The complete works of Ralph Waldo Emerson: Miscellanies [Vol. 11]
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882., Emerson, Edward Waldo, 1844-1930.
Page  604

THEODORE PARKER

Theodore Parker, worn by his great work in defence of liberal religion and in every cause of suffering humanity, had succumbed to disease and died in Florence in May, 1860, not quite fifty years of age. Born in the neighbor town of Lexington when Emerson was seven years old, they had been friends probably from the time when the latter, soon after settling in Concord, preached for the society at East Lexington, from 1836 for two years. Parker was, during this period, studying divinity, and was settled as pastor of the West Roxbury church in 1837. In that year he is mentioned by Mr. Alcott as a member of the Transcendental Club and attending its meetings in Boston. When, in June, 1838, Mr. Emerson fluttered the conservative and the timid by his Divinity School Address, the young Parker went home and wrote, "It was the most inspiring strain I ever listened to. … My soul is roused, and this week I shall write the long-meditated sermons on the state of the church and the duties of these times."

Mr. Parker was one of those who attended the gathering in Boston which gave birth to the Dial, to which he was a strong contributor. Three years after its death, he, with the help of Mr. James Elliot Cabot and Mr. Emerson, founded the Massachusetts Quarterly Review, vigorous though short-lived, of which he was the editor. Parker frequently visited Emerson, and the two, unlike in their method, worked best apart in the same great causes. Rev. William Gannett says, "What Emerson uttered without plot or plan, Theodore Page  605 Parker elaborated to a system. Parker was the Paul of transcendentalism."

Mr. Edwin D. Mead, in his chapter on Emerson and Theodore Parker,1 gives the following pleasant anecdote:—

"At one of Emerson's lectures in Boston, when the storm against Parker was fiercest, a lecture at which a score of the religious and literary leaders of the city were present, Emerson, as he laid his manuscript upon the desk and looked over the audience, after his wont, observed Parker; and immediately he stepped from the platform to the seat near the front where Parker sat, grasping his hand and standing for a moment's conversation with him. It was not ostentation, and it was not patronage: it was admiring friendship,—and that fortification and stimulus Parker in those times never failed to feel. It was Emerson who fed his lamp, he said; and Emerson said that, be the lamp fed as it might, it was Parker whom the time to come would have to thank for finding the light burning."

Parker dedicated to Emerson his Ten Sermons on Religion. In acknowledging this tribute, Mr. Emerson thus paid tribute to Parker's brave service:—

"We shall all thank the right soldier whom God gave strength to fight for him the battle of the day."

When Mr. Parker's failing forces made it necessary for him to drop his arduous work and go abroad for rest, Mr. Emerson was frequently called to take his place in the Music Hall on Sundays. I think that this was the only pulpit he went into to conduct Sunday services after 1838.

It is told that Parker, sitting, on Sunday morning, on the deck of the vessel that was bearing him away, never to return. Page  606 smiled and said: "Emerson is preaching at Music Hall to-day."

Page 286, note 1. Mr. Emerson wrote in his journal:—

"The Duc de Brancas said, 'Why need I read the Encyclopédie? Rivarol visits me.' I may well say it of Theodore Parker."

Page 290, note 1. Richard H. Dana wrote in his diary, November 3, 1852:—

"It is now ten days since Webster's death. … Strange that the best commendation that has appeared yet, the most touching, elevated, meaning eulogy, with all its censure, should have come from Theodore Parker! Were I Daniel Webster, I would not have that sermon destroyed for all that had been said in my favor as yet."

Page 293, note 1. I copy from Mr. Emerson's journal at the time of Mr. Parker's death these sentences which precede some of those included in this address:—

"Theodore Parker has filled up all his years and days and hours. A son of the energy of New England; restless, eager, manly, brave, early old, contumacious, clever. I can well praise him at a spectator's distance, for our minds and methods were unlike,—few people more unlike. All the virtues are solitaires. Each man is related to persons who are not related to each other, and I saw with pleasure that men whom I could not approach, were drawn through him to the admiration of that which I admire."