loose page from a book about her blew off the sidewalk and into his face. He was intrigued by what he read, and when his bookworm older brother Henry assured him that Joan was a real person, young Sam sought out and read everything about her that he could find. She remained a lifelong fascination for him. Joan, written many, many years later between 1892-1895, was Twain’s own favorite of his own works, or among his favorites, depending on which of his statements you go by. But it was widely dismissed by critics and still baffles readers and scholars well over a century later. Why did this hard-bitten cultural critic, cynic, and skeptic write a tender and hagiographic historical novel about a medieval French Catholic warrior-saint, and why did this master of American English so love this child of his pen? Parts of the explanation can be provided by Twain’s romantic notions about the delicacy and purity of feminine nature, and his relationship to his daughter Susy. It was no secret that Susy was his favorite daughter, and this daughter, who largely inspired his conception of Joan, also favored this work of her father’s.

First Edition of Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, 1896, cover

But Joan’s story is not only one of sweet, pure womanliness: it’s also a story of rebellion and staunch individuality. After all, she defied her parents, the local authorities, and the church to take up her greater task of defying and defeating the English in the Hundred Years’ War. After she was captured in battle, she remained steadfast in her unique sense of purpose, defying her judges in the court which finally sentenced her to death for heresy when she was only nineteen years old. This story must have resonated deeply with Clemens’ rebellious nature. Since his days as a teenaged printer’s apprentice under Joseph Ament, then as assistant printer and editor for his older brother Orion’s paper, then as a cub pilot on Mississippi steamboats after he left Hannibal, young Sam chafed under authority. After less than three years at his brother’s paper, which included his first published work, Clemens left Hannibal for St Louis early in the summer of 1853.

Like Twain, I’ve also had a lifelong fascination with Joan of Arc. I watched Ingrid Bergman’s portrayal of her innumerable times with my grandmother, who also insisted I read Twain’s Joan novel, which despite its flaws, I love to this day. Joan is the subject of one of my earliest portraits, and recently, I’ve brought her into my studies here at the University of Edinburgh. Like Twain, I also identify with her rebellious nature and staunch individualism.

Huck Finn / Tom Blankenship house, south view, and interpretive plaque historic photo, Hannibal, Missouri

I leave the Interpretive Center and take the self-guided tour, first to the ‘Huck Finn’ house where Tom Blankenship lived. Tom was young Sam’s playmate and the inspiration for Huckleberry Finn’s character. The Blankenship family was plagued by alcoholism and poverty, but Sam envied what seemed to him to be their free and easy lifestyle. The tidy clapboard structure atop its stone half-underground basement that stands here today only resembles the original dirty, ramshackle house of the Blankenship’s time here in shape and size.

Samuel Clemen’s home, right, and A.L. Hawkins Frazer’s, née Laura Hawkins (Becky Thatcher) home, left

Mark Twain visits his old family home in Hannibal, Missouri in 1902

Then I cross the picket-fenced lawn by the brick-paved walkway to the Clemens family home. Unlike the ‘Huck Finn’ house, this is the original building, thoroughly restored. However, I notice, it’s missing the window shutters that it had when Twain returned to Hannibal to visit his old family home in 1902 (see above). Perhaps the shutters were added after he lived here as a child. The rooms are furnished and decorated with period-correct furniture, textiles, clothing, and other objects. Each room also features a life-size sculpture of Twain as he appeared during his later years with his trademark bushy mustache and casual white suit with bow tie. The sculptures portray Twain in attitudes of reminiscing: sitting with his hands folded while gazing into space in one room, standing with one hand behind his back while gazing out of the window in another. Twain’s novels are heavily autobiographical, his characters based on members of his family, his friends, neighbors, employers, and teachers, mostly from Hannibal. This is especially true of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. I notice that the historical signs outside of the buildings included in this tour, which date to the 1930’s, present Twain’s characters as if they took part in the real-life history of the place. Here in Hannibal, as in Twain’s novels, life and artifice are presented together with no clear indication of which is fact, which is fiction.

Young Samuel Clemens’ bedroom, Mark Twain Boyhood Home, Hannibal, Missouri

‘Slavery in the Clemens Household’ placard in the Mark Twain Boyhood Home

Jane and John Marshall Clemens’ bedroom, Mark Twain Boyhood Home, Hannibal, Missouri

View of Becky Thatcher / Laura Hawkins house and John Marshall Clemens law office from the front bedroom, Mark Twain Boyhood Home

Left: a display in Laura Hawkins’ house. Right: interior view of Justice of the Peace Clemens’ office. Hill St, Hannibal, Missouri

Building at the southeast corner of Main and Hill which stands on the site of the second location of Joseph Ament’s paper the Missouri Courier. The offices were moved to the second floor of the building which originally stood here shortly after Samuel Clemens left his employ as a printer’s devil, from 1848-1850.

