He tells of the rhodora, the club-moss, the blooming clover, not of
the hibiscus and the asphodel. He knows the bumblebee, the
blackbird, the bat and the wren. He illustrates his high thought by
common things out of our plain New England life: the meeting of the
church, the Sunday-School, the dancing-school, a huckleberry party,
the boys and girls hastening home from school, the youth in the shop
beginning an unconscious courtship with his unheeding customer, the
farmers about their work in the fields, the bustling trader in the
city, the cattle, the new hay, the voters at a town meeting, the
village brawler in a tavern full of tipsy riot, the conservative who
thinks the nation is lost if his ticket chances to miscarry, the
bigot worshiping the knot-hole through which a dusty beam of light
has looked in upon the darkness, the radical who declares that
nothing is good if established, and the patent reformer who screams
in your unwilling ears that he can finish the world with a single
touch--and out of all these he makes his poetry, or illustrates his
--Theodore Parker's Lecture on Emerson
Among wild animals, members of each species look alike. Horses,
wolves, deer, cattle, quails, prairie-chickens, rabbits--think it
Breeds in birds and animals are formed by taking individual
peculiarities and repeating them through artificial selection until
that which was once peculiar and unique becomes common. White pigeons
are simply albinos. But all breeds in time "run out" and form a type,
just as a dozen kinds of pigeons in a loft will in a few years
degenerate into a flock, where all the members so closely resemble
each other that you can not tell one from another.
A religious denomination or a political party is a breed. When it is
new it has marks of individuality; it means something. In a few years
it reverts to type. Political parties grown old are all equally bad.
They begin as radical and end as conservative. That which began in
virtue is undone through profligacy. Among successful religions there
is no choice--they all have a dash of lavender.
When the man who founded the party, or upon whose name, fame and
influence the party was founded, dies, the many who belong to it are
tinted by the whims and notions of Thomas, Richard and Henry, and it
reverts to type.
Only very strong and self-reliant characters form sects. Moses founded
a denomination which has been kept marvelously pure by persecution,
and healthy by constant migration. Jesus broke away from this sect and
became an independent preacher. Naturally he was killed, for up to
very recent times all independent preachers were killed, and quickly.
Paul took up the teachings of Jesus and interpreted them, and by his
own strong personality founded a religion. Paul was crucified, too,
head downward, and his death was really more dramatic than that of his
chief, but there was a lack of literary men to record it.
So we get the religion of Christ interpreted by Paul, and finally
viseed and launched by a Roman Emperor. Now, countries are this or
that, because the reigning ruler is. This must be so where there is a
state religion and forth thousand priests look to the king for their
pay-envelope and immunity from all taxation. Henry the Eighth and his
daughter Elizabeth decreed that England should be Protestant. They
gave the Catholic clergy the choice of resigning their livings or
swearing allegiance to the new faith. Only seventy-nine out of ten
thousand dropped out. If Mary Tudor and Mary Stuart had succeeded
politically, England would today have been Catholic. The many have no
belief of any kind: they simply accept some one's else belief.
When Constantine professed Christianity, every pagan temple in Rome
became a Christian Church. Had Constantine been circumcised, instead
of baptized, all the pagan temples would have become synagogues, and
every priest a rabbi. They do say it was a Christian woman who
influenced Constantine in favor of Christianity, If so, it is neither
remarkable nor strange. Constantine made the labarum the battle-flag
of Rome. "By this sign I conquer." And he did. So we get the religion
of Jesus, siphoned through the personality of Paul, fused with
paganism, and paganism being the stronger tendency, the whole fabric
reverts to type.
We loose the pouter, the tumbler is forgot, and we get slaty-gray men
and women ruled by ruffed Jacobins.
* * * * *
Christianity is one thing; the religion of the Christ is another.
Christianity is a river into which has flowed thousands upon thousands
of streams, springs, brooks and rills, as well as the sewage of the
cities. In the main it traces to pagan Rome, united with the cool,
rapid-running Rhone of classic Greece. But the waters of placidly
flowing Judaism, paralleling it, have always seeped through, and the
fact that more than half of all Christianity prays to a Jewess, and
that both Jesus and Paul were Jews, should not be forgotten.
