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LINCOLN, ABRAHAM, President. Autograph manuscript (unsigned) of a humorous, somewhat ribald, spooneristic story, generally called "Bass-Ackwards," 17 lines, approximately 140 words, n.p. [Springfield?, Illinois], n.d. [ca.1850?]
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LINCOLN, ABRAHAM, President. Autograph manuscript (unsigned) of a humorous, somewhat ribald, spooneristic story, generally called "Bass-Ackwards," 17 lines, approximately 140 words, n.p. [Springfield?, Illinois], n.d. [ca.1850?]. 1 page, oblong, 176 x 219mm. 15/16 x 8 11/16 in.), in a bold hand on pale blue paper (portion of central watermark visible), the paper slightly worn along lines of original folds, discreetly silked from the verso, a tiny loss at three fold intersections, despite paper defects, the writing clear and dark.\n\n"BASS-ACKWARDS": THE ONLY SURVIVING EXAMPLE OF LINCOLN'S FRONTIER RIBALDRY\n\nA celebrated relic of the coarser side of Abraham Lincoln's humor, written in Lincoln's boldest, clearest hand, usually reserved for speeches and addresses. "He said he was riding bass-ackwards on a jass-ack, through a patton-cotch, on a pair of baddle-sags, stuffed full of binger-gred, when the animal steered at a scump, and the lirrup-steather broke, and throwed him in the forner of the kence and broke his pishing-fole. He said he would not have minded it much, but he fell right in a great tow-curd; in fact, he said it give him a right smart sick of fitness -- he had the molera-corbus pretty bad -- He said, about bray-dake he came to himself, ran home, seized up a stick of wood and split the axe to make a light, rushed into the house. and found the door sick abed, and his wife standing open -- But thank goodness she is getting right hat and farty again --"\n\nThis unique tale was first published by Jesse W. Weik, with the explanation that Lincoln had written it out for an unidentified bailiff of one of the Springfield ÿcourts (Weik, The Real Lincoln, p. 192). The recipient has been tentatively identified as one Arnold R. Robinson, whom Basler has described as "a Whig attorney, prominent Mason and temperance man who turned loco-foco" (see Collected Works, 1:490n.). Afterwards "Bass-Ackwards" was widely anthologized and quoted in many standard biographical works, even though its Rabelaisian tenor offended the straight-laced sensibilities of many persons interested in Lincoln. Eventually, the manuscript, which had been given to the Illinois State Historical Library, was quietly deaccessioned in an exchange (see provenance), only to risk deliberate destruction at the hands of a censorious collector (see provenance).\n\nSandburg accurately observed of Lincoln's mind that "the range of the serious and comic ran wide and far in him." Noah Brooks, like many who knew Lincoln, was struck with Lincoln's remarkable stock of anecdotes and humorous tales: "I asked Lincoln where he got so many stories. He said he picked them up everywhere; that when he was on the circuit in Illinois, when they reached the country towns, they all stopped at the same hotel, and they stayed up all night--the judge and lawyers and the witnesses, and the grand and the petit jurymen--swapping experiences" (quoted in E. Hertz, Lincoln Talks, p.73). Lincoln's fondness for the old collection of humorous tales, Joe Miller's Jests (first published in London in 1714 and very frequently reprinted) is well-known. The painter Alben Jasper Conant, who painted Lincoln's portrait after he was nominated for President, was fascinated by Lincoln's story-telling abilities, but disturbed by the coarseness some evidenced, which he attributed to Lincoln's frontier origins. Conant remarked of those stories though that, "there was in them, to his mind, some striking touch of nature, emphasized by gross absurdity, of such point and power as to elevate it above the level of vulgarity." It is not known whether "Bass-Ackwards," which has the strong flavor of the American frontier about it, originated with Lincoln, but since no antecedents or direct models have yet come to light, it is entirely possible. As a more recent biographer has written, "some of Lincoln's stories were quaint anecdotes which illustrated some point. Others were mindless rib-ticklers...Still other Lincoln tales were pungent and downright bawdy. An example was the piece of foolery called 'Bass Ackwards'...." (Stephen B. Oates, With Malice Toward None, p.108-109.) The tale's humor results from the interchange of the initial syllables of word pairs, a venerable comic device later given the name "spoonerism," after William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930), Warden of New College, Oxford, a classical scholar who had an unfortunate predeliction to transpose syllables in his sermons, to great comic effect. (Notable examples are "the kinquering kongs their titles take," and "in my heart is a half-warmed fish"). Published, in Collected Works, ed. R.P. Basler, 8:420. See also D.C. Mearns, Largely Lincoln, 1961; A. Nevins and I. Stone, Lincoln: A Contemporary Portrait, 1962, pp.180-181; S. B. Oates, Abraham Lincoln: The Man Behind the Myths, 1984, p.50.\n\nProvenance:\n1. A bailiff of a Springfield court, reportedly Arnold R. Robinson, the gift of Lincoln\n2. Illinois State Historical Society, gift of a descendant\n3. Anonymous collector (sale, Hamilton, 16 May 1963). Hamilton's account of the manuscript deserves to be reprinted here. At the time of his sale, "Bass-ackwards" was accompanied by a letter from W.L. Gross of the Illinois State Historical Society (not now present), in which he explained: "Enclosed please find the paper....Ours being a public library, we do not find that we can use the paper: & under these circumstances consent to make the exchange for a 1st ed. Mormon Bible..." Hamilton continues: " The fortunate 'swapper' who obtained the manuscript was the first of several realistic historians and Lincoln admirers who had the courage to pay a high price and risk a few raised eyebrows in order to protect a precious document from the hands of pious men who would have destroyed it. Years later, in fact, two collectors bartered with the owner of the great manuscript...one of whom admitted that he intended to burn it! Fortunately, in a sealed-bid competition, his offer was topped by a collector who loved the story as an inimitable bit of Lincoln's humor and who secretly preserved it for many years until...selling it to its present owner...." See Charles Hamilton, Auction Madness, p.119 for an account of the manuscript: "This unsigned bit of Lincolniana was knocked down for $4,000 at one of my earliest auctions nearly twenty years ago. What would it fetch today!"\n4. Lindley and Charles Eberstadt, (sale, Parke-Bernet, 13 October 1964, lot 124), described as "the most imtimate and unusual Lincoln document known to survive," a "rack boom stibald rory," and "perhaps the greatest Presidential character piece extant."\n5. The present owner.
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