Mark Twain Museum on Main St, Hannibal, Missouri

Next, I briefly tour the ‘Becky Thatcher’ house. It was the home of Annie Laurie Hawkins, who most people called Laura. She was the neighbor and friend who Twain based the character of Becky Thatcher on in Tom Sawyer. Twain described Laura on many occasions as his first childhood love. They remained friends and kept in contact for life; Laura Hawkins, later Annie Laurie Hawkins Frazer outlived Twain by 18 years. The house has not been set up, like the Clemens house, to reflect how it may have appeared when little Laura lived here. It’s more like a gift shop – slash – museum, but according to the website, the planned decor and permanent exhibits are not installed yet.

I continue my tour next door to John Marshall Clemens’ Justice of the Peace office building. The one room open to the public is set up with some old furniture and books behind glass. If the furnishings reflect historical reality, it was a small and simple affair. Placards on the wall recount anecdotes from Clemens’ tenure there as a stern but fair man of common sense.

I continue east down Hill St towards the river, passing Grant’s Drug Store, which is under reconstruction, and turn right on Main St. Two blocks down, on my left, I enter the Mark Twain Museum at 120 N Main St.

The museum’s exhibits open with large blue-and-white gallery walls dedicated to original Norman Rockwell paintings and drawings for special editions of Tom Sawyer (1936) and Huckleberry Finn (1940). Rockwell was thrilled to be chosen to illustrate these new editions of what were already considered great American literary classics. It seems to me, as I’m sure it did then, that Rockwell was the obvious choice. His paintings were as nostalgically American as Twain’s resurrections of idyllic small-town childhood in these novels, and sure enough, he perfectly captured the tenderness and humor in Twain’s tales and characterizations. I remember my grandmother (the same one who urged me to read Twain’s Joan) sputtering with indignation when telling me of a woman who said that Rockwell was not an artist, but an illustrator. The woman not only considered these separate professions with different purposes but implied that the latter was inferior to the former. This was unforgivable to my grandmother, both in its snobbery and its slight to her favorite painter. I understand what the woman was getting at but I tend to agree with my grandmother. Rockwell has become unfashionable, to many, because of the nostalgia and sentimentality which pervade his work, but if we exclude Rockwell as an artist on those grounds, wouldn’t we be forced to exclude much of Twain? What people create who consider themselves artists, and who are considered as such by other people, has changed at least as many times over the centuries as opinions of what art really is and what it’s for. The woman seemed to have accepted a redefinition of art that excludes Rockwell, but I think any definition that succeeds in doing this is far too narrow. My grandmother did the same thing with the term music so that it excluded that wicked, sex-driven rock and roll.

Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Mark Twain Museum, Hannibal, Missouri

Beyond the Rockwell exhibit, I find one of Mark Twain’s white suit jackets in a glass case. With a small tear at the front, it’s draped on a form in front of a photograph of a mature Twain wearing it, or one very like it. According to the museum, it’s the only one known to exist. The white suit has become iconic of Twain since he wore one off-season to deliver a speech in support of copyright laws at a 1906 congressional committee meeting. The eloquent orator with his bushy white hair, flaring white mustache and eyebrows in a glowing white suit before a room of wintry black-clad men made a quite an impression. Twain was delighted with the effect and replicated it at other occasions where dark or formal clothing was expected. He wore a white suit for portrait sessions which resulted in some of the best-known images of him, and was buried in one as well. Though he adopted this devil-may-care look only for a short while before his death, it made an indelible impression on our collective memory of this oh-so-American personality. To this day, nearly all Twain impersonators wear a similar white suit.

Mark Twain’s top hat, baby Langdon’s death mask, and Olivia Clemens’ jewelry box, Mark Twain Museum, Hannibal, Missouri

Objects from Mark Twain Museum including top hat, pipe, miniature of Susy Clemens, and cast of Mark Twain’s hand

The museum is full of interesting objects and accompanying placards with anecdotes from the life of Twain and his family and friends. I look and read to my fill, then decide it’s time continue my journey following Twain. I return to the car and head southeast of Hannibal. Forty-five minutes or so later, I arrive in Florida, Missouri, the birthplace of Samuel Clemens.

Mark Twain Memorial Shrine at Mark Twain State Park, Florida, Missouri

Florida, Missouri, afternoon of August 1st, 2017

To be more precise, I visit Samuel Clemens’ two birthplaces. How can this be? Unusually for birthplaces, the building in which he was born has been moved about half a mile from its original foundation and now resides in an enormous structure built around and over it. Preserved from the elements, the faded, drooping, two-room little blue cabin is located within the Mark Twain Memorial Shrine at the Mark Twain Birthplace Memorial Site, next to Mark Twain Lake, in Mark Twain State Park. Clearly, the state of Missouri loves her illustrious native son.

