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FIRST IN MANY FIELDS
By FRANK B. SANBORN
OLD this New World is,—geologically more ancient, perhaps, than that hemisphere from whose western edge Columbus set sail, four centuries ago, and found our continent lying across his way, as he plodded to Cathay. Yet, uncounted as our barbarous centuries and antediluvian aeons are, real history begins only with the opening of the seventeenth century, when the English Puritan and the French Jesuit transferred to these shores the unfolding civilization and the rival religions of Western Europe. When we see at Plymouth the wooded glacial hillsides, under which the Pilgrims landed and established democracy in their wilderness, we may remember that their venture, though bolder, because earlier, than that of Bulkeley and Willard, who planted the Concord colony, was yet but fifteen years in advance, and was made beside a friendly ocean, bearing succor and trade, and feeding them from its abundance. But the Concord colonists sat down in the gloomy shadow of the forest, amid trails of the savage and the wolf. Still more heroic was the crusade of the Jesuit in New France; but while romance and martyrdom were his lot, our Puritans planted here the germs of a grand republic.
"God said, I am tired of kings,
I suffer them no more;
Up to my ear the morning brings
The outrage of the poor.
I will divide my goods,
Call in the wretch and slave;
None shall rule but the humble,
And none but Toil shall have.'"
first event in the history of Massachusetts was this planting of a
territorial democracy. The colony of Concord was granted by Winthrop
and his legislature in September, 1635, to Peter Bulkeley, a Puritan
minister, from the little parish of Odell or Woodhill (colloquially
called "Wuddle") in English Bedfordshire, and to Simon
Willard, a merchant, from Hawkshurst in Kent. Twelve other families
were joined with them in the grant, and another minister, Rev. John
Jones, brought other families from England, aiming towards Concord,
in October, 1635. The situation was doubtless chosen by Major
Willard, an Indian trader and in after years a fighter of the
Indians; who also selected and partly colonized two other towns,
farther in the wilderness,—Groton and Lancaster. But the true
father of this Concord, and probably the giver of its name (altering
it from the Indian Musketaquit), was Rev. Peter Bulkeley, ancestor of
its most celebrated citizen, Waldo Emerson. Of this worthy, whose
grave, like that of Moses, is unknown to this day, something should
be said, before we come to later heroes. Peter Bulkeley was the son
of Rev. Edward Bulkeley, a doctor of divinity in English Cambridge,—a
scholar and man of wealth, who was rector of the Bedfordshire parish
just named, where his son was born in 1583. He succeeded his father
there in 1620.
CONCORD RIVER, BY THOREAU'S LANDING
It is in the country of John Bunyan and Cowper the poet, this little parish of Odell. Like Concord River, the Ouse, on which it stands, is unmatched for winding, even in England. Below the old castle of Odell, and the church, still standing, where the Bulkeleys preached, runs this crooked stream, murmuring as it meanders through its fringe of meadowland, green as the richest strip of English pasture can be, which lies between such a river and the low hills that come down towards its edge. This Ouse (there is another in Yorkshire) flows from Bucks, the county of John Hampden, through Bedford, the county of the Russells, and Huntingdon, where Cromwell lived, and finally into the North Sea at Lynn. On the north bank lies the hill upon which Odell stands,—the highway from Sharnbrook to Harrold and Olney (long the home of Cowper) running from east to west along the breast of the hill. The old church standing amid trees—conspicuous is a chestnut of surpassing size and beauty—is directly opposite the ancient castle, now a comfortable and handsome mansion, built some two hundred years ago,—or about the time the oldest houses in Concord were built.
