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Carpenters Dinner

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Robert Green Ingersoll

I PRESUME I take about as much interest in what that picture represents as anybody else. I believe that it has been said this evening that the world will never be civilized so long as differences between nations are settled by gun or cannon or sword. Barbarians still settle their personal differences with clubs or arms, and finally, when they agree to submit their differences to their peers, to a court, we call them civilized. Now, nations sustain the same relations to each other that barbarians sustain; that is, they settle their differences by force; each nation being the judge of the righteousness of its cause, and its judgment depending entirely — or for the most part — on its strength; and the strongest nation is the nearest right. Now, until nations submit their differences to an international court — a court with the power to carry its judgment into effect by having the armies and navies of all the rest of the world pledged to support it — the world will not be civilized. Our differences will not be settled by arbitration until more of the great nations set the example, and until that is done, I am in favor of the United States being armed. Until that is done it will give me joy to know that another magnificent man-of-war has been launched upon our waters. And I will tell you why. Look again at that picture. There is another face; it is not painted there, and yet without it that picture would not have been painted, and that is the face of U.S. Grant. The olive branch, to be of any force, to be of any beneficent power, must be offered by the mailed hand. It must be offered by a nation which has back of the olive branch the force. It cannot be offered by weakness, because then it will excite only ridicule. The powerful, the imperial, must offer that branch. Then it will be accepted in the true spirit; otherwise not. So, until the world is a little more civilized I am in favor of the largest guns that can be made and the best navy that floats. I do not want any navy unless we have the best, because if you have a poor one you will simply make a present of it to the enemy as soon as war opens. We should be ready to defend ourselves against the world. Not that I think there is going to be any war, but because I think that is the best way to prevent it. Until the whole world shall have entered into the same spirit as the artist when he painted that picture, until that spirit becomes general we have got to be prepared for war. And we cannot depend upon war suasion. If a fleet of men-of-war should sail into our harbor, talk would not be of any good; we must be ready to answer them in their own way.

I suppose I have been selected to speak on art because I can speak on that subject without prejudice, knowing nothing about it. I have on this subject no hobbies, no pet theories, and consequently will give you not what I know, but what I think. I am an Agnostic in many things, and the way I understand art is this: In the first place we are all invisible to each other. There is something called soul; something that thinks and hopes and loves. It is never seen. It occupies a world that we call the brain, and is forever, so far as we know, invisible. Each soul lives in a world of its own, and it endeavors to communicate with another soul living in a world of its own, each invisible to the other, and it does this in a variety of ways. That is the noblest art which expresses the noblest thought, that gives to another the noblest emotions that this unseen soul has. In order to do this we have to seize upon the seen, the visible. In other words, nature is a vast dictionary that we use simply to convey from one invisible world to another what happens in our invisible world. The man that lives in the greatest world and succeeds in letting other worlds know what happens in his world, is the greatest artist.

I believe that all arts have the same father and the same mother, and no matter whether you express what happens in these unseen worlds in mere words — because nearly all pictures have been made with words — or whether you express it in marble, or form and color in what we call painting, it is to carry on that commerce between these invisible worlds, and he is the greatest artist who expresses the tenderest, noblest thoughts to the unseen worlds about him. So that all art consists in this commerce, every soul being an artist and every brain that is worth talking about being an art gallery, and there is no gallery in this world, not in the Vatican or the Louvre or any other place, comparable with the gallery in every great brain. The millions of pictures that are in every brain to-night; the landscapes, the faces, the groups, the millions of millions of millions of things that are now living here in every brain, all unseen, all invisible forever! Yet we communicate with each other by showing each other these pictures, these studies, and by inviting others into our galleries and showing them what we have, and the greatest artist is he who has the most pictures to show to other artists.

