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Read The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll Volume XI Part 27

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Renan was a man of most excellent temper; candid; not striving for victory, but for truth; conquering, as far as he could, the old superst.i.tions; not entirely free, it may be, but believing himself to be so. He did great good. He has helped to destroy the fictions of faith.

He has helped to rescue man from the prison of superst.i.tion, and this is the greatest benefit that man can bestow on man.

He did another great service, not only to Jews, but to Christendom, by writing the history of “The People of Israel.” Christians for many centuries have persecuted the Jews. They have charged them with the greatest conceivable crime–with having crucified an infinite G.o.d.

This absurdity has hardened the hearts of men and poisoned the minds of children. The persecution of the Jews is the meanest, the most senseless and cruel page in history. Every civilized Christian should feel on his cheeks the red spots of shame as he reads the wretched and infamous story.

The flame of this prejudice is fanned and fed in the Sunday schools of our day, and the orthodox minister points proudly to the atrocities perpetrated against the Jews by the barbarians of Russia as evidences of the truth of the inspired Scriptures. In every wound G.o.d puts a tongue to proclaim the truth of his book.

If the charge that the Jews killed G.o.d were true, it is hardly reasonable to hold those who are now living responsible for what their ancestors did nearly nineteen centuries ago.

But there is another point in connection with this matter: If Christ was G.o.d, then the Jews could not have killed him without his consent; and, according to the orthodox creed, if he had not been sacrificed, the whole world would have suffered eternal pain. Nothing can exceed the meanness of the prejudice of Christians against the Jewish people. They should not be held responsible for their savage ancestors, or for their belief that Jehovah was an intelligent and merciful G.o.d, superior to all other G.o.ds. Even Christians do not wish to be held responsible for the Inquisition, for the Torquemadas and the John Calvins, for the witch-burners and the Quaker-whippers, for the slave-traders and child-stealers, the most of whom were believers in our “glorious gospel,” and many of whom had been bom the second time.

Renan did much to civilize the Christians by telling the truth in a charming and convincing way about the “People of Israel.” Both sides are greatly indebted to him: one he has ably defended, and the other greatly enlightened.

Having done what good he could in giving what he believed was light to his fellow-men, he had no fear of becoming a victim of G.o.d’s wrath, and so he laughingly said: “For my part I imagine that if the Eternal in his severity were to send me to h.e.l.l I should succeed in escaping from it.

I would send up to my Creator a supplication that would make him smile.

The course of reasoning by which I would prove to him that it was through his fault that I was d.a.m.ned would be so subtle that he would find some difficulty in replying. The fate which would suit me best is Purgatory–a charming place, where many delightful romances begun on earth must be continued.”

Such cheerfulness, such good philosophy, with cap and bells, such banter and blasphemy, such sound and solid sense drive to madness the priest who thinks the curse of Rome can fright the world. How the snake of superst.i.tion writhes when he finds that his fangs have lost their poison.

He was one of the gentlest of men–one of the fairest in discussion, dissenting from the views of others with modesty, presenting his own with clearness and candor. His mental manners were excellent. He was not positive as to the “unknowable.” He said “Perhaps.” He knew that knowledge is good if it increases the happiness of man; and he felt that superst.i.tion is the a.s.sa.s.sin of liberty and civilization. He lived a life of cheerfulness, of industry, devoted to the welfare of mankind.

He was a seeker of happiness by the highway of the natural, a destroyer of the dogmas of mental deformity, a worshiper of Liberty and the Ideal. As he lived, he died–hopeful and serene–and now, standing in imagination by his grave, we ask: Will the night be eternal? The brain says, Perhaps; while the heart hopes for the Dawn.–North American Review, November, 1892.

TOLSTO AND “THE KREUTZER SONATA.”

COUNT TOLSTO is a man of genius. He is acquainted with Russian life from the highest to the lowest–that is to say, from the worst to the best. He knows the vices of the rich and the virtues of the poor. He is a Christian, a real believer in the Old and New Testaments, an honest follower of the Peasant of Palestine. He denounces luxury and ease, art and music; he regards a flower with suspicion, believing that beneath every blossom lies a coiled serpent. He agrees with Lazarus and denounces Dives and the tax-gatherers. He is opposed, not only to doctors of divinity, but of medicine.

From the Mount of Olives he surveys the world.

He is not a Christian like the Pope in the Vatican, or a cardinal in a palace, or a bishop with revenues and retainers, or a millionaire who hires preachers to point out the wickedness of the poor, or the director of a museum who closes the doors on Sunday. He is a Christian something like Christ.

To him this life is but a breathing-spell between the verdict and the execution; the sciences are simply sowers of the seeds of pride, of arrogance and vice. Shocked by the cruelties and unspeakable horrors of war, he became a non-resistant and averred that he would not defend his own body or that of his daughter from insult and outrage. In this he followed the command of his Master: “Resist not evil.” He pa.s.sed, not simply from war to peace, but from one extreme to the other, and advocated a doctrine that would leave the basest of mankind the rulers of the world. This was and is the error of a great and tender soul.

