September 27, 2011

Obituary of Robert G. Ingersoll

I intentionally sought out an obituary of Robert G. Ingersoll that did not seem to have an overt agenda to denounce the man's anti-religious views.  

This is also as good a time as any to point out that "apoplexy" was a term used decades ago to describe sudden, unexpected death, usually due to cerebral hemorrhage.  However, the article describes chest pains, so heart failure is a more likely culprit.

From The Record-Union of Sacramento, California on July 22, 1899:

The Brilliant Orator Numbered With the Silent Majority.
Passed Away Yesterday at His Home at Dobbs Ferry of Apoplexy.
Was Apparently Enjoying Good Health When He Went to His Summer Resort Two Days Ago-- His Wife and Two Daughters at His Bedside When Death Occurred.

NEW YORK, July 21.--Robert G. Ingersoll died at his home in Dobb's Ferry, N. Y., this afternoon of apoplexy.

Mr. Ingersoll went to his summer home in Dobb's Ferry two days ago apparently in good health.  Shortly after his arrival there he complained of a slight indisposition.  He spent this morning in his room, and shortly before he was stricken his wife offered to have his luncheon taken up to him, so that he would not have to walk down stairs to the dining-room.  He laughingly replied that while he did not feel quite as young as he used to, he guessed he was not yet an invalid, and he would go down with the others.  As he finished speaking and was about to rise he fell back into his chair.  A physician was immediately summoned, but when he reached the house he found that Mr. Ingersoll had died almost instantly.  The physician did not give the cause of death, but the family believe it was due to apoplexy.

Mr. Ingersoll's wife and two daughters were with him when he died.

Robert G. Ingersoll was born at Dresden, N. Y. in 1833.  His family removed to Illinois in 1845, where Robert was educated; he studied law and was admitted to the bar there.  He also entered the political arena as a Democrat.  He was nominated for Congress in 1860, but was defeated.  In 1862 he entered the army as Colonel of a regiment of cavalry and was taken prisoner, but was exchanged.  Returning to civil life he became a Republican, and in 1868 was made Attorney General of Illinois.

At the Republican convention of 1870 his speech, in proposing Mr. Blaine's name for the Presidency, aroused general attention for its eloquence, and since that time Colonel Ingersoll has been prominently before the country as an orator.  He frequently appeared upon the lecture platform in advocacy of views opposed to Christianity and the Bible, which he also maintained in contribution to the periodicals.  it is chiefly to this skepticism that he owed his celebrity.

Colonel Ingersoll resided in Washingotn, where he had a lucrative and extensive practice.  His defense in the Star Route trial was published all over the country.  His fee form ex-Senator Dorsey awakened much interest among the members of the bar, as it amounted to the enormous sum of $100,000.

For the last three days Mr. Ingersoll has not been feeling well.  Last night he was in better health and spent a portion of the evening playing billiards with Walston H. Brown, his son-in-law, and C. P. Farrell, his brother-in-law and Private Secretary.  He seemed to be in better health and spirits when he retired than he had been for several days.

This morning he rose at the usual time and joined the family at breakfast.  He then said he had spent a bad night but felt better.  He had been suffering from abdominal pains and tightness about the chest.  He did not think his condition at all dangerous.  After breakfast he telephoned to Dr. Smith, his physician, who is at Bell Haven, and told him of his experience during the night.  Dr. Smith told him, he said, to continue the use of nitro-glycerine and that he would see him during the day.  Colonel Ingersoll spent the morning swinging in a hammock and sitting on the veranda with the members of the family.  He said he was better and had no pain.  At 12:30 he started to go upstairs.

On reaching the head of the stairs Colonel Ingersoll turned into his wife's room.  Mrs. Ingersoll was there.  Together they discussed what they would have for luncheon, and Colonel Ingersoll said he had better not eat much, owing to the trouble with his stomach.  He seemed in good spirits then.  After talking for a few minutes Colonel Ingersoll crossed the room and sat down in a rocking chair.  He leaned his head upon his hand, which rested on the back of the chair.  Mrs. Ingersoll asked him how he was feeling and he replied: "Oh, better."

These were his last words.  A second after they were uttered he was dead.  The only sign  noticed by Mrs. Ingersoll was that the whites of his eyes suddenly showed.  There was not even a sigh or groan as death came.  Doctors were hastily called but their verdict was that death had come instantly.

No arrangements have yet been made for the funeral, but it will probably take place on Monday at the home and the internment will be in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Tarrytown.


Ingersoll was primarily an orator.  He had, to a pre-eminent degree, the gift of expressing emotion so as to create emotions in others.  Whether those who heard him opposed his views concerning politics, religion or the guilt of a prisoner at the bar, the result of the patient hearing made friends for the Peoria orator.

Because he espoused the cause of the anti-creed people Ingersoll was dubbed "Pope Bob," by the Chicago "Times" as long ago as 1879; and the New York "Herald" at that time spoke of him as "a sixty-ear-old cherub in a twenty-year-old vest," for his appearance was that of a premature gray man.

