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Tribute Seidl

Robert Green Ingersoll


                   New York, February 2, 1895.

myself with music and song; why I should be troubled, why I should
be called upon to trouble you, is a question I can hardly answer.
Still, as the president has remarked, the American people like to
hear speeches. Why, I don't know. It has always been a matter of
amazement that anybody wanted to hear me. Talking is so universal;
with few exceptions -- the deaf and dumb -- everybody seems to be
in the business. Why they should be so anxious to hear a rival I
never could understand. But, gentlemen, we are all pupils of
nature; we are taught by the countless things that touch us on
every side; by field and flower and star and cloud and river and
sea, where the waves break into whitecaps, and by the prairie, and
by the mountain that lifts its granite forehead to the sun; all
things in nature touch us, educate us, sharpen us, cause the heart
to bud, to burst, it may be, into blossom; to produce fruit. In
common with the rest of the world I have been educated a little
that way; by the things I have seen and by the things I have heard
and by the people I have met. But there are a few things that stand
out in my recollection as having touched me more deeply than
others, a few men to whom I feel indebted for the little I know,
and for the little I happen to be. Those men, those things, are
forever present in my mind. But I want to tell you to-night that
the first man that let up the curtain in my mind, that ever opened
a blind, that ever allowed a little sunshine to straggle in, was
Robert Burns. I went to get my shoes mended, and I had to go with
them. And I had to wait till they were done. I was like the fellow
standing by the stream naked washing his shirt. A lady and
gentleman were riding by in a carriage, and upon seeing him the man
indignantly shouted, "Why don't you put on another shirt when you
are washing one? " The fellow said, "I suppose you think I've got
a hundred shirts!"

     When I went into the shop of the old Scotch shoemaker he was
reading a book, and when he took my shoes in hand I took his book,
which was "Robert Burns." In a few days I had a copy; and, indeed,
gentlemen, from that time if "Burns" had been destroyed I could
have restored more than half of it. It was in my mind day and
night. Burns you know is a little valley, not very wide, but full
of sunshine; a little stream runs down making music over the rocks,
and children play upon the banks; narrow roads overrun with vines,
covered with blossoms, happy children, the hum of bees, and little
birds pour out their hearts and enrich the air. That is Burns.
Then, you must know that I was raised respectably. Certain books
were not thought to be good for the young person; only such books
as would start you in the narrow road for the New Jerusalem. But
one night I stopped at a little hotel in Illinois, many years ago,
when we were not quite civilized, when the footsteps of the red man
were still in the prairies. While I was waiting for supper an old
man was reading from a book, and among others who were listening
was myself. I was filled with wonder. I had never heard anything
like it. I was ashamed to ask him what he was reading; I supposed
that an intelligent boy ought to know. So I waited, and when the
little bell rang for supper I hang back and they went out. I picked
up the book; it was Sam Johnson's edition of Shakespeare. The next
day I bought a copy for four dollars. My God! more than the

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national debt. You talk about the present straits of the Treasury
I For days, for nights, for months, for years, I read those books,
two volumes, and I commenced with the introduction. I haven't read
that introduction for nearly fifty years, certainly forty-five, but
I remember it still. Other writers are like a garden diligently
planted and watered, but Shakespeare a forest where the oaks and
elms toss their branches to the storm, where the pine towers, where
the vine bursts into blossom at its foot. That book opened to me a
new world, another nature. While Burns was the valley, here was a
range of mountains with thousands of such valleys; while Burns was
as sweet a star as ever rose into the horizon, here was a heaven
filled with constellations. That book has been a source of
perpetual joy to me from that day to this; and whenever I read
Shakespeare -- if it ever happens that I fail to find some new
beauty, some new presentation of some wonderful truth, or another
word that bursts into blossom, I shall make up my mind that my
mental faculties are failing, that it is not the fault of the book.
Those, then, are two things that helped to educate me a little.

     Afterward I saw a few paintings by Rembrandt, and all at once
I was overwhelmed with the genius of the man that could convey so
much thought in form and color. Then I saw a few landscapes by
Corot, and I began to think I knew something about art. During all
my life, of course, like other people, I had heard what they call
music, and I had my favorite pieces, most of those favorite pieces
being favorites on account of association; and nine-tenths of the
music that is beautiful to the world is beautiful because of the
association, not because the music is good, but because of
association. We cannot write a very poetic thing about a pump or
about water works; they are not old enough. We can write a poetic
thing about a well and a sweep and an old moss-covered bucket, and
you can write a poem about a spring, because a spring seems a gift
of nature, something that cost no trouble and no work, something
that will sing of nature under the quiet stars of June. So, it is
poetic on account of association. The stage coach is more poetic
than the car, but the time will come when cars will be poetic,
because human feelings, love's remembrances, will twine around
them, and consequently they will become beautiful. There are two
pieces of music, "The Last Rose of Summer," and "Home Sweet Home,"
with the music a little weak in the back; but association makes
them both beautiful. So, in the "Marseillaise" is the French
Revolution, that whirlwind and flame of war, of heroism the highest
possible, of generosity, of self-denial, of cruelty, of all of
which the human heart and brain are capable; so that music now
sounds as though its notes were made of stars, and it is beautiful
mostly by association.

