Today is the 151st Anniversary of the tragic death of Senator Edward Dickinson Baker at the Battle of Ball's Bluff, we commemorate it with a eulogyOctober 21, 2012
Address of Rev. Thos. Starr King.
DELIVERED AT THE GRAVE IN LONE MOUNTAIN CEMETERY, SAN FRANCISCO, PREVIOUS TO THE INTERMENT OF COL. BAKER’S BODY.
The story of our great friend’s life had been eloquently told. We have borne him now to the home of the dead, to the Cemetery which, after fit services of prayer, he devoted in a tender and thrilling speech, to its hallowed purpose. In that address, he said: “Within these grounds public reverence and gratitude shall build the tombs of warriors and statesmen *** who have given all their lives and their best thoughts to their country.” Could he forecast, seven years ago, any such fulfillment of those words as this hour reveals? He confessed the conviction before he went into the battle which bereaved us, that his last hour was near. Could any slight shadow of his destiny have been thrown across his path, as he stood here when these grounds were dedicated, and looked over slopes unfurrowed then by the plowshare of death?
His words were prophetic. Yes, warrior and statesman, wise in council, graceful and electric as few have been in speech, ardent and vigorous in debate, but nobler than for all these qualities by the devotion which prompted thee to give more than they wisdom, more than thy eagle eye in the great assemblies of the people— even the blood of thy indomitable heart— when thy country called with a cry of peril,— we receive thee with tears and pride. We find thee dearer then when thou camest to speak to us in the full tide of life and vigor. Thy wounds through which thy life was poured are not “dumb mouths,” but eloquent with the intense and perpetual appeal of thy soul. We receive thee to “reverance and gratitude,” as we lay thee gently to thy sleep; and we pledge to thee, not only a monument that shall hold thy name, but a memorial in the hearts of a grateful people, so long as the Pacific moans near thy resting-place, and a fame eminent among the heroes of the Republic so long as the mountains shall feed the Oregon! The poet tells us, in pathetic cadence, that the paths of glory lead but to the grave. But this is true only in the superficial sense. It is true that the famous and the obscure, the devoted and the ignoble, “alike await the inevitable hour.” But the path of true glory does not end in the grave. It passes through it to larger opportunities of service. Do not believe or feel that we are burying Edward Baker. A great nature is a seed. “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.” It germinates thus in this world as well as in the other. Was Warren buried when he fell on the field of a defeat, pierced through the brain, at the commencement of the Revolution, by a bullet that put the land in mourning? No; the monument that has been raised where his blood reddened the sod, granite though it be in a hundred course, is a feeble witness of the permanence and influence of his spirit among the American people. He mounted into literature from the moment that he fell; he began to move the soul of a great community; and part of the principal and enthusiasm of Massachusetts to-day is due to his sacrifice, to the presence of his spirit as a power in the life of the State.
Did Montgomery lose his influence as a force in the Revolution because he died without victory, on its threshold, pierced with three wounds, before Quebec? Philadelphia was in tears for him, as it has been for our hero; his eulogies were uttered by the most eloquent tongues of America and Britain, and a thrill of his power beats in the volumes of our history, and runs yet through the onset of every Irish brigade beneath the American banner, which he planted on Montreal.
Did Lawrence die when his breath expired in the defeat on the sea, after his exclamation, “Don’t give up the ship!” What victorious captain in that naval war shed forth such power? His spirit soared and touched every flag on every frigate, to make its red more commanding and its stars flame brighter; it went abroad in songs, and every sailor felt him and feels him now as an inspiration.
God is giving us new heroes to be enthroned with those of the earlier struggles. Before our guests victories come, He gives us, as in former years, names to rally for, and examples to inflame us with the old and the unconquerable fire. Ellsworth, Lyon, Winthrop, Baker, our patriots who have fallen in ill-success, will hallow our new contest, and exert wider influences as spirit-heroes than over their regiments and battalions, while they shall ascend to a more tender honor in the nation’s memory and gratitude.
And other avenues of service than those of the earth are opened for such as he whom we are waiting to lay in the tomb. “It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory,” saith the Sacred Word. God has higher uses for such spirits. In the Father’s house are many mansions; and Christ hath prepared the place for all ranks of mortals for whom he died. The mysteries of the other world are not revealed. The principles of judgment, the tests of acceptance and of the Supreme eminence are unfolded. Intellect, genius, knowledge, faith, shall be as nothing before humility, sacrifice, charity. But in the uses of charity the fiery tongue, the furnished mind, the unquailing heart, shall have ample opportunities, and ampler then here. Paul goes to an immense service still as an Apostle; Newton to reflect from grander heavens a vaster light. As we shut the door of the tomb of genius, let it be with gratitude to God for its splendor here, and with a hope for its future that swells our bosom, though its outline be dim.
And let us not be tempted, in view of the sudden close of our gifted friend’s career, in any sad and skeptical spirit, to say, “What shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue!” The soul is not a shadow. The body is. Genius is not a shadow. It is a substance. Patriotism is not a shadow. It is light. Great purposes, and the spirit that counts death nothing in contrast with honor and the welfare of our country,— these are the witnesses that man is not a passing vapor, but an immortal spirit.
Husband and father, brother and friend, Senator and soldier, genius and hero, we give thee, not to the grave and gloom— we give thee to God, to thy place in the country’s heart, and to the great services that may await thee in the world of dawn beyond the sunset, with tears, with affection, with gratitude, and with prayer.
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