Ingersoll the Magnificent
by Joseph Lewis
Gems Concerning Justice and Jurors
When a man has a little suspicion in his mind he tortures everything; he tortures the most innocent actions into the evidence of crime. Suspicion is a kind of intellectual dye that colors every thought that comes in contact with it. I remember I once had a conversation with Surgeon-General Hammond, in which he went on to state that he thought many people were confined in asylums, charged with insanity, who were perfectly sane. I asked him how he accounted for it. Said he, "Physicians are sent for to examine the man, and they are told before they get to him that he is crazy; therefore, the moment they look upon him they are hunting for insane acts and not sane acts; they are looking not to see how naturally he acts, but how unnaturally he acts." They are poisoned with the suspicion that he is insane, and if he coughs twice, or if he gets up and walks about uneasily -- his mind is a little unsettled; something wrong! If he suddenly gets angry -- sure thing! When a man believes himself to be or knows himself to be sane, and is charged with insanity, the very warmth, the very heat of his denial will convince thousands of people that he is insane. He suddenly finds himself insecure, and the very insecurity that he feels makes him act strangely. He finds in a moment that explanation only complicates. He finds that his denial is worthless; that his friends are suspicious, and that under presence of his own good he is to be seized and incarcerated. Many a man as sane as you or I has under such circumstances gone to madness. It is a hard thing to explain. The more you talk about it the more outsiders having a suspicion are convinced that you are insane. It is much the same way when a man is charged with crime. It is heralded through all the papers, "this man is a robber and a thief." Why do they put it in the papers? Put anything good in a paper about Mr. Smith, and Mr. Smith is the only man who will buy it. Put in something bad about Mr. Smith and they will have to run the press nights to supply his neighbors with copies. The bad sells. The good does not. Then you must remember another thing: That these papers are large; some of them several hundred columns, for all I know -- sixty or a hundred. Just imagine the pains it would take and the money it would cost to get facts enough to fill a paper like that. Economy will not permit it. They publish what they imagine they can sell. As a rule, people would rather hear something bad than something good. It is a splendid certificate to our race that rascality is still considered news. If they only put in honest actions as news it would be a certificate that honesty was rare; but as long as they publish the bad as news it is a certificate that the majority of mankind is still good.
Now, to be charged with a crime and to be suddenly deserted by your friends, and to know that you are absolutely innocent, is almost enough to drive the sanest man mad.
By an honest verdict I mean a verdict in accordance with the testimony and in accordance with the law, a verdict that is a true and honest transcript of each juror's mind, a verdict that is the honest result of this evidence. Whoever takes into consideration the desire, or the supposed desire, of the outside public is bribed. Whoever finds a verdict to please power, whoever violates his conscience that he may be in accord or, in supposed accord, with an administration or with the Government, is bribed. Whoever finds a verdict that he may increase his own reputation is bribed. Whoever finds a verdict for fear he will lose his reputation is bribed. Whoever bends to the public judgment, whoever bows before the public press, is bribed.
Fear, prejudice, malice, and the love of approbation bribe a thousand men where gold bribes one. An honest verdict is the result not of fear, but of courage; not of prejudice, but of candor; not of malice, but of kindness. Above all, it is the result of a love of justice.
There are no words sufficiently base to describe a man who will knowingly give a dishonest verdict. The mind of every juror, like the needle to the pole, should be governed simply by the evidence. That needle is not disturbed by wind or wave, and the mind of the honest juror never should be disturbed by clamor, nor by prejudice, nor by suspicion. Your minds should not be affected by the fume, by the froth, by the fiction, or by the fury of prosecution.
Do you know that if I were prosecuting a man, trying to take from him his liberty, trying to take from him his home, trying to rob his fireside and make it desolate, and if I should succeed and afterwards know that I had made a misstatement of the evidence to the jury, I could not sleep until I had done what was in my power to release that man; and after he was released, or even if he were not released, I would go to him when he was wearing the prison garb, and I would get down on my knees and beg him to forgive me. I would rather be sent to the penitentiary myself, I would rather wear the stripes of eternal degradation, than to send another man there by a misstatement or a mistake that I had made. That is my feeling. I may be wrong.
It may be that I am guilty, [according to some] of sneering at everything that people hold sacred. But I do not sneer at justice. I believe that over all, justice sits the eternal queen, holding in her hand the scales in which are weighed the deeds of men. I believe that it is my duty to make the world a little better, because I have lived in it. I believe in helping my fellow-men. I do not sneer at charity; I do not sneer at justice, and I do not sneer at liberty.
Good character is not made in a day. It is the work of a life. The walls of that grand edifice called a good character have to be worked at during life. All the good deeds, all the good words, everything right and true and honest that he does, goes into this edifice, and it is domed and pinnacled with lofty aspirations and grand ambitions. It is not made in a day, neither can it be crumbled into blackened dust by a word from the putrid mouth of a perjurer. Let these snakes writhe and hiss about it. Let the bats fly in at its windows if they can. They cannot destroy it; but above them all rises the grand dome of a good character, not with bats and snakes, but up, gentlemen, with eagles in the sunlight.