Cabin in which Samuel Clemens was born, Mark Twain Memorial Shrine at Mark Twain State Park, Florida, Missouri

Interior of the cabin in which Samuel Clemens was born, Mark Twain Memorial Shrine at Mark Twain State Park

As with the Clemens’ home in Hannibal, the rooms are decorated with furniture and other period-correct items. The Clemenses didn’t live in the tiny village of Florida for long. The family had moved there in mid-1835 after briefly stopping in St Louis. They intended to settle there after John Marshall’s multiple failed attempts at farming and storekeeping, but the cholera epidemic raging through the city likely spurred them to move on again. They chose Florida because many members of Jane’s family had settled there. When they arrived, Jane was already pregnant with her sixth child. John Marshall earned his living here yet again by storekeeping, this time together with his brother-in-law, John Quarles, a man Mark Twain admired greatly. On November 30, 1835, Samuel was born, premature and sickly. Though many feared he wouldn’t last long, he would be among the four of the seven Clemens children that survived childhood.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens and his family at their Hartford, Connecticut home in healthier and wealthier times, Mark Twain Birthplace Memorial museum placard photo in Florida, Missouri

Besides the cabin, I find a wealth of artifacts from the life of Mark Twain with his wife and children. The artifacts together with the exhibits, the photographs and informational placards, tell of a life of harmony and plenty followed by sorrow and financial hardship. By the late 1860’s, Twain was making a decent living as a newspaper editor and in 1870, he married progressive, wealthy Olivia Langdon. Together, they established a lavish home in Hartford, Connecticut. It was designed by Edward Tuckerman Potter, ornately decorated by Louis Comfort Tiffany, filled with hand-carved and elaborate furnishings from all over the world, and occupied by Mark Twain and Olivia Clemens, their three daughters Susy, Clara, and Jean (their infant son Langdon died of diphtheria in 1872), and a bevy of servants. The family moved into the house with little Susy and baby Clara in the fall of 1874. While living here, Twain became a successful author and made an excellent income, he and his family enjoying the life of plenty with which they surrounded themselves. However, Twain’s enthusiasm for innovative scientific gadgets and hunger for more wealth led him to make a series of very costly and very unsuccessful financial investments, in which the family lost nearly all their money. To pay off their substantial debts and support the family, the Clemenses were forced to close down the Hartford home and move to Europe, where living expenses were generally much lower. There, Twain restored the family finances by a grueling series of speaking tours. Sadly, however, Susy contracted meningitis while she and Jean stayed behind with family in Elmira, New York. When learning of Susy’s illness, Olivia and Clara hurried back the United States to join her. However, they didn’t make it back in time. On August 18, 1896, Susy died at the Hartford home she so loved and missed. Thirteen years later, Jean also died, aged only 29, during an epileptic seizure.

Collection of objects from the Clemens’ family home in Hartford, CT, at the Mark Twain Birthplace Memorial Site Museum in Florida, Missouri. Clara, the only daughter to outlive Mark Twain and Olivia Clemens, provided the stories of the family memorabilia here

Pedestal marker at the original site of the cabin where Samuel Clemens was born, on what was South Mill St, Florida, Missouri

Granite pedestal marker at original site of Samuel Clemens’ birth cabin, South Mill St, Florida, MO, 2017 Amy Cools

Twain lost his beloved Olivia, or ‘Livy’ as he called her, in 1904. She was his constant and close companion, his main editor and critic, and the love of his life. For the six years he outlived her, Twain wandered, living sometimes in Europe, sometimes in New York City. Twain and his daughter Clara always had a fraught relationship: both were stubborn, strong-willed, and independent. But Clara had to do much of the emotional heavy work in the family. She looked after Olivia in her final illness while also helping to look after Jean, whose epilepsy rendered her both fragile and violent. She was also the go-between when her dying mother was kept separate, sometimes unsuccessfully, from her emotionally charged husband and his outbursts. Since her father’s death in 1910, Clara served as the caretaker and promoter of Twain’s legacy. Many of the artifacts I see here today are here thanks to Clara’s fundraising efforts, as are those that are preserved in the Hartford home and museum.

I leave the Birthplace museum and drive the half mile down the little county road that leads to the remnants of tiny Florida. Just off the road in a grassy field at what was once South Mill St, there’s a carved granite pedestal which marks it as the original site of Samuel Clemens’ birth. The pedestal used to support a bust of Twain, but the bust was also moved to the Birthplace museum to protect it from the elements. It’s a quiet, peaceful place here, with a few scattered homes and a church in view. It is now, as it was then, an improbable place to produce the restless, cosmopolitan iconoclast and self-created character Mark Twain.

