They can make you laugh, or make you cry. Engage or enrage. Bring joy, bring sorrow. They can herald new life, memorialize lives gone, inspire great acts of heroism – or despicable acts of evil. They can transport you … to other worlds, other times, other places.
Surely mankind’s greatest invention.
But many great words have slipped into the mists of history. Some of the greatest. You know it when you come across them. They stop you. Punch you in the face and say, ‘Look. Listen. Feel. Remember. It’s important.’
Has that happened to you? Either in your life of business or the business of life?
Below are three of my selections for some of the greatest words ever spoken, ever communicated. Words you may have never heard of before.
THOMAS JEFFERSON AND THOSE DEGENERATE AMERICANS
Thomas Jefferson published the “Notes on the State of Virginia” in 1781. In one section he addressed some prominent European celebrity writers who were of the opinion that nothing good could ever come out of America. (Do things never change?)
“They have supposed there is something in the soil, climate and other circumstances of America, which occasions animal nature to degenerate, not excepting the man, native or adopted, physical or moral. This theory, so unfounded and degrading was called to the bar of fact and reason.”
In response, Jefferson recites a message sent by Mingo Chief John Logan to Lord Dunmore in 1774.
“I may challenge the whole orations of Demosthenes and Cicero, and of any more eminent orator, if Europe has furnished more eminent, to produce a single passage superior to it.”
WHO IS THERE TO MOURN FOR LOGAN?
Mingo Chief John Logan (Tahgahjute) was a Native American Indian born in 1725. He was a friend and supporter of the white man (a most unpopular position at the time with other Indians). In 1774 Logan was away on a hunting trip when his entire family was treacherously slaughtered by a marauding band of white settlers. His pregnant sister was mutilated in what can only be described as a despicably demonic way. When Logan returned he found their bodies. Every living relative that he knew of at the time. Children to grandparents. Generations lost.
This event, called the “Yellow Creek Massacre,” sparked Lord Dunmore’s War of 1774.
Logan sought revenge. And got it. Many times over.
But the Indians were quicky defeated in the war and a party went to Lord Dunmore for a peace council. Logan would not attend the council but sent a message that reverberated throughout the world.This speech was taught and memorized by children in American schools for many years afterwards. Thomas Jefferson himself memorized it in 1775.
“I appeal to any white man to say, if ever he entered Logan’s cabin hungry, and he gave him not meat; if ever he came cold and naked, and he clothed him not. During the course of the last long and bloody war, Logan remained idle in his cabin, an advocate for peace. Such was my love for the whites, that my countrymen pointed as they passed, and said, Logan is the friend of the white men. I have even thought to live with you but for the injuries of one man. Col. Cresap, the last spring, in cold blood, and unprovoked, murdered all the relations of Logan, not sparing even my women and children. There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any living creature. This has called on me for revenge. I have sought it: I have killed many: I have fully glutted my vengeance. For my country, I rejoice at the beams of peace. But do not harbour a thought that mine is the joy of fear. Logan never felt fear. He will not turn on his heel to save his life. Who is there to mourn for Logan? Not one.”
The war ended. Logan never really recovered. Would you? He quickly slipped into alcoholism and was murdered in 1780.
“He is one of those uncommon geniuses which spring up occasionally to produce revolutions, and overturn the established order of things. If it were not for the vicinity of the United States, he would, perhaps, be the founder of an empire that would rival in glory Mexico or Peru. No difficulties deter him.” – William Henry Harrison in an 1811 letter to the US War Department.
Who was Harrison referring to?
Tekoomsē or Tekumtha, most widely known now as Tecumseh, the great leader of the Shawnee Indians. At the time Tecumseh was traveling throughout America trying to rally Indians of all tribes to form an alliance to stop white settlers from invading and taking their land.
Tecumseh’s rallying cry?
“Where today are the Pequot? Where are the Narragansett, the Mochican, the Pocanet, and other powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and oppression of the white man, as snow before the summer sun … Sleep not longer, O Choctaws and Chickasaws … Will not the bones of our dead be plowed up, and their graves turned into plowed fields?”- Tecumseh, 1811, ‘The Portable North American Indian Reader’
Tecumseh amassed a great following, not only for his speaking prowess and bravery in battle, but because of his ability to challenge and rise above the times. He would not, as was the Indian custom of the time, allow any prisoner to be tortured and burned alive. He shamed senior warriors and elders in one battle with his logic, determination and spirit. He was just 15 years of age at the time.
Tecumseh became viewed as a serious military threat. To the U.S. Military he was a barbarous heathen. A red devil. Publicly proclaimed as a scheming fomenter of revolution. A killer. But history is history, only as written by the winners.
YOU JUDGE THIS DEVIL
This fomenter of revolution, this devil, this barbarous heathen … left these words behind. You judge.
“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none. When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision. When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.” - Quoted from Lee Sulzman in “Shawnee History”
Just words. Ethereally wisping through time on vanishing waves of human memories – looking for a heart to fall into.
Tecumseh was killed in the Battle of Thames in October 5, 1813, fighting to save his native land.
The hero was home.
WARM SUMMER SUN
Mark Twain was born Samuel Longhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835. He’s known worldwide for his satirical, incisive and humorous writing. Drop-down rollover funny. My favorite — Puddin’ Head Wilson. But Twain’s life was full of misery and adversity. His business ventures always seemed to go awry –
“I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.” – Mark Twain
After multiple investments went bad in the 1890’s, Twain was forced into bankruptcy. He went on a worldwide lecture tour to earn money to pay back his debts. While on this tour his beloved daughter, Olivia Susan “Susy” Clemens, died at the age of twenty-four from meningitis.
It destroyed him.
CUT IN STONE
I think I’ve read everything Mark Twain ever wrote. Maybe you have too. But when I came upon the poem Mark Twain engraved on Susy’s headstone, I knew there was no better. Ever.
And they weren’t even his words.
Warm summer sun
shine kindly here;
Warm southern wind
blow softly here;
Green sod above
Lie light, lie light-
Good night, dear heart,
good night, good night.
Mark Twain understood words. Their greatness. Their ability to express an unendurable sorrow. To reveal a timeless love so it glitters with heavenly evanescence. The words above are an excerpt (slightly altered by Twain) from an obscure poem called “Annette,” written by Robert Richardson, published in 1893.
They can make you laugh – or make you cry.
Engage or enrage. Create heroes or demons. Memorialize life … or death.
They can transport you to other worlds, other times, other places.
In 100 years from now … when green sod lies above, when there is no one left to mourn for you, will something you have said or done, be spoken or written in words so eloquent?
Will you be remembered like a “Hero Going Home?”
1. Tecumseh painting by my friend Hal Sherman. Other paintings Animotorized below.
2. Chief Logan painting by Robert Griffin.
3.Chief Logan thought Col. Michael Cresap was the murderer of his family. The murders were later generally attributed to Daniel Greathouse.
4. After many years the words on Susy’s headstone were generally attributed to Twain himself. When he discovered this he ordered Robert Richardson’s name be cut into the headstone beneath them.
5. Time collage photo courtesy of The Book Squirrel - http://www.flickr.com/photos/29193525@N07/3261401679/
6. The Bridge – photo courtesy of the E.G,Man http://www.flickr.com/photos/eqqman/17854302/sizes/o/
7. Folded arms corutesy of Ghostbones via Flickr. And yes, I lost the link.