He did not accept all the teachings of Christ at once. His progress has been, judging from his writings, somewhat gradual; but by accepting one proposition he prepared himself for the acceptance of another. He is not only a Christian, but has the courage of his convictions, and goes without hesitation to the logical conclusion. He has another exceedingly rare quality; he acts in accordance with his belief. His creed is translated into deed. He opposes the doctors of divinity, because they darken and deform the teachings of the Master. He denounces the doctors of medicine, because he depends on Providence and the promises of Jesus Christ. To him that which is called progress is, in fact, a profanation, and property is a something that the organized few have stolen from the unorganized many. He believes in universal labor, which is good, each working for himself. He also believes that each should have only the necessaries of life–which is bad. According to his idea, the world ought to be filled with peasants. There should be only arts enough to plough and sow and gather the harvest, to build huts, to weave coa.r.s.e cloth, to fashion clumsy and useful garments, and to cook the simplest food. Men and women should not adorn their bodies. They should not make themselves desirable or beautiful.

But even under such circ.u.mstances they might, like the Quakers, be proud of humility and become arrogantly meek.

Tolstoi would change the entire order of human development. As a matter of fact, the savage who adorns himself or herself with strings of sh.e.l.ls, or with feathers, has taken the first step towards civilization.

The tatooed is somewhat in advance of the unfrescoed. At the bottom of all this is the love of approbation, of the admiration of their fellows, and this feeling, this love, cannot be torn from the human heart.

In spite of ourselves we are attracted by what to us is beautiful, because beauty is a.s.sociated with pleasure, with enjoyment. The love of the well-formed, of the beautiful, is prophetic of the perfection of the human race. It is impossible to admire the deformed. They may be loved for their goodness or genius, but never because of their deformity.

There is within us the love of proportion. There is a physical basis for the appreciation of harmony, which is also a kind of proportion.

The love of the beautiful is shared with man by most animals. The wings of the moth are painted by love, by desire. This is the foundation of the bird’s song. This love of approbation, this desire to please, to be admired, to be loved, is in some way the cause of all heroic, self-denying, and sublime actions.

Count Tolsto, following parts of the New Testament, regards love as essentially impure. He seems really to think that there is a love superior to human love; that the love of man for woman, of woman for man, is, after all, a kind of glittering degradation; that it is better to love G.o.d than woman; better to love the invisible phantoms of the skies than the children upon our knees–in other words, that it is far better to love a heaven somewhere else than to make one here. He seems to think that women adorn themselves simply for the purpose of getting in their power the innocent and unsuspecting men. He forgets that the best and purest of human beings are controlled, for the most part unconsciously, by the hidden, subtle tendencies of nature. He seems to forget the great fact of “natural selection,” and that the choice of one in preference to all others is the result of forces beyond the control of the individual. To him there seems to be no purity in love, because men are influenced by forms, by the beauty of women; and women, knowing this fact, according to him, act, and consequently both are equally guilty. He endeavors to show that love is a delusion; that at best it can last but for a few days; that it must of necessity be succeeded by indifference, then by disgust, lastly by hatred; that in every Garden of Eden is a serpent of jealousy, and that the brightest days end with the yawn of ennui.

Of course he is driven to the conclusion that life in this world is without value, that the race can be perpetuated only by vice, and that the practice of the highest virtue would leave the world without the form of man. Strange as it may sound to some, this is the same conclusion reached by his Divine Master: “They did eat, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered the ark and the flood came and destroyed them all.” “Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”

According to Christianity, as it really is and really was, the Christian should have no home in this world–at least none until the earth has been purified by fire. His affections should be given to G.o.d; not to wife and children, not to friends or country. He is here but for a time on a journey, waiting for the summons. This life is a kind of dock running out into the sea of eternity, on which he waits for transportation. Nothing here is of any importance; the joys of life are frivolous and corrupting, and by losing these few gleams of happiness in this world he will bask forever in the unclouded rays of infinite joy.

Why should a man risk an eternity of perfect happiness for the sake of enjoying himself a few days with his wife and children? Why should he become an eternal outcast for the sake of having a home and fireside here?

The “Fathers” of the church had the same opinion of marriage. They agreed with Saint Paul, and Tolsto agrees with them. They had the same contempt for wives and mothers, and uttered the same blasphemies against that divine pa.s.sion that has filled the world with art and song.

All this is to my mind a kind of insanity; nature soured or withered–deformed so that celibacy is mistaken for virtue. The imagination becomes polluted, and the poor wretch believes that he is purer than his thoughts, holier than his desires, and that to outrage nature is the highest form of religion. But nature imprisoned, obstructed, tormented, always has sought for and has always found revenge. Some of these victims, regarding the pa.s.sions as low and corrupting, feeling humiliated by hunger and thirst, sought through maimings and mutilations the purification of the soul.

