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Our cause in history.

By Rev. H. Melville Jackson, of Richmond.
[The following eloquent response to a toast at the Howitzers's Banquet in Richmond, Dec. 13th 1882, takes a view of ‘our cause in History’ that is hopeful, and well worthy of preservation. It only [27] needs to be emphasized, that we must see to it, that the facts are preserved.]

Toast-our cause in history.

Sentiment.—‘A land without ruins is a land without memories—a land without memories is a land without history. A land that wears a laurel crown may be fair to see; but twine a few sad cypress leaves around the brow of any land, and be that land barren, beautiless and bleak, it becomes lovely in its consecrated coronet of sorrow, and it wins the sympathy of the heart and of history. * * * The triumphs of might are transient—they pass and are forgotten—the sufferings of right are graven deepest on the chronicle of nations.’

Rev. H. M. Jackson responded as follows, amidst frequent applause:

Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen.—I esteem myself highly honored in being permitted to mingle with you on this festal occasion, to share with you in the reminiscence of events in which I had no part, and to join in the commemoration of a past of which I know but little—save by the hearing of the ear.

I could not help, you know, being born a few years too late; but, while the mere ‘accident of birth’ debarred me from participation in the glory and horror of war, I thank you that you admit me to share in these lingering echoes of the past, which, in the ‘piping time of peace,’ memory reproduces, in mimic minature, to kindle again the smouldering fires in the soldier's breast.

It is however, Sir, the duty, as it is the pleasure, of man, to look both backward and forward; and therefore, while memory plays her part to-night in recalling the past, you have directed that we should project our thoughts into the future to inquire how that Cause, which still remains dear to your hearts, shall fare at the hands of the historian.

It has been said of General Robt. E. Lee that he often expressed the fear lest posterity should not know the odds against which he fought. What then was in the mind of the great warrior? Was he apprehensive lest his military fame should suffer? Was he fearful that his name might not be written large on the annals of history? All who knew that man know full well no such thought found harbour in his breast. No solicitude respecting his future fame disturbed the serenity of a mind lifted above the petty ambitions of personal reputation; but, the daily witness of incredible heroism, daily spectator of the dauntless courage with which a decimated army faced undismayed an [28] overwhelming foe, the chieftain of your armies, gentlemen, feared lest the examples of knightly valour and splendid fortitude, which you have exhibited to the ages, might, through the incapacity or incredulity, or venal mendacity of the historian, be finally lost to the human race.

And there is, I will venture to say, scarcely a soldier of the Confederacy who does not share this apprehension that posterity may not do justice to the cause in which he fought. Soldiers, you cannot bear to think that your children's children shall have forgotten the fields on which you have shed your blood. You cannot think with equanimity that a day will come when Virginia shall have suffered the fame of her heroes to be lost in obscurity, and the valorous achievements of her sons to fade from memory. And if you thought, to-night, that the muse of history would turn traitor to your cause, misrepresent the principles for which you fought, and deny to you those attributes of valour, fortitude and heroic devotion you have grandly won, your souls would rise up within you in immediate and bitter and protesting indignation.

This apprehension is thought by some to be not altogether groundless. The North, it is said, is making the literature of these times, has secured the ear of the age and will not fail to make an impression, unfavorable to you, which time will deepen rather than obliterate. Diligent fingers are carving the statues of the heroes of the Northern armies, writing partizan and distorted versions of their achievements, altering, even in this generation, the perspective of history, until, at no distant day, they shall have succeeded in crowding out every other aspirant of fame and beguiled posterity into believing that the laurels of honor should rest, alone and undisturbed, upon the brows of your adversaries.

It is to dispel this apprehension that I am here to-night. I am here to tell you that the muse of history will not turn traitor to your cause, that your fame shall not be forgotten—no, not so long as unwearied time shall count out the years to mortal man!

There is a law which governs the compilation of history, gentlemen,—a law which is succinctly stated in this sentiment to which I am responding: ‘The triumphs of might are transient—they pass and are forgotten—the sufferings of right are graven deepest on the chronicles of nations.’

