Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 1.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.

To Andrew Johnston [1]

Friend Johns[t]on: [2] Springfield, Sept. 6th. 1846

You remember when I wrote you from Tremont last spring, [3] sending you a little canto of what I called poetry, I promised to bore you with another some time. I now fulfil the promise. The subject of the present one is an insane man. His name is Matthew Gentry. He is three years older than I, and when we were boys we went to school together. He was rather a bright lad, and the son of the rich man of our very poor neighbourhood. At the age of nineteen he unaccountably became furiously mad, from which condition he gradually settled down into harmless insanity. When, as I told you in my other letter I visited my old home in the fall of

Page  3851844, I found him still lingering in this wretched condition. In my poetizing mood I could not forget the impressions his case made upon me. Here is the result--- [4]

But here's an object more of dread

Than ought the grave contains---

A human form with reason fled,

While wretched life remains.

Poor Matthew! Once of genius bright,

A fortune-favored child---

Now locked for aye, in mental night,

A haggard mad-man wild.

Poor Matthew! I have ne'er forgot,

When first, with maddened will,

Yourself you maimed, your father fought,

And mother strove to kill;

When terror spread, and neighbours ran,

Your dange'rous strength to bind;

And soon, a howling crazy man

Your limbs were fast confined.

How then you strove and shrieked aloud,

Your bones and sinews bared;

And fiendish on the gazing crowd,

With burning eye-balls glared---

And begged, and swore, and wept and prayed

With maniac laugh [ter?] joined---

How fearful were those signs displayed

By pangs that killed thy mind!

And when at length, tho' drear and long,

Time soothed thy fiercer woes,

How plaintively thy mournful song

Upon the still night rose.

I've heard it oft, as if I dreamed,

Far distant, sweet, and lone---

The funeral dirge, it ever seemed

Of reason dead and gone.

Page  386To drink it's strains, I've stole away,

All stealthily and still,

Ere yet the rising God of day

Had streaked the Eastern hill.

Air held his breath; trees, with the spell,

Seemed sorrowing angels round,

Whose swelling tears in dew-drops fell

Upon the listening ground.

But this is past; and nought remains,

That raised thee o'er the brute.

Thy piercing shrieks, and soothing strains,

Are like, forever mute.

Now fare thee well---more thou the cause,

Than subject now of woe.

All mental pangs, by time's kind laws,

Hast lost the power to know.

O death! [5] Thou awe-inspiring prince,

That keepst the world in fear;

Why dost thou tear more blest ones hence,

And leave him ling'ring here?

If I should ever send another, the subject will be a ``Bear hunt.'' Yours as ever A. LINCOLN

Annotation

[1]   ALS, PHi.

[2]   Lincoln misspells the name.

[3]   See letter of April 18, 1846, supra.

[4]   Johnston published these stanzas anonymously in the Quincy Whig, May 5, 1847. See letter of February 25, 1847, infra.

[5]   This stanza, apparently written for this letter only, does not appear in the manuscript containing both cantos (supra, February 25?, 1846).