Page:Life of John Boyle O'Reilly.djvu/191

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153
HIS LIFE, POEMS AND SPEECHES.

citizens, occupied the platform. Whittier, who could not attend in person, sent a letter in which he recalled the fact that:

"More than thirty years ago, in an elaborate and carefully prepared paper, I defended him from the unjust attacks of some of my countrymen and I have seen no reason since to retract a word of the very high praise which I then awarded him.

"He was a consistent Christian reformer. To use his own words, 'He hated all tyranny and intolerance, social, political, or ecclesiastical.' By birth and conviction a faithful member of the ancient Church, he asked nothing for Catholics which he was not ready to ask for Protestants. He was no reactionist. He believed it his privilege to co-operate with Divine Providence in making the world better and happier; and held with his brother religionist, Lamartine, that to oppose the progress of civilization and humanity was to sin against the Holy Ghost. His philanthropy was logical, and therefore universal."

The oration of Phillips was worthy of orator and subject. O'Reilly's poem was entitled "A Nation's Test." Nothing truer has been said in panegyric of the great Liberator than is conveyed in these four lines:

Races and sects were to him a profanity:
Hindoo, and negro, and Celt were as one;
Large as Mankind was his splendid humanity,
Large in its record the work he has done.

The poet was unconsciously foreshadowing the world's verdict on his own life. On October 20 of this year he read his grand poem "Fredericksburg," at the inauguration of the armory of the Second Regiment, Illinois State Guards, Chicago, taking as his text the words of General Meagher—"The Irishman never fights so well as when he has an Irishman for his comrade. An Irishman going into the field has this as the strongest impulse and his richest reward, that his conduct in the field will reflect honor on the old land he will see no more. He therefore wishes that if he falls it will be into the arms of one of the