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Robert Green Ingersoll
A TRIBUTE TO ELIZUR WRIGHT. New York. December 19, 1885. ANOTHER hero has fallen asleep -- one who enriched the world with an honest life. Elizur Wright was one of the Titans who attacked the monsters, the Gods, of his time -- one of the few whose confidence in liberty was never shaken, and who, with undimmed eyes, saw the atrocities and barbarisms of his day and the glories of the future. When New York was degraded enough to mob Arthur Tappan, the noblest of her citizens; when Boston was sufficiently infamous to howl and hoot at Harriet Martineau, the grandest Englishwoman that ever touched our soil; when the North was dominated by theology and trade, by piety and piracy; when we received our morals from merchants, and made merchandise of our morals, Elizur Wright held principle above profit, and preserved his manhood at the peril of his life. When the rich, the cultured, and the respectable, -- when church members and ministers, who had been "called" to preach the "glad tidings," and when statesmen like Webster joined with bloodhounds, and in the name of God hunted men and mothers, this man rescued the fugitives and gave asylum to the oppressed. During those infamous years -- years of cruelty and national degradation -- years of hypocrisy and greed and meanness beneath Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 9 A TRIBUTE TO ELIZUR WRIGHT. the reach of any English word, Elizur Wright became acquainted with the orthodox church. He found that a majority of Christians were willing to enslave men and women for whom they said that Christ had died -- that they would steal the babe of a Christian mother, although they believed that the mother would be their equal in heaven forever. He found that those who loved their enemies would enslave their friends -- that people who when smitten on one cheek turned the other, were ready, willing and anxious to mob and murder those who simply said: "The laborer is worthy of his hire." In those days the church was in favor of slavery, not only of the body but of the mind. According to the creeds, God himself was an infinite master and all his children serfs. He ruled with whip and chain, with pestilence and fire. Devils were his bloodhounds, and hell his place of eternal torture. Elizur Wright said to himself, why should we take chains from bodies and enslave minds -- why fight to free the cage and leave the bird a prisoner? He became an enemy of orthodox religion -- that is to say, a friend of intellectual liberty. He lived to see the destruction of legalized larceny; to read the Proclamation of Emancipation; to see a country without a slave, a flag without a stain. He lived long enough to reap the reward for having been an honest man; long enough for his "disgrace" to become a crown of glory; long enough to see his views adopted and his course applauded by the civilized world; long enough for the hated word "abolitionist" to become a title of nobility, a certificate of manhood, courage and true patriotism. Only a few years ago, the heretic was regarded as an enemy of the human race. The man who denied the inspiration of the Jewish Scriptures was looked upon as a moral leper, and the Atheist as the worst of criminals. Even in that day, Elizur Wright was grand enough to speak his honest thought, to deny the inspiration of the Bible; brave enough to defy the God of the orthodox church -- the Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Eternal jailer, the Everlasting Inquisitor. He contended that a good God would not have upheld slavery and polygamy; that a loving Father would not assist some of his children to enslave or exterminate their brethren; that an infinite being would not be unjust, irritable, jealous, revengeful, ignorant, and cruel. And it was his great good fortune to live long enough to find the intellectual world on his side; long enough to know that the greatest naturalists, philosophers, and scientists agreed with him; long enough to see certain words change places, so that "heretic" was honorable and "orthodox " an epithet. To-day, the heretic is known to be a man of principle and courage -- one blest with enough mental independence to tell his thought. To-day, the thoroughly orthodox means the thoroughly stupid. Only a few years ago it was taken for granted that an "unbeliever" could not be a moral man; that one who disputed the inspiration of the legends of Judea could not be sympathetic and Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 10 A TRIBUTE TO ELIZUR WRIGHT. humane, and could not really love his fellow-men. Had we no other evidence upon this subject, the noble life of Elizur Wright would demonstrate the utter baselessness of these views. His life was spent in doing good -- in attacking the hurtful, in defending what he believed to be the truth. Generous beyond his means; helping others to help themselves; always hopeful, busy, just, cheerful; filled with the spirit of reform; a model citizen -- always thinking of the public good, devising ways and means to save something for posterity, feeling that what he had he held in trust; loving Nature, familiar with the poetic side of things, touched to enthusiasm by the beautiful thought, the brave word, and the generous deed; friendly in manner, candid and kind in speech, modest but persistent; enjoying leisure as only the industrious can; loving and gentle in his family; hospitable, -- judging men and women regardless of wealth, position or public clamor; physically fearless, intellectually honest, thoroughly informed; unselfish, sincere, and reliable as the attraction of gravitation. Such was Elizur Wright, -- one of the staunchest soldiers that ever faced and braved for freedom's sake the wrath and scorn and lies of place and power. A few days ago I met this genuine man. His interest in all human things was just as deep and keen, his hatred of oppression, his love of freedom, just as intense, just as fervid, as on the day I met him first. True, his body was old, but his mind was young, and his heart, like a spring in the desert, bubbled over as joyously as though it had the secret of eternal youth. But it has ceased to beat, and the mysterious veil that hangs where sight and blindness are the same -- the veil that revelation has not drawn aside -- that science cannot lift, has fallen once again between the living and the dead. And yet we hope and dream. May be the longing for another life is but the prophecy forever warm from Nature's lips, that love, disguised as death, alone fulfills. We cannot tell. And yet perhaps this Hope is but an antic, following the fortunes of an uncrowned king, beguiling grief with jest and satisfying loss with pictured gain. We do not know. But from the Christian's cruel hell, and from his heaven more heartless still, the free and noble soul, if forced to choose, should loathing turn, and cling with rapture to the thought of endless sleep. But this we know: good deeds are never childless. A noble life is never lost. A virtuous action does not die. Elizur Wright scattered with generous hand the priceless seeds, and we shall reap the golden grain. His words and acts are ours, and all he nobly did is living still. Farewell, brave soul! Upon thy grave I lay this tribute of respect and love. When last our hands were joined, I said these parting words: "Long life!" And I repeat them now. END
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