The blood of all the martyrs, rebels and revolters who have attempted
to turn the current of this river has tinted its waters. That its
ultimate end is irrigation, and not transportation, is everywhere
To keep religion a muddy, polluted, pestilential river, instead of
allowing it to resolve itself into a million irrigating-ditches, has
been the fight of the centuries. The trouble is that irrigation is
not an end--it is just a beginning. Irrigation means constant and
increasing effort, and priests and preachers have never prayed, "Give
us this day our daily work." Their desire has been to be carried--to
float with the tide, and he who floats is being carried downstream.
Men who have tried to tap the stream and divert its waters to parched
pastures have usually been caught and drowned in its depths. And this
is what you call history.
All new religions have their beginning in exactly this way: they are
streams diverted from the parent waters. And the quality and influence
of the new religion depend upon the depth of the new channel, its
current, and the territory it traverses.
As before stated, most of the rebels were quickly caught, Moses
rebelled from the religion of Egypt; Jesus rebelled from the religion
of Moses; Paul rebelled from Judaism, adopted the name and led the
little following of the martyred Savior; Constantine seized the name
and good-will, and destroyed rebellion and competition by a master
stroke of fusion--when you can not successfully fight a thing, all is
not lost, you can still embrace it; Savonarola was an unsuccessful
rebel from Constantine's composite religion; Luther, Calvin and Knox
successfully rebelled; Henry the Eighth defied the Catholic Church for
reasons of his own and broke from it; Methodism and Congregationalism
broke from both the canal of John Knox and that of Queen Elizabeth and
her lamented father; Unitarianism in New England was a revolt from the
rule of the Congregational Church, and Emerson and Theodore Parker
were rebels from Unitarianism.
Emerson and Parker were irrigators. They gave the water to the land,
instead of trying to keep it for a fishpond. Neither one ever ordered
the populace to cut bait or fall in and drown. As a result we are
enriched with the flowers and fruits of their energies; they
bequeathed to us something more than a threat and a promise--they gave
us the broad pastures, the meadows, the fertile fields, and the lofty
trees with their refreshing shade.
* * * * *
Theodore Parker was the first of his kind in America--an independent,
single-handed, theological fighter--a preacher without a
denomination, dictated to by no bishop, governed by no machine. He has
had many imitators, and a few successors. The number will increase as
the days go by. Parker was a piece of ecclesiastical nebulae thrown
off by the Unitarian denomination, moving through space in its orbit
towards oblivion, the end of all religions, where one childless god
presides, Silence. The destiny of all religions is to die and
fertilize others. It is yet too soon to say what man's final religion
Parker's business was not to start a new world; rather, it was to
collide with old, reeling, wobbling worlds, break them into pieces,
and send these pieces spinning through space.
For fourteen years Theodore Parker spoke at Music-Hall, Boston, every
Sunday, to congregations that varied from a thousand to three
thousand, the capacity of the auditorium. During these years he was
the dominating intellectual factor of Boston, if not all New England.
People went to Boston, for hundreds of miles, just to hear Parker, as
they went to Brooklyn to hear Beecher. And as for many people,
Plymouth Church and Beecher were Brooklyn, so to others Music-Hall and
Parker were Boston.
Churchianity can only be disintegrated by the slow process of erosion.
Joseph Parker's work in London tended to make all English clergymen
who desired freedom, free. For over twenty years he preached every
Thursday noon, and often twice on Sunday. No topic of vital human
interest escaped him. He was a self-appointed censor and critic--
sharp, vigilant, alert, yet commending as well as protesting. The two
Parkers, one in America and one in England, made epochs. In point of
time Theodore Parker comes first, and his discourses were keyed to a
higher strain. Less theatrical than his gifted namesake, not so fluid
nor so picturesque, his thought reduced to black and white reads
better. What Theodore Parker said can be analyzed, parsed, taken
apart. He always had a motif and his verb fetches up. He said things.
His best successor was David Swing, a man so great that the
Presbyterian Church did not need him. Gentle, deliberate, homely,
lovable, eloquent--David Swing was made free by those who had not the
ability to appreciate him, and of course knew not what they did. You
keep freedom by giving it away. Swing swung wide the gates that the
captives might go free. Truly was it said of him that he liberalized
every denomination in the West. Contemporary with Swing was Hiram W.