I love anything in art that suggests the tender, the beautiful. What is beauty? Of course there is no absolute beauty. All beauty is relative. Probably the most beautiful thing to a frog is the speckled belly of another frog, or to a snake the markings of another snake. So there is no such thing as absolute beauty. But what I call beauty is what suggests to me the highest and the tenderest thought; something that answers to something in my world. So every work of art has to be born in some brain, and it must be made by the unseen artist we call the soul. Now, if a man simply copies what he sees, he is nothing but a copyist. That does not require genius. That requires industry and the habit of observation. But it is not genius; it is not art. Those little daubs and shreds and patches we get by copying, are pieces of iron that need to be put into the flame of genius to be molten and then cast in noble forms; otherwise there is no genius.

The great picture should have, not only the technical part of art, which is neither moral nor immoral, but in addition some great thought, some great event. It should contain not only a history but a prophecy. There should be in it soul, feeling, thought. I love those little pictures of the home, of the fireside, of the old lady boiling the kettle, the vine running over the cottage door, scenes suggesting to me happiness, contentment. I think more of them than of the great war pieces, and I hope I shall have a few years in some such scenes, during which I shall not care what time it is, what day of the week or month it is just that feeling of content when it is enough to live, to breathe, to have the blue sky above you and to hear the music of the water. All art that gives us that content, that delight, enriches this world and makes life better and holier.

That, in a general kind of way, as I said before, is my idea of art, and I hope that the artists of America — and they ought to be as good here as in any place on earth — will grow day by day and year by year independent of all other art in the world, and be true to the American or republican spirit always. As to this picture, it is representative, it is American. There is one word Mr. Daniel Dougherty said to which I would like to refer. I have never said very much in my life in defence of England, at the same time I have never blamed England for being against us during our war, and I will tell you why. We had been a nation of hypocrites. We pretended to be in favor of liberty and yet we had four or five millions of our people enslaved. That was a very awkward position. We had bloodhounds to hunt human beings and the apostles setting them on; and while this was going on these poor wretches sought and found liberty on British soil. Now, why not be honest about it? We were rather a contemptible people, though Mr. Dougherty thinks the English were wholly at fault. But England abolished the slave-trade in 1803; she abolished slavery in her colonies in 1833. We were lagging behind. That is all there is about it. No matter why, we put ourselves in the position of pretending to be a free people while we had millions of slaves, and it was only natural that England should dislike it.

I think the chairman said that there had been no great historic picture of the signing of the Constitution. There never should be, never! It was fit, it was proper, to have a picture of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. That was an honest document. Our people wanted to give a good reason for fighting Great Britain, and in order to do that they had to dig down to the bed-rock of human rights, and then they said all men are created equal. But just as soon as we got our independence we made a Constitution that gave the lie to the Declaration of Independence, and that is why the signing of the Constitution never ought to be painted. We put in that Constitution a clause that the slave-trade should not be interfered with for years, and another clause that this entire Government was pledged to hand back to slavery any poor woman with a child at her breast, seeking freedom by flight. It was a very poor document. A little while ago they celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of that business and talked about the Constitution being such a wonderful thing; yet what was in that Constitution brought on the most terrible civil war ever known, and during that war they said: “Give us the Constitution as it is and the Union as it was.” And I said then: “Curse the Constitution as it is and the Union as it was. Don’t talk to me about fighting for a Constitution that has brought on a war like this; let us make a new one.” No, I am in favor of a painting that would celebrate the adoption of the amendment to the Constitution that declares that there shall be no more slavery on this soil.

I believe that we are getting a little more free every day — a little more sensible all the time. A few years ago a woman in Germany made a speech, in which she asked: “Why should the German mother in pain and agony give birth to a child and rear that child through industry and poverty, and teach him that when he arrives at the age of twenty-one it will be his duty to kill the child of the French mother? And why should the French mother teach her son, that it will be his duty sometime to kill the child of the German mother?” There is more sense in that than in all the diplomacy I ever read, and I think the time is coming when that question will be asked by every mother. Why should she raise a child to kill the child of another mother?