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Sources and Inspiration:

The Mark Twain House and Museum website

Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse,’ Hannibal Parks and Recreation website

Paludan, Phillip Shaw. ‘Lincoln and Negro Slavery: I Haven’t Got Time for the Pain‘. Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association,
Volume 27, Issue 2, Summer 2006, pp. 1-23

The Routledge Encyclopedia of Mark Twain. Ed J.R. LeMaster, James D. Wilson. London: Routledge, 2013

Twain, Mark. The Autobiography of Mark Twain. Adapted for American English, an educational resource of The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State

Twain, Mark. Autobiography, Volume 1 and Volume 2, with an introduction by Albert Bigelow Paine. EBook produced by Don Lainson for Project Gutenberg Australia, 2002; original publication New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1924

Twain, Mark. Life On The Mississippi. EBook produced by David Widger for Project Gutenberg, 2006; original publication Boston: James Osgood & Co, 1883

Twain, M., & Paine, A. (1923). Mark Twain’s Letters (Definitive ed., Writings of Mark Twain ; v.34-35). New York: G. Wells.

Wecter, Dixon. Sam Clemens of Hannibal. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1952

Wecter, Dixon. ‘Lincoln, Mark Twain, and the Human Race.’ The Abraham Lincoln Quarterly, Jan 1, 1942, Vol.2, p.157

Enlightenment Scotland: Site of James Boswell’s Home in James Court, Edinburgh

The site of James Boswell’s place in James Court off the Royal Mile is near one of my favorite pubs in Edinburgh: the Jolly Judge. You can see the plaque on the wall near the doorway just beyond the lamp.

In James Court, just off Edinburgh’s famed Royal Mile, there’s a little winding set of stone steps leading to a simple wood door. The plaque near the steps reveals that they lead to the place where James Boswell lived from 1773 to 1786. The first flat that Boswell occupied in James Square was torn down, but the recently discovered remains of a very old staircase in one of these oft-reconstructed buildings may be the one which linked the two floors of his home. From what I’ve read thus far, it seems this marked building, site of Boswell’s second flat here in James Court, contains only parts of the original structure.

Boswell, the Edinburgh-born lawyer, diarist, and writer most well known for his biography of Samuel Johnson, has connections to two towering figures of the Enlightenment: David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The ways in which his life intersected with theirs exemplify his vibrant and complex life and personality.

On Sunday, July 7, 1776, Boswell visited the bedside of his dying friend Hume. Hume was the leading light of the Scottish Enlightenment, often honored as the greatest philosopher to write in English. In fact, Boswell first moved to in James Court, into Hume’s cute but tiny old flat, taking it over when Hume moved to New Town in 1772. It was at the latter place that Boswell, ‘too late for church’ anyway, stopped by to see if Hume, notorious for his religious skepticism, ‘persisted in disbelieving a future state even when he had death before his eyes.’ Boswell, habitual bacchanalist in wine and women, was nevertheless very religious and had a superstitious terror of hell. He was dismayed and shocked to find that his old friend did not only persist in his disbelief but was at ease, even happy, and showed no discernable fear of his impending annihilation. Boswell was left ‘disturbed… for some time.’

The doorway to James Boswell’s home in James Court, Edinburgh, Scotland. The plaque reads: ‘James Boswell 1740-1795, lawyer, diarist & biographer lived here 1773-1786’

Ten years earlier, Boswell played a part in destroying the trust and friendship between Hume and Rousseau. Hume had agreed to help Rousseau, who was fleeing political persecution in Europe, find safe haven in England. Mutual admiration and a warm friendship sprung up between the two menimmediately though Baron d’Holbach (another mainstay of the French Enlightenment community) warned Hume that Rousseau was not to be trusted. This proved true. Rousseau’s growing paranoia led him to believe that Hume was plotting to destroy him and began to spread word of Hume’s perceived deviousness. The unraveling situation was not helped when Hume’s friend Boswell, charged with escorting Rousseau’s beloved mistress Thérèse Le Vasseur to join him in England, had an affair with her along the way. Rousseau believed that Hume had helped orchestrate this betrayal as well. Aware of Boswell’s notoriously insatiable sexual appetite, Hume certainly showed very poor judgment in trusting Boswell with this task. Before long, Hume and Rousseau became bitter enemies. Hurt and angry, Hume attacked Rousseau publicly as well, sometimes in very unseemly ways, and the whole episode revealed that even the most wise can also be the most foolish.

Another view of the site of James Boswell’s home in James Court. This would have been the second and larger flat that Boswell occupied here; the building which held the first, formerly David Hume’s, was torn down.