It was no love of adventure, we may be sure, that brought Peter Bulkeley, at the age of fifty-two, from this lovely country into a land of forests and of poverty; but a desire to escape the ecclesiastical tyranny of Laud and his bishops, and to establish a true church in the wilderness. Some difficulties attended even this, for when, in July, 1636, Mr. Bulkeley was about to organize his church at Cambridge, in order to have Sir Henry Vane and John Winthrop (Governor and Deputy Governor that year) present at the ceremony, lo and behold! these great men "took it in ill part, and thought not fit to go, because they had not come to them before, as they ought to have done, and as others had done before them, to acquaint them with their purpose." Again, in April, 1637, when Mr. Bulkeley was to be ordained (also in Cambridge), Winthrop says that Vane and John Cotton and John Wheelwright, and the two ruling elders of Boston "and the rest of that church which were of any note, did none of them come to this meeting." "The reason was conceived to be," adds Winthrop, "because they counted the Concord ministers as legal preachers,"—that is, believers in a covenant of works (of the Law) instead of a covenant of grace. This was the issue upon which Wheelwright and Mrs. Hutchinson were banished, soon after.
Indeed, the ordination of Mr. Bulkeley took place in the very height of that fierce controversy between John Cotton and his former supporters, Wheelwright and Vane, which came near breaking up the little colony; and the Concord minister was one of the synod which, the next August, or perhaps later, specified some eighty doctrinal opinions as erroneous or heretical,—about one error for every two white persons in Concord. The covenant of the village church, however, breathes a more liberal spirit; for in it we find these words, evidently from the hand of Bulkeley:
"Whereas the Lord hath of His great goodness brought us from under the yoke and burdening of men's traditions, to the precious liberty of His ordinances, which we now do enjoy,—we will, according to our places and callings, stand for the maintenance of this liberty, to our utmost endeavor, and not return to any human ordinances from which we have escaped."
And the spirit of his oft-quoted sermon is also a witness to his true piety, whatever his doctrinal narrowness:
"There is no people but will strive to excel in something; what can we (in Concord) excel in, if not in holiness? If we look to number, we are the fewest; if to strength, we are the weakest; if to wealth and riches, we are the poorest of all the people of God through the whole world. We cannot excel nor so much as equal other people in these things; and if we come short in grace and holiness too, we are the most despicable people under Heaven."
Let us hope that the wish of the good pastor was granted, and that he lived to see the fruit of his labors. Yet there is a letter of his, written in 1650 to John Cotton, in which Bulkeley seems to regret the democratic liberty which Emerson, his descendant, never ceased to approve. The Concord minister writes:
"The Lord hath a number of holy and humble ones here amongst us, for whose sakes He doth spare, and will spare long; but, were it not for such a remnant, we should see the Lord would make quick work amongst us. Shall I tell you what I think to be the ground of all this insolency which discovers itself in the speech of men? Truly, I cannot ascribe it so much to any outward thing, as to the putting of too much liberty and power into the hands of the multitude, which they are too weak to manage; many growing conceited, proud, arrogant, self-sufficient. . . . Remember the former days which you had in old Boston; yet the number of professors is far more here than there. But tell me, which place was better governed? When matters were swayed there by your wisdom and counsel, they went on with strength and power for good. But here, where the heady or headless multitude have gotten the power into their hands, there is insolency and confusion; and I know not how it can be avoided, unless we should make the doors of the church narrower."
This was the caution and reversion of age,—for the doubting Peter was then sixty-seven. But Emerson, at the age of sixty, could say, with unabated faith in Freedom:
"Call the people together!
The young men and the sires,
The digger in the harvest field,
Hireling and him that hires;
Lo now, if these poor men
Can govern the land and sea,
And make just laws below the sun,
As planets faithful be."
The experience of the ages has shown that the Puritans were right in making the doors of the church wider, not narrower; though we still hear the complaint of aged men, or young men born with a call to be old, that the former times were better than ours, and the "headless multitude" must be deprived of a voice in their own destiny.