Thomas, the door of the Methodist cage opening for him, because he
believed in the divinity of everybody. Thomas believed even in the
goodness of bad people. Swing and Thomas prepared the way, and are the
prototypes of these modern saints: Felix Adler, Minot Savage, Brand
Whitlock, B. Fay Mills, Rabbi Fleischer, M. M. Mangasarian, Henry
Frank, Thomas Osborne, John Worthy, Ben Lindsey, Margaret Lagrange,
Levi M. Powers, John E. Roberts, Winifred Sackville Stoner, Sam
Alschuler, Katharine Tingley, James A. Burns, Jacob Beilhart, McIvor
Tyndall, and all the other radiant rationalists in ordinary who
gratify the messianic instinct of their particular group.
It is the unexpected that happens. One of the peculiar, unlooked-for
results of independent preaching was to evolve the sensational
preacher, who, clinging like a barnacle to orthodoxy, sought to meet
the competition of the independent by flaunting a frankness designed
to deceive the unwary. This species announced on blackboards and in
the public prints that he would preach to "Men Only," or "Women Only,"
and his subjects were "Girls, Nice and Naughty," "Baldheads,
Billboards and Bullheads," "Should Women Propose?" "Love, Courtship
and Marriage," "Lums, Tums and Bums," "The Eight Johns," "The Late
Mrs. Potiphar," or some other subject savoring of the salacious.
The Reverend T. DeWitt Talmage was the high priest of all sensational
preachers. He was without the phosphorus to attract an audience of
intellectual people, but he did draw great crowds who came out of
curiosity to see the gyroscopic gyrations. Talmage never ventured far
from shore, and he of all men knew that while the mob would forgive
vulgarity--in fact, really enjoyed it--unsoundness of doctrine was
to it a hissing. Orthodoxy is very tolerant--it forgives everything
but truth. Every fetish of the superstitious and cringing mind,
Talmage repeated over and over in varying phrase. He was the
antithesis of an independent, exactly as Spurgeon was. It is the
fate of every man who lives above the law to be hailed as brother by
some of those who are genuine lawbreakers.
Talmage thought he was an independent, but he was independent in
nothing but oratorical gymnastics. Talmage spawned a large theological
brood who barnstorm the provinces as independent evangelists. These
base, bawling, baseball ranters, who have gotten their pulpit manners
from the bleachers, do little beyond deepening superstition, pandering
to the ignorance of the mob, holding progress back, and securing unto
themselves much moneys. They mark the degeneration of a dying
religion, that is kept alive by frequent injections of sensationalism.
Light awaits them just beyond.
Theodore Parker drew immense audiences, not because he pandered to the
many, but because he deferred to none. He challenged the moss-covered
beliefs of all denominations, and spoke with an inward self-reliance,
up to that time, unknown in a single pulpit of America.
* * * * *
In the year Eighteen Hundred Ten, Lincoln, Darwin, Tennyson,
Gladstone, Elizabeth Browning, Mary Cowden Clarke, Felix Mendelssohn,
Edgar Allan Poe, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Cyrus McCormick were each
and all a year old.
The parents of Theodore Parker had been married twenty-six years, and
been blessed with ten children, the eldest, twenty-five years old, and
the youngest five, when Theodore persistently forced his presence upon
them. Of course, no one suspected at the time that it was Theodore
Parker, but "Theodore" was the name they gave him, meaning, "One sent
from God." That this implied no disrespect to the other members of the
family can be safely assumed.
The Old-World plan of making the eldest son the heir was based upon
the theory that the firstborn possessed more power and vitality than
the rest. The fact that all of Theodore Parker's brothers and sisters
occupy reserved seats in oblivion, and he alone of the brood arrived,
affords basis for an argument which married couples of discreet years
may build upon if they wish.
Theodore Parker was born in the same old farmhouse where his father
was born, three miles from the village of Lexington. The house has now
disappeared, but the site is marked with a bronze tablet set in a
granite slab, and is a place of pilgrimage to many who love their
historic New England.
The house was on a hillside overlooking the valley, pleasant for
situation. Above and beyond were great jutting boulders, over which
the lad early learned to scramble. There he played I-Spy with his
sisters, his brothers regarding themselves as in another class, so
that he grew up a girl-boy, and picked flowers instead of killing
The coming of Spring is always a delight to country children, and it
was a delight that Theodore Parker never outgrew. In many of his
sermons he refers to the slow melting of the snow, and the children's
search for the first Spring flowers that trustingly pushed their way
up through the encrusted leaves on the south side of rotting logs.
