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Robert Ingersoll Tribute Beecher

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Tribute Beecher

Robert Green Ingersoll

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contents of this file                           page

A TRIBUTE TO HENRY WARD BEECHER.                       1
A TRIBUTE TO LAWRENCE BARRETT.                         4
A TRIBUTE TO PHILO D. BECKWITH.                        5
A TRIBUTE TO ISAAC H. BAILEY.                          7

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This file, its printout, or copies of either
are to be copied and given away, but NOT sold.

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New York, June 26, 1887.

HENRY WARD BEECHER was born in a Puritan penitentiary, of
which his father was one of the wardens -- a prison with very
narrow and closely-grated windows. Under its walls were the
rayless, hopeless and measureless dungeons of the damned, and on
its roof fell the shadow of God's eternal frown. In this prison the
creed and catechism were primers for children, and from a pure
sense of duty their loving hearts were stained and scarred with the
religion of John Calvin.

In those days the home of an orthodox minister was an
inquisition in which babes were tortured for the good of their
souls. Children then, as now, rebelled against the infamous
absurdities and cruelties of the creed. No Calvinist was ever able,
unless with blows, to answer the questions of his child. Children
were raised in what was called "the nurture and admonition of the
Lard" -- that is to say, their wills were broken or subdued, their
natures were deformed and dwarfed, their desires defeated or
destroyed, and their development arrested or perverted. Life was
robbed of its Spring, its Summer and its Autumn. Children stepped
from the cradle into the snow. No laughter, no sunshine, no joyous,
free, unburdened days. God, an infinite detective, watched them
from above, and Satan, with malicious leer, was waiting for their
souls below. Between these monsters life was passed. Infinite
consequences were predicated of the smallest action, and a burden
greater than a God could bear was placed upon the heart and brain
of every child. To think, to ask questions, to doubt, to
investigate, were acts of rebellion. To express pity for the lost,
writhing in the dungeons below, was simply to give evidence that
the enemy of souls had been at work within their hearts.

Among all the religions of this world -- from the creed of
cannibals who devoured flesh, to that of Calvinists who polluted
souls -- there is none, there has been none, there will be none,

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more utterly heartless and inhuman than was the orthodox
Congregationalism of New England in the year of grace 1813. It
despised every natural joy, hated pictures, abhorred statues as
lewd and lustful things, execrated music, regarded nature as fallen
and corrupt, man as totally depraved and woman as somewhat worse.
The theater was the vestibule of perdition, actors the servants of
Satan, and Shakespeare a trifling wretch whose words were seeds of
death. And yet the virtues found a welcome, cordial and sincere;
duty was done as understood; obligations were discharged; truth was
told; self-denial was practiced for the sake of others, and many
hearts were good and true in spite of book and creed.

In this atmosphere of theological miasma, in this hideous
dream of superstition, in this penitentiary, moral and austere,
this babe first saw the imprisoned gloom. The natural desires
ungratified, the laughter suppressed, the logic brow-beaten by
authority, the humor frozen by fear -- of many generations -- were
in this child, a child destined to rend and wreck the prison's

Through the grated windows of his cell, this child, this boy,
this man, caught glimpses of the outer world, of fields and skies.
New thoughts were in his brain, new hopes within his heart. Another
heaven bent above his life. There came a revelation of the
beautiful and real. Theology grew mean and small. Nature wooed and
won and saved this mighty soul.

Her countless hands were sowing seeds within his tropic brain.
All sights and sounds -- all colors, forms and fragments -- were
stored within the treasury of his mind. His thoughts were molded by
the graceful curves of streams, by winding paths in woods, the
charm of quiet country roads, and lanes grown indistinct with weeds
and grass -- by vines that cling and hide with leaf and flower the
crumbling wall's decay -- by cattle standing in the summer pools
like statues of content.

There was within his words the subtle spirit of the season's
change -- of everything that is, of everything that lies between
the slumbering seeds that, half awakened by the April rain, have
dreams of heaven's blue, and feel the amorous kisses of the sun,
and that strange tomb wherein the alchemist doth give to death's
cold dust the throb and thrill of life again. He saw with loving
eyes the willows of the meadow-streams grow red beneath the glance
of Spring -- the grass along the marsh's edge -- the stir of life
beneath the withered leaves -- the moss below the drip of snow --
the flowers that give their bosoms to the first south wind that
wooes -- the sad and timid violets that only bear the gaze of love
from eyes half closed -- the ferns, where fancy gives a thousand
forms with but a single plan -- the green and sunny slopes enriched
with daisy's silver and the cowslip's gold.