Emerson in 1835, at the two hundredth anniversary of Concord,
proposed to requite England's gift of her printed Doomsday Book by
presenting her and the other European nations with our yet
unpublished town records, he said: "Tell them the Union has 24
States, and Massachusetts is one; that in Massachusetts are 300
towns, and Concord is one: that in Concord are 500 rateable polls,
and every one has an equal vote." To-day there are 45 States;
Massachusetts has 322 towns, besides nearly 30 cities; and instead of
500 ratable polls, Concord has now 1200; but each one still has an
RALPH WALDO EMERSON (1858)
From a sketch by Rowse
Men are carried along, in spite of themselves, by the doctrine or system which they embrace; their life principle, once adopted, has more force than their temporary wish or will. So Calvinism, of which Peter Bulkeley was a fervent disciple, with its constant stress laid on the worth of the individual man, led inevitably to democracy, no matter how much the innate aristocratic feeling of the English gentleman—the class to which Bulkeley belonged—might revolt thereat. It was the same in both countries, the mother and the daughter; Old England and New England found John Calvin leading them along towards the Commonwealth of equal rights and abolished privileges,—towards Sidney and Locke, Franklin and Jefferson, Lincoln and Gladstone.
This, then, is the first historic lesson of Concord, as of all New England,—Democracy through Calvinism, in spite of recalcitrant gentry and reactionary ministers. Philanthropy, too, that modern invention, which may almost be said to have come in with the eighteenth century, and to have had Franklin for its first missionary, began to show itself in our meadowy town, whose very name prefigured it. The epitaph of Rev. John Whiting, parish minister here for twenty-six years (dying in 1752), records that he was "a gentleman of singular hospitality and generosity, who never detracted from the character of any man, and was a universal lover of mankind." This would have been no compliment in Bulkeley's time, when the saints were entitled to be loved, and sinners were excluded; but the eighteenth century set up a higher standard, which has been maintained till now, when the votaries of evolution and the survival of the fittest are teaching a return to the old doctrine,—only reversing it; for now it is the sinners whom we are expected to admire, and to hate the saints.
The second historic lesson of Concord is like unto the first,—but more startling and brilliant. It was the lesson of Revolution, which has been thoroughly learned since 1775. The embattled farmers who, at yonder bridge,
"Fired the shot heard round the world,"
were conservative revolutionists, and as far from anarchy as from atheism. In the instructions given by this town to its representative in 1774,—or rather, in a report made in town-meeting, January loth of that year, in view of the Boston Tea-Party,—it was declared as the voice of the town:
we will, in conjunction with our brethren in America, risk our
fortunes, and even our lives, in defence of his Majesty King George
the Third, his person, crown, and dignity; and will also, with the
same resolution, as his freeborn subjects in this country, to the
utmost of our power and ability, defend all our charter-rights, that
they may be transmitted inviolate to the latest posterity."
THE LIGHT AT THE BRIDGE
Redrawn from Ralph Earle's sketch of 1775
Three months after this, when the Boston Port Bill was in agitation, and two months later, when it had passed Parliament, the farmers of Concord took a bolder tone,— "conscious," as they said in town-meeting, " of no alternative between the horrors of slavery, and the carnage and desolation of a civil war," except non-importation of British goods, to which the good citizens bound themselves. Still later, in a county convention which met in Concord, August 31, 1774, it was resolved:
"That we by no means intend to withdraw our allegiance from our gracious Sovereign; that when our ancestors emigrated from Great Britain, charters and solemn stipulations expressed the conditions, and what particular rights they yielded; what each party had to do and perform, and what each of the contracting parties were equally bound by. Therefore a debtor may as justly refuse to pay his debts, because it is inexpedient for him, as the Parliament deprive us of our charter privileges, because it is inexpedient to a corrupt administration for us to enjoy them. . . . And a sense of our duty as men, as freemen, as Christian freemen, united in the firmest bonds, obliges us to resolve that every civil officer in this Province, now in commission, and acting in conformity to the late act of Parliament, is not an officer agreeable to our charter—therefore unconstitutional, and ought to be opposed. . . . As we are resolved never to submit one iota to the Act, we will not submit to courts thus constituted, and acting in conformity to said Act. . . . In consequence of this resolve, all business at the Inferior Court of Common Pleas, and Court of General Sessions of the Peace, next to be holden in Concord, must cease."
