From Robert G. Ingersoll (1833 – 1899)
A THANKSGIVING SERMON.
MANY ages ago our fathers were living in dens and caves. Their bodies, their low foreheads, were covered with hair. They were eating berries, roots, bark and vermin. They were fond of snakes and raw fish. They discovered fire and, probably by accident, learned how to cause it by friction. They found how to warm themselves—to fight the frost and storm. They fashioned clubs and rude weapons of stone with which they killed the larger beasts and now and then each other. Slowly, painfully, almost imperceptibly they advanced. They crawled and stumbled, staggered and struggled toward the light. To them the world was unknown. On every hand was the mysterious, the sinister, the hurtful. The forests were filled with monsters, and the darkness was crowded with ghosts, devils, and fiendish gods.
These poor wretches were the slaves of fear, the sport of dreams.
Now and then, one rose a little above his fellows—used his senses—the little reason that he had—found something new—some better way. Then the people killed him and afterward knelt with reverence at his grave. Then another thinker gave his thought—was murdered—another tomb became sacred—another step was taken in advance. And so through countless years of ignorance and cruelty—of thought and crime—of murder and worship, of heroism, suffering, and self-denial, the race has reached the heights where now we stand.
Looking back over the long and devious roads that lie between the barbarism of the past and the civilization of to-day, thinking of the centuries that rolled like waves between these distant shores, we can form some idea of what our fathers suffered—of the mistakes they made—some idea of their ignorance, their stupidity—and some idea of their sense, their goodness, their heroism.
It is a long road from the savage to the scientist—from a den to a mansion—from leaves to clothes—from a flickering rush to the arc-light—from a hammer of stone to the modern mill—a long distance from the pipe of Pan to the violin—to the orchestra—from a floating log to the steamship—from a sickle to a reaper—from a flail to a threshing machine—-from a crooked stick to a plow—from a spinning wheel to a spinning jenny—from a hand loom to a Jacquard—a Jacquard that weaves fair forms and wondrous flowers beyond Arachne’s utmost dream—from a few hieroglyphics on the skins of beasts—on bricks of clay—to a printing press, to a library—a long distance from the messenger, traveling on foot, to the electric spark—from knives and tools of stone to those of steel—a long distance from sand to telescopes—from echo to the phonograph, the phonograph that buries in indented lines and dots the sounds of living speech, and then gives back to life the very words and voices of the dead—a long way from the trumpet to the telephone, the telephone that transports speech as swift as thought and drops the words, perfect as minted coins, in listening ears—a long way from a fallen tree to the suspension bridge—from the dried sinews of beasts to the cables of steel—from the oar to the propeller—from the sling to the rifle—from the catapult to the cannon—a long distance from revenge to law—from the club to the Legislature—from slavery to freedom—from appearance to fact—from fear to reason.
And yet the distance has been traveled by the human race. Countless obstructions have been overcome—numberless enemies have been conquered—thousands and thousands of victories have been won for the right, and millions have lived, labored and died for their fellow-men.
For the blessings we enjoy—for the happiness that is ours, we ought to be grateful. Our hearts should blossom with thankfulness.
Whom, what, should we thank?