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Masterpieces of Eloquence


The following masterpieces of elegiac eloquence are unsurpassed in the repertory of the English classics, for lofty and noble sentiment, exquisite pathos, vivid imagery, tenderness of feeling, glowing power of description, brilliant command of language, and that immortal and seldom attained faculty of painting in the soul of the listener or reader a realistic picture whose sublimity of conception impresses the understanding with awe and admiration, and impels the mind to rise involuntarily for the time to an elevation out of and above the inconsequent contemplation of the common and sordid things of life.


The following grand oration was delivered by Hon. Robert G. Ingersoll on the occasion of the funeral of his brother, Hon. Eben C. Ingersoll, in Washington, June 2:

"My friends, I am going to do that which the dead oft promised he would do for me. The loved and loving brother, husband, father, friend, died where manhood's morning almost touches noon, and while the shadows were still falling towards the west. 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 the 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 hour of all the voyage, while eager winds are kissing every sail, to dash against the unseen rock and in an instant to hear the billows roar, 'A sunken ship;' for whether in mid-sea or among the breakers of the farther shore, a wreck must mark at last the end of each and all, and every life, no matter if its every hour is rich with love, and every moment jeweled with a 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 a 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 the purest hand he faithfully discharged all public trusts. He was a worshiper of liberty and a friend of the oppressed. A thousand times I have heard him quote the words, 'For Justice all place temple, and all seasons summer.' He believed that happiness was the only good, reason the only torch, justice the only worshiper, humanity the only religion, and love the priest. He added to the sum of human joy, and were everyone for whom he did some loving service to bring a blossom to his grave, he would sleep to-night 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 cry 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 the light of death. Hope sees a star, and listening love can hear the rustic of a wing, lie 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. And now, to you who have been chosen from among the many men he loved to do the last sad office for the dead, we give his sacred dust. Speech cannot contain our love. There was, there is, no gentler, stronger, manlier man."


Colonel Ingersoll upon one occasion was one of a little party of sympathizing friends who had gathered in a drizzling rain to assist the sorrowing friends of a young boy—a bright and stainless flower, cut off in the bloom of its beauty and virgin purity by the ruthless north winds from the Plutonian shades—in the last sad office of committing the poor clay to the bosom of its mother earth. Inspired by that true sympathy of the great heart of a great man, Colonel Ingersoll stepped to the side of the grave and spoke as follows:

"My friends, I know how vain it is to gild grief with words, and yet I wish to take from every grave its fear. Here in this world, where life and death are equal king, all should be brave enough to meet what all the dead have met. The future has been filled with fear, stained and polluted by the heartless past. From the wondrous tree of life the buds and blossoms fall with ripened fruit, and in the common bed of earth the patriarchs and babes sleep side by side. Why should we fear that which will come to all that is? We cannot tell; we do not know which is the greater blessing—life or death. We cannot say that death is not a good; we do not know whether the grave is the end of this life or the door of another, or whether the night here is not somewhere else a dawn. Neither can we which is the more fortunate, the child dying in its mother's arms, before its lips have learned to form a word, or he who journeys all the length of life's uneven road, taking the last slow steps painfully with staff and crutch. Every cradle asks us 'whence,' and every coffin 'whither?' The poor barbarian, weeping above his dead, can answer these questions as intelligently and satisfactorily as the robed priest of the most authentic creed. The tearful ignorance of the one is just as good as the learned and unmeaning words of the other. No man, standing where the horizon of life has touched a grave, has any right to prophesy a future filled with pain and tears. It may be that death gives all there is of worth to live. If those we press and strain against our hearts could never die, perhaps that love would wither from the earth. May be this common fate treads from out the paths between our hearts the weeds of selfishness and hate, and I had rather live and love where death is king, than have eternal life where love is not. Another life is naught, unless we know and love again the ones who love us here. They who stand with breaking hearts around this little grave need have no fear. The larger and the nobler faith in all that is and is to be, tells us that death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest. We know that through the common wants of life, the needs and duties of each hour, their grief will lessen day by day, until at last these graves will be to them a place of rest and peace, almost of joy. There is for them this consolation, the dead do not suffer. If they live again, their lives will surely be as good as ours. We have no fear; we are all the children of the same mother, and the same fate awaits us all. We, too, have our religion, and it is this: 'Help for the living; hope for the dead.'"

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