Rome made the literature of her day; Carthage made none; Rome was the victorious power; Carthage was obliterated:—and yet, the figure of Hannibal stands out, luminously clear, from the misty background [29] of those times, while Scipio Africanus is known to the ear only as a name, and the heroic defence of Carthage, when the women of that devoted city plaited their long tresses into bow-strings for the archers, and beat their jewels into arrow points, remains among the inspirations of history.

Or, to take more modern instance, England made the literature of her time—Scotland made none; England conquered—Scotland was overcome; and yet none remembers the victorious Edward——he has passed and is forgotten—but the names of William Wallace and Robert Bruce are graven ineffaceably upon the ‘Chronicles of Nations’ and the story of their deeds and their sufferings have been strangely intertwined with all that is noblest and best in human action.

Nothing lives, either in story or in song, but that which appeals to the heart of humanity; and nothing on God's earth so moves the sympathies of man as when the weak are seen defending their honor, their principles or their homes—against the strong. The instincts of man incline to the overpowered, and these instincts are the best and dominant guides in the construction of history. ‘The triumphs of might,’ brute force crushing power, have no admirable aspect, awaken no worthy sentiment, possess no inspiration; but there is something allied to our higher and God-born nature in suffering for the right, something we instinctively feel must not be permitted to perish from the earth, something which man, for man's sake, must guard with zealous care and transmit as the heirloom of generations.

Therefore, Sir, if the same laws prevail in the future as have prevailed in the past, you need have no apprehension of misrepresentation. The righteousness of your cause precludes fear. You may commit the principles for which you fought, you may confide the story of your deeds, you may consign the heritage of heroism you have bequeathed the world, with confident expectation of justice, to the hands of the annalist.

In seeds of laurel in the earth,
     The blossom of your fame is blown;
And somewhere waiting for its birth,
     The shaft is in the stone.

But, Sir, I am reminded by the presence of two guests at your banquet, that it cannot be truthfully said the South is making no literature. The presence here (if I may be pardoned personal allusion) of the Author of the Life of Lee, who as Editor of the Southern Historical Society Papers, is accumulating the material for the future historian—a work the importance of which I fear we do not [30] duly appreciate—and the presence here of the Author of ‘Minutiae of Soldier Life,’ a book which preserves for us, in all the delicious freshness of local colouring, that interior life of the soldier which is the best index of his character and the best indication of his stalwart and sturdy fortitude, confute the allegation.

And yet, perhaps, Sir, the best history is the unwritten history. The best schools of history are around the hearth-stone. The best lessons of patriotism, of veneration for the past, of true and laudable appreciation of noble deeds, are received at the lips of a mother. Her unerring instincts teach her to select with wonderful skill the best exemplars to kindle the aspirations of youth. The women of modern times take the place, and perform the duty, of the minstrels of an older age. They keep alive the traditions of a land and suffer nothing of enduring value to perish. Happy, then, is that land which can furnish the lips of its fair minstrels with rich stores of inspiration, drawn from the achievements of its sons. Happy that land which has placed in the mystic temple of fame such embodiments of all the manly virtues as may be found in the soldier of the Confederacy, whether the chieftain of its armies or the humblest private in the ranks. All the better if the laurels of their fame is intertwined with the emblematic cypress of sorrow. All the better if the paeon of their praise is interpersed with minor cadences speaking softy of sufferings nobly, if vainly, borne. All the better if the blood they shed be intermingled with tears, so that the baptism of blood and tears may descend in fructifying influence, upon this fair land.

Yes give me a land of the wreck and the tomb,
There is grandeur in graves — there is glory in gloom,
For out of the gloom future brightness is born
As after the night comes the sunrise of morn;
And the graves of the dead with grass overgrown
May yet be the footstool of liberty's throne,
And each single wreck in the war path of might
Shall yet be a stone in the temple of right.

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H. Melville Jackson (4)
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