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

O.P. Recommends: The African Enlightenment -The Highest Ideals of Locke, Hume and Kant Were First Proposed More than a Century Earlier by an Ethiopian in a Cave, by Dag Herbjørnsrud

Study of an African’s Head by Paul-Jean Flandron, 1830, Seattle Art Museum

In this fascinating piece, historian of ideas Dag Herbjørnsrud describes the ideas of the 17th-century Ethiopian philosopher Zera Yacob (1599-1692) and the 18th-century Guinean philosopher Anton Amo (c1703-55), comparing them to those of the great European Enlightenment thinkers. Well before they were developed in the Enlightenment tradition, Yacob and Amo were articulating ideas about the moral and intellectual equality of all human beings, women included; the immorality of slavery; an open yet skeptical view of religion; and many other key moral concepts we now widely ascribe to and whose origins we often credit to the Enlightenment. Herbjørnsrud asks: ‘Will Yacob and Amo also one day be elevated to the position they deserve among the philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment?’ Herbjørnsrud has inspired me to respond ‘I very much hope so!’

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

New Salem, in Search of Abraham Lincoln

Statue of Abraham Lincoln as surveyor at New Salem, Illinois

New Salem, Sunday, July 31st, 2017

From the Michael J. Howlett building in downtown Springfield (part of which stands on the site of the Ninian Edwards house where Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln were married and where Mary died), I head northwest on highway 97 to New Salem Historic Park. This is the site of New Salem, the small frontier commercial village which played no small role in Lincoln’s life as a young man striking out on his own. It’s a pleasant drive through farmland with homes and farm buildings and gas stations and tiny general stores scattered here and there. In a little under half an hour, I reach a wooded area, and soon after that, take the turnout to my left to New Salem. I stop for a snack at the little cafe offering a modest selection of hot dogs, nachos, sandwiches, and other things that take the edge off but don’t suffice as a meal. The park’s visitor center buildings are all closed because the air conditioning system isn’t working. I don’t blame them at all for not opening up: it feels very much like a summer day in the Midwest, hot and humid, and I imagine a full day indoors would get stuffy and miserable. But the park itself is open to roam, so I do.

I find that some of the volunteer interpreters are not deterred today by the heat or the lack of an air-conditioned space to retreat to. Two men in early-to-mid 19th-century costume roam the park under shady, battered straw hats, recounting the history of New Salem and anecdotes from Lincoln’s life here. Some kind soul(s) placed large coolers here and there filled with ice water as well. It’s a lovely place to wander, and I take my time exploring. Though I visit all of them, there are so many structures that I’ll just show and tell of the ones that have some connection to Lincoln. The park contains 22 reconstructed and one original building from the New Salem of Lincoln’s time. The reconstructions are based on the findings from archaeological digs, on descriptions of the town from former residents, and on other representations of buildings, furniture, and tools from the same time period. Most of the buildings, as far as could be determined, are built on or near the original foundations. Many of the furnishings, equipment, dishes, and more are from that time period, too, collected locally.

Lincoln’s first sight of New Salem was from the Sangamon River, which powered the little town’s gristmill and sawmill. On that day in April 1831, to be more precise, he was in the river: barefoot, hatless, and soaked to the skin, working frantically to dislodge Denton Offutt’s flatboat from where it had gotten stuck going over the dam. Lincoln had helped build the flatboat whose cargo of bacon and grain, en route to New Orleans, was in danger of going overboard. His efforts to save the boat and cargo succeeded, and Offutt, impressed and relieved, offered Lincoln the management of the new general store he planned to build for New Salem. It took Offutt longer the get the store up and running than he planned, but eventually, it did open in September of that same year, and Lincoln did run it after all.

Henry Onstot’s cabin, right, and cooper shop, left, New Salem, Illinois. The cooper shop is the only original building from New Salem; the rest have been reconstructed

Interior of the Onstot cooper shop where Lincoln would retreat and light a fire to read by.

Henry Onstot, whose house is the first I visit, was the area cooper, maker of barrels and other implements that required the same wood-steaming and bending techniques. His cooper’s shop next door is the only original building that still stands in New Salem. After the village was abandoned in 1840, Onstat moved his business, building and all, to nearby Petersburg. The building was returned to New Salem in 1922, not long after the park was opened to the public by the State of Illinois. Sixteen years earlier, in 1906, William Randolph Hearst purchased the site and surrounding lands and donated it to the Old Salem Chautauqua Association, who had invited him to speak and had sparked his interest in the site and its history. (Chautauqua is an adult education movement founded in the 1870’s, named for the New York lake near which the first meeting was held.) The Association, in turn, donated it to the state. This building is the only thing on this site that Lincoln was sure to have touched. William Herndon, Lincoln’s future law partner and biographer, tells us that Lincoln frequently would retreat to the cooper shop to read by the light of the fire he’d build using the leftover barrel-making materials.

The Trent brothers’ residence behind Henry Onstot’s house and cooper shop, New Salem, Illinois. Alexander Trent served with Lincoln in the Black Hawk War in 1832, and the next year, he and his brother Martin took over the Lincoln-Berry store.

