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Abraham Lincoln on getting it right

Abraham Lincoln's speech and writing were known for their clarity before the presidential utterances on which his touch has become most familiar. Here, in a passage quoted by F.B. Carpenter in his ``Six Months at the White House with Abraham Lincoln'' (1866), Lincoln responds to a questioner on the subject.

Well, as to education, the newspapers are correct; I never went to school more than six months in my life. But, as you say, this [``the unusual power of `putting things' ''] must be a product of culture in some form. I have been putting the question you ask me to myself, while you have been talking. I can say this, that among my earliest recollections I remember how, when a mere child, I used to get irritated when anybody talked to me in a way I could not understand. I don't think I ever got angry at anything else in my life. But that always disturbed my temper, and has ever since. I can remember going to my little bedroom, after hearing the neighbors talk of an evening with my father, and spending no small part of the night walking up and down, and trying to make out what was the exact meaning of some of their, to me, dark sayings. I could not sleep, though I often tried to, when I got on such a hunt after an idea, until I had caught it; and when I thought I had got it, I was not satisfied until I had repeated it over and over, until I put it in language plain enough, as I thought, for any boy I knew to comprehend. This was a kind of passion with me, and it has stuck by me; for I am never easy now, when I am handling a thought, till I have bounded it north, and bounded it south, and bounded it east and bounded it west. Perhaps that accounts for the characteristic you observe in my speeches, though I never put the two things together before.

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