Lawyers will not place Ingersoll in the front rank as a jurist, though his place as an advocate was high.  He cared more for men than for the hairsplitting opinions of courts.  Many years ago he made a great name in a breach of promise case by playing on the "home feelings" of the jury.  At the conclusion of a thrilling plea for outraged maidenhood, he exclaimed: "Gentlemen, can you go to your wives and little girls if you set this man free? I ask you whether you'll do justice?"

"We will, Bob," replied a weeping juror.  The case was won in a few minutes by a plea that played on emotion.

In politics Ingersoll's reputation rested largely on his power of bitter invective and humor.  It has often been said that his so-called "Plumed Knight" speech, favoring Blaine for President made him, but the facts do not bear out this statement.  Ingersoll's reputation was made long before that day--at Indianapolis and elsewhere.  In a famous speech on Democracy, he said: "Every man who ever voted for slavery--was a Democrat; every man who ever tore an innocent babe from the bleeding breast of its mother--was a Democrat."

That speech was for years quoted all over the county.

In religious controversies Colonel Ingersoll was best known by a lecture called, "The Mistakes of Moses," and by one called "What Must We Do to Be Saved."  A lecture called "The Liberty of Man, Woman and Child," was also popular.  It was printed by cheap publishers and often printed under the name "Skulls."

In 1882 Colonel Ingersoll made a remarkable lecturing tour, traveling across the continent.  In the principal Eastern and Western cities he spoke to large audiences, often composed of religious people and ministers.  At Omaha a minister asked: "Colonel, how could you improve on the plans of God, which you have so freely criticised?"

"I deny that I have crticised God's plans," replied the Colonel, "but if you credit God with existing conditions, I will say that his plans could be improved upon by making good health catching, instead of disease."

In recent years Colonel Ingersoll has been best known by a thoughtful lecture on Shakespeare, in which he said the bard of Avon was "an intellectual ocean," which washed the continent of every thought.  Another popular lecture was on Lincoln.  In this he said if the martyred President's oration at Gettysburg: "It's delivery consumed less than fifteen minutes, but it will live until lips are dust and languages are dead.  Everett's oration, which consumed two hours, and which exhausted the splendor of rhetoric, will never be remembered."

About ten years ago the great agnostic created much controversy among the clergymen of New York, by defending suicide.  Among other things, he said: "I have often wondered why a poor man consents to live amid crusts and rags, when all he loved had passed away, when nothing but the wintry disappointment of life is before him--desolation on every side."

The great agnostic was a strong believer in love and human happiness, which he often called the "apex of all hope."  "Rather than to believe those I love have been swallowed in everlasting night," he said in one lecture, "I would hope to become a speck of dust.  Death, eternal silence is sweeter than hell.  Eyes that have been curtained by the everlasting dark can never feel again the burning touch of tears; hearts of dust do not break.  Rather than to believe in hell, i would hope that all I love had been touched by the dreamless silence of the tongue-less dust."

Though many persons believe that Ingersoll spoke extemporaneously, such is not the fact.  Nearly all his lectures, even his newspaper interviews, were cautiously and patiently written out in advance.  He was a fine reader of his own addresses, but "Pope Bob" often stuck to his manuscript for hours without a single break. Night after night; in city after city, and at enormous sums, he delivered his famous lectures in the same way.  His manner was that of animated conversation, which he believed the best style for eloquence, even of the highest type.

"I like California and all the West," he said when on this coast nearly two decades ago; "for out here the people are free, and the human brain is given chance to grow.  There are places East where the churches pass their hats before rich men, in search of a crumb of comfort, a certificate that the Bible is true.  Out here, and all over the West and South, people are free."

Colonel Ingersoll believed there were but two things in which this century was lacking--poetry and sculpture.  "The plays of Shakespeare have never approached," he said, "and the marbles of Greece have never been equaled.  Our sculptors cannot even copy them.  They cannot give the breath of life to stone and make the marble feel and think.  As to Shakespeare, he reached the summit and fitted the horizon.  He told the secrets of the heart.  In him the buds of all hope blossomed, all seas were crossed, and all the shores of thought were touched."

According to Ingersoll, Darwin was a rare genius of science, Dickens was the greatest of novelists, and "The Tale of Two Cities" the greatest story ever perused by man.  He had no faith in Kipling and modern writers. "There is now no poet of laughter and of tears," he recently said, "none equal to Hood.  There is none with the aerial footsteps of Shelley; none with the amplitude, sweep and passion of Byron."

As an orator, Ingersoll's manner was that of an animated conversationalist.  He never yelled or strained, but pathos and laughter were side by side.  His broad common sense and his love of humor carried his audiences.  Though he denounced creeds, he hoped for a hereafter.  One of the finest things in the language is an oration wherein he says: "The idea of a hereafter was not born of Bibles and creeds; it was not born of religions and priests--but it has lived since first the flight of time began.  The idea of a land that is better than this, the hope of a world beyond, was born of human love; and it will live beyond the storms and tides of time, like a rainbow of hope, so long as the pale, cold cheeks of death shall be kissed by the warm and tender lips of love."

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