This was peaceful revolution, proceeding, not upon any vague notion of a general "Social Contract," but on formal violations of a written contract, the Colony Charter, as explicitly stated. I ask attention to this, because it has been a favorite fancy of some modern writers, who praise the Puritans and disparage Jefferson and Franklin, that our Revolutionary fathers had gained through those two latitudinarians a glimpse of the levelling French doctrines, and gave themselves up to be guided by Rousseau and Voltaire, in dereliction of their Puritan ancestry. Precisely the opposite is true; the French author whom Jefferson may have had in mind, when he was not thinking of Pym and Hampden, Sergeant Maynard, Locke, and Algernon Sidney,—I mean Montesquieu,—having derived his theories more from the English constitutionalists than they from him. Probably not one of the men of Middlesex, who thus led the way to revolution in this law-abiding town of Concord (the seat of county justice), ever heard of Rousseau; but they were lawyers, deacons, country justices and farmers, accustomed to sit on juries; and they understood the law of contract and the obligations of fair trade as well as any English lord could tell them.
They voted further, on this eventful summer day, that "a Provincial Congress is absolutely necessary, in our present unhappy situation,"—and they named October, and Concord, as a suitable time and place for its assembling. This first Provincial Congress did meet, October 7th, at Salem, but adjourned to Concord that day; it first met here, October 11, 1774, and, finding the county court-house too small for its three hundred members and clerks, and the people who gathered to support them, it moved over to the parish meeting-house (built in 1712), and remained in session there five days, when it removed to Cambridge, for the sake of being nearer Boston, then held as a garrison by British troops. The second Provincial Congress, of 1775, also met in Concord for four weeks of March and April; and it had only been adjourned four days when the British grenadiers made their midnight march from Boston to Lexington, hoping to catch there the arch-rebels Hancock and Sam Adams, who had gone to Lexington as members of the Committee of Public Safety (of which Dr. Warren was chairman), then the executive of Massachusetts under the new revolutionary government. The Provincial Congress, the legislature of the Province, met again for the last time in Concord, April 22, 1775, to consider the results of the eventful 19th. It finally dissolved May 31st, after hearing a sermon from Dr. Langdon, the President of Harvard College; and Concord ceased forever to be the legislative capital of Massachusetts. It became temporarily, however, the seat of Dr. Langdon's College, which in October, 1775, began its recitations in the court-house and meeting-house, and so continued till June, 1776.
Even Harvard College was at that time revolutionary; it gave up its few buildings in Cambridge to the army of Washington, and its president, a cousin of the wealthy New Hampshire patriot, John Langdon, made the prayer for Bunker Hill battle, as the troops marched out of Cambridge to give a feeble support to Prescott and his Middlesex farmers, entrenched on the hill. Washington had not yet reached Cambridge, to take command; had his strategic eye taken in the situation that morning, the result at Bunker Hill would have been different.
Lexington, the town which gave its name to the battle of April, 1775, more decidedly than Concord,—though both names occur from the first,—was an offshoot from the older towns of Cambridge, Watertown and Woburn, rather than an original church seat, and was not established as a town until 1712. A range of hills separates it from the valley of the Musketaquit, and Paul Revere, in his night ride of April 18th, celebrated by Longfellow, could not cross those hills, but left his message of war to be borne on to Concord village by young Prescott, distantly related to Prescott of Bunker Hill. But Lexington, though little more than half so populous as Concord at that time, had a warlike people, many of them descended from the fighting Monros of Scotland, captured by Cromwell, and exiled for their loyalty to the Stuarts. In Lexington they again turned out against the house of Hanover, and they were commanded that April morning by the grandfather of Lexington's most famous son, Theodore Parker. Captain John Parker, though ill on the 19th of April, did his soldier's duty from two in the morning till midnight; and some of his men returned the British fire in early morning, against hopeless odds. Their turn came in the afternoon, when the retreating British were only saved from total defeat by the cannon of Lord Percy. Those first heroes of the Revolution, John Hancock and Samuel Adams, who had been at the Provincial Congress in Concord, at Lexington were in the early morning in the parsonage of Rev. Mr. Clark, a kinsman of Hancock, and narrowly escaped capture by the British soldiers, who had special orders to seize them.
