Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Ingersoll, Robert Green (1833–1899)
Author:
Harris, W. Edward
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Robert Green Ingersoll was a colonel in the Civil War, Attorney General of Illinois (1867–1869), and best known as a public speaker. A remarkable orator, Ingersoll could command the attention of audiences who basically opposed his political and social views. He was a leading spokesman for the Republican party in the elections of 1876, 1880, and 1884. In spite of his services to the party he was, because of his religious views, never promoted to national office.

Enormously popular as a lecturer, commanding huge fees (up to thirty-five hundred dollars), he spoke on topics critical of the Bible and the Christian religion. He exposed the orthodox superstitions of the time and can be said to have introduced and popularized German "higher criticism" in the United States. Among his speeches, Some Mistakes of Moses was given hundreds of times to enthusiastic audiences.

Ingersoll was a great supporter of Whitman and recognized in him an affinity for humanistic philosophy centered on life in this world, saying, "He was, above all I have known, the poet of humanity, or sympathy" ("Spoken" 159). He gave the eulogy at Whitman's funeral in Harleigh Cemetery in Camden on 30 March 1892, saying, "He was the poet of that divine democracy which gives equal rights to all the sons and daughters of men" ("Spoken" 159) and that he preached "the gospel of humanity—the greatest gospel which can be preached" ("Spoken" 161).

Bibliography

Ingersoll, Robert Green. The Letters of Robert G. Ingersoll. Ed. Eva Ingersoll Wakefield. New York: Philosophical Library, 1951.

———. Liberty in Literature: Testimonial to Walt Whitman. New York: Truth Seeker, 1892.

———. The Philosophy of Ingersoll. San Francisco: P. Elder, 1906.

———. Some Mistakes of Moses. New York: Truth Seeker, 1882.

———. "[Spoken at Whitman's Funeral]." Critical Essays on Walt Whitman. Ed. James Woodress. Boston: Hall, 1983. 159–161.

Larson, Orvin Prentiss. American Infidel: Robert Green Ingersoll. New York: Citadel, 1962.


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