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An essay by Israel Zangwill


Title:     Martyrs
Author: Israel Zangwill [More Titles by Zangwill]

Although we moderns work harder than our fathers for our opinions, we are sometimes taunted with not being so ready to die for them. But, as Renan points out, thinkers have no need to die to demonstrate a theorem. Saints may die for their faith because faith is a personal matter. Even so we are still ready to die for our honour. The Christian martyrs did prove that Christianity was a reality to them; but Galileo's death would have been irrelevant to the rotation of the earth. There is no _argumentum per hominem_ possible here; the truth is impersonal. It is only for beliefs that exclude certainty that a man is tempted to martyrdom. The martyr is indeed, as the etymology implies, a witness; but his death is not a witness to the truth of his belief--merely to the truth of his believing. Blandine at her stake, enduring a hundred horrors unflinchingly, seems in addition to prove that faith was the first anaesthetic. It is curious to note how the word "martyr" has been degraded; so that we have to-day martyrs to the gout instead of to the truth. The idea of suffering has quite ousted the idea of witnessing. What a pity the word got these painful associations! There are "martyrs" to the truth--witnesses who without dying testify to the divine streak in life; and unconscious "martyrs" who, by their simple sincerity, their unpretentious unselfishness, prove more than a bookshelf of theology. I have found "martyrdom" in the grip of a friend's hand, though if I had told him so he would have apologised for squeezing so hard. And is not every pretty woman a "martyr"--a revelation of an inner soul of beauty and goodness in this chaotic universe? There! I have succumbed again to the common masculine impulse to conceive beauty and goodness as a chemical combination, subtly inter-related; whereas the slightest practical experience in the laboratory of life discovers them but a mechanical mixture, dissociable and not seldom antipathetic.

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Israel Zangwill's essay: Martyrs