Jack Kelso

“The Influence of Jack Kelso had Reached to the White House”

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There was living in New Salem at that time a ne’er-do-well whose wife had to take in boarders while he fished and played the fiddle and recited poetry. Most of the people in town looked down upon Jack Kelso as a failure. But Lincoln liked him, chummed with him, and was greatly influenced by him. Before he met Kelso, Shakspere and Burns had meant little to Lincoln; they had been merely names, and vague names at that. But now as he sat listening to Jack Kelso reading “Hamlet” and reciting “Macbeth,” Lincoln realized for the first time what symphonies could be played with the English language. What a thing of infinite beauty it could be! What a whirlwind of sense and emotion! Shakspere awed him, but Bobby Burns won his love and sympathy. He felt even a kinship with Burns. Burns had been poor like Lincoln. Burns had been born in a cabin no better than the one that had seen Abe’s birth. Burns too had been a plowboy. But a plowboy to whom the plowing up of the nest of a field-mouse was a tiny tragedy, an event worthy of being caught up and immortalized in a poem. Through the poetry of Burns and Shakspere, a whole new world of meaning and feeling and loveliness opened up to Abraham Lincoln.But to him the most astounding thing of all was this: neither Shakspere nor Burns had gone to college. Neither of them had had much more schooling and education than he. At times he dared to think that perhaps he too, the unschooled son of illiterate Tom Lincoln, might be fitted for finer things. Perhaps it would not be necessary for him to go on forever selling groceries or working as a blacksmith.

    From that time on Burns and Shakspere were his favorite authors. He read more of Shakspere than of all other authors put together, and this reading left its imprint upon his style. Even after he reached the White House, when the burdens and worries of the Civil War were chiseling deep furrows in his face, he devoted much time to Shakspere. Busy as he was, he discussed the plays with Shaksperian authorities, and carried on a correspondence regarding certain passages. The week he was shot, he read “Macbeth” aloud for two hours to a circle of friends. The influence of Jack Kelso, the shiftless New Salem fisherman, had reached to the White House. . . .

By Dale Carnegie,“Lincoln, the Unknown” ,Carnegie-029-12