Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lincoln's annoying habit ...

Abraham Lincoln is one of our most revered presidents, but he had a habit – or at least a preferred way – that greatly annoyed many of his friends and colleagues.  He liked to read things aloud, even in their company.

This trait was noted by William H. Herndon, Lincoln’s long-time law partner who later co-authored an 1888 Lincoln biography that focused on his partner’s personality. Herndon wrote of the 1844 to 1852 period during which their office – a single large room – was on an upper floor of a building in Springfield, Illinois.

“When he reached the office, about nine o’clock in the morning, the first thing he did was to pick up a newspaper, spread himself out on an old sofa, one leg on a chair, and read aloud, much to my discomfort. Singularly enough Lincoln never read another way but aloud. This habit used to annoy me almost beyond the point of endurance,” Herndon wrote.

“I once asked him why he did so. This was his explanation:  ‘When I read aloud two senses catch the idea:  first, I see what I read; and second, I hear it, and therefore I can remember it better.’”

Perhaps Lincoln’s view was shaped by this early and very limited education, which totaled less than a year. At 11, he attended for a few months some classes offered by a nearby teacher, as noted in David Herbert Donald’s highly acclaimed 1995 biography titled Lincoln.

“Ungraded, this was a ‘blab’ school, where students recited their lessons aloud, and the schoolmaster listened through the din for errors,” writes Donald.

It's not hard to imagine that this early training remained with Lincoln the rest of his life, no matter how inappropriate its practice became for an adult in the company of other people.

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