In 1835, Abraham Lincoln wanted to kill himself after the death of his first love, Ann Rutledge.  Three years later, Abraham Lincoln anonymously published a poem titled, “The Suicide's Soliloquy” in The Sangamo Journal, a four-page Whig-newspaper in Springfield, Illinois. 

The introduction reads:  "The following lines were said to have been found near the bones of a man supposed to have committed suicide in a deep forest on the flat branch of the Sangamon some time ago."

The Suicide’s Soliloquy

Here, where the lonely hooting owl
Sends forth his midnight moans,
Fierce wolves shall o'er my carcase growl,
Or buzzards pick my bones.

No fellow-man shall learn my fate,
Or where my ashes lie;
Unless by beasts drawn round their bait,
Or by the ravens' cry.

Yes! I've resolved the deed to do,
And this the place to do it:
This heart I'll rush a dagger through,
Though I in hell should rue it!

Hell! What is hell to one like me
Who pleasures never knew;
By friends consigned to misery,
By hope deserted too?

To ease me of this power to think,
That through my bosom raves,
I'll headlong leap from hell's high brink,
And wallow in its waves.

Though devils yell, and burning chains
May waken long regret;
Their frightful screams, and piercing pains,
Will help me to forget.

Yes! I'm prepared, through endless night,
To take that fiery berth!
Think not with tales of hell to fright
Me, who am damn'd on earth!

Sweet steel! come forth from your sheath,
And glist'ning, speak your powers;
Rip up the organs of my breath,
And draw my blood in showers!

I strike! It quivers in that heart
Which drives me to this end;
I draw and kiss the bloody dart,
My last—my only friend!


A few years ago when I taught high school English, I received plenty of similar poems scrawled in pen on folded pieces of notebook paper.  Almost makes me laugh, his vivid imagery with lines like, “This heart I’ll rush a dagger through” and “Rip up the organs of my breath and draw my blood in showers!”  So graphic!  So Shakespearean!  But one gets a real sense that Abe was utterly heart-broken.

Abraham was severely depressed and suicidal in his mid-twenties after the death of his sweetheart.  Ann, a striking beauty with blonde hair and blue eyes, was the daughter of James Rutledge, the founder of New Salem, Illinois.  Ann helped her father manage the village tavern . . . and one can imagine a long-legged Abe strolling into the bar in 1831 after getting off the boat from Decatur.  She would have been 18 years old and probably instantly awed by Honest Abe's gray eyes and magnetic charisma as he wooed her with lines from Romeo & Juliet.  She died in 1835 from typhoid at the age of 22 when Abe was 26, and he suffered his first major emotional-psychotic-nervous breakdown.  During this time, his friends and neighbors asked him if they could hold onto his guns and knives. He agreed with their request because he feared that he might take his own life.  His friend Robert Wilson said that during those years, “Lincoln never dare carry a knife in his pocket.”

Throughout his entire life, Lincoln suffered from unipolar depression, which is like bipolar but without the fun, manic side.  In 1841, supposedly on January 1st, known as “that fatal First”, Lincoln suddenly broke off his engagement to Mary Todd.  Three weeks later, Lincoln wrote to his law partner, William Herndon, “I am now the most miserable man living.  If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth.  Whether I shall ever be better I cannot tell, I awfully forebode I shall not.  To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better it appears to me.”

After he emerged from his “melancholy”—as he called it—he wrote to a friend suffering from depression: “Remember in the depth and even the agony of despondency, that very shortly you are to feel well again.” 

And here’s the remarkable part of Lincoln.  In his youth, he learned from his mental anguish and suffering to strengthen himself, and later was able to help others, to free others from pain, to free an entire race of people from bondage.  Because those who have lived through darkness can often show others the light of hope.

Maybe that's why I'm writing this damn book—to help others out of darkness.