If there is anything which makes my blood boil it is to have the evidence misstated for the purpose of putting a man in the penitentiary. I never will make a misstatement to add to my reputation.
I would not, for the sake of convicting any man on this earth, stain the reputation of another in a place and in a way where that other could not defend himself. I would not do it. I do not think there is any crime beyond that. It is as bad to stab the reputation as it is to stab the flesh; it is as bad to kill the honor of the man as to put a dagger into his heart.
How perilous, after all, is the state of man. It is the work of a life to build a great and splendid character. It is the work of a moment to destroy it utterly, from turret to foundation stone. How cruel hypocrisy is!!
An attorney has a certain privilege; he is protected by the court. He is given almost absolute liberty of speech, and it is a privilege that he never should abuse. He should remember if he attacks a defendant, that the defendant cannot open his mouth. He should remember that it does not take as much courage to attack, as it does not to attack. He should remember, too, that by the use of epithets, by abuse, that he is appealing to the lowest and basest part of every juror's head and heart. It is on a low level. It is a fight with the club of a barbarian instead of with an intellectual cimeter. There is no logic in abuse. There is no argument in epithet. Remember that. The weight and worth of an argument is the effect it has upon an unprejudiced mind, and that is all it is worth.
To-day the need of our civilization is public men who have the courage to speak as they think. We need a man for President who will not publicly thank God for earthquakes. We need somebody with the courage to say that all that happens in nature happens without design, and without reference to man; somebody who will say that the men and women killed are not murdered by supernatural beings, and that everything that happens in nature, happens without malice and without mercy. We want somebody who will have courage enough not to charge an infinitely good and wise Being with all the cruelties and agonies and sufferings of this world. We want such men in public places, -- men who will appeal to the reason of their fellows, to the highest intelligence of the people; men who will have courage enough to agree with the conclusions of science. We want some man who will not pretend to believe, and who does not in fact believe, the stories that Superstition has told to Credulity.
The most important thing in this world is the destruction of superstition. Superstition interferes with the happiness of mankind. Superstition is a terrible serpent, reaching in frightful coils from heaven to earth and thrusting its poisoned fangs into the hearts of men. While I live, I am going to do what little I can for the destruction of this monster. Whatever may happen in another world -- and I will take my chances there -- I am opposed to superstition in this. And if, when I reach that other world, it needs reforming, I shall do what little I can there for the destruction of the false.
Let me tell you one thing more, and I am done. The only way to have brave, honest, intelligent, conscientious public men, men without superstition, is to do what we can to make the average citizen brave, conscientious and intelligent. If you wish to see courage in the presidential chair, conscience upon the bench, intelligence of the highest order in Congress; if you expect public men to be great enough to reflect honor upon the Republic, private citizens must have the courage and the intelligence to elect, and to sustain, such men. I have said, and I say it again, that never while I live will I vote for any man to be President of the United States, no matter if he does belong to my party, who has not won his spurs on some field of intellectual conflict.
Gems Concerning Personal Reminiscences
That which has happened to all, happened to me. I was born, and this event which has never for a moment ceased to influence my life, took place, according to an entry found in one Bible, on the 12th day of August in the year of grace 1833, according to another entry in another Bible, on the 11th of August in the same year. So you will see, that a contradiction was about the first thing I found in the Bible, and I have continued to find contradictions in the Sacred Volume all my life.
The great fact of my being born happened at Dresden, near Lake Seneca, in the County of Yates, in the State of New York: My father was at that time trying to save the souls of the people in that neighborhood by preaching the gospel for a consideration of about three hundred dollars a year. Four children had preceded me, two boys and two girls. I was the fifth and the last.
My father was born in Rutland, Vermont, on the fifth of July, 1792. He received the rudiments of ignorance at Middlebury College. He studied, as they called it in that day, for the ministry, and was for a time under the tuition of a celebrated divine by the name of Josiah Hopkins. After having received a certificate to the effect that he understood the mysteries of orthodoxy, and was able to show that the infinite love of God was perfectly consistent with the damnation of the whole human race, he started in search of employment. He went from Vermont on foot through the great forest now known as the Adirondacks, to St. Lawrence County, New York. Not finding any considerable number of sheep in want of a shepherd, he concluded to teach school. In a little log school house, surrounded by about twenty children, he began to earn his bread.
One Robert Livingston, of the town of Lisbon, as was his duty, visited the school for the purpose of finding out whether the young teacher was in all respects qualified to discharge the duties of his position. By some accident, Mr. Livingston took with him on that day, probably for company, his daughter, Mary.
As this girl entered, the little school house was filled with light -- the poor constricted walls expanded, the ceiling lifted -- the log house became a palace inhabited by a king, a princess and a lover. The eyes of Mary met the eyes of John Ingersoll. From each to each flew the shaft. Before a word was spoken the story was told and understood. The same story that has made the life of man worth living. The story that is just as enchanting in the huts of the poor as in the palaces of kings. Love, like death, makes all things even.
