“Dear friends: I am going to do that which the dead oft promised he would do for me.
The loved and loving brother and friend, died where manhood’s morning almost touches noon, and while the shadows still were falling toward the west.
He had not passed on life’s highway the stone that marks the highest point; but being weary for a moment, he lay down by the wayside, and using his burden for a pillow, fell into that dreamless sleep that kisses down his eyelids still. While yet in love with life and raptured with the world, he passed to silence and pathetic dust.
Yet, after all, it may be best, just in the happiest, sunniest hour of all the voyage, while eager winds are kissing every sail, to dash against the unseen rock, and in an instant hear the billows roar above a sunken ship. For whether in mid-sea or ‘mong the breakers of the farther shore, a wreck at last must mark the end of each and all. And every life, no matter if its every hour is rich with love and every moment jeweled with a joy, will, at its close, become a tragedy as sad and deep and dark as can be woven of the warp and woof of mystery and death.
This brave and tender man in every storm of life was oak and rock; but in the sunshine he was vine and flower. He was the friend of all heroic souls. He climbed the heights, and left all superstitions far below, while on his forehead fell the golden dawning of a grander day.
He loved the beautiful, and was with color, form, and music touched to tears. He sided with the weak, the poor, and wronged, and lovingly gave alms. With loyal heart and with the purest hands he faithfully discharged all public trusts.
He was a worshiper of liberty, a friend of the oppressed. A thousand times I have heard him quote these words: ‘For Justice all place a temple, and all season, summer.’ He believed that happiness is the only good, reason the only torch, justice the only worship, humanity the only religion, and love the only priest. He added to the sum of human joy; and were every one to whom he did some loving service to bring a blossom to his grave, he would sleep tonight beneath a wilderness of flowers.
Life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities. We strive in vain to look beyond the heights. We cry aloud, and the only answer is the echo of our wailing cry. From the voiceless lips of the unreplying dead there comes no word; but in the night of death hope sees a star and listening love can hear the rustle of a wing.
He who sleeps here, when dying, mistaking the approach of death for the return of health, whispered with his latest breath, ‘I am better now.’ Let us believe, in spite of doubts and dogmas, of fears and tears, that these dear words are true of all the countless dead.
The record of a generous life runs like a vine around the memory of our dead, and every sweet, unselfish act is now a perfumed flower.
And now, to you, who have been chosen, from among the many men he loved, to do the last sad office for the dead, we give his sacred dust.
Speech cannot contain our love. There was, there is, no gentler, stronger, manlier man.”
Robert Ingersoll’s eulogy for his brother, Ebon C. Ingersoll.
I post these words in honor of the memory of GCL, a nineteen-year-old family friend who was struck by a train and killed two days ago. Certainly there is nothing that can assuage a loss like that, but if any words can hope to pay tribute to a young man’s life, they are these spoken by Robert Ingersoll as an elegy to his young brother.
In my view, only Shakespeare rises to this level of sublimity in bringing some measure of honor to the tragic passing of a young man. In Act 3, Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo is thus described:
When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
In Act 5 of Macbeth, Ross must tell Siward that his son, Young Siward, has just been violently slain. Ross says,
He only lived but till he was a man,
The which no sooner had his prowess confirmed
In the unshrinking station where he fought,
But like a man he died.
Your cause of grief
Must not be measured by his worth, for then
It hath no end.
Old Siward ponders the tragic news, and replies:
Why then, God’s soldier be he…
And so, God be with him
Here comes newer comfort.