In New York, on July 26, 1888, Robert G. Ingersoll wrote a tribute to his friend, Courtlandt Palmer. Imagine, if you will, having lived a life that could be describe like this!
MY FRIENDS: A thinker of pure thoughts, a speaker of brave words, a doer of generous deeds has reached the silent haven that all the dead have reached, and where the voyage of every life must end; and we, his friends, who even now are hastening after him, are met to do the last kind acts that man may do for man — to tell his virtues and to lay with tenderness and tears his ashes in the sacred place of rest and peace.
Some one has said that in the open hands of death we find only what they gave away.
Let us believe that pure thoughts, brave words and generous deeds can never die. Let us believe that they bear fruit and add forever to the well-being of the human race. Let us believe that a noble, self-denying life increases the moral wealth of man, and gives assurance that the future will be grander than the past.
In the monotony of subservience, in the multitude of blind followers, nothing is more inspiring than a free and independent man – one who gives and asks reasons; one who demands freedom and gives what he demands; one who refuses to be slave or master. Such a man was Courtlandt Palmer, to whom we pay the tribute of respect and love.
He was an honest man — he gave the rights he claimed. This was the foundation on which he built. To think for himself – to give his thought to others; this was to him not only a privilege, not only a right, but a duty.
He believed in self-preservation — in personal independence– that is to say, in manhood.
He preserved the realm of mind from the invasion of brute force, and protected the children of the brain from the Herod of authority.
He investigated for himself the questions, the problems and the mysteries of life. Majorities were nothing to him. No error could be old enough – popular, plausible or profitable enough – to bribe his judgment or to keep his conscience still.
He knew that, next to finding truth, the greatest joy is honest search.
He was a believer in intellectual hospitality, in the fair exchange of thought, in good mental manners, in the amenities of the soul, in the chivalry of discussion.
He insisted that those who speak should hear; that those who question should answer; that each should strive not for a victory over others, but for the discovery of truth, and that truth when found should be welcomed by every human soul.
He knew that truth has no fear of investigation – of being understood. He knew that truth loves the day — that its enemies are ignorance, prejudice, egotism, bigotry, hypocrisy, fear and darkness, and that intelligence, candor, honesty, love and light are its eternal friends.
He believed in the morality of the useful — that the virtues are the friends of man — the seeds of joy.
He knew that consequences determine the quality of actions, and “that whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap.”
In the positive philosophy of Augusts Comte he found the framework of his creed. In the conclusions of that great, sublime and tender soul he found the rest, the serenity and the certainty he sought.
The clouds had fallen from his life. He saw that the old faiths were but phases in the growth of man – that out from the darkness, up from the depths, the human race through countless ages and in every land had struggled toward the ever-growing light.
He felt that the living are indebted to the noble dead, and that each should pay his debt; that he should pay it by preserving to the extent of his power the good he has, by destroying the hurtful, by adding to the knowledge of the world, by giving better than he had received; and that each should be the bearer of a torch, a giver of light for all that is, for all to be.
This was the religion of duty perceived, of duty within the reach of man, within the circumference of the known – a religion without mystery, with experience for the foundation of belief – religion understood by the head and approved by the heart – a religion that appealed to reason with a definite end in view – the civilization and development of the human race by legitimate, adequate and natural means – that is to say, by ascertaining the conditions of progress and by teaching each to be noble enough to live for all.
This is the gospel of man; this is the gospel of this world; this is the religion of humanity; this is a philosophy that contemplates not with scorn, but with pity, with admiration and with love all that man has done, regarding, as it does, the past with all its faults and virtues, its sufferings, its cruelties and crimes, as the only road by which the perfect could be reached.
He denied the supernatural — the phantoms and the ghosts that fill the twilight-land of fear. To him and for him there was but one religion — the religion of pure thoughts, of noble words, of self-denying deeds, of honest work for all the world – the religion of Help and Hope.
Facts were the foundation of his faith; history was his prophet; reason his guide; duty his deity; happiness the end; intelligence the means.
He knew that man must be the providence of man.
He did not believe in Religion and Science, but in the Religion of Science — that is to say, wisdom glorified by love, the saviour of our race — the religion that conquers prejudice and hatred, that drives all superstition from the mind, that ennobles, lengthens and enriches life, that drives from every home the wolves of want, from every heart the fiends of selfishness and fear, and from every brain the monsters of the night.
He lived and labored for his fellow-men. He sided with the weak and poor against the strong and rich. He welcomed light. His face was ever toward the East.
According to his light he lived. “The world was his country – to do good his religion.” There is no language to express a nobler creed than this; nothing can be grander, more comprehensive, nearer perfect. This was the creed that glorified his life and made his death sublime.
He was afraid to do wrong, and for that reason was not afraid to die.
He knew that the end was near. He knew that his work was done. He stood within the twilight, within the deepening gloom, knowing that for the last time the gold was fading from the West and that there could not fall again within his eyes the trembling lustre of another dawn. He knew that night had come, and yet his soul was filled with light, for in that night the memory of his generous deeds shone out like stars.
What can we say? What words can solve the mystery of life, the mystery of death? What words can justly pay a tribute to the man who lived to his ideal, who spoke his honest thought, and who was turned aside neither by envy, nor hatred, nor contumely, nor slander, nor scorn, nor fear? What words will do that life the justice that we know and, feel?
A heart breaks, a man dies, a leaf falls in the far forest, a babe is born, and the great world sweeps on.
By the grave of man stands the angel of Silence.
No one can tell which is better — Life with its gleams and shadows, its thrills and pangs, its ecstasy and tears, its wreaths and thorns, its crowns, its glories and Golgothas, or Death, with its peace, its rest, its cool and placid brow that hath within no memory or fear of grief or pain.
Farewell, dear friend. The world is better for your life – The world is braver for your death.
Farewell! We loved you living, and we love you now.
Well, I would be happy with that!
We have just one life…
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Jacqui Chaplin is a Lifetime Commemoration Specialist and funeral celebrant in Melbourne, Australia. She loves capturing stories of the nature of life and being human and celebrating and commemorating well lived lives and lives that have ended. Jacqui has a passion for bringing the conversations that many of us find difficult to think about, let alone speak about, out in the open so we can see how our stories, values and beliefs influence our attitudes and thinking on dying, death, mourning and grief.