Words That Men Live By
Robert G. Ingersoll (1899)
NEW YORK, 1899 - Robert Green lngersoll, who died here this year at the age of 66, is more remembered for his controversies than for his achievements, and as an orator whose words eulogizing others were more dramatic than the individuals he described.
His life was one of conflicts and contrasts on which he throve. As an agnostic he achieved the unique position of winning serious denunciation, instead of the usual quiet disdain, from leaders of orthodox religious movements; as a politician his early career in Illinois was cut short by public reaction to his agnosticism, and yet he reached the peak of leadership where he nominated James G. Blaine as the standard bearer of the Republican party in 1876. And he achieved that leadership in the Republican party after having turned his coat from the Democratic party banner under which he worked prior to the Civil War. But perhaps the greatest paradox of his life-the element that drew hundreds of thousands of persons annually to hear his lectures-was his unique conception of being, wherein while he denied God as an orthodox deity he saw his fellow man, whom he admired, as being constructed of almost godlike qualities.
From his many memorable speeches, while deliberately pushing aside his direct and controversial challenges of formal religious beliefs, the portrait of Mr. lngersoll as he saw beauty around him in the world, is best illustrated by excerpts from two of his talks, one public and the other relatively private, delivered more than a score of years ago.
One is the conclusion of his nomination of Blaine, the other a passage from his oration at the funeral of his brother, Ebon Clark lngersoll.
The Republicans of the United States demand a man who knows, that prosperity and resumption, when they come, must come together; that when they come they will come hand in hand through the golden harvest fields; hand in hand by the whirling spindles and turning wheels; hand in hand past the open furnace doors; hand in hand by the flaming forges; hand in hand by the chimneys filled with eager fire - greeted and grasped by the countless sons of toil. This money (for the resumption of "specie payment") has to be dug out of the earth. You cannot make it by passing resolutions in a political convention.
The Republicans of the United States want a man who knows that this government should protect every citizen at home and abroad; who knows that any government that will not defend its defenders and protect its protectors is a disgrace to the map of the world. They demand a man who believes in the eternal separation and divorcement of church and school. They demand a man whose political reputation is spotless as a star; but they do not demand that their candidate shall have a certificate of moral character signed by a Confederate Congress. The man who has in full, heaped and rounded measure, all these splendid qualifications is the present grand and gallant leader of the Republican party - James G. Blaine.
Our country, crowned with the vast and marvelous achievements of its first century, asks for a man worthy of the past and prophetic of her future; asks for a man who has the audacity of genius; asks for a man who is the grandest combination of heart, conscience and brain beneath her flag. Such a man is James G. Blaine.
For the Republican host led by this intrepid man, there can be no defeat. This is a grand year; a year filled with the recollections of the Revolution, filled with proud and tender memories of the past, with the sacred legends of liberty; a year in which the sons of freedom will drink from the fountains of enthusiasm; a year in which the people call for a man who has preserved in Congress what our soldiers won upon the field; a year in which we call '~ for the man who has torn from the throat of treason the tongue of slander - for the man who has snatched the mask of Democracy from the hidden face of Rebellion - for the man who, like an intellectual athlete, has stood in the arena of debate and challenged all comers, and who, up to the present moment, is a total stranger to defeat. Like an armed warrior, like a plumed knight, James G. Blaine marched down the hall of the American Congress and threw his shining lance full and fair against the brazen foreheads of the defamers of his country and the maligners of his honor. For the Republicans to desert this gallant leader now is as though an army should desert their general upon the field of battle. James G. Blaine is now, and has been for years, the bearer of the sacred standard of the Republican party. I call it sacred, because no human being can stand beneath its folds without becoming and without remaining free.
Gentlemen of the convention, in the name of the great Republic, the only republic that ever existed upon this earth; in the name of all her defenders and all her supporters; in the name of all her soldiers living; in the name of all her soldiers dead upon the field of battle; and in the name of those who perished in the skeleton clutch of famine at Andersonville and Libby, whose suffering she so vividly remembers lllinois - lllinois nominates for the next President of this country that prince of parliamentarians, that leader of leaders, James G. Blaine.
The "plumed knight" did not win the nomination; this went to Rutherford B. Hayes, who became the next President. But Ingersoll's nomination has lived as the expression of its speaker, not its subject.
~ AT HIS BROTHER'S GRAVE ~
The loved and loving brother, husband, father, friend died where manhood's morning almost touches noon, and while the shadows still were falling toward the West.Printable version
He had not passed on life's highway the stone that marks the highest point, but, being weary for a moment, he lay down by the wayside, and, using his burden for a pillow, fell into that dreamless sleep that kisses down his eyelids still. While yet in love with life and raptured with the world he passed to silence and pathetic dust.
Yet, after all, it may be best, just in the happiest, sunniest hours of all the voyage, while eager winds are kissing every sail, to dash against the unseen rock, and in an instant hear the billows roar above a sunken ship. For, whether in mid-sea or 'mong the breakers of the farther shore, a wreck at last must mark the end of each and all. And every life, no matter if its hour is rich with love and every moment jeweled with joy will, at its close, become a tragedy as sad and deep and dark as can be woven of the warp and woof of mystery and death.
This brave and tender man in every storm of life was oak and rock but in the sunshine he was vine and flower. He was the friend of all heroic souls. He climbed the heights and left all superstitions far below, while on his forehead fell the golden dawning of the grander day.
He loved the beautiful, and was with color, form and music touched to tears. He sided with the weak, and with a willing hand gave alms; with loyal heart and with purest hands he faithfully discharged all public trusts.
He was a worshiper of liberty, a friend of the oppressed. A thousand times I have heard him quote these words: "For justice all places a temple, and all seasons summer." He believed that happiness was the only good, reason the only torch, justice the only worship, humanity the only religion, and love the only priest. He added to the sum of human joy; and were everyone to whom he did some loving service to bring a blossom to his grave, he would sleep tonight beneath a wilderness of flowers.
Life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities. We strive in vain to look beyond the heights. We c aloud and the only answer is the echo of our wailing cry. From the voiceless lips of the unreplying dead there comes no word; but in the night of death hope sees a star, and listening love can hear the rustle of awing.
He who sleeps here, when dying, mistaking the approach of death for the return of health, whispered with his latest breath: "I am better now." Let us believe, in spite of doubts and dogmas, and tears and fears, that these dear words are true of all the countless dead.