In a few months, months filled with light and joy, they were married, joined in wedlock in the old town of Lisbon on the St. Lawrence River in September, 1821.
John, my father, was filled with the idea that it was his duty to save his fellow men from the wrath of a God of infinite love. He was a believer in all the consolations of Christianity, including the dogma of eternal torment. In his day this dogma was in full force. Men believed in fire and sulphur, in devils and fiends. Ministers were engaged in warning the world -- in crying "Fire!" to the careless and sinful. My father carried the sorrows of the world. The frightful doctrine of eternal punishment furrowed his face and made his eyes familiar with tears. This horror darkened his life. He was loving and generous in his nature, but his theology filled his sky with cloud and storm.
Like the most of you, I was raised among people who knew -- who were certain. They did not reason or investigate. They had no doubts. They knew that they had the truth. In their creed there was no guess -- no perhaps. They had a revelation from God. They knew from the beginning of things. They knew that God commenced to create one Monday morning, four thousand and four years before Christ. They knew that in the eternity -- back of that morning, he had done nothing. They knew that it took him six days to make the eatrth -- all plants, all animals, all life, and all the globes that wheel in space. They knew exactly what he did each day and when he rested. They knew the origin, the cause of evil, of all crime, of all disease and death.
They not only knew the beginning, but they knew the end. They knew that life had one path and one road. They knew that the path, grass-grown and narrow, filled with thorns and nettles, infested with vipers, wet with tears, stained by bleeding feet, led to heaven, and that the road, broad and smooth, bordered with fruits and flowers, filled with laughter and song and all the happiness of human love, led straight to hell. They knew that God was doing his best to make you take the path and that the Devil used every art to keep you in the road.
Of course all the people were not exactly of one mind. There were some scoffers, and now and then some man had sense enough to laugh at the threats of priests and make a jest of hell. Some would tell of unbelievers who had lived and died in peace.
They used to tell the story of an old woman who, in telling of her experience, said: "Before I was converted, before I gave my heart to God, I used to lie and steal, but now, thanks to the grace and blood of Jesus Christ, I have quit 'em both, in a great measure."
When I was a boy I heard them tell of an old farmer in Vermont. He was dying. The minister was at his bedside -- asked him if he was a Christian -- if he was prepared to die. The old man answered that he had made no preparation, that he was not a Christian -- that he had never done anything but work. The preacher said that he could give him no hope unless he had faith in Christ, and that if he had no faith his soul would certainly be lost.
The old man was not frightened. He was perfectly calm. In a weak and broken voice he said: "Mr. Preacher, I suppose you noticed my farm. My wife and I came here more than fifty years ago. We were just married. It was a forest then and the land was covered with stones. I cut down the trees, burned the logs, picked up the stones and laid the walls. My wife spun and wove and worked every moment. We raised and educated our children -- denied ourselves. During all these years my wife never had a good dress, or a decent bonnet. I never had a good suit of clothes. We lived on the plainest food. Our hands, our bodies are deformed by toil. We never had a vacation. We loved each other and the children. That is the only luxury we ever had. Now I am about to die and you ask me if I am prepared. Mr. Preacher, I have no fear of the future, no terror of any other world. There may be such a place as hell -- but if there is, you never can make me believe that it's any worse than old Vermont."
So, they told of a man who compared himself with his dog. "My dog," he said, "just barks and plays -- has all he wants to eat. He never works -- has no trouble about business. In a little while he dies, and that is all. I work with all my strength. I have no time to play. I have trouble every day. In a little while I will die, and then I go to hell. I wish that I had been a dog."
I heard one sermon that touched my heart, that left its mark, like a scar, on my brain.
One Sunday I went with my brother to hear a Free Will Baptist preacher. He was a large man, dressed like a farmer, but he was an orator. He could paint a picture with words.
He took for his text the parable of "the rich man and Lazarus." He described Dives, the rich man -- his manner of life, the excesses in which he indulged, his extravagance, his riotous nights, his purple and fine linen, his feasts, his wines, and his beautiful women.
Then he described Lazarus, his poverty, his rags and wretchedness, his poor body eaten by disease, the crusts and crumbs he devoured the dogs that pitied him. He pictured his lonely life, his friendless death.
Then, changing his tone of pity to one of triumph -- leaping from tears to the heights of exultation -- from defeat to victory -- he described the glorious company of angels, who with white and outspread wings carried the soul of the despised pauper to paradise -- to the bosom of Abraham.
Then, changing his voice to one of scorn and loathing, he told of the rich man's death. He was in his palace, on his costly couch, the air heavy with perfume, the room filled with servants and physicians. His gold was worthless then. He could not buy another breath. He died, and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment.
Then, assuming a dramatic attitude, putting his right hand to his ear, he whispered, "Hark! I hear the rich man's voice. What does he say? Hark! 'Father Abraham! Father Abraham! I pray thee send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my parched tongue, for I am tormented in this flame.'