John Pierpont, a poet whose Pegasus balked now and then, in his verses at Acton, April 19, 1851, anticipated Longfellow by this Wordsworthian version of Revere's ride to Lexington:
"The foremost, Paul Revere,
At Warren's bidding has the gauntlet run
Unscathed, and, dashing into Lexington,
While midnight wraps him in her mantle dark,
Halts at the house of Reverend Mister Clark."
THE BATTLE OF LEXINGTON, APRIL 19, 1775
From an old print.
As compared with Concord, though both were rural towns, Lexington was then, and long remained, more rustic than its westward neighbor; with less trade, less culture and fewer of the tendencies toward literature which early showed themselves in the parish of the Bulkeleys and Emersons. When Theodore Parker, in his career of scholarship and reform, began to look outward from his father's Lexington farm, it was towards Concord, as well as towards Boston, that he turned his eyes; he taught a district school in Concord, and preached in its pulpit as a candidate to stand beside Dr. Ripley, the pastor of the Old Manse. In after years he thus described the event which gave Lexington its chief title to fame, before Parker's own birth there:
"The war of Revolution began at Lexington, to end at Yorktown. Its first battle was on the Nineteenth of April. Hancock and Adams lodged at Lexington with the minister. In the raw morning, a little after daybreak, a tall man, with a large forehead under a three-cornered hat, drew up his company of 70 men on the Green,—farmers and mechanics like himself; only one is left now (1850, the boy who played the men to the spot. (It was Jonathan Harrington the fifer.) They wheeled into line to wait for the Regulars. The captain ordered every man to load his piece with powder and ball. 'Don't fire,' were his words, 'unless fired upon; but if they want a war, let it begin here.' The Regulars came on. Some Americans offered to run away from their post. Captain Parker said, 'I will order the first man shot dead that leaves his place.' The English commander cried out, 'Disperse, you rebels! lay down your arms and disperse!' Not a man stirred. 'Disperse, you damned rebels!' shouted he again. Not a man stirred. He ordered the vanguard to fire; they did so, but over the heads of our fathers. Then the whole main body levelled their pieces, and there was need of ten new graves in Lexington. A few Americans returned the shot. British blood stained the early grass which waved in the wind. 'Disperse and take care of yourselves!' was the captain's last command. There lay the dead, and there stood the soldiers; there was a battle-field between England and America—never to be forgot, never to be covered over. The Mother-country of the morning was the enemy at sunrise. Oh, what a glorious morning is this!' said Samuel Adams."
Seven men had been killed on the spot, nine wounded,—a quarter-part of all who had stood in arms on the Green, under the eyes of Hancock and Adams.
One of the Lexington Munroes, Ensign Robert, was the first man killed by Pitcairn's volley; he was sixty-four years old, and had been color-bearer in the capture of Louisburg by assault in 1745. Two of his sons and two sons-in-law were in his company on Lexington Green, and eleven of the Munroe clan were in arms that day. Captain Parker did not long survive the battle, dying the next September; but when the Civil War came on, his grandson Theodore had bequeathed to Massachusetts, and Governor Andrew had placed in her Senate Chamber, beside the trophies sent by Stark from Bennington, "two fire-arms, formerly the property of my honored grandfather,—to wit, the large musket or King's arm, which was by him captured from the British in the battle of Lexington, and which is the first fire-arm taken from the enemy in the war for Independence; and also the smaller musket used by him in that battle."
