“I am not very Strong on Grammar”

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In his oral reply to the committee, he said that he would in due time send them a written note, formally accepting the nomination. Late one afternoon, a few days afterward, he being alone in his room in the state house, and I in mine, he called me in his usual cheery way. Handing me a note written in pencil, he said: “That is my reply to the good people whom you brought to my house the other night. I think it is all right, but grammar, you know, is not my strong hold; and as several persons will probably read that little thing, I wish you would look it over carefully and see if it needs doctoring anywhere.” I took the paper and slowly read it through. It was addressed to the Hon. George Ashman. In it was this sentence: “The declaration of principles and sentiments which accompanied your letter meets my approval, and it shall be my care to not violate it, or disregard it, in any part.” Handing the note back to Mr. Lincoln, I said that the language was all strictly correct, with one very slight exception almost too trivial for mention. “Well, what is it?” said he, “I wish to be correct without any exception, however trivial.” Well, then, Mr. Lincoln, I replied, it would, perhaps, be as well to transpose the “to” and “not” in that sentence pointing to the one just quoted. Mr. Lincoln looked at it a moment and said: “Oh, you think I’d better turn those two little fellows end for end, eh?”  “Yes,’ I said, “I guess you had” and he did.

Quoted in “Abraham Lincoln; an address”,by Newton Bateman, LL. D. (Galesbvrg, Ill., The Cadmvs clvb, 1899),P29

But when he had to write the formal letter of acceptance, he was troubled in his mind, wondered whether he could write it properly – he who, in twenty-two years of his legal practice, had penned thousands of documents. What does he do today ? He goes with the letter to the superintendent of education and says, “Mr. School-master, here is my letter of acceptance, I am not very strong on grammar, and I wish you to see if it is all right. I wouldn’t like to have any mistakes in it.” The other glanced through the document, and said, “There is only one change I should suggest, Mr. Lincoln. You have written : ‘It shall be my care to not violate or disregard it in any part’; you should have written ‘not to violate.’ Never split an infinitive, is the rule.” Lincoln took the manuscript, regarding it for a moment with a puzzled air. “So you think I better put those two little fellows end to end, do you ? ” he said, as he made the suggested change.

Has ever a king or a president adopted a more charming attitude? Lincoln has not been, like a king in a fairy tale, taken from the plow to rule the people. He is a man over fifty, grown gray-headed in the practice of the law, in business affairs, and in political life. After having made many great speeches to the nation, after years of campaigning, he has been selected to run for the highest office in the land. He knows too that he is fit for the job. But there are little matters that men born to be kings, the Douglases, know all about – the well-ironed coats of the New Yorkers, the well-fitting trousers of the Washington gentlemen. These “little fellows” in grammar that have to “sit” properly like a necktie, have to be “well brushed” like a stovepipe hat. It would be fatal to make a slip here ! Mary, of course, understands about shoes and collars; she can even talk French, but when the question is one of how to word a letter properly, it is better to go to the school-master. Besides, he will know how to keep a still tongue, and even should he gossip, there will be nothing to Lincoln’s discredit. And so the President of tomorrow goes over to an old teacher to ask advice on matters he had not learned in Indiana, for there he had to split rails.

By Emil Ludwig,”Abraham Lincoln: And the Times that Tried His Soul” Ludwig-219-13

2 thoughts on ““I am not very Strong on Grammar”

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    May 8, 2016 at 06:32

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