The time is coming when we will do away with all this. Man has been taught that he ought to fight for the country where he was born; no matter about that country being wrong, whether it supported him or not, whether it enslaved him and trampled on every right he had, still it was his duty to march up in support of that country. The time will come when the man will make up his mind himself whether the country is worth while fighting for, and he is the greatest patriot who seeks to make his country worth fighting for, and not he who says, I am for it anyhow, whether it is right or not. These patriots will be the force — Mr. George was speaking about, If war between this country and Great Britain were declared, and there were men in both countries sufficient to take a right view of it, that would be the end of war. The thing would be settled by arbitration — settled by some court — and no one would dream of rushing to the field of battle. So, that is my hope for the world; more policy, more good, solid, sound sense and less mud patriotism.

I think that this country is going to grow. I think it will take in Mr. Wiman’s country. I do not mean that we are going to take any country. I mean that they are going to come to us. I do not believe in conquest. Canada will come just as soon as it is to her interest to come, and I think she will come or be a great country to herself. I do not believe in those people, intelligent as they are, sending three thousand miles for information they have at home. I do not believe in their being governed by anybody except themselves. So if they come we shall be glad to have them, if they don’t want to come I don’t want them.

Yes, we are growing. I don’t know how many millions of people we have now, probably over sixty-two if they all get counted; and they are still coming. I expect to live to see one hundred millions here. I know some say that we are getting too many foreigners, but I say the more that come the better. We have got to have somebody to take the places of the sons of our rich people. So I say let them come. There is plenty of land here, everywhere. I say to the people of every country, come; do your work here, and we will protect you against other countries. We will give you all the work to supply yourselves and your neighbors.

Then if we have differences with another country we shall have a strong navy, big ships, big guns, magnificent men and plenty of them, and if we put out the hand of fellowship and friendship they will know there is no foolishness about it. They will know we are not asking any favor. We will just say: We want peace, and we tell you over the glistening leaves of this olive branch that if you don’t compromise we will mop the earth with you.

That is the sort of arbitration I believe in, and it is the only sort, in my judgment, that will be effectual for all time. And I hope that we may still grow, and grow more and more artistic, and more and more in favor of peace, and I pray that we may finally arrive at being absolutely worthy of having presented that picture, with all that it implies, to the most warlike nation in the world — to the nation that first sends the gospel and then the musket immediately after, and says: You have got to be civilized, and the only evidence of civilization that you can give is to buy our goods and to buy them now, and to pay for them. I wish us to be worthy of the picture presented to such a nation, and my prayer is that America may be worthy to have sent such a token in such a spirit, and my second prayer is that England may be worthy to receive it and to keep it, and that she may receive it in the same spirit that it is sent.

I am glad that it is to be sent by a woman. The gentleman who spoke to the toast, “Woman as a Peacemaker,” seemed to believe that woman brought all the sorrows that ever happened, not only of war, but troubles of every kind. I want to say to him that I would rather live with the woman I love in a world of war, in a world full of troubles and sorrows, than to live in heaven with nobody but men. I believe that woman is a pacemaker, and so I am glad that a woman presents this token to another woman; and woman is a far higher title than queen, in my judgment; far higher. There are no higher titles than woman, mother, wife sister, and when they come to calling them countesses and duchesses and queens, that is all rot. That adds nothing to that unseen artist who inhabits the world called the brain. That unseen artist is great by nature and cannot be made greater by the addition of titles. And so one woman gives to another woman the picture that prophesies war is finally to cease, and the civilized nations of the world will henceforth arbitrate their differences and no longer strew the plains with corpses of brethren. That is the supreme lesson that is taught by this picture, and I congratulate Mr. Carpenter that his name is associated with it and also with the “Proclamation of Emancipation.” In the latter work he has associated his name with that of Lincoln, which is the greatest name in history, and the gentlest memory in this world. Mr. Carpenter has associated his name with that and with this and with that of General Grant, for I say that this picture would never have been possible had there not been behind it Grant; if there had not been behind it the victorious armies of the North and the great armies of the South, that would have united instantly to repel any foreign foe.

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