I came across a quote I really liked the other day. It was by Abraham Lincoln.
I’m in the middle of reading David Herbert Donald’s biography of Lincoln. I’ve been in the middle for a while. I’m pretty much at the point where Lincoln, seemingly out of nowhere, wins the presidency.
It’s not the most engaging of accounts but it does have an air of thoroughness about it. I came to the book having waded through biographies of several other notable presidents; Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt amongst them (to my slight surprise I ended up having most affection for John Adams) and a cracking portrait of Tom Paine by John Keane.
I hesitated to delve into one on Lincoln but did for two reasons; firstly that he’s the only one of the guys on Mount Rushmore (with the honourable exception of Cary Grant) I hadn’t read about, and secondly because he’s the president that most Americans seem to routinely put top of their list of greatest.
I can understand why. He embodies what I suspect Americans like to think of as American virtues; he was one of the few presidents to come from humble origins; his 1860 campaign tag was ‘the rail splitter’ because he once (briefly) split fence railings for a living. He was self taught and self made; a successful lawyer in Springfield, Illinois. He wasn’t the nattiest of dressers. he wasn’t the most polished of orators. He was a plain, home loving man with few airs and graces – though he did have a fine political brain and a handsome set of principles which he stood by.
The quote, which will serve in place of a New Year’s resolution for 2013 is this:
“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my axe.”
It sums up the man; rail splitter and lawyer both and gives me a motto for the year. More time spent in preparation so that less time can be wasted in execution. If I could wish for anything as a New Year’s gift (I’m going to be shamelessly greedy here) it would be Lincoln’s ability to concentrate, hour after hour, Roosevelt’s energy, Jefferson’s way with words and John Adams’ steadfast adherence to principle. However I might trade them all for Tom Paine’s ability to envision a better world and transcribe it into prose.
So with that let me wish you a very happy 2013 and leave you with a couple of wintry pictures. The first was taken looking north from the Bidborough ridge over the Low Weald towards the Greensand Ridge and the North Downs.
The second is of the treehouse. I get a huge amount of pleasure seeing how the light plays on the oak shakes at different times of year. A cold, bright December’s morning and leafless trees, the sun on the wood – that and the anticipation of spring almost make winter worthwhile.