Robert Green Ingersoll.

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nearer together, than those divided by the
walls of caste.

It is no advantage to live in a great city,
where poverty degrades and failure brings
despair. The fields are lovelier than paved
streets, and the great forests than walls of
brick. Oaks and elms are more poetic than
steeples and chimneys.

In the country is the idea of home. There
you see the rising and setting sun; you be-
come acquainted with the stars and clouds.
The constellations are your friends. You
hear the rain on the roof and listen to the
rhythmic sighing of the winds. You are
thrilled by the resurrection called Spring,
touched and saddened by Autumn — the grace
and poetry of death. Every field is a picture,
a landscape; every landscape a poem; every



52 A LECTURE ON LINCOLN

flower a tender thought, and every forest a
fairy-land. In the country you preserve your
identity — your personality. There you are an
aggregation of atoms, but in the city you are
only an atom of an aggregation.

In the country you keep your cheek close
to the breast of Nature. You are calmed and
ennobled by the space, the amplitude and
scope of earth and sky — by the constancy of
the stars.

Lincoln never finished his education. To
the night of his death he was a pupil, a learn-
er, an inquirer, a seeker after knowledge.
You have no idea how many men are spoiled
by what is called education. For the most
part, colleges are places where pebbles are
polished and diamonds are dimmed. If
Shakespeare had graduated at Oxford, he
might have been a quibbling attorney, or a
hypocritical parson.

Lincoln was a great lawyer. There is
nothing shrewder in this world than intelli-
gent honesty. Perfect candor is sword and
shield.

He understood the nature of man. As a
lawyer he endeavored to get at the truth, at
the very heart of a case. He was not willing
even to deceive himself. No matter what his



A LECTURE ON LINCOLN 53

interest said, what his passion demanded, he
was great enough to find the truth and strong
enough to pronounce judgment against his
own desires.

Lincoln was a many-sided man, acquainted
with smiles and tears, complex in brain, single
in heart, direct as light; and his words, can-
did as mirrors, gave the perfect image of his
thought. He was never afraid to ask — never
too dignified to admit that he did not know.
No man had keener wit, or kinder humor.

It may be that humor is the pilot of reason.
People without humor drift unconsciously in-
to absurdity. Humor sees the other side —
stands in the mind like a spectator, a good-
natured critic, and gives its opinion before
judgment is reached. Humor goes with good
nature, and good nature is the climate of
reason. In anger, reason abdicates and mal-
ice extinguishes the torch. Such was the
humor of Lincoln that he could tell even un-
pleasant truths as charmingly as most men
can tell the things we wish to hear.

He was not solemn. Solemnity is a mask
worn by ignorance and hypocrisy — ^it is the
preface, prologue, and index to the cunning
or the stupid.

He was natural in his life and thougnt —



54 A LECTURE ON LINCOLN

master of the story-teller's art, in illustra-
tion apt, in application perfect, liberal in
speech, shocking Pharisees and prudes, using
any word that wit could disinfect.

He was a logician. His logic shed light.
In his presence the obscure became luminous,
and the most complex and intricate political
and metaphysical knots seemed to untie them-
selves. Logic is the necessal^y product of
intelligence and sincerity. It cannot be learn-
ed. It is the child of a clear head and a
good heart.

Lincoln was candid, and with candor often
deceived the deceitful. He had intellect with-
out arrogance, genius without pride, and re-
ligion without cant — that is to say, without
bigotry and without deceit.

He was an orator — clear, sincere, natural.
He did not pretend. He did not say what he
thought others thought, but what he thought.

If you wish to be sublime you must be
natural — you must keep close to the grass.
You must sit by the fireside of the heart;
above the clouds it is too cold. You must
be simple in your speech; too much polish
suggests insincerity.

The great orator idealizes the real, trans-
figures the common, makes even the inani-



A LECTURE ON LINCOLN 55

mate throb and thrill, fills the gallery of the
imagination with statues and pictures per-
fect in form and color, brings to light the
gold hoarded by memory the miser, shows the
glittering coin to the spendthrift hope, en-
riches the brain, ennobles the heart, and
quickens the conscience. Between his lips
words bud and blossom.