     Now, I always felt that there must be some greater music
somewhere, somehow. You know this little music that comes back with
recurring emphasis every two inches or every three-and-a-half
inches; I thought there ought to be music somewhere with a great
sweep from horizon to horizon, and that could fill the great dome
of sound with winged notes like the eagle; if there was not such
music, somebody, sometime, would make it, and I was waiting for it.
One day I heard it, and I said, "What music is that?" "Who wrote
that?" I felt it everywhere. I was cold. I was almost hysterical.
It answered to my brain, to my heart; not only to association, but

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to all there was of hope and aspiration, all my future; and they
said this is the music of Wagner. I never knew one note from
another -- of course I would know it from a promissory note -- and
was utterly and absolutely ignorant of music until I heard Wagner
interpreted by the greatest leader, in my judgment, in the world --
Anton Seidl. He not only understands Wagner in the brain, but he
feels him in the heart, and there is in his blood the same kind of
wild and splendid independence that was in the brain of Wagner. I
want to say to-night, because there are so many heresies, Mr.
President, creeping into this world, I want to say and say it with
all my might, that Robert Burns was not Scotch. He was far wider
than Scotland; he had in him the universal tide, and wherever it
touches the shore of a human being it finds access. Not Scotch,
gentlemen, but a man, a man! I can swear to it, or rather affirm,
that shakespeare was not English, but another man, kindred of all,
of all races and peoples, and who understood the universal brain
and heart of the human race, and who had imagination enough to put
himself in the place of all.

     And so I want to say to-night, because I want to be
consistent, Richard Wagner was not a German, and his music is not
German; and why? Germany would not have it. Germany denied that it
was music. The great German critics said it was nothing in the
world but noise. The best interpreter of Wagner in the world is not
German, and no man has to be German to understand Richard Wagner.
In the heart of nearly every man is an AEolian harp, and when the
breath of true genius touches that harp, every man that has one, or
that knows what music is or has the depth and height of feeling
necessary to appreciate it, appreciates Richard Wagner. To
understand that music, to hear it as interpreted by this great
leader, is an education. It develops the brain; it gives to the
imagination wings; the little earth grows larger; the people grow
important; and not only that, it civilizes the heart; and the man
who understands that music can love better and with greater
intensity than he ever did before. The man who understands and
appreciates that music, becomes in the highest sense spiritual --
and I don't mean by spiritual, worshiping some phantom, or dwelling
upon what is going to happen to some of us -- I mean spiritual in
the highest sense; when a perfume arises from the heart in
gratitude, and when you feel that you know what there is of beauty,
of sublimity, of heroism and honor and love in the human heart.
This is what I mean by being spiritual. I don't mean denying
yourself here and living on a crust with the expectation of eternal
joy -- that is not what I mean. By spiritual I mean a man that has
an ideal, a great ideal, and who is splendid enough to live to that
ideal; that is what I mean by spiritual. And the man who has heard
the music of Wagner, that music of love and death, the greatest
music, in my judgment, that ever issued from the human brain, the
man who has heard that and understands it has been civilized,

     Another man to whom I feel under obligation whose name I do
not know -- I know Burns, Shakespeare, Rembrandt and Wagner, but
there are some other fellows whose names I do not know -- is he who
chiseled the Venus de Milo. This man helped to civilize the world;
and there is nothing under the sun so pathetic as the perfect.
Whoever creates the perfect has thought and labored and suffered;
and no perfect thing has ever been done except through suffering

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and except through the highest and holiest thought, and among this
class of men is Wagner. Let me tell you something more. You know I
am a great believer. There is no man in the world who believes more
in human nature than I do. No man believes more in the nobility and
splendor of humanity than I do; no man feels more grateful than I
to the self-denying, heroic, splendid souls who have made this
world fit for ladies and gentlemen to live in. But I believe that
the human mind has reached its top in three departments. I don't
believe the human race -- no matter if it lives millions of years
more upon this wheeling world -- I don't believe the human race
will ever produce in the world anything greater, sublimer, than the
marbles of the Greeks. I do not believe it. I believe they reach
absolutely the perfection of form and the expression of force and
passion in stone. The Greeks made marble as sensitive as flesh and
as passionate as blood. I don't believe that any human being of any
coming race -- no matter how many suns may rise and set, or how
many religions may rise and fall, or how many languages be born and
decay -- I don't believe any human being will ever excel the dramas
of Shakespeare. Neither do I believe that the time will ever come
when any man with such instruments of music as we now have, and
having nothing but the common air that we now breathe, will ever
produce greater pictures in sound, greater music, than Wagner.
Never! Never! And I don't believe he will ever have a better
interpreter than Anton Seidl. Seidl is a poet in sound, a sculptor
in sound. He is what you might call an orchestral orator, and as
such he expresses the deepest feelings, the highest aspirations and
the intensest and truest love of which the brain and heart of man
are capable.

     Now, I am glad, I am delighted, that the people here in this
city and in various other cities of our great country are becoming
civilized enough to appreciate these harmonies; I am glad they are
civilized at last enough to know that the home of music is tone,
not tune; that the home of music is in harmonies where you braid
them like rainbows; I am glad they are great enough and civilized
enough to appreciate the music of Wagner, the greatest music in
this world. Wagner sustains the same relation to other composers
that Shakespeare does to other dramatists, and any other dramatist
compared with Shakespeare is like one tree compared with an
immeasurable forest, or rather like one leaf compared with a
forest; and all the other composers of the world are embraced in
the music of Wagner. Nobody has written anything more tender than
he, nobody anything sublimer than he. Whether it is the song of the
deep, or the warble of the mated bird, nobody has excelled Wagner;
he has expressed all that the human heart is capable of
appreciating. And now, gentlemen, having troubled you long enough,
and saying long live Anton Seidl, I bid you good-night.


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The Historical Library is provided for those doing research into the history of nontheism. It is not intended to be--and should not be used as--a source of modern, up-to-date information regarding atheistic issues. DO NOT CONTACT US ABOUT THESE DOCUMENTS. Please read the full Historical Library Disclaimer