"Oh, my hearers he has been making that request for more than eighteen hundred years. And millions of ages hence that wail will cross the gulf that lies between the saved and lost and still will be heard the cry: 'Father Abraham! Father Abraham! I pray thee send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my parched tongue, for I am tormented in this flame.'"
For the first time I understood the dogma of eternal pain -- appreciated "the glad tidings of great joy." For the first time my imagination grasped the height and depth of the Christian horror. Then I said: "It is a lie, and I hate your religion. If it is true, I hate your God."
From that day I have had no fear, no doubt. For me, on that day, the flames of hell were quenched. From that day I have passionately hated every orthodox creed. That Sermon did some good.
I think it was Heinrich Heine who said, "It is not true, it is not true that the damned in hell are compelled to hear all the sermons preached on earth."
I read Shakespeare, the plays, the sonnets, the poems -- read all. I beheld a new heaven and a new earth; Shakespeare, who knew the brain and heart of man -- the hopes and fears, the loves and hatreds, the vices and the virtues of the human race; whose imagination read the tear-blurred records, the blood-stained pages of all the past, and saw falling athwart the outspread scroll the light of hope and love; Shakespeare, who sounded every depth -- while on the loftiest peak there fell the shadow of his wings.
I compared the Plays with the "inspired" books -- Romeo and Juliet with the Song of Solomon, Lear with Job, and the Sonnets with the Psalms, and I found that Jehovah did not understand the art of speech. I compared Shakespeare's women -- his perfect women -- with the women of the Bible. I found that Jehovah was not a sculptor, not a painter -- not an artist -- that he lacked the power that changes clay to flesh -- the art, the plastic touch, that moulds the perfect form -- the breath that gives it free and joyous life -- the genius that creates the faultless.
The sacred books of all the world are worthless dross and common stones compared with Shakespeare's glistening gold and gleaming gems.
Mr. Talmadge says that my father was a Christian, and he then proceeds to malign his memory. It seems to me that a living Christian should at least tell the truth about one who sleeps the silent sleep of death.
I have said nothing, in any of my lectures, about my father, or about my mother, or about any of my relatives. I have not the egotism to bring them forward. They have nothing to do with the subject in hand. That my father was mistaken upon the subject of religion, I have no doubt. He was a good, a brave and honest man. I loved him living, and I love him dead. I never said to him an unkind word, and in my heart there never was of him an unkind thought. He was grand enough to say to me, that I had the same right to my opinion that he had to his. He was great enough to tell me to read the Bible for myself, to be honest with myself, and if after reading it I concluded it was not the word of God, that it was my duty to say so.
My mother died when I was but a child; and from that day -- the darkest of my life -- her memory has been within my heart a sacred thing, and I have felt, through all these years, her kisses on my lips.
Nearly forty-eight years ago, under the snow, in the little town of Cazenovia [New York] my poor mother was buried. I was but two years old. I remember her as she looked in death. That sweet, cold face has kept my heart warm through all the changing years.
I know that my parents -- if they are conscious now -- do not wish me to honor them at the expense of my manhood. I know that neither my father nor my mother would have me sacrifice upon their graves my honest thought. I know that I can only please them by being true to myself, by defending what I believe is good, by attacking what I believe is bad. Yet this minister of Christ is cruel enough, and malicious enough, to attack the reputation of the dead. What he says about my father is utterly and unqualifiedly false.
Right here, it may be well enough for me to say, that long before my father died, he threw aside, as unworthy of a place in the mind of an intelligent man, the infamous dogma of eternal fire; that he regarded with abhorrence many passages in the Old Testament; that he believed man, in another world, would have the eternal opportunity of doing right, and that the pity of God would last as long as the suffering of man. My father and my mother were good, in spite of the Old Testament. They were merciful, in spite of the one frightful doctrine in the New. They did not need the religion of Presbyterianism. Presbyterianism never made a human being better. If there is anything that will freeze the generous current of the soul, it is Calvinism. If there is any creed that will destroy charity, that will keep the tears of pity from the cheeks of men and women, it is Presbyterianism. If there is any doctrine calculated to make man bigoted, unsympathetic, and cruel, it is the doctrine of predestination. Neither my father, nor my mother, believed in the damnation of babes, nor in the inspiration of John Calvin.
If I wish to shed lustre upon my father and my mother, I can only do so by being absolutely true to myself. Never will I lay the wreath of hypocrisy upon the tombs of those I love.
It may be that I am lacking in filial affection, but I would much rather be in hell, with my parents in heaven, than be in heaven with my parents in hell. I think a thousand times more of my parents than I do of Christ. They knew me, they worked for me, they loved me, and I can imagine no heaven, no state of perfect bliss for me, in which they have no share. If God hates me, because I love them, I cannot love him.
You cannot show real respect to your parents by perpetuating their errors.
Do you consider that the inventor of a steel plow cast a slur upon his father who scratched the ground with a wooden one? I do not consider that an invention by the son is a slander upon the father; I regard each invention simply as an improvement; and every father should be exceedingly proud of an ingenious son. If Mr. Talmage has a son, it will be impossible for him to honor his father except by differing with him.