Parker had died in May, 1860.
MUSKETS OF CAPTAIN JOHN PARKER
Pitcairn and his redcoats, delayed only half an hour by this bloody overture to Washington's grand career, marched on towards Concord, little knowing what would meet them there. As they climbed the hills in Lexington and Lincoln, they could surmise, however, that the country was rising, for the church-bells were ringing an alarm of fire. Pierpont, at Acton, overlooking the neighboring towns named by him, gave the geography of this rising in spirited couplets:
"Now Concord's bell, resounding many a mile,
Is heard by Lincoln, Lincoln's by Carlisle,
Carlisle's by Chelmsford,—and from Chelmsford's swell
Peals the loud clangor of th' alarum bell,
Till it o'er Bedford, Acton, Westford spreads,
Startling the morning dreamers from their beds."
These are the small towns lying along the Concord and Merrimac rivers, and their tributaries, which sent forth the minute-men to fight at Concord Bridge.
Prescott had done his warning work well; and as Emerson said in 1835:
"In these peaceful fields, for the first time since a hundred years (King Philip's War), the drum and alarm-gun were heard, and the farmers snatched down their rusty firelocks from the kitchen walls, to make good the resolute words of their town debates. These poor farmers acted from the simplest instincts; they did not know it was a deed of fame they were doing."
It was Emerson's grandfather, the town minister, who met them on Concord Green, before his church, and who entered that night in his almanac the events he had witnessed, as soon to be quoted.
By the 17th of June, Massachusetts had an army; but when the Concord farmers made their appeal to arms, two months earlier, it was the spontaneous uprising of an armed people to maintain their own votes and defend their threatened homes. This it is, and not their military achievement, striking as that was, which gives their town a place in martial history. The unregenerate imagination of mankind still delights, after so many centuries of barbarous warfare, in the recital of deeds of battle and the conquering march of great soldiers; Alexander and Cæsar—even Hannibal and Bonaparte—continue to receive admiration for their victories; but the purer fame of Washington rests on the accomplishment of that for which the men of Middlesex rushed to arms on the 19th of April, 1775. As Emerson, our Washington in the field of literature, said, "If ever men in arms had a spotless cause, they had."
"Behold our river bank,
Whither the angry farmers came
In sloven dress and broken rank, —
Nor thought of fame:
Their deed of blood
All mankind praise;
Even the serene Reason says
'It was well done.' "
had been the normal state of Europe; and from the hour when Bulkeley
and Willard made here their honest bargain with the red landlords of
these game preserves, cornfields, and fishing-places, down to the
Franco-German campaigns of 1870,—235 years,—there had been
scarcely a period of twenty peaceful years in that hemisphere. With
us it was different; but for the strife between France and England,
in which the colonies were more or less entangled, Massachusetts had
seen no warfare in her borders for nearly a century, when the
insolence of the mother-country forced independence upon us against
our will. Yet the fight at the North Bridge was no impromptu affair,
as the utterances of our Concord yeomen show. They had declared they
would fight for King George or against him, as His Majesty might
elect; and when he had made his foolish choice they did not
hesitate,—much as they had reason to dread the ordeal by combat.
And here again came in the spirit of Calvinism, rallying to the Old
Testament, rather than to the New with its gospel of peace and
love,—its amnistie générale,
as poor Trilby says. The
grandfather of Emerson (who was also the great-great-great-grandson
of Peter Bulkeley) was parish minister of Concord; he had been
chaplain to the Provincial Congress, and he died in Vermont, as
chaplain in the Revolutionary army of General Gates. Five weeks
before the invasion of his parish by the redcoats, he had preached to
the militia companies gathered in this town for review, a famous
sermon from the text, "And behold, God Himself is with us for
our Captain, and His priests with sounding trumpets to cry alarm
against you." He was as good as his word, for he was one of the
first to take his musket and join the minute-men in the early morning
of the 19th of April; and returning to the Old Manse (then the new
manse, for it was built for him and his bride a few years earlier) to
protect his family, he saw the brief fight at the bridge from his
study window, and wrote of the day's doings this brief chronicle of
an eye-witness. His grandson found it in a page or two of his family
almanac, where, at the end of April, he wrote, "This month
remarkable for the greatest events of the present age."
