Lincoln And His Pet Pig
( Originally Published 1902 )
ON one occasion, when visiting Captain Gilbert J. Greene, I said to him: " I have come to listen to some stories about Lincoln. If possible, tell me some which have not yet found their way into print," He said : " No earthly subject gives me such pleasure as the one you suggest; I will relate some incidents which I think have never before been published." I said, " Can you think of one illustrating your hero's tenderness of heart? " He replied, " Yes, numbers of them occur to me. This one will suit you. In the summer of 1851, I was a typesetter in a newspaper office at Springfield, Ill. I was eighteen years of age and six feet high. Lincoln took a great fancy to me and often invited me to take a walk with him after supper. The sedentary life of both made special exercise necessary. One beautiful moonlight night we were walking on a country road, and we noticed just ahead of us six little pigs with their noses together. Lincoln said, Those little things are lost; let us help them find their mother.' We stirred them up, and with grunt and sniff and snort, they ran down the road; at last they found the hole in the fence and the mother in the field. Lincoln said, ` I never see a pig that I do not think of my first pet. When a boy six years old I went over to a neighboring farm. A litter of striped pigs had recently been born, and I was so crazy about them that they could not get me away from them. The man filled me with supreme delight by saying, `Abe, you may have one of those pigs, if you can get him home.' ` I will attend to that,' I said. I had on a tow shirt reaching to my feet, which my mother had woven, fastened at the neck by a wooden button my father had made, and I made a fold in the garment, and in it, as a sack, I carried my pig home. I got an old bee-gum, a hollow log, put corn shucks and stalks and leaves in it for a bed, and tucked him away for the night.
" ` He squealed for his mother nearly all night. In the morning I brought him corn meal, bran, bread, milk, everything I could think of, but he would not touch any of them ; he did not seem to have time or energy for anything but to squeal. At last mother said to me, `Abe, take that pig back home, it will die if you keep it here.' What my mother said was always the truth and the law to me, and though it about broke my heart I took the pet back. The mother was so glad to see him and he so glad to see her. After she had given him his dinner, he looked so pretty I could not stand it, and I begged the man to let me take him beck, and I put him in the tow sack as I had done before and carried him to our house. Mother protested and I cried, and she broke down and relented, and said I might try him one more day. He would not eat a thing I brought him, and mother sent me back with him again, and I carried him back and forth to his meals for two weeks, when we taught him to eat, and he was mine for good. That pig was my companion. I played with him, I taught him tricks. We used to play hide and go seek.' I can see his little face now peeping around the corner of the house to see whether I was coming after him. After a while he got too heavy for me to carry him around, and then he followed me everywhere—to the barn, the plowed ground, the woods. Many a day I have spent in the woods brushing the leaves away and helping him to find the acorns and nuts. Sometimes he would take a lazy spell and rub against my legs, and stop in front of me, and lie down before me, and say in language which I understood, `Abe, why don't you carry me like you used to do?' When he grew larger, I turned the tables on him and made him carry me, and he did it just as happily as I ever did the same service for him. Father fed him corn, piles of it, and how he did eat ! And he grew large, too large for his happiness and mine. There was talk about the house of the hog being fat enough to kill. At the table I heard father say he was going to kill the hog the next day. My heart got as heavy as lead. The next morning father had a barrel of water ready and was heating the stones that were to be thrown into it to make hot water for the scalding, and I slipped out and took my pet with me to the forest. When father found out what had happened he yelled as loud as he could, ` You, Abe, fetch back that hog ! You Abe, you Abe, fetch back that hog!' The louder he called, the farther and faster we went, till we were out of hearing of the voice. We stayed in the woods till night. On returning, I was severely scolded. After a restless night, I arose early and went to get my pig for another day's hiding, but found that father had arisen before me and fastened my pet in the pen. I knew then all hope was gone. I did not eat any breakfast, but started for the woods. I had not gone far when I heard the pig squeal, and, knowing what it meant, I ran as fast as I could to get away from the sound. Being quite hungry, at noon I started for home. Reaching the edge of the clearing, I saw the hog, dressed, hanging from a pole near the house, and I began to blubber. I could not stand it, and went far back into the woods again, where I found some nuts that stayed my appetite till night, when I returned home. They never could get me to take a bite of the meat, neither tenderloin, nor rib, nor sausage, nor souse. And months after, when the cured ham came on the table, it made me sad and sick to even look at it. The next morning I went out into the yard, and saw the red place on the ground where the throat had been cut with the knife, and, taking a chip, I scraped the blood and' the hair that had been scattered, into a pile, and burned it up. Then I found some soft dirt, which I carried in the folds of my tow shirt, and scattered over the ground to cover up every trace of the killing of my pet. The dirt did not do its work very well, for to this day, whenever I see a pig like the little fellows we have just met in the road, my heart goes back to that pet pig, and to the old home, and the dear ones there.' "
After the captain had related this incident I thanked him, and suggested that the boys of today, with their toys and tools, and wheels and ponies, and carts, and everything else that money can buy or love suggest, do not get more genuine pleasure out of life than the simple child of the log cabin did out of his pet pig. I also suggested that the kindness which was a characteristic of Lincoln's life till the close, was not the laborious effort of a cold heart to seem warm, or a selfish man to appear generous ; it was not the result of years of rigid self-discipline ; it was the spontaneous outflow of a stream from a perennial fountain of love. The beauty of the kindness was not veneer glued to the outside, it was the grain of the solid wood, or, better still, it was the bloom which the life of the tree produced.
He could not help being tender, any more than the song birds about his cabin could keep from singing, or the sweetbrier his mother planted could keep from being fragrant. It is easy to see how a boy who was so tender to his first pet might grow to be the great man, who said in the hearing of the centuries, " With malice toward none, with charity for all."
In the monument of virtues, brotherly kindness comes near to the top, and above it is the capstone of charity, which lifts the structure to such a height that it touches the white throne.