In the world of thought, each man is an absolute monarch, each brain is a kingdom, that cannot be invaded even by the tyranny of majorities.
No man can avoid the intellectual responsibility of deciding for himself.
Suppose that the Christian religion had been put to vote in Jerusalem? Suppose that the doctrine of the "fall" had been settled in Athens, by an appeal to the people, would Mr. Talmage have been willing to abide by their decision? If he settles the inspiration of the Bible by a popular vote, he must settle the meaning of the Bible by the same means. There are more Methodists than Presbyterians -- why does the gentleman remain a Presbyterian? There are more Buddhists than Christians -- why does he vote against majorities? He will remember that Christianity was once settled by a popular vote -- that the divinity of Christ was submitted to the people, and the people said: "Crucify
The next, and about the strongest, argument Mr. Talmage makes is that I am an infidel because I was defeated for Governor of Illinois.
When put in plain English, his statement is this: that I was defeated because I was an infidel, and that I am an infidel because I was defeated. This, I believe, is called reasoning in a circle. The truth is, that a good many people did object to me because I was an infidel, and the probability is, that if I had denied being an infidel, I might have obtained an office. The wonderful part is that any Christian should deride me because I preferred honor to political success. He who dishonors himself for the sake of being honored by others will find that two mistakes have been made -- one by himself, and the other, by the people.
I presume that Mr. Talmage really thinks that I was extremely foolish to avow my real opinions. After all, men are apt to judge others somewhat by themselves. According to him, I made the mistake of preserving my manhood and losing an office. Now, if I had in fact been an infidel, and had denied it, for the sake of position, then I admit that every Christian might have pointed at me the finger of contempt. But I was an infidel, and admitted it. Surely, I should not be held in contempt by Christians for having made the admission. I was not a believer in the Bible, and I said so. I was not a Christian, and I said so. I was not willing to receive the support of any man under a false impression. I thought it better to be honestly beaten, than to dishonestly succeed. According to the ethics of Mr. Talmage I made a mistake, and this mistake is brought forward as another evidence of the inspiration of the Scriptures. If I had only been elected Governor of Illinois, -- that is to say, if I had been a successful hypocrite, I might now be basking in the sunshine of this gentleman's respect. I preferred to tell the truth -- to be an honest man, -- and I have never regretted the course I pursued.
A good man should not agree to keep silent just for the sake of an office. A man owes his best thoughts to his country.
So far as I am concerned, I have made up my mind that no organization, secular or religious, shall be my master. I have made up my mind that no necessity of bread, or roof, or raiment shall ever put a padlock on my lips. I have made up my mind that no hope of preferment, no honor, no wealth, shall ever make me for one moment swerve from what I really believe, no matter whether it is to my immediate interest, as one would think, or not. And while I live, I am going to do what little I can to help my fellow-men who have not been as fortunate as I have been. I shall talk on their side, I shall vote on their side, and do what little I can to convince men that happiness does not lie in the direction of great wealth, but in the direction of achievement for the good of themselves and for the good of their fellow-men. I shall do what little I can to hasten the day when this earth shall be covered with homes, and when by countless firesides shall sit the happy and the loving families of the world.
Religion is an individual matter -- a something for each individual to settle for himself, and with which no other human being has any concern, provided the religion of each human being allows liberty to every other. When called upon to vote for men to fill the offices of this country, I do not inquire as to the religion of the candidates. It is none of my business. I ask the questions asked by Jefferson: "Is he honest; is he capable?" It makes no difference to me, if he is willing that others should be free, what creed he may profess. The moment I inquire into his religious belief, I found a little oinquisition of my own; I repeat, in a small way, the errors of the past, and reproduce, in so far as I am capable, the infamy of the ignorant orthodox years.
A decent Christian who is not willing that an infidel should be elected to an office, would not be willing to be elected to an office by infidel votes. If infidels are too bad to be voted for, they are certainly not good enough to vote, and no Christian should be willing to represent such an infamous constituency.
I have succeeded in my mission beyond my most sanguine expectations. I have made orthodox ministers deny their creeds; I have made them ashamed of their doctrine -- and that is glory enough.
I have said, and still say, that you have no right to endeavor by force to compel another to think your way -- that man has no right to compel his fellow-men to adopt his creed, by torture or social ostracism. I have said, and still say, that even an infinite God has and can have no right to compel by force or threats even the meanest of mankind to accept a dogma abhorrent to his mind. As a matter of fact such a power is incapable of being exercised. You may compel a man to say that he has changed his mind. You may force him to say that he agrees with you. In this way, however, you make hypocrites, not converts. Is it possible that a god wishes the worship of a slave? Does a god desire the homage of a coward? Does he really long for the adoration of a hypocrite? Is it possible that he requires the worship of one who dare not think? If I were a god it seems to me that I had rather have the esteem and love of one grand, brave man, with plenty of heart and plenty of brain, than the blind worship, the ignorant adoration, the trembling homage of a universe of men afraid to reason.
