5. "He Is Only Mr. Robert Lincoln, of Cambridge"
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64 5 “He Is Only Mr. Robert Lincoln, of Cambridge” Back at Harvard, Robert—known to friends as Bob—returned to his boarding room and roommate Frederick P. Anderson and easily settled back into college life. His second-term classes kept him studying Greek, Latin, mathematics, and composition, while history and elocution replaced his firstterm ethics course.1 Every day as he crossed Main Street to enter the college campus, he would pass under the stone arch engraved with the maxim “enter to grow in wisdom.” Of course, there was no better place than Harvard to gain such wisdom. The college had assembled a roster of some of the most brilliant professorial minds in the country, including naturalist Louis Agassiz, botanist Asa Gray, poet and essayist James Russell Lowell, and physician and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. Friends and classmates later stated that Robert was an able student and a voracious reader, but his first known letter after returning to Cambridge from Washington was written not about anything he had learned but about that universal male constancy of interest: women. Writing to John Hay, Robert first whimsically lamented the departure of a girl he called “the Star of Boston and vicinity,” who was leaving to spend a month or two in New York; he went on to discuss letters he received from admiring girls in Ohio and Indiana. Of the latter he wrote, “The writer had a baby, she had named after me (!) and requesting me to send said baby a dress or a pair of boots (size not stated). It commenced: ‘Sir. You have a baby here,* my child, which is a namesake of yours.’ She signed her name: ‘Miss .’ Somebody must have been ‘misstaken .’ (goak).” In his starred note at the bottom of the letter, he humorously added, “*At this point, I nearly fainted from an excess of supposed paternal dignity. The close however cleared up my fears.”2 Robert, still and ever the chapter five 65 Prince of Rails to the public, also received numerous gifts in the mail. Some were tokens of appreciation for him, some were “gifts” in an attempt to curry favor with the president. Robert received so many offerings, in fact, that one friend recalled how Bob’s friends would help him go through it all.3 As the above illustrates, even in college in Massachusetts the oldest son of President Lincoln was not immune from the attentions of the eager populace.4 A more interesting anecdote of Robert’s trials also occurred during his Spring 1861 term, when an office seeker asked Robert to intervene with the president to get him an appointment as Cambridge postmaster. In the first time “Bob” sought a political favor from his father, the president quickly and tersely replied, “If you do not attend to your studies and let matters such as you write about alone, I will take you away from college.” Robert thereafter carried his father’s letter in his pocket and on many occasions afterwards pulled it out when accosted by other aspiring office seekers.5 This did not mean that Robert never helped anybody and never asked his father for appointments, but it seems he thereafter limited his recommendations to his personal friends.6 Despite his fame, Robert Lincoln was universally remembered by friends and classmates as a modest, amiable person, never one to trade on his father’s name or position. “Of course his parentage gave him celebrity, but in the democratic community of Cambridge that was all,” wrote one classmate. “It fixed all eyes on him, but it was a very insignificant factor in determining his essential importance.”7 Another classmate recalled how Robert was a “sturdy, whole-souled, modest fellow, of strong affections and friendships, and to his closer friends he was without reserve and delightfully entertaining”; another remembrance was of young Lincoln “as he hied with nimble and elastic step across the college campus, the shrewd, good-natured glance of his eye, the quick and abrupt nod to the right and left as he greeted passing friends, his cheery voice as he hailed some crony or another with some old nickname of his own coinage.”8 One newspaper editor praised Robert’s “modesty and selfcontrol ” during his years at Harvard, stating that when his life “was surrounded by temptations that might have turned an older head,” instead of yielding to these natural temptations, “he was the most unassuming, unpretending private citizen in the country.”9 Robert’s outer calm...


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Subject Headings

  • Lawyers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Lincoln, Robert Todd, 1843-1926.
  • Children of presidents -- United States -- Biography.
  • Ambassadors -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1865-1933.
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