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Who Is The Greatest Living Man Post by :mkollerup Category :Essays Author :Lemuel K. Washburn Date :November 2011 Read :1682

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Who Is The Greatest Living Man

Written November 19, 1893.

My answer is Robert G. Ingersoll.

One gets the conviction of this man’s superiority by simply being in his presence. The outer man makes the impression of greatness upon the mind.

It is not the silent assertion of a splendid form however, that persuades us. A large body serves to accent and emphasize a large mind, but heroic physical proportions are not essential to greatness. The king of men to-day is not he who, like Saul, “from his shoulders and upward is higher than any of his people.” Dr. Watts truly said: “The mind’s the standard of the man.”

But we cannot think of Robert G. Ingersoll with a diminutive physical equipment. His ample form radiates the man. But it is the royalty of his intellect that makes him great. It is in the kingdom of mind that he is master. Every mental tool fits his hand. He has wit, learning, imagination, eloquence, philosophy, and that rare quality, sense. He is a great lawyer, a great orator, a great poet, and a great man. He is too large for conventionalities, too large to respect what smaller minds have declared right, what weaker minds have made holy.

The intellectual grandeur of the man is no less apparent than his moral fearlessness. He is greatest where most men are little—in the face of a powerful and domineering superstition. He knows that the highest manhood makes the trappings of religion but the playthings of feeble minds.

His love of liberty is only equalled by his passion for truth, and he listens to the timid whisper of doubt with the chivalrous attention that others give to confident faith. He strips things of their clothes, of fashions, of falsehood, of pretension, and demands that they stand for what they are and no more. He has the sincerity of greatness and his mind wears the white robe of spotless integrity.

Above all living men he possesses the power of utterance. He has the highest literary instinct, and never marries a mean word to a noble thought. He uses language as Phidias used marble. He is the literary artist of the age, and knows all the colors in the brain. He can make words laugh and weep.

This man has a large heart. He is filled with human sympathy. He does not care for gods, but he pities men. The springs of feeling feed the mighty rivers of thought that cross the continent of his mind. There is about him the warmth, the kindness of summer—Nature’s season of forgiveness.

He has the highest philosophy—that of cheerfulness. The clouds never cover all his sky. He is the apostle of good humor, and preaches the gospel of sunshine to dry the tears of the world.

He is true to himself, loyal to his head and his heart, and upon his brow shines the jewel of self-respect.

Robert G. Ingersoll has the greatness of genius. It is useless to try to account for an intellectual giant. Dowered by Nature, parents are of small account. We cannot find the secret of his marvelous power by digging in a graveyard.


Man is what he is, because his origin was what it was.


God cannot be put into the national Constitution without putting liberty out of it.


We do not want holy books, but true ones; not sacred writings, but sensible writings.

(The end)
Lemuel K. Washburn's essay: Who Is The Greatest Living Man

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