A view of Lincoln’s New Salem, Illinois

The doorway to Jack Kelso’s place, New Salem, Illinois

I visit the Trent brothers’ house next, then the Kelso-Miller house. The Kelso-Miller house is a sort of duplex sometimes called a ‘dogtrot house’. The front doors face one another across an unwalled roofed and floored passage between the two halves. Jack Kelso, who New Salem historian Benjamin Platt Thomas describes as ‘a lazy dreamer’ and ‘the village philosopher,’ was a hunter, trapper, fisher, and odd-jobber. He loved Shakespeare and Robert Burns and could recite from them at length, to the surprise and delight of many. Lincoln became a lifelong fan of both.

Especially during his early years here, Lincoln, who never owned a house in New Salem, would board with them. It amazes me that Kelso and his wife could host Lincoln: the tiny size of this place makes it difficult to imagine that it could hold three cooking, eating, sleeping people, especially given the girth of Kelso and the height of Lincoln.

The interior of Jack Kelso’s residence; there’s not much more of this one-room house than what you can see here. Can you imagine three adults staying in this tiny place?

Kelso-Miller building, New Salem, Illinois. The Kelsos’ place is to the left, the Millers’ is to the right. Miller’s blacksmith shop can be seen at the far right and in the two photos to follow

Joshua Miller was the village blacksmith and wagon-builder. His wife and Kelso’s were sisters. Unlike Kelso, Miller was not a bit lazy. His skills were in high demand in the growing village so he was kept constantly busy. Now that Miller was here, the villages’ horses could remain properly shod; the doors and windows could have metal fittings instead of wood ones; plenty of wagons would have been needed to carry grain to and from the gristmill, and would require regular maintenance and repair as well.

Exterior (left) and interior (right) of Joshua Miller’s blacksmith shop, New Salem

Interior of Mentor Graham’s schoolhouse. It also served as a church on Sundays.

Nxt, I visit the schoolhouse. Mentor Graham, the schoolmaster, was among those impressed by Lincoln’s ability, attentiveness to detail, and friendly concern for his neighbors and customers. According to New Salem historian Thomas, Graham assisted him in his continuing self-education, finding him a ready, apt, and diligent student. He helped Lincoln learn surveying as well, often working with Lincoln late into the night doing and checking calculations. Yet another biographer, Michael Burlingame, disputes the story that Graham was much of a help to Lincoln educationally, despite Graham’s and Lincoln’s friend Robert Rutledge’s claims. According to many of his former pupils, Graham had very poor math skills and was, in fact, a poor teacher overall. He had barely passed his teaching certification exams. Lincoln and Graham must have gotten along well enough, in any case: Lincoln boarded with his family for six months. If Graham’s former pupils spoke the truth, however, Lincoln likely mastered the skill of surveying on his own.

Mentor Graham’s schoolhouse, exterior view. It was originally located about a half mile southwest of the site of this reproduction.

A reproduction of the house of Isaac Guliher, or Golliher

First location of the Berry-Lincoln store in New Salem, from late 1832 to January 1833

Next, I stop by the house of Isaac Guliher or Golliher, variously spelled in my sources. His only significance in this account is that he also served with Lincoln in the Black Hawk War, one of the little troop that’s described in Thomas’ history of New Salem as “…a hard-looking set of men, unkempt and unshaved” who “made war on the pigs and chickens,” and one of whom replied “go to the devil” when Lincoln gave his first command. Though Lincoln was very proud of being elected their captain, it sounds as if would have been a tough job.

Two buildings past the house of Isaac Guliher stands a little pointy-roofed shop. The Berry-Lincoln store building, the first of its two locations, looks very like most of the other buildings here, sturdy but modest, strictly utilitarian with its rough-hewn log structure, pointed shake roof, and small door and windows. In 1832, Lincoln entered into partnership with William Berry, buying out James and J. Rowan Herndon’s share of the general store. Lincoln, as usual, was broke. The modest compensation he received for his service in the Black Hawk War that spring and early summer wouldn’t go far. He paid his share with a promissory note, as he did for his share of the stock he and Berry purchased from a defunct local store. The store was never very busy so Lincoln read quite a bit. In his New Salem years, he mostly read Shakespeare, Burns, and the Bible, as well as law books, Kirkham’s Grammar, and other practical books. Other than poetry and Shakespeare, he didn’t read much literature, in which he had little interest.