You can make a man say that he has changed his mind; but he remains of the same opinion still. Put fetters all over him; crush his feet in iron boots; stretch him to the last gasp upon the holy rack; burn him, if you please, but his ashes will be of the same opinion still.
Even in our day some extremely religious people say, "We will not trade with that man; we will not vote for him; we will not hire him if he is a lawyer; we will die before we will take his medicine if he is a doctor; we will not invite him to dinner; we will socially ostracise him; he must come to our church; he must believe our doctrines; he must worship our god or we will not in any way contribute to his support."
I am told that I am in danger of hell; that for me to express my honest convictions is to excite the wrath of God. They inform me that unless I believe in a certain way, meaning their way, I am in danger of everlasting fire.
There was a time when these threats whitened the faces of men with fear. That time has substantially passed away. For a hundred years hell has been gradually growing cool, the flames have been slowly dying out, the brimstone is nearly exhausted, the fires have been burning lower and lower, and the climate gradually changing. To such an extent has the change already been effected that if I were going there to-night I would take an overcoat and a box of matches.
They say that the eternal future of man depends upon his belief. I deny it. A conclusion honestly arrived at by the brain cannot possibly be a crime; and the man who says it is, does not think so. The god who punishes it as a crime is simply an infamous tyrant. As for me, l would a thousand times rather go to perdition and suffer its torments with the brave, grand thinkers of the world, than go to heaven and keep the company of a god who would damn his children for an honest belief.
There is upon man, so far as thought is concerned, the obligation to think the best he can, and to honestly express his best thought. Whenever he finds what is right, or what he honestly believes to be the right, he is less than a man if he fears to express his conviction before an assembled world.
For expressing these sentiments, I have been denounced by the religious press and by ministers in their pulpits as a demon, as an enemy of order, as a fiend, as an infamous man. Of this, however, I make no complaint. A few years ago they would have burned me at the stake and I should have been compelled to look upon their hypocritical faces through flame and smoke. They cannot do it now or they would. One hundred years ago I would have been burned, simply for pleading for the rights of men. Fifty years ago I would have been imprisoned. Fifty years ago my wife and my children would have been torn from my arms in the name of the most merciful God. Twenty-five years ago I could not have made a living in the United States at the practice of law; but I can now. I would not then have been allowed to express my thought; but I can now, and I will. And when I think about the liberty I now enjoy, the whole horizon is illuminated with glory and the air is filled with wings.
The infidelity of a hundred years ago knew nothing, comparatively speaking, of geology; nothing of astronomy; nothing of the ideas of Lamarck and Darwin; nothing of evolution; nothing, comparatively speaking, of other religions; nothing of India, that womb of metaphysics; in other words, the infidels of a hundred years ago knew the creed of orthodox Christianity to be false, but had not the facts to demonstrate it. The infidels of to-day have the facts; that is the difference. A hundred years ago it was a guessing prophecy; to-day it is the fact and fulfillment. Everything in nature is working against superstition to-day. Superstition is like a thorn in the flesh, and everything, from dust to stars, is working together to destroy the false. The smallest pebble answers the greatest parson. One blade of grass, rightly understood, destroys the orthodox creed.
It is only when we discard the idea of a deity, the idea of cruelty or goodness in nature, that we are able ever to bear with patience the ills of life. I feel that I am neither a favorite nor a victim. Nature neither loves nor hates me. I do not believe in the existence of any personal god. I regard the universe as the one fact, as the one existence -- that is, as the absolute thing. I am a part of this.
A man may call me a devil, or the devil, or he may say that I am incapable of telling the truth, or that I tell lies, and yet all this proves nothing. My arguments remain unanswered.
I know that men do as they must with the light they have, and so I say -- More light!
Buffalo, Feb. 24th, 1878.
Mrs. Van Cott:
My dear Madam: -- Were you constrained by the love of Christ to call a man who has never injured you "a poor barking dog"? Did you make this remark as a Christian, or as a lady? Did you say these words to illustrate in some faint degree the refining influence upon woman of the religion you preach?
What would you think of me if I should retort, using your language, changing only the sex of the last word?
I have the honor to remain,
I like to be alive, to breathe the air, to look at the landscape, the clouds and stars, to repeat old poems, to look at pictures and statues, to hear music, the voices of the ones I love. I enjoy eating and smoking. I like good cold water. I like to talk with my wife, my girls, my grandchildren. I like to sleep and to dream. Yes, you can say that life, to me, is worth living.
When I was a boy I killed two ducks, and it hurt me as much as anything I ever did. No, I would not kill any living creature. I am sometimes tempted to kill a mosquito on my hand, but I stop and think what a wonderful construction it has, and shoo it away.
Be true to your ideal. Cultivate your heart and brain. Follow the light of your reason. Get all the happiness out of life that you possibly can. Do not care for power, but strive to be useful. First of all, support yourself so that you may not be a burden to others. If you are successful, if you gain a surplus, use it for the good of others. Own yourself and live and die a free man. Make your home a heaven, love your wife and govern your children by kindness. Be good natured, cheerful, forgiving and generous. Find out the conditions of happiness, and then be wise enough to live in accordance with them. Cultivate intellectual hospitality, express your honest thoughts, love your friends and be just to your enemies.