Then a little later came the violets, blue and white, anemones, sweet-
william, columbine and saxifrage. In the State House at Boston the
visitor may see a musket bearing a card reading thus: "This firearm
was used by Captain John Parker in the Battle of Lexington, April 19,
1775." Then just beneath this is another musket and its card reads:
"Captured in the War for Independence by Captain John Parker at
Lexington. Presented by Theodore Parker." These two guns were upon the
walls of Theodore Parker's library for over thirty years. And of
nothing pertaining to his life was he so proud as that of the war
record of his grandfather. When little Theodore was four years of age
his sisters would stand him on a chair and ask, "What did grandpa say
to the soldiers?" And the chubby cherub in linsey-woolsey dress would
repeat in a single mouthful, "Do not fire unless fired upon, but if
they mean to have a war let it begin here!"
John Parker, son of the man who captured the first British musket in
the War of the Revolution, lacked the proverbial New England thrift.
Instead of looking after his crops and flocks and herds, he preferred
to putter around a little carpenter-shop attached to the barn, and
make boats and curious windmills, and discuss that wonderful day of
the Nineteenth of April, Seventeen Hundred Seventy-five, when he was
fourteen years old, and had begged to try just one shot from his
father's flintlock at the straggling British, who had innocently
stirred up such a hornets' nest.
That storied twenty-mile march from Boston to Concord was mapped, re-
mapped, discussed and explained, and is still being explained and
wondered at by descendants of the embattled farmers.
All of which is beautiful and well; and he who cavils concerning it,
let his name be anathema. But the actual fact is that, instead of the
War of the Revolution beginning at Lexington, it began several years
before at Mecklenburg, North Carolina, where the mountaineers arose in
revolt against laws made in London and in the making of which they had
no part. There at Mecklenburg over two hundred Americans were killed
by British troops, while the "massacre" at Lexington cost the
Colonists just seven lives.
And the moral seems to be this: Parties about to perform heroic deeds
would do well to choose a place where poets, essayists and historians
abound. It was Emerson who fired the shot heard 'round the world.
* * * * *
All good writing men exercise their privilege to use that little
Pliocene pleasantry about the boy who is not strong enough to work
being educated for a preacher. We are apt to overlook the fact,
however, that the boy not strong enough to work is often the only one
who desires an education--all of this according to Emerson's Law of
Theodore Parker in his youth was slight, slender and sickly, but he
had a great hunger for knowledge. Those who have brawn use it, those
without fall back on brain--sometimes.
It can not be said that Theodore Parker's parents set him apart for
the ministry: he set himself apart and got his education in spite of
them. At fifteen, he once created a small seismic disturbance by
announcing to the family at supper, "I entered Harvard College today."
This educational move was scouted and flouted, and the fact pointed to
that there was not enough money in the ginger-jar to keep him at
Cambridge a week. And then the boy explained that he was going to
borrow books and do his studying at home. He had passed the
examinations and been duly admitted to the freshman class.
Let the fact stand that Theodore Parker kept up his studies for four
years, and would have been entitled to his degree had he not been a
non-resident. In Eighteen Hundred Forty, when Parker was thirty years
of age, Harvard voted him the honorary degree of A.M. This was well,
but if a little delay had occurred Parker would not have been so
honored, and as it was, it was suggested by several worthy persons
that the degree should be taken away without anesthetics. Both Parker
and Emerson seriously offended their Alma Mater and were practically
When eighteen years old Theodore Parker was a fairly prosperous
pedagogue, and at twenty had saved up enough money to go to Harvard
Here he was very studious, and his skill in Greek and Latin made the
professors in dead languages feel to see that their laurels were in
place. Everybody prophesied that the Parker boy would be a great man--
possibly a college professor! Theodore was passing through the
realistic age when every detail must be carefully put in the picture.
He was painstaking as to tenses, conscientious as to the ablative, and
had scruples concerning the King James version of Deuteronomy. About
the same time he fell in love--very much in love. Some one has said
that an Irishman in love is like Vesuvius in a state of eruption. A
theological student in love is like a boy with the hives. Theodore
thought that all Cambridge was interested in his private affairs, so
he wrote to this one and that advising them of the engagement, but
cautioning secrecy, the object of secrecy in such cases being that the
immediate parties themselves may tell everybody. He asked his father's
consent, intimating that it made no difference whether it was
forthcoming or not--the die was cast. He asked the consent of the
girl's parents, and they having a grudge against the Parkers assented.
