Albert J. Conant

“Preoccupied with Gloomy Thoughts”

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When a fashionable portrait painter was sent to him by a snob, Lincoln at first declined to give another sitting, but at length agreed to do so. Next morning, at the appointed time, he threw himself into the chair which had been arranged for him, and sat there as if petrified, impenetrable in his abstraction, preoccupied with gloomy thoughts. The artist could see nothing but the rough features of a working man; he had had his mind filled with reports of Lincoln’s coarse manners and low stories; and believing he must speak to him in the vulgar tone to which Lincoln is accustomed, makes a flippant remark. Now Lincoln lifts his eye and looks at him with a wonderful expression – “a mingling of instant shrewd apprehension of the whole attitude of mind at back of my remark, pained disappointment at my misunderstanding of him, and patient tolerance. In a flash, I saw I had made a mistake.”

As in a tragic scene, motives and effects of two different charac- ters are developed here. The elegant painter who most likely left for Springfield with a joke on his lips to pavnt the curious fellow for the money of a rich man, cannot intrude into the mysteries of the frozen features, sees only his lowly origin, the only thing in which the great man may be his inferior. He concludes most superficially as to the character of his model and wants to seize his attention by some vulgar obscenity. The other at once perceives the thoughts of the artist; but instead of getting rid of him with a single movement, that human feeling of partnership arises in him, the old disappoint- ment about the abyss of misunderstanding, and he shoots a look at the stranger that humiliates the man but elevates the artist.

By Emil Ludwig,”Abraham Lincoln: And the Times that Tried His Soul” ,Ludwig-230-23