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Robert Ingersoll Tribute Bailey

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Tribute Bailey

Robert Green Ingersoll


New York, March 27, 1899.

MY FRIENDS: When one whom we hold dear has reached the end of
life and laid his burden down, it is but natural for us, his
friends, to pay the tribute of respect and love; to tell his
virtues, to express our sense of loss and speak above the
sculptured clay some word of hope.

Our friend, about whose bier we stand, was in the highest,
noblest sense a man. He was not born to wealth -- he was his own
providence, his own teacher. With him work was worship and labor
was his only prayer. He depended on himself, and was as independent
as it is possible for man to be. He hated debt, and obligation was
a chain that scarred his flesh. He lived a long and useful life. In
age he reaped with joy what he had sown in youth. He did not linger
"until his flame lacked oil," but with his senses keen, his mind
undimmed, and with his arms filled with gathered sheaves, in an
instant, painlessly, unconsciously, he passed from happiness and
health to the realm of perfect peace. We need not mourn for him,
but for ourselves, for those he loved.

He was an absolutely honest man -- a man who kept his word,
who fulfilled his contracts, gave heaped and rounded measure and
discharged all obligations with the fabled chivalry of ancient
knights. He was absolutely honest, not only with others but with
himself To his last moment his soul was stainless. He was true to
his ideal -- true to his thought, and what his brain Conceived his
lips expressed. He refused to pretend. He knew that to believe
without evidence was impossible to the sound and sane, and that to
say you believed when you did not, was possible only to the
hypocrite or coward. He did not believe in the supernatural. He was
a natural man and lived a natural life. He had no fear of fiends.
He cared nothing for the guesses of inspired savages; nothing for
the threats or promises of the sainted and insane.

He enjoyed this life the good things of this world -- the
clasp and smile of friendship, the exchange of generous deeds, the
reasonable gratification of the senses -- of the wants of the body
and mind. He was neither an insane ascetic nor a fool of pleasure,
but walked the golden path along the strip of verdure that lies
between the deserts of extremes.

With him to do right was not simply a duty, it was a pleasure.
He had philosophy enough to know that the quality of actions
depends upon their consequences, and that these consequences are

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the rewards and punishments that no God can give, inflict, withhold
or pardon.

He loved his country, he was proud of the heroic past,
dissatisfied with the present, and confident of the future. He
stood on the rock of principle. With him the wisest policy was to
do right. He would not compromise with wrong. He had no respect for
political failures who became reformers and decorated fraud with
the pretence of philanthropy, or sought to gain some private end in
the name of public good. He despised time-servers, trimmers,
fawners and all sorts and kinds of pretenders.

He believed in national honesty; in the preservation of public
faith. He believed that the Government should discharge every
obligation -- the implied as faithfully as the expressed. And I
would be unjust to his memory if I did not Say that he believed in
honest money, in the best money in the world, in pure gold, and
that he despised with all his heart financial frauds, and regarded
fifty cents that pretended to be a dollar, as he would a thief in
the uniform of a policeman, or a criminal in the robe of a judge.

He believed in liberty, and liberty for all. He pitied the
slave and hated the master; that is to say, he was an honest man.
In the dark days of the Rebellion he stood for the right. He loved
Lincoln with all his heart -- loved him for his genius, his courage
and his goodness. He loved Conkling -- loved him for his
independence, his manhood, for his unwavering courage, and because
he would not bow or bend -- loved him because he accepted defeat
with the pride of a victor. He loved Grant, and in the temple of
his heart, over the altar, in the highest niche, stood the great

Nature was kind to our friend. She gave him the blessed gift
of humor. This filled his days with the climate of Autumn, so that
to him even disaster had its sunny side. On account of his humor he
appreciated and enjoyed the great literature of the world. He loved
Shakespeare, his clowns and heroes. He appreciated and enjoyed
Dickens. The characters of this great novelist were his
acquaintances. He knew them all; some were his friends and some he
dearly loved, He had wit of the keenest and quickest. The instant
the steel of his logic smote the flint of absurdity the spark
glittered. And yet, his wit was always kind. The flower went with
the thorn. The targets of his wit were not made enemies, but

He was social, and after the feast of serious conversation he
loved the wine of wit -- the dessert of a good story that blossomed
into mirth. He enjoyed games -- was delighted by the relations of
chance -- the curious combinations of accident. He had the genius
of friendship. In his nature there was no suspicion. He could not
be poisoned against a friend. The arrows of slander never pierced
the shield of his confidence. He demanded demonstration. He
defended a friend as he defended himself. Against all comers he
stood firm, and he never deserted the field until the friend had
fled. I have known many, many friends -- have clasped the hands of
many that I loved, but in the journey of my life I have never
grasped the hand of a better, truer, more unselfish friend than he

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who lies before us clothed in the perfect peace of death. He loved
me living and I love him now.

In youth we front the sun; we live in light without a fear,
without a thought of dusk or night. We glory in excess. There is no
dread of loss when all is growth and gain. With reckless hands we
spend and waste and chide the flying hours for loitering by the

The future holds the fruit of joy; the present keeps us from
the feast, and so, with hurrying feet we climb the heights and
upward look with eager eyes. But when the sun begins to sink and
shadows fall in front, and lengthen on the path, then falls upon
the heart a sense of loss, and then we hoard the shreds and crumbs
and vainly long for what was cast away. And then with miser care we
save and spread thin hands before December's half-fed flickering
flames, while through the glass of time we moaning watch the few
remaining grains of sand that hasten to their end. In the gathering
gloom the fires slowly die, while memory dreams of youth, and hope
sometimes mistakes the glow of ashes for the coming of another

But our friend was an exception. He lived in the present; he
enjoyed the sunshine of to-day. Although his feet had touched the
limit of four-score, he had not reached the time to stop, to turn
and think about the traveled road. He was still full of life and
hope, and had the interest of youth in all the affairs of men.

He had no fear of the future -- no dread. He was ready for the
end. I have often heard him repeat the words of Epicurus: "Why
should I fear death? If I am, death is not. If death is, I am not.
Why should I fear that which cannot exist when I do?"

If there is, beyond the veil, beyond the night called death,
another world to which men carry all the failures and the triumphs
of this life; if above and over all there be a God who loves the
right, an honest man has naught to fear. If there be another world
in which sincerity is a virtue, in which fidelity is loved and
courage honored, then all is well with the dear friend whom we have

But if the grave ends all; if all that was our friend is dead,
the world is better for the life he lived. Beyond the tomb we
cannot see. We listen, but from the lips of mystery there comes no
word. Darkness and silence brooding over all. And yet, because we
love we hope. Farewell! And yet again, Farewell!

And will there, sometime, be another world? We have our dream.
The idea of immortality, that like a sea has ebbed and flowed in
the human heart, beating with its countless waves against the sand
and rocks of time and fate, was not born of any book or of any
creed. It was born of affection. And it will continue to ebb and
flow beneath the mists and clouds of doubt and darkness, as long as
love kisses the lips of death. We have our dream!

****    ****

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