Having removed all obstacles, the happy couple waited four years, and
were safely married. Lydia Cabot's character can all be summed up in
the word "good." She went through Europe, and remembered nothing but
the wooden bears in Switzerland, of which she made a modest
collection. When her husband preached, her solicitude was that his
cravat might not become disarranged, for once when he was discussing
the condition of sinners after death, his necktie gravitated around
under his ear, and his wife nearly died of mortification. When he
began to lose his hair she consulted everybody as to cures for
baldness, and brought up the theme once at prayer-meeting, making her
appeal to the Throne of Grace. This led Parker to say that the
calamity of being bald was not in the loss of hair; it was that your
friends suddenly revealed that they had recipes concealed on their
person. Before his marriage Parker had positive ideas on the bringing
up of children, and intimated what he proposed to do. But Fate decreed
that he should be childless, that all religious independents might
call him father. There is only one thing better than for a strong man
to marry an absolutely dull woman. She teaches him by antithesis: he
learns by contrast, and her stupidity is ever a foil for his
brilliancy. He soon grows to a point where he does not mentally defer
to her in the slightest degree, but goes his solitary way, making good
that maxim of Kipling, "He travels the fastest who travels alone." He
learns to love the ideal. The mediocre quality of Parker's wife was,
no doubt, a prime factor in bringing out the self-reliant qualities in
his own nature.
Parker's first pastorate was the Unitarian church at West Roxbury, ten
miles from Boston, and an easy drive from Concord and Lexington. This
was in the year Eighteen Hundred Thirty-six, a year memorable to
lovers of Emerson, because it was during that year that the "Essay on
Nature" was issued. It was put forth anonymously, and published at the
author's expense. Doctor Francis Bowen, Dean of Harvard Divinity
School, had denounced the essay as "pantheistic and dangerous." He
also discovered the authorship, and expressed his deep sorrow and
regret that a Harvard man should so far forget the traditions as to
put forth such a work. Theodore Parker came to the defense of Emerson,
and this seems to have been Parker's first radical expression.
Emerson was seven years older than Parker, but Parker had the ear of
the public; whereas at this time Emerson was living in forced
retirement, having been compelled to resign his pastorate in Boston on
account of heretical utterances.
Theodore Parker was very fortunate in his environment. It will hardly
do to say that he was the product of his surroundings, because there
were a good many thousand people living within the radius of Ralph
Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, George Ripley and
William Ellery Channing, who were absolutely unaware of the presence
of these men. The most popular church in Concord today is the Roman
Catholic. Theodore Parker fitted his environment and added his aura to
the transcendental gleam. He was the lodestone that attracted the
Brook-Farmers to West Roxbury. It is easy to say that if these
Utopians had not selected West Roxbury as the seat of the new regime,
they would have performed their transcendental tricks elsewhere; but
the fact remains, they did not.
Parker was on the ground first; Ripley used to come over and exchange
pulpits with him. Charles A. Dana, Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott,
George William Curtis and Henry Thoreau once walked out from Boston to
hear him preach.
All these people exercised a decided influence on Theodore Parker; and
when "The Dial" was published, Parker was one of the first
Parker preached for thinking people--his appeal was not made to punk.
A sermon is a collaboration between the pew and the pulpit; happy is
the speaker with listeners who are satisfied with nothing but his
The Thursday lecture was an institution in Boston intermittently for
two hundred years, being first inaugurated by Anne Hutchinson and the
Reverend John Cotton. The affair was mostly for the benefit of
clergymen, in order that they might hear one another and see
themselves as others saw them. To be invited to give a Thursday
lecture was a great honor.
Theodore Parker was invited to give one; he gave the address and then
was invited back, in order that his hearers might ascertain whether
they had understood correctly. Parker had said that to try to prove
the greatness of Jesus by his miracles was childish and absurd. Even
God was no better or greater through diverting the orderly course of
Nature and breaking His own laws by strange and exceptional acts.
Parker did not try to disprove the matter of miracles. He only said
that wise men would do well not to say anything about them, because
goodness, faith, gentleness and love have nothing to do with the
miraculous, neither does a faith in the miraculous tend to an
increased harmony of life. A man might be a good neighbor, a model
parent and a useful citizen, and yet have no particular views
concerning the immaculate conception.
This all sounds very trite to us: it is so true that we do not think
to affirm it. But then it raised a storm of dissent, and a resolution
was offered expressing regret that the Reverend Theodore Parker had
been invited to address a Boston Christian assemblage. The resolution
was tabled, but the matter had gotten into the papers, and was being
discussed by the peripatetics.