The store limped along and, to save it, Berry decided to apply for a license to sell liquor in small quantities, which made it effectively a tavern as well. This didn’t suit Lincoln, who didn’t drink and saw the ill effects on those who did. He released his interest in the store in April of 1833. Once again, Lincoln was broke, and this time, in debt. He became an odd-jobber again like his friend Kelso, but not a lazy one. He split rails, worked on the farms, in the mill, and tended Sam Hill’s store, and when he got the chance, took any jobs he could get relating to voting, politics, and the law. In May, thanks to one of his very numerous friends, he was appointed to the job of village postmaster. It paid poorly but it was a social job, suitable for this friendly and often gregarious young man, and it gave him access to all the newspapers coming through the post. Since it was only a part-time job, this again gave him some time to read and study, though his odd-jobbing continued. A friend had recommended he try for the job of assistant to the newly appointed county surveyor John Calhoun. That job, coupled with his postmaster’s salary, should give him enough to live on. So he borrowed Calhoun’s books and learned surveying, took the job, and from January 1834 to late 1836, he made a success of it. But when his debts began to come due from the failed partnership with Berry and other speculations, what he was earning turned out, yet again, not to be nearly enough.

Berry-Lincoln store, interior view, New Salem, Illinois

Lincoln the Ranger by Fred M. Torrey, portraying Lincoln as a soldier in the Black Hawk War, at the Lincoln Tomb, Springfield, Illinois

When it the time to elect state legislators began to come around in 1834, Lincoln’s friends encouraged him to run again. He first ran for that office in 1832, and his platform had included state investment in making the Sangamon River more navigable instead of putting in a much more expensive railroad line. He knew the river well, having been a flatboat pilot on it, and he knew just where it needed to be straightened, cleared, and dammed to get the goods flowing cheaply and easily to market. He also promoted public education, the lack thereof which had caused him so much frustration, and limits on predatory lending practices. Lincoln didn’t win the race, but made a respectable showing for a very young man of no means who had only been there about a year. In 1834, however, things were different. He had been a local businessman and postmaster, and his education and circle of friends had both increased. Among those who most encouraged Lincoln to run again was the justice of the peace Bowling Green.

So run he did, and he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives on August 4th, 1834. Lincoln would be reelected to that office four times, serving as state legislator from 1834-1842.

During his 1834 run for office, Lincoln would develop his interest and education in the law. John Todd Stuart, who served with Lincoln in the Black Hawk War, also ran for state legislature in 1832 and won. He would eventually become Lincoln’s first law partner, took an active interest in his prospects and loaned him his law books. Lincoln’s friend and mentor Bowling Green (what a name!) also recognized that Lincoln’s sharp mind took right to his legal studies. As justice of the peace, Green allowed Lincoln to comment on his court cases, which in turn led to many turning to Lincoln for advice and assistance drafting legal documents.

Rutledge Tavern, New Salem, Illinois, 2017

Rutledge Tavern kitchen

Almost three-quarters of the way down the main street, I take the right turn to that leads to the Rutledge Tavern. Its proprietor, James Rutledge, was one of the founders of New Salem in 1828. Rutledge was one of those who encouraged Lincoln to run for state legislator. This one and a half-story structure first served as the Rutledges’ home, but when the town began to grow, it was converted into a tavern or inn, with a low sleeping area overhead and a public dining room. This was one of the places where Lincoln regularly lodged and ate his meals.

In his biography of Lincoln, Herndon made much of a story that Ann Rutledge, James Rutledge’s daughter, was not only the first, but also the true love of Lincoln’s life. They certainly would have seen each other frequently, and as a petite, pretty, and plump young woman, she likely would have caught his eye (all of the women Lincoln is known to have courted or loved were curvy). Ann died in 1835, probably of typhoid, when she was only 22 years old; Abraham was 26. There are many stories of a courtship between Ann and Abraham, and of a tentative engagement contingent on an earlier beau’s reneging on his own promise. Some of the stories of their love affair claim that Lincoln wept by her deathbed, others that Lincoln was so distraught after her death that his friends kept suicide watch over him. Yet these stories are fragmentary, hearsay, and recalled many years or decades after the fact. It’s a sweet story, but we may never know how much of it is true. We must keep in mind that Herndon pushed the story within a larger narrative of Lincoln as a man who had lost in love, ending up with a difficult woman unworthy of him. As I have written previously, it appears to me that his portrayal of Mary Todd and her relationship with Lincoln is slanted based on Herndon’s personal dislike of her, and is not a balanced assessment. In any case, Ann and Abraham almost certainly shared an attraction and possibly love, and Abraham was certainly grieved by the early death of the sweet and pretty innkeeper’s daughter.

Rutledge Tavern, interior view, New Salem, Illinois

I return to the main road and straight ahead of me, across the street, I find a large milled limber structure with a nice shady porch. This is the second location of Berry and Lincoln’s general store.

Second Berry-Lincoln store, image credit Learning Abe website. (The photo I took of the outside of the shop is missing, I must have accidentally deleted it.) Lincoln and Berry moved the business here in January of 1833 when this larger, nicer-looking lumber building came available

Second Berry-Lincoln store, interior view. The building had been owned previously by John MacNamar, the absent fiancée of Ann Rutledge, Lincoln’s storied first love

Next, I spot a large sign in a grassy area followed by a series of smaller signs in a row leading toward the Sangamon River below the bluff. I read the sign and find that this is an archaeological site that has not be reconstructed.

