For a lighthearted end of the day, here’s a series of letters from and to the Great Agnostic, Robert G. Ingersoll. I’ve read quite a bit of his stuff, and he was the most eloquent and “strident” atheist writer of his time—the Hitchens of the 19th century. By all accounts Ingersoll, despite his nonbelief, was a saintly man, widely beloved and, like Hitchens, a fierce and unbeatable speaker on the platform.
Reader Ginger K. called my attention to a new post at Letters of Note, which reproduces a lovely letter that Ingersoll sent his future son-in-law, Walton Brown, along with a bottle of fine whiskey (Ingersoll was, as befits a heathen, a lover of good food and drink). The letter was apparently widely circulated and reprinted in The Nation; but it angered J. M. Buckley, editor of The Christian Advocate, who printed a response. Both letters are reproduced below:
89 Fifth Avenue
Walston H. Brown, Esq.
April 16, 1887
My dear Friend,
I send you some of the most wonderful whiskey that ever drove the skeleton from a feast or painted landscapes in the brain of man. It is the mingled souls of wheat and corn. In it you will find the sunshine and the shadows that chased each other over the billowy fields; the breath of June; the carol of the lark; the dews of night; the wealth of summer and autumn’s rich content, all golden with imprisoned light.
Drink it—and you will hear the voices of men and maidens singing the “Harvest Home,” mingled with the laughter of children.
Drink it—and you will feel within your blood the star-lit dawns, the dreamy, tawny dusks of many perfect days.
For forty years this liquid joy has been within the happy staves of oak, longing to touch the lips of men.Yours always,R. G. Ingersoll
My dear Bob,
I return to you some of the most wonderful whiskey that ever brought a skeleton into the closet or painted scenes of lust and bloodshed in the brain of man. It is the ghost of wheat and corn, crazed by the loss of their natural bodies. In it you will find a transient sunshine chased by a shadow as cold as an Arctic midnight, in which the breath of June grows icy, and the carol of the lark gives place to the foreboding cry of the raven.
Drink it—and you will have woe, sorrow, babbling and wounds without cause. Your eyes shall behold strange women and your heart shall utter perverse things.
Drink it—and you shall hear the voices of demons shrieking, women wailing, children mourning the loss of a father who yet lives.
Drink it—and long serpents will hiss in your ears, coil themselves about your neck and seize you with their fangs. ‘At last it biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder.’
For forty years this liquid death has been confined with staves of oak, harmless there as pure water. I send it to your mouth to steal away your brains, and yet I call myself your friend.Rev. Dr. J. M. Buckley