I believe in doing things above board, in the light, in the wide air. No snake ever yet had a skin brilliant enough, no snake ever crawled through the grass secretly enough, silently or cunningly enough, to excite my admiration.
My admiration is for the eagle, the monarch of the empyrean, who, poised on outstretched pinions, challenges the gaze of all the world. Take your position in the sunlight; tell your neighbors and your friends what you are for, and give your reasons for your position; and if that is a mistake, I expect to live only making mistakes.
It is a great thing to preach philosophy -- far greater to live it. The highest philosophy accepts the inevitable with a smile, and greets it as though it were desired.
To be satisfied: This is wealth -- success.
The real philosopher knows that everything has happened that could have happened -- consequently he accepts. He is glad that he has lived -- glad that he has had his moments on the stage.
The "plan" of Nature I detest. Competition, and struggle, the survival of the strongest, of those with the sharpest claws and longest teeth. Life feeding on life with ravenous, merciless hunger -- every leaf a battlefield -- war everywhere. No wonder that man has believed in devils.
And yet in this darkness there has been a little light, the light of love and virtue. And in every age some heroic man has carried the torch. We have certainly advanced in the years that are dead, and we are certainly going forward now, and I firmly believe that the pace is growing swifter day by day.
But I am depressed by the weakness of the individual -- one man can do so little and the harvest is so far away.
Sometimes I almost despair of the race. When I see thousands of people, some of them educated, kissing a supposed bone of St. Anne, now, at the close of the nineteenth century, here, in the United States, I feel that the minds of millions are still in the dens and caves of savagery. Is it not wonderful that all people do not see that the Catholic Church is the fortress of ignorance, superstition and hypocrisy -- an organization that seeks to govern by exciting the fears of the ignorant and the hopes of the foolish? How that Church -- that impudent beggar -- lives and thrives. It has murdered many millions -- it has committed all crimes, and yet millions bow at its altars. From this we can see how little one man can do -- and how little millions can do. The Catholic Church with its celibacy -- an insult to the world -- with its confessional that destroys manhood and womanhood -- with all its absurdities and crime, lives and flourishes here, in the Great Republic.
Still, I have confidence in the final victory of reason, of education and civilization. I shall do what I can to hasten the day of deliverance.
I would like to make a few remarks on "orthodox billiards." The fact is that the whole world is a table, we are the balls, and Fate plays the game. We are knocked and whacked against each other -- followed and drawn -- whirled and twisted -- pocketed and spotted, and all the time we think that we are doing the playing. But no matter, we feel that we are in the game and a real good illusion is after all, it may be, the only reality that we know.
At the same time I feel that Fate is a careless player -- that he is always a little nervous and generally forgets to chalk his cue. I know that he has made lots of misses with me.
A happy New Year! I write the first line of 1876 to you. My joy at seeing this day is lessened by the thought of the days we have lost. I feel that we have passed the crown of the hill, and that the mile stones are getting nearer and nearer each other, and now and then I catch glimpses of the great wall where the road ends.
A little while ago, I pressed forward, now I hold back. In youth we woo the Future, and clasp her like a bride; -- in age we denounce her as a fair and beautiful liar and wonder at the ease with which we were duped.
Pursuing that which eludes -- gazing at that which fades -- hoping for the impossible -- regretting that which is -- fearing that which must be -- and with naught worth having save the bliss of Love. And in the red heart of this white flower there is this pang -- "it cannot last." --
But for all this, again I say,
A Happy New Year.
Tomorrow I shall have been married nineteen years, and they have been happy years to me. My wedding day was the most fortunate in my life. No man ever had a better, truer, sweeter wife. She has been the star and anchor of my life. But for her, I should have been a wreck among the rocks. She is dearer to me now than ever before and she will grow dearer as the years go by.
|"Ever faithful to the chosen one;
Varying never, constant as the sun.
Artless, honest; every duty gladly done;
In every act her nature's best --
Nature rising to the top in her --
Giving final proof.
Ever giving, asking naught;
Royal in her every thought.
Serenely formed and wrought
Of perfect clay."
Gems Expressed in The Shadow of Death
July 18, 1893
In a little while, on the 11th of next month, I shall be sixty years of age, and only a few days ago I was a child. What a riddle it all is. Life and Death, who can tell us what they are? And what is all this for -- this living -- this suffering -- this labor and hope and love -- this gold and poverty and after all, this death. Who can tell? Who can guess?
To this mystery there is no key -- no clue. We must wait -- and bear, and above all -- hope. My dear Brother, we must meet as often as we can. We must not waste our lives apart.
But if we live beyond life's day and reach the dusk, and slowly travel in the shadows of the night, the way seems long, and being weary we ask for rest, and then, as in our youth, we chide the loitering hours. When eyes are dim and memory fails to keep a record of events; when ears are dull and muscles fail to obey the will; when the pulse is low and the tired heart is weak, and the poor brain has hardly power to think, then comes the dream, the hope of rest, the longing for the peace of dreamless sleep.