Archaeology Walk in New Salem, Illinois. The sign reads: ‘The reconstructed buildings at New Salem are based on archaeological excavations conducted in the 1930’s. In 1994, two archaeological sites were discovered in this field which were missed by the 1930’s researchers. Unlike most of the other sites in this village, no deed records exist for these sites, and there are no stories of the families who lived here. Only a single hand drawn map, published by R.J. Onstot (son of Henry Onstot) in 1909, pictures houses in this location, but they are mysteriously unlabeled…’ The path here follows the old roadbed that ran across here. Many of the places associated with Lincoln in and around New Salem have not been reconstructed here, including Bowling Green’s and the Abells’ homes about a mile north of here

It reminds me that there are many inhabitants of New Salem who Lincoln befriended, did business with, and lived with whose homes have not been reconstructed. For example, Lincoln lived with his friend Bowling Green’s neighbors Bennett and Elizabeth Abell for a time. Lincoln would regularly borrow books from them and Elizabeth, especially, thought he showed promise. She took such a liking to him that she introduced him to her sister, Mary Owens, in 1833, as a potential beau. They courted briefly a time but, despite Elizabeth’s eagerness that they marry, their relationship didn’t work out. Years later, she wrote to Lincoln’s law partner and biographer William Herndon that though she thought Lincoln a good man, nevertheless, he was ‘deficient in those little links which make up the chain of a woman’s happiness.’ She broke off the relationship; Lincoln, apparently, regretted ever getting involved and had written her letters hinting that they’d be better off without each other

J. Rowan Herndon residence, New Salem, Illinois.

I continue east along the main road, and to my right, I see the Herndon brothers’ house. One of them, J. Rowan Herndon, was married to Mentor Graham’s sister Elizabeth, and Lincoln lived with them for a time. Herndon was Berry’s original partner in the general store but since they didn’t get along, Herndon sold his share to Lincoln on credit. In 1833, Herndon accidentally shot and killed his wide when he was preparing to go out hunting. He left town to escape the rumors that he killed his wife on purpose, but it was no good: the rumors followed him for the rest of his life. Lincoln moved to Graham’s house when Rowan left.

Denton Offutt Store, New Salem, Illinois.

Continuing onto the last little road which veers off to the left from the main road, I find the first store Lincoln worked in when he moved to New Salem. It was from Offutt’s flatboat that Lincoln first saw New Salem, and it was Offutt’s promise of a job managing his new store that caused Lincoln to move here in 1831. So this humble little store is the one that brought Lincoln to this place so formative to his life and education. It’s not much to look at, but it brings home to me anew how amazing Lincoln’s story really is.

Perhaps it was the fact that New Salem was both a tiny frontier village and a commercial community reaching hard beyond itself, seeking to become a hub of skilled trade and interstate commerce, that Lincoln found it such an effective springboard. From 1831 – 1837, this close-knit and ambitious village nurtured an uneducated, awkward, poor farm-boy into a canny lawyer, a political powerhouse, and a great moral leader, perhaps the greatest President the United States will ever see.

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Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!


Sources and inspiration:

Abraham Lincoln Online: Lincoln Early Life Timeline, Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic SiteLincoln Timelines and Highlights, and Pre-Presidential Political Timeline

Burlingame, Michael. Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume 1. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012

Carwardine, Richard. Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power. New York: Random House, 2003

The Chautauqua Movement‘, Chautauqua Trail website

Denton Offutt.’ from Kentucky’s Abraham Lincoln by the Kentucky Historical Society

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995

Gannett, Lewis. ‘”Overwhelming Evidence” of a Lincoln-Ann Rutledge Romance?: Reexamining Rutledge Family Reminiscences.’ Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Volume 26, Issue 1, Winter 2005, pp. 28-41.

Herndon, William H. and Jesse W. Weik. Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life. 1889

Lehrman, Lewis E. Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.

Lincoln’s New Salem‘, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency website

Lincoln’s New Salem.’ In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Lincoln’s New Salem 1830-1837‘, National Park Service website

New Salem: Virtual Tour, Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site website

Nicolay, John George. An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln: John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2006

Shenk, Joshua Wolf. ‘The Suicide Poem‘, The New Yorker, June 14, 2004

Simon, John Y. ‘Abraham Lincoln and Ann Rutledge, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association,
Volume 11, Issue 1, 1990, pp. 13-33

Thomas, Benjamin Platt. Lincoln’s New Salem. Springfield, Ill.: The Abraham Lincoln Association, 1934; republished Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Library, 2006.

Trenholm, Sandra. ‘Abraham Lincoln, Mary Owens, and the Accidental Engagement.’ The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History website