Parker had at his church in Roxbury substituted Marcus Aurelius for
the Bible at one of his services; and everybody knew that Marcus
Aurelius was a Pagan who had persecuted the Christians. Was it the
desire of Theodore Parker to transform Christian Boston into a Pagan
Rome? Parker replied with a sermon showing that Boston sent vast
quantities of rum to the heathen; that many of her first citizens
thrived on the manufacture, export and sale of strong drink; and that
to call Boston a Christian city was to reveal a woeful lack of
knowledge concerning the use of words. About this time there was a
goodly stir in the congregation, some of whom were engaged in the
shipping trade. After the sermon they said, "Is it I--Is it I?" And
one asked, "Is it me?"
The Unitarian Association of Boston notified Theodore Parker that in
their opinion he was no better than Emerson, and it was well to
remember that Pantheism and Unitarianism were quite different. That
night Theodore Parker read the letter, and wrote in his journal as
The experience of the last twelve months shows me what I am to
expect of the next twelve years. I have no fellowship from the other
clergy; no one that helped in my ordination will now exchange
ministerial courtesies with me. Only one or two of the Boston
Association, and perhaps one or two out of it, will have any
ministerial intercourse with me. "They that are younger than I have
me in derision." I must confess that I am disappointed in the
ministers--the Unitarian ministers. I once thought them noble; that
they would be true to an ideal principle of right. I find that no
body of men was ever more completely sold to the sense of
All the agitation and quasi-persecution was a loosening of the
tendrils, and a preparation for transplanting. Growth is often a
painful process. Socially, Parker had been snubbed and slighted by the
best society, and his good wife was in tears of distress because the
meetings of the missionary band were held without her assistance and
elsewhere than at her house.
Here writes Parker:
Now, I am not going to sit down tamely, and be driven out of my
position by the opposition of some and the neglect of others, whose
conduct shows that they have no love of freedom except for
themselves--to sail with the popular wind and tide. I shall do this
when obliged to desert the pulpit because a free voice and a free
heart can not be in "that bad eminence." I mean to live with Ripley
at Brook Farm. I will study seven or eight months of the year; and,
four or five months. I will go about and preach and lecture in the
city and glen, by the roadside and fieldside, and wherever men and
women may be found. I will go eastward and westward, and northward
and southward, and make the land ring; and if this New England
theology that cramps the intellect and palsies the soul of us does
not come to the ground, then it shall be because it has more truth
in it than I have ever found.
Then came the suggestion from Charles M. Ellis, a Boston merchant,
that Parker quit sleepy Roxbury and defy classic Boston by renting the
Melodeon Theater and stating his views, instead of having them
retailed on the street from mouth to mouth. If the orthodox
Congregationalists wanted war, why let it begin there. The rent for
the theater was thirty dollars a day; but a few friends plunged,
rented the theater, and notified Parker that he must do the rest.
Would any one come--that was the question. And Sunday at eleven A. M.
the question answered itself. Then the proposition was--would they
come again? And this like all other propositions was answered by time.
The people were hungry for truth--the seats were filled.
What began as a simple experiment became a fixed fact. Boston needed
An organization was effected, and after much discussion a name was
selected, "The Twenty-eighth Congregational Society of Boston." And
the Orthodox Congregationalists raised a howl of protest. They showed
that Parker was not a Congregationalist at all, and the Parkerites
protested that they were the only genuine sure-enoughs, and anyway,
there was no copyright on the word. Congregational Societies were
independent bodies, and any group of people could organize one who
In the meantime the society flourished, advertised both by its loving
friends and by its frenzied enemies.
Parker grew with the place. The Melodeon was found too small, and
Music-Hall was secured.
The audience increased, and the prophets who had prophesied failure
waited in vain to say, "I told you so."
There sprang up a demand for Parker's services in the Lyceum lecture-
field. People who could not go to Boston wanted Parker to come to
them. His fee was one hundred dollars a lecture, and this at a time
when Emerson could be hired for fifty.
Parker had at first received six hundred dollars a year at Roxbury,
then this had gradually been increased to one thousand a year.
