The Ghosts and other lectures, by Robert Green Ingersoll

“The Past Rises Before Me Like a Dream.”

Extract from a speech delivered at the Soldiers’ Reunion at Indianapolis, Sept. 21, 1876.

THE past rises before me like a dream. Again we are in the great struggle for national life. We hear the sounds of preparation — the music of boisterous drums — the silver voices of heroic bugles. We see thousands of assemblages, and hear the appeals of orators; we see the pale cheeks of women, and the flushed faces of men; and in those assemblages we see all the dead whose dust we have covered with flowers. We lose sight of them no more. We are with them when they enlist in the great army of freedom. We see them part with those they love. Some are walking for the last time in quiet, woody places, with the maidens they adore. We hear the whisperings and the sweet vows of eternal love as they lingeringly part forever. Others are bending over cradles, kissing babes that are asleep. Some are receiving the blessings of old men. Some are parting with mothers who hold them and press them to their hearts again and again, and say nothing. Kisses and tears, tears and kisses — divine mingling of agony and love! And some are talking with wives, and endeavoring with brave words, spoken in the old tones, to drive from their hearts the awful fear. We see them part. We see the wife standing in the door with the babe in her arms — standing in the sunlight sobbing —— at the turn of the road a hand waves — she answers by holding high in her loving arms the child. He is gone, and forever.

We see them all as they march proudly away under the flaunting flags, keeping time to the grand, wild music of war — marching down the streets of the great cities — through the towns and across the prairies — down to the fields of glory, to do and to die for the eternal right.

We go with them, one and all. We are by their side on all the gory fields — in all the hospitals of pain — on all the weary marches. We stand guard with them in the wild storm and under the quiet stars. We are with them in ravines running with blood — in the furrows of old fields. We are with them between contending hosts, unable to move, wild with thirst, the life ebbing slowly away among the withered leaves. We see them pierced by balls and torn with shells, in the trenches, by forts, and in the whirlwind of the charge, where men become iron, with nerves of steel.

We are with them in the prisons of hatred and famine; but human speech can never tell what they endured.

We are at home when the news comes that they are dead. We see the maiden in the shadow of her first sorrow. We see the silvered head of the old man bowed with the last grief.

The past rises before us, and we see four millions of human beings governed by the lash — we see them bound hand and foot — we hear the strokes of cruel whips — we see the hounds tracking women through tangled swamps. We see babes sold from the breasts of mothers. Cruelty unspeakable! Outrage infinite!

Four million bodies in chains — four million souls in fetters. All the sacred relations of wife, mother, father and child, trampled beneath the brutal feet or might. And all this was done under our own beautiful banner of the free. The past rises before us. We hear the roar and shriek of the bursting shell. The broken fetters fall.

These heroes died. We look. Instead of slaves we see men and women and children. The wand of progress touches the auction-block, the slave-pen, the whipping-post, and we see homes and firesides and school-houses and books, and where all was want, and crime and cruelty, and fear we see the faces of the free.

These heroes are dead. They died for liberty they died for us. They are at rest. They sleep in the land they made free, under the flag they rendered stainless, under the solemn pines, the sad hemlocks, the tearful willows, and the embracing vines. They sleep beneath the shadows of the clouds, careless, alike of sunshine or of storm, each in the windowless palace of Rest. Earth may run red with other wars — they are at peace. In the midst of battle, in the roar of conflict, they found the serenity of death. I have one sentiment for soldiers living and dead: Cheers for the living; tears for the dead.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/i/ingersoll/robert_green/ghosts/chapter6.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38