Lotos Club Dinner, Twentieth Anniversary (1890)
Robert Green Ingersoll
New York, March 22, 1890
YOU have talked so much of old age and gray hairs and thin locks, so much about the past, that I feel sad. Now, I want to destroy the impression that baldness is a sign of age. The very youngest people I ever saw were bald.
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 all 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 to-morrow. 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.
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