The Story of Abraham Lincoln/School and Books
Not very long after this, the people of the neighborhood made up their minds that they must have a school-house. And so, one day after harvest, the men met together and chopped down trees, and built a little low-roofed log cabin to serve for that purpose.
If you could see that cabin you would think it a queer kind of school-house. There was no floor. There was only one window, and in it were strips of greased paper pasted across, instead of glass. There were no desks, but only rough benches made of logs split in halves. In one end of the room was a huge fireplace; at the other end was the low doorway.
The first teacher was a man whose name was Azel Dorsey. The term of school was very short; for the settlers could not afford to pay him much. It was in mid-winter, for then there was no work for the big boys to do at home.
And the big boys, as well as the girls and the smaller boys, for miles around, came in to learn what they could from Azel Dorsey. The most of the children studied only spelling; but some of the larger ones learned reading and writing and arithmetic.
There were not very many scholars, for the houses in that new settlement were few and far apart. School began at an early hour in the morning, and did not close until the sun was down.
Just how Abraham Lincoln stood in his classes I do not know; but I must believe that he studied hard and did everything as well as he could. In the arithmetic which he used, he wrote these lines:
- "Abraham Lincoln, His hand and pen, He will be good, But God knows when."
In a few weeks, Azel Dorsey's school came to a close; and Abraham Lincoln was again as busy as ever about his father's farm. After that he attended school only two or three short terms. If all his school-days were put together they would not make a twelve-month.
But he kept on reading and studying at home. His step-mother said of him: "He read everything he could lay his hands on. When he came across a passage that struck him, he would write it down on boards, if he had no paper, and keep it until he had got paper. Then he would copy it, look at it, commit it to memory, and repeat it."
Among the books that he read were the Bible, the Pilgrims Progress, and the poems of Robert Burns. One day he walked a long distance to borrow a book of a farmer. This book was Weems's Life of Washington. He read as much as he could while walking home.
By that time it was dark, and so he sat down by the chimney and read by firelight until bedtime. Then he took the book to bed with him in the loft, and read by the light of a tallow candle.
In an hour the candle burned out. He laid the book in a crevice between two of the logs of the cabin, so that he might begin reading again as soon as it was daylight.
But in the night a storm came up. The rain was blown in, and the book was wet through and through.
In the morning, when Abraham awoke, he saw what had happened. He dried the leaves as well as he could, and then finished reading the book.
As soon as he had eaten his breakfast, he hurried to carry the book to its owner. He explained how the accident had happened.
"Mr. Crawford," he said, "I am willing to pay you for the book. I have no money; but, if you will let me, I will work for you until I have made its price."
Mr. Crawford thought that the book was worth seventy-five cents, and that Abraham's work would be worth about twenty-five cents a day. And so the lad helped the farmer gather corn for three days, and thus became the owner of the delightful book.
He read the story of Washington many times over. He carried the book with him to the field, and read it while he was following the plow.
From that time, Washington was the one great hero whom he admired. Why could not he model his own life after that of Washington? Why could not he also be a doer of great things for his country?