The First Battle/Life of William Jennings Bryan/Presentation of Gray's Elegy at Close of Debate, by William J. Bryan (1890)

The First Battle (1890) by William Jennings Bryan
Presentation of "Gray's Elegy" by Mr. Bryan to Hon. W. J. Connell at the close of the final debate for the First Congressional district, 1890
1834The First Battle — Presentation of "Gray's Elegy" by Mr. Bryan to Hon. W. J. Connell at the close of the final debate for the First Congressional district, 18901890William Jennings Bryan

Mr. Connell:

We now bring to a close this series of debates which was arranged by our committees. I am glad that we have been able to conduct these discussions in a courteous and friendly manner. If I have, in any way, offended you in word or deed I offer apology and regret, and as freely forgive. I desire to present to you in remembrance of these pleasant meetings this little volume, because it contains "Gray's Elegy", in perusing which I trust you will find as much pleasure and profit as I have found. It is one of the most beautiful and touching tributes to humble life that literature contains. Grand in its sentiment and sublime in its simplicity, we may both find in it a solace in victory or defeat. If success should crown your efforts in this campaign, and it should be your lot "The applause of listening senates to command," and I am left

A youth to fortune and to fame unknown,

Forget not us who in the common walks of life perform our part, but in the hour of your triumph recall the verse:

Let not ambition mock their useful toil,
  Their homely joys and destiny obscure;
Nor grandeur hear, with disdainful smile,
  The short and simple annals of the poor.

If, on the other hand, by the verdict of my countrymen, I shall be made your successor, let it not be said of you:

And melancholy marked him for her own,

But find sweet consolation in the thought:

Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
  The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear;
Full many a flower was born to blush unseen,
  And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

But whether the palm of victory is given to you or to me, let us remember those of whom the poet says:

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife
  Their sober wishes never learned to stray,
Along the cool sequestered vales of life
  They keep the noiseless tenor of their way.

These are the ones most likely to be forgotten by the Government. When the poor and weak cry out for relief they, too, often hear no answer but "the echo of their cry", while the rich, the strong, the powerful are given an attentive ear. For this reason is class legislation dangerous and deadly. It takes from those least able to lose and gives to those who are least in need. The safety of our farmers and our laborers is not in special legislation, but in equal and just laws that bear alike on every man. The great masses of our people are interested, not in getting their hands into other people's pockets, but in keeping the hands of other people out of their pockets. Let me, in parting, express the hope that you and I may be instrumental in bringing our Government back to better laws which will give equal treatment without regard to creed or condition. I bid you a friendly farewell.