February 6, 1884
COMPANIONS OF THE LOYAL LEGION:
We have to deplore here to-night the calamity that has befallen the people of the Ohio Valley, and to regret that by reason of it, a considerable number of our Society is not present with us. Yet our tables are well filled.
The number present is probably quite as large as even the most sanguine friend of the society could have expected under the most favorable circumstances.
I am told by those who are better acquainted than I am with the progress of the order in other parts of the United States that our growth has been rapid, and our prospect is, in all respects, very encouraging.
Those who have carefully studied, as I have felt it my duty to do, the inner side of the blanket which is on top of the knapsack with which we are furnished have learned that our committee of arrangements have provided for a very much smaller number of speeches in response to regular toasts than is usual upon such small occasions. They have done this, I am sure, with no intention of lightening the intellectual part of the entertainment.
By their arrangement we shall have more time for off-hand speaking; more time for music and for songs, which, I take it, lend to soldier festivals their chief charm. We shall be better able, also, to give close and unwearied attention to all speakers. Certain it is that there are many and cogent reasons why, at all the soldier festivals, that there should be not less, but more and more prominence given, to the literary, to the historical side of their attractions.
We all know, we all feel, that we thoroughly understand what it is that these associations rest upon. It is upon the friendship of the war.
Friendships are formed, and are tested in many ways in life, but where is there a better place to form and test friendships that are to last, than life in the army?
Old friends, old neighbors, even, do not thoroughly understand each other until they travel together. Let them travel six weeks together through a hard country, and it uncovers character, uncovers selfishness, and better, still, unselfishness. But we spent four years together where it was, indeed, a hard road to travel.”
During those long and anxious years, in that righteous but terrible war, comrades in battle come to understand each other. Our soldier friendships were tested and formed in that period which all of us, as we grow older, regard as the golden age of our lives, the best four years that we have ever lived. The citizens, too, all citizens, understand, and see with clearer vision the scope, the meaning, the significance of the great struggle. All intelligent men of all nations now see this struggle of ours as Mr. Emerson saw it when it was still raging. Emerson, descended from a long line of New England clergymen, by education, by habit, and by character, as unmilitary as possible, wrote to Carlyle, perhaps our bitterest enemy in England, these wise and weighty words: “I shall always respect war hereafter, the cost of life, the dreary havoc of comfort and time are overpaid by the vistas it opens to eternal life, eternal law, reconstructing and uplifting society; breaks upon the old horizon, and see through the rifts a wider. The dismal Malthus, the dismal De Bow, they have had their night.
“Our census of 1860, and the war are poems which will, in the next age, inspire a genius like your own. I hate to write you a newspaper, but in these times it is wonderful what sublime lessons I have once and again read on the bulletin-boards in the streets. Everybody has been wrong in his guess, except good women, who never despair of an ideal right.”
In another place he says to Carlyle: “At this hour the battle of humanity rests in America,” and when in April, ’65, Richmond fell, full of the event, he exclaimed, “It is a great joy to the world, not just here in our little America.”
It was in this great transaction, this sublime, this stupendous transaction, that our acquaintance began and our friendships were formed; in this we became comrades.
This tie will last – has lasted – will not be, can not be forgotten. Hence, companions, our meeting here to-night. Hence, companions our joy in meeting here to-night