Apr 29, 2013

Robert Ingersoll in his own time

1. A portrait of the famed anti-religious orator at middle age, circa 1880, taken by famed Civil War photographers Matthew Brady and Levin Handy. The Library of Congress title for the portrait is "Robert Ingersoll (The Infidel)":


2. A recording of Ingersoll -- of of the few -- on the subject of hope.
The prejudiced priest and the malicious minister say that I am trying to take away the hope of a future life. I am not trying to destroy another world, but I am endeavoring to prevent the theologians from destroying this. 
The hope of another life was in the heart, long before the 'sacred books' were written, and will remain there long after all the 'sacred books' are known to be the work of savage and superstitious men. Hope is the consolation of the world.
3. The New York Times on Ingersoll's courtroom defense of an ex-minister against allegations of blasphemy. C.B. Reynolds, chairman of the American Secular Union, had distributed pamphlets entitled "Blasphemy and the Bible," which said that the Bible was blasphemous in depicting God as a bloodthirsty monster. The news report was headlined "Blasphemy in New Jersey," and read:
For six months no topic was so interesting to the public as this. It monopolized attention at the stores, and became a fruitful subject of gossip in social and church circles. Under such circumstances it was to be expected that everybody who could spare time would go to court yesterday. Lines of people began to climb the court house hill early in the morning. At the hour of opening court the room set apart for the trial was packed, and distaffs had to be stationed at the foot of the stairs to keep back those who were not early enough. From nine thirty to eleven o'clock the crowd inside talked of blasphemy in all the phases suggested by this case, and the outsiders waited patiently on the lawn and steps and along the dusty approaches to the gray building.

Eleven O'clock brought the train from New York and on it Colonel Ingersoll. His arrival at the court house with his clerk opened a new chapter in the day's gossip. The event was so absorbing indeed, that the crowd failed entirely to notice an elderly man wearing a black frock suit, a silk hat, with an army badge pinned to his coat, and looking like a merchant of means, who entered the court house a few minutes behind the famous lawyer. That last comer was the defendant.

All was ready for the case. Within five minutes five jurors were in the box. [....] Colonel Ingersoll induced the Court to let him examine the five in the box and promptly ejected two Presbyterians.

Thereafter Colonel Ingersoll examined every juror as soon as presented. He asked particularly about the nature of each man's prejudice, if he had one. To a juror who did not know that he understood the word, the Colonel replied: 'I may not define the word legally, but my own idea is that a man is prejudiced when he has made up his mind on a case without knowing anything about it.' This juror thought he came under that category.

Presbyterians had a rather hard time with the examiner. 
4. Ingersoll, as represented on the cover of The Truth Seeker, the most successful freethought paper of the Gilded Age:


5. Robert L. Taylor, the Democratic Governor of Tennessee who once famously campaigned against his own brother, eulogizing the late Great Agnostic upon Ingersoll's death in 1899:
I saw him, like the serpent of old, worm himself into the paradise of human hearts, and by his seductive eloquence and subtle devices of sophistry inject his fatal venom, under whose blight its flowers faded, its music was hushed, its sunshine was darkened, and its soul was left a desert waste with the new-made graves of faith and hope.  
I saw him, like a lawless and erratic meteor without orbit, sweep across the intellectual sky, brilliant only in its self-consuming fire, generated by friction with the indestructible and eternal truths of God. 
That man was the archangel of modern infidelity, and I said: “How true is holy writ, which declares that the fool has said in his heart: ‘There is no God!’”