The "Twenty-eighth" paid him five thousand a year, but the Lyceum work
yielded him three times as much. The sons of New England who fight
poverty and privation until they are forty acquire the virtue of
Parker and his wife lived like poor people, as every one should. The
saving habit was upon them. Lydia Parker had her limitations, but her
weakness was not in the line of dress and equipage. She did her own
work, and demanded an accounting from her Theodore as to receipts and
disbursements, when he returned from a lecture-tour. To save money,
she did not usually accompany him on his tours. So God is good. To get
needful funds for personal use he had to juggle the expense-account.
Reformers are supposed to live on half-rations, and preachers are poor
as church mice; but there may be exceptions. Both Emerson and Parker
contrived to collect from the world what was coming to them. Emerson
left an estate worth more than fifty thousand dollars, and Theodore
Parker left two hundred thousand dollars, all made during the last
fourteen years of his life.
Theodore Parker preached at Music-Hall nine hundred sermons. All were
written out with great care, but when it came to delivering them,
although he had the manuscript on his little reading-desk, he seldom
referred to it. The man was most conscientious and had a beautiful
contempt for the so-called extemporaneous speaker. His lyceum lectures
were shavings from his workshop, as most lectures are. But preparing
one new address, and giving on an average four lectures a week, with
much travel, made sad inroads on his vitality. Every phase of man's
relationship to man was vital to him, and human betterment was his one
theme. In Eighteen Hundred Fifty-five he was indicted, along with
Colonel Higginson and William Lloyd Garrison, for violation of the
Fugitive-Slave Law. And when John Brown made his raid, Theodore Parker
was indicted as an "accessory before the fact." Had he been caught on
Virginia soil he would doubtless have been hanged on a sour-apple tree
and his soul sent marching on.
In his sermons he was brief, pointed, direct and homely in expression.
He used the language of the plain people On one occasion he said: "I
have more hay down than I can get in. Whether it will be rained on
before next Sunday I can not say, but I will ask you to use your
imaginations and mow it away."
Again he says: "I do not care a rush for what men who differ from me
do or say, but it has grieved me a little, I confess, to see men who
think as I do of the historical and mythical connected with
Christianity, who yet repudiate me. It is like putting your hand in
your pocket where you expect to find money and discovering that the
gold is gone, and that only the copper is left."
Recently there has been resurrected and regalvanized a story that was
first told in Music-Hall by Theodore Parker on June Nineteenth,
Eighteen Hundred Fifty-six. The story was about as follows:
Once in a stagecoach there was a man who carried on his knees a box,
on which slats were nailed. Now a box like that always incites
curiosity. Finally a personage leaned over and said to the man of
the mysterious package:
"Stranger, may I be so bold as to ask what you have in that box?"
"A mongoose," was the polite answer.
"Oh, I see--but what is a mongoose?"
"Why, a mongoose is a little animal we use for killing snakes."
"Of course, of course--oh, but--but where are you going to kill
snakes with your mongoose?"
And the man replied, "My brother has the delirium tremens, and I
have brought this mongoose so he can use it to kill the snakes."
There was silence then for nearly a mile, when the man of the
Socratic Method had an idea and burst out with, "But Lordy gracious,
you do not need a mongoose to kill the snakes a fellow sees who has
delirium tremens--for they are only imaginary snakes!" "I know,"
said the owner of the box, tapping his precious package gently, "I
know that delirium-tremens snakes are only imaginary snakes, but
this is only an imaginary mongoose."
And the moral was, according to Theodore Parker, that, to appease the
wrath of an imaginary God, we must believe in an imaginary formula,
and thereby we could all be redeemed from the danger of an imaginary
hell. Also that an imaginary disease can be cured by an imaginary
Theodore Parker died in Florence, Italy, in Eighteen Hundred Sixty,
aged fifty years. His disease was an excess of Theodore Parker. His
body lies buried there in Florence, in the Protestant cemetery, only a
little way from the grave of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
At his funeral services held in Boston, Emerson said:
Ah, my brave brother! It seems as if, in a frivolous age, our loss
were immense, and your place can not be supplied. But you will
already be consoled in the transfer of your genius, knowing well
that the nature of the world will affirm to all men, in all times,
that which for twenty-five years you valiantly spoke. The breezes of
Italy murmur the same truth over your grave, the winds of America
over these bereaved streets, and the sea which bore your mourners
home affirms it. Whilst the polished and pleasant traitors to human
rights, with perverted learning and disgraced graces, die and are
utterly forgotten, with their double tongue saying all that is
sordid about the corruption of man, you believed in the divinity of
all, and you live on.