Personal Secretary of Fourteen Years Remembers Ingersoll
I. Newton Baker
Since the passing of this great and good, this loving and lovable man, many eloquent tributes to his memory have been written and spoken. These tributes have come from all parts of the world and from all classes and conditions of men. They have reflected through the press, the platform, the pulpit and private correspondence the general and genuine esteem and admiration in which Mr. Ingersoll was held.
Many who opposed, or seemed to oppose, his religious views, and resented, or seemed to resent, his manner of expressing them, have in their finer moods, unheated by the fires of controversy, admitted and admired the strength and sincerity of his convictions, the wonderful way in which he maintained them, and the purity and exaltation of his character and purpose. Even theological bitterness was silenced in the presence of death, or turned, as in some instances, into generous eulogium. Magnanimous foes whom he had defeated in the forum of debate, conceded the greatness and goodness of the man and acknowledged the magnitude and value of the work he did in the world.
It would seem, therefore, that little can be added, that nothing more can be said worth the saying, that the field has been harvested. It is only in the hope of garnering grains ungathered by other gleaners that the present sketch has been attempted. It does not aspire to the rank of extended biography. Its simple purpose is to show Mr. Ingersoll as he appeared to one who had unusual opportunities of knowing him, – to one whose high privilege it was to be in almost daily contact with him for many years.
The writer is only too conscious that even with this advantage what skill he may have must fall far short of any adequate portraiture. He covets a fineness of perception, a keenness and breadth of intellectual vision, a balance of judgment, a strength of statement and a grace of style he has not, fitly to undertake the study.
Only a genius can portray a genius.
Only a master of expression can express a master, and the writer has been but sitting at a great master’s feet. Any faithful sketch of such a man from such a source must therefore be a eulogy. Admiration cannot be restrained, feelings cannot be repressed, nor can the flow of truthful phrase be checked when a loving pupil wields the brush or guides the pen.
No matter from what point of view he sees the subject, the same commanding figure is before him. All the rays of white light focussed on Mr. Ingersoll reveal him as a man of the highest, strongest, finest mental and moral fibre, – such a man, indeed, as Nature bears but once among countless millions of her human children.
My acquaintance with Mr. Ingersoll began soon after the death of his brother Ebon, and while the immortal word spoken at the funeral were still thrilling through the world. Literature has no parallel to this tribute by a brother living to a brother dead. these brothers were lovers, and never failed each day on reaching their office to give a warm embrace. The sign they first hung out law partners became a sacred thing to Robert, and in all his changes of location, from Peoria to Washington, to New York, – wherever he chanced to be, – he kept that modest little sign in constant view from the desk in his private office.
I entered this office in 1879 as Mr. Ingersoll’s secretary, and remained with him continuously until in 1892, a period of nearly fourteen years. During all this time it was my privilege to be with him in business hours, in days of leisure, of travel and of social intercourse, to be honored by his friendship, entrusted with his confidence, and, with my wife, enrolled almost a member of that beautiful family of which he was creator and inspirer, sun and shield.