It is awful to die in the very prime and fulness of life -- when the heart beats high with hope and even the night is thick with stars. It is awful to live in pain -- to linger in agony, when it is known that the end is near. I know just how you feel for I have gazed upon a brother's pallid face.
This is the end of the year. The last sad grains of sand have reached the desert, called the past -- Today the cradle -- tomorrow the coffin -- a tear and a smile.
A heart breaks, a man dies, a leaf falls in the far forest, a babe is born, and the great world sweeps on.
By the grave of man stands the angel of Silence.
Sometimes I think, and especially when I am at a meeting where they have what they call reminiscences, that a world with death in it is a mistake. What would you think of a man who built a railroad, knowing that every passenger was to be killed -- knowing that there was no escape? What would you think of the cheerfulness of the passengers if every one knew that at some station, the name of which had not been called out, there was a hearse waiting for him; backed up there, horses fighting flies, driver whistling, waiting for you? Is it not wonderful that the passengers on that train really enjoy themselves? Is it not magnificent that every one of them, under perpetual sentence of death, after all, can dimple their cheeks with laughter; that we, every one doomed to become dust, can yet meet around this table as full of joy as spring is full of life, as full of hope as the heavens are full of stars? I tell you we have got a good deal of pluck.
And yet, after all, what would this world be without death? It may be from the fact that we are victims, from the fact that we are all bound by common fate; it may be that friendship and love are born of that fact; but whatever the fact is, I am perfectly satisfied that the highest possible philosophy is to enjoy to-day, not regretting yesterday, and not fearing tomorrow. So, let us suck this orange of life dry, so that when death does come, we can politely say to him, "You are welcome to the peelings. What little there was we have enjoyed."
But there is one splendid thing about the play called Life. Suppose that when you die, that is the end. The last thing that you will know is that you are alive, and the last thing that will happen to you is the curtain, not falling, but the curtain rising on another thought, so that as far as your consciousness is concerned you will and must live forever. No man can remember when he commenced, and no man can remember when he ends. As far as we are concerned we live both eternities, the one past and the one to come, and it is a delight to me to feel satisfied, and to feel in my own heart, that I can never be certain that I have seen the faces I love for the last time.
When I am at such a gathering as this, I almost wish I had had the making of the world. What a world I would have made! In that world unhappiness would have been the only sin; melancholy the only crime; joy the only virtue. And whether there is another world, nobody knows. Nobody can affirm it; nobody can deny it. Nobody can collect tolls from me, claiming that he owns a turnpike, and nobody can certainly say that the crooked path that I follow, beside which many roses are growing, does not lead to that place. He doesn't know. But if there is such a place, I hope that all good fellows will be welcome.
When the old oak is visited in vain by Spring -- when light and rain no longer thrill -- it is not well to stand leafless, desolate, and alone. It is better far to fall where Nature softly covers all with woven moss and creeping vine.
How little, after all, we know of what is ill or well! How little of this wondrous stream of cataracts and pools -- this stream of life, that rises in a world unknown, and flows to that mysterious sea whose shore the foot of one who comes has never pressed! How little of this life we know -- this struggling ray of light, 'twixt gloom and gloom -- this strip of land by verdure clad, between the unknown wastes -- this throbbing moment filled with love and pain -- this dream that lies between the shadowy shores of sleep and death!
We stand upon this verge of crumbling time. We love, we hope, we disappear. Again we mingle with the dust, and the "knot intrinsicate" forever falls apart.
But this we know: A noble life enriches all the world.
After all, there is something tenderly appropriate in the serene death of the old. Nothing is more touching than the death of the young, the strong. But when the duties of life have all been nobly done; when the sun touches the horizon; when the purple twilight falls upon the past, the present, and the future; when memory, with dim eyes, can scarcely spell the blurred and faded records of the vanished days -- then, surrounded by kindred and by friends, death comes like a strain of music. The day has been long, the road weary, and the traveler gladly stops at the welcome inn.
There are but few lives worth living in any great and splendid sense. Nature seems filled with failure, and she has made no exception in favor of man. To the greatest, to the most successful, there comes a time when the fevered lips of life long for the cool, delicious kiss of death -- when, tired of the dust and glare of day, they hear with joy the rustling garments of the night.
Life is a shadowy strange and winding road on which we travel for a few short steps, just a little way from the cradle with its lullaby of love, to the low and quiet wayside inn where all at last must sleep, and where the only salutation is "Good-Night!"
Whether death is a curse or a blessing I know not; but after a long day's work I know that sleep is sweet.
Of the future I have no fear. My fate is the fate of the world -- of all that live. My anxieties are about this life, this world. About the phantoms called gods and their impossible hells, I have no care, no fear.
I now in the presence of death affirm and reaffirm the truth of all that I have said against the superstitions of the world. I would say at least that much on the subject with my last breath.