If you wish to know the difference between
an orator and an elocutionist — between what
is felt and what is said — between what the
heart and brain can do together and what
the brain can do alone — read Lincoln's won-
drous speech at Gettysburg, and then the
oration of Edward Everett.

The speech of Lincoln will never be for-
gotten. It will live until languages are dead
and lips are dust. The oration of Everett 'will
never be read.

The elocutionists believe in the virtue of
voice, the sublimity of syntax, the majesty of
long sentences, and the genius of gesture.

The orator loves the real, the simple, the
natural. He places the thought above ill.
He knows that the greatest ideas should be
expressed in the shortest words — that the
greatest statues need the least drapery.

Lincoln was an immense personality —



56 A LECTURE ON LINCOLN

firm but not obstinate. Obstinacy is egotism
— firmness, heroism. He influenced others
without effort, unconsciously; and they sub-
mitted to him as men submit to nature —
unconsciously. He was severe with himself,
and for that reason lenient with others.

He appeared to apologize for being kinder
than his fellows.

He did merciful things as stealthily as
others committed crimes.

Almost ashamed of tenderness, he said and
did the noblest words and deeds with that
charming confusion, that awkwardness, that
is the perfect grace of modesty.

As a noble man, wishing to pay a small
debt to a poor neighbor, reluctantly offers a
hundred-dollar bill and asks for change, fear-
ing that he may be suspected either of mak-
ing a display of wealth or a pretence of pay-
ment, so Lincoln hesitated to show his wealth
of goodness, even to the best he knew.

A great man stooping, not wishing to
make his fellows feel that they were small or
mean.

By his candor, by his kindness, by his per-
fect freedom from restraint, by saying what
he thought, and saying it absolutely in his
own way, he made it not only possible, but



A LECTURE ON LINCOLN 57

popular, to be natural. He was the enemy
of mock solemnity, of the stupidly respectable,
of the cold and formal.

He wore no official robes either on his
body or his soul. He never pretended to be
more or less, or other, or different, from what
he really was.

He had the unconscious naturalness of
Nature's self.

He built upon the rock. The foundation
was secure and broad. The structure was a
pyramid, narrowing as it rose. Through days
and nights of sorrow, through years of grief
and pain, with unswerving purpose, "with
malice toward none, with charity for all,"
with infinite patience, with unclouded vision,
he hoped and toiled. Stone after stone was
laid, until at last the Proclamation found its
place. On that the Goddess stands.

He knew others, because perfectly ac-
quainted with himself. He cared nothing for
place, but everything for principle; little for
money, but everything for independence.
Where no principle was involved, easily sway-
ed — willing to go slowly, if in the right di-
rection — sometimes willing to stop; but he
would not go back, and he would not go wrong.

He was willing to wait. He knew that the



58 A LECTURE ON LINCOLN

event was not waiting, and that fate was
not the fool of chance. He knew that slavery-
had defenders, but no defence, and that they
who attack the right must wound themselves.

He was neither tyrant nor slave. He
neither knelt nor scorned.

With him, men were neither great nor
small — they were right or wrong.

Through manners, clothes, titles, rags and
race he saw the real — that which is. Beyond
accident, policy, compromise and war he saw
the end.

He was patient as Destiny, whose unde-
cipherable hieroglyphs were so deeply graven
on his sad and tragic face.

Nothing discloses real character like the
use of power. It is easy for the weak to be
gentle. Most people can bear adversity.
But if you wish to know what a man really is,
give him power. This is the supreme test.
It is the glory of Lincoln that, having almost
absolute power, he never abused it, except on
the side of mercy.

Wealth could not purchase, power could
not awe, this divine, this loving man.

He knew no fear except the fear of doing
wrong. Hating slavery, pitying the master —
seeking to conquer, not persons, but prejudices



A LECTURE ON LINCOLN 59

— he was the embodiment of the self-denial,
the courage, the hope and the nobility of a
Nation.

He spoke not to inflame, not to upbraid,
but to convince.

He raised his hands, not to strike, but in
benediction.

He longed to pardon.

He loved to see the pearls of joy on the
cheeks of a wife whose husband he had rescu-
ed from death.

Lincoln was the grandest figure of the
fiercest civil war. He is the gentlest memory
of our world.



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Online LibraryRobert Green IngersollA lecture on Lincoln → online text (page 3 of 3)