As in the leafless woods some tree, aflame with life, stands
like a rapt poet in the heedless crowd, so stood this man among his

All there is of leaf and bud, of flower and fruit, of painted
insect life, and all the winged and happy children of the air that

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Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


Summer holds beneath her dome of blue, were known and loved by him.
He loved the yellow Autumn fields, the golden stacks, the happy
homes of men, the orchard's bending boughs, the sumach's flags of
flame, the maples with transfigured leaves, the tender yellow of
the beech, the wondrous harmonies of brown and gold -- the vines
where hang the clustered spheres of wit and mirth. He loved the
winter days, the whirl and drift of snow -- all forms of frost --
the rage and fury of the storm, when in the forest, desolate and
stripped, the brave old pine towers green and grand -- a prophecy
of Spring. He heard the rhythmic sounds of Nature's busy strife,
the hum of beds, the songs of birds, the eagle's cry, the murmur of
the streams, the sighs and lamentations of the winds, and all the
voices of the sea. He loved the shores, the vales, the crags and
cliffs, the city's busy streets, the introspective, silent plain,
the solemn splendors of the night, the silver sea of dawn, and
evening's clouds of molten gold. The love of nature freed this
loving man.

One by one the fetters fell; the gratings disappeared, the
sunshine smote the roof, and on the floors of stone, light streamed
from open doors. He realized the darkness and despair, the cruelty
and hate, the starless blackness of the old, malignant creed. The
flower of pity grew and blossomed in his heart. The selfish
"consolation" filled his eyes with tears. He saw that what is
called the Christian's hope is, that, among the countless billions
wrecked and lost, a meager few perhaps may reach the eternal shore
-- a hope that, like the desert rain, gives neither leaf nor bud --
a hope that gives no joy, no peace, to any great and loving soul.
It Is the dust on which the serpent feeds that coils in heartless

Day by day the wrath and vengeance faded from the sky -- the
Jewish God grew vague and dim -- the threats of torture and eternal
pain grew vulgar and absurd, and all the miracles seemed strangely
out of place. They clad the Infinite in motley garb, and gave to
aureoled heads the cap and bells.

Touched by the pathos of all human life, knowing the shadows
that fall on every heart -- the thorns in every path, the sighs,
the sorrows, and the tears that lie between a mother's arms and
death's embrace -- this great and gifted man denounced, denied, and
damned with all his heart the fanged and frightful dogma that souls
were made to feed the eternal hunger -- ravenous as famine -- of a
God's revenge.

Take out this fearful, fiendish, heartless lie -- compared
with which all other lies are true -- and the great arch of
orthodox religion crumbling falls.

To the average man the Christian hell and heaven are only
words. He has no scope of thought. He lives but in a dim,
impoverished now. To him the past is dead -- the future still
unborn. He occupies with downcast eyes that narrow line of barren,
shifting sand that lies between the flowing seas. But Genius knows
all time. For him the dead all live and breathe, and act their
countless parts again. All human life is in his now, and every
moment feels the thrill of all to be.

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No one can overestimate the good accomplished by this
marvelous, many-sided man. He helped to slay the heart-devouring
monster of the Christian world. He tried to civilize the church, to
humanize the creeds, to soften pious breasts of stone, to take the
fear from mothers' hearts, the chains of creed from every brain, to
put the star of hope in every sky and over every grave. Attacked on
every side, maligned by those who preached the law of love, he
wavered not, but fought whole-hearted to the end.

Obstruction is but virtue's foil. From thwarted light leaps
color's flame. The stream impeded has a song.

He passed from harsh and cruel creeds to that serene
philosophy that has no place for pride or hate, that threatens no
revenge, that looks on sin as stumblings of the blind and pities
those who fall, knowing that in the souls of all there is a sacred
yearning for the light. He ceased to think of man as something
thrust upon the world -- an exile from some other sphere. He felt
at last that men are part of Nature's self -- kindred of all life
-- the gradual growth of countless years; that all the sacred books
were helps until outgrown, and all religions rough and devious
paths that man has worn with weary feet in sad and painful search
for truth and peace. To him these paths were wrong, and yet all
gave the promise of success, He knew that all the streams, no
matter how they wander, turn and curve amid the hills or rocks, or
linger in the lakes and pools, must some time reach the sea. These
views enlarged his soul and made him patient with the world, and
while the wintry snows of age were falling on his head, Spring,
with all her wealth of bloom, was in his heart.

The memory of this ample man is now a part of Nature's wealth.
He battled for the rights of men. His heart was with the slave. He
stood against the selfish greed of millions banded to protect the
pirate's trade. His voice was for the right when freedom's friends
were few. He taught the church to think and doubt. He did not fear
to stand alone. His brain took counsel of his heart. To every foe
he offered reconciliation's hand. He loved this land of ours, and
added to its glory through the world. He was the greatest orator
that stood within the pulpit's narrow curve. He loved the liberty
of speech. There was no trace of bigot in his blood. He was a brave
and generous man.

With reverent hands, I place this tribute on his tomb.

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