Count Tolstoi in “The Kreutzer Sonata,” has drawn, with a free hand, one of the vilest and basest of men for his hero. He is suspicious, jealous, cruel, infamous. The wife is infinitely too good for such a wild unreasoning beast, and yet the writer of this insane story seems to justify the a.s.sa.s.sin. If this is a true picture of wedded life in Russia, no wonder that Count Tolsto looks forward with pleasure to the extinction of the human race.

Of all pa.s.sions that can take possession of the heart or brain jealousy is the worst. For many generations the chemists sought for the secret by which all metals could be changed to gold, and through which the basest could become the best. Jealousy seeks exactly the opposite. It endeavors to trans.m.u.te the very gold of love into the dross of shame and crime.

The story of “The Kreutzer Sonata” seems to have been written for the purpose of showing that woman is at fault; that she has no right to be attractive, no right to be beautiful; and that she is morally responsible for the contour of her throat, for the pose of her body, for the symmetry of her limbs, for the red of her lips, and for the dimples in her cheeks.

The opposite of this doctrine is nearer true. It would be far better to hold people responsible for their ugliness than for their beauty. It may be true that the soul, the mind, in some wondrous way fashions the body, and that to that extent every individual is responsible for his looks.

It may be that the man or woman thinking high thoughts will give, necessarily, a n.o.bility to expression and a beauty to outline.

It is not true that the sins of man can be laid justly at the feet of woman. Women are better than men; they have greater responsibilities; they bear even the burdens of joy. This is the real reason why their faults are considered greater.

Men and women desire each other, and this desire is a condition of civilization, progress, and happiness, and of everything of real value.

But there is this profound difference in the s.e.xes: in man this desire is the foundation of love, while in woman love is the foundation of this desire.

Tolsto seems to be a stranger to the heart of woman.

Is it not wonderful that one who holds self-denial in such high esteem should say, “That life is embittered by the fear of one’s children, and not only on account of their real or imaginary illnesses, but even by their very presence”?

Has the father no real love for the children? Is he not paid a thousand times through their caresses, their sympathy, their love? Is there no joy in seeing their minds unfold, their affections develop? Of course, love and anxiety go together. That which we love we wish to protect. The perpetual fear of death gives love intensity and sacredness. Yet Count Tolsto gives us the feelings of a father incapable of natural affection; of one who hates to have his children sick because the orderly course of his wretched life is disturbed. So, too, we are told that modern mothers think too much of their children, care too much for their health, and refuse to be comforted when they die. Lest these words may be thought libellous, the following extract is given;

“In old times women consoled themselves with the belief, The Lord hath given, and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

They consoled themselves with the thought that the soul of the departed had returned to him who gave it; that it was better to die innocent than to live in sin. If women nowadays had such a comfortable faith to support them, they might take their misfortunes less hard.”

The conclusion reached by the writer is that without faith in G.o.d, woman’s love grovels in the mire.

In this case the mire is made by the tears of mothers falling on the clay that hides their babes.

The one thing constant, the one peak that rises above all clouds, the one window in which the light forever burns, the one star that darkness cannot quench, is woman’s love.

This one fact justifies the existence and the perpetuation of the human race. Again I say that women are better than men; their hearts are more unreservedly given; in the web of their lives sorrow is inextricably woven with the greatest joys; self-sacrifice is a part of their nature, and at the behest of love and maternity they walk willingly and joyously down to the very gates of death.

Is there nothing in this to excite the admiration, the adoration, of a modern reformer? Are the monk and nun superior to the father and mother?

The author of “The Kreutzer Sonata” is unconsciously the enemy of mankind. He is filled with what might be called a merciless pity, a sympathy almost malicious. Had he lived a few centuries ago, he might have founded a religion; but the most he can now do is, perhaps, to create the necessity for another asylum.

Count Tolstoi objects to music–not the ordinary kind, but to great music, the music that arouses the emotions, that apparently carries us beyond the limitations of life, that for the moment seems to break the great chain of cause and effect, and leaves the soul soaring and free.

“Emotion and duty,” he declares, “do not go hand in hand.” All art touches and arouses the emotional nature. The painter, the poet, the sculptor, the composer, the orator, appeal to the emotions, to the pa.s.sions, to the hopes and fears. The commonplace is transfigured; the cold and angular facts of existence take form and color; the blood quickens; the fancies spread their wings; the intellect grows sympathetic; the river of life flows full and free; and man becomes capable of the n.o.blest deeds. Take emotion from the heart of man and the idea of obligation would be lost; right and wrong would lose their meaning, and the word “ought” would never again be spoken. We are subject to conditions, liable to disease, pain, and death. We are capable of ecstasy. Of these conditions, of these possibilities, the emotions are born.

Only the conditionless can be the emotionless.

———-

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