French's first statue.
"This morning, between 1 and 2 o'clock, we were alarmed by the ringing of the bell, and upon examination found that the troops, to the number of 800, had stole their march from Boston, in boats and barges, from the bottom of the Common over to a point in Cambridge, near to Inman's Farm, and were at Lexington Meetinghouse, half an hour before sunrise, where they fired upon a body of our men, and (as we afterward heard) had killed several. This intelligence was brought us first by Dr. Samuel Prescott, who narrowly escaped the guard that were sent before on horses, purposely to prevent all posts and messengers from giving us timely information. He, by the help of a very fleet horse, crossing several walls and fences, arrived at Concord at the time above mentioned; when several posts were immediately despatched, that returning confirmed the account of the regulars' arrival at Lexington, and that they were on their way to Concord. Upon this, a number of our minute-men belonging to this town, and Acton, and Lincoln, with several others that were in readiness, marched out to meet them; while the alarm company were preparing to receive them in the town. Capt. Minot, who commanded them, thought it proper to take possession of the bill above the Meeting-house, as the most advantageous situation. No sooner had our men gained it, than we were met by the companies that were sent out to meet the troops, who informed us that they were just upon us, and that we must retreat, as their number was more than treble ours. We then retreated from the hill near the Liberty Pole, and took a new post back of the town upon an eminence, where we formed into two battalions, and waited the arrival of the enemy.
"Scarcely had we formed, before we saw the British troops at the distance of a quarter of a mile, glittering in arms, advancing towards us with the greatest celerity. Some were for making a stand, notwithstanding the superiority of their number; but others, more prudent, thought best to retreat till our strength should be equal to the enemy's, by recruits from the neighboring towns that were continually coming in to our assistance. Accordingly we retreated over the bridge; when the troops came into the town, set fire to several carriages for the artillery, destroyed 60 bbls. flour, rifled several houses, took possession of the Town-house, destroyed 500 lb. of balls, set a guard of 100 men at the North Bridge, and sent a party to the house of Col. Barrett, where they were in expectation of finding a quantity of warlike stores. But these were happily secured just before their arrival, by transportation into the woods and other by-places.
"In the meantime the guard set by the enemy to secure the pass at the North Bridge were alarmed by the approach of our people; who had retreated as before mentioned, and were now advancing, with special orders not to fire upon the troops unless fired upon. These orders were so punctually observed that we received the fire of the enemy in three several and separate discharges of their pieces, before it was returned by our commanding officer; the firing then became general for several minutes; in which skirmish two were killed on each side, and several of the enemy wounded. (It may here be observed by the way, that we were the more cautious to prevent beginning a rupture with the King's troops, as we were then uncertain what had happened at Lexington, and knew not that they had begun the quarrel there by first firing upon our people, and killing eight men upon the spot.) The three companies of troops soon quitted their post at the bridge, and retreated in the greatest disorder and confusion to the main body, who were soon upon their march to meet them.
"For half an hour the enemy, by their marches and countermarches, discovered great fickleness and inconstancy of mind,—sometimes advancing, sometimes returning to their former posts; till at length they quitted the town and retreated by the way they came. In the meantime, a party of our men (150), took the back way through the Great Fields into the East Quarter, and had placed themselves to advantage, lying in ambush behind walls, fences and buildings, ready to fire upon the enemy on their retreat."
account differs slightly from others, and omits many particulars; it
is the most valuable single version of the memorable skirmish at the
Bridge,—in itself trifling, but momentous in its results. Parson
Emerson was himself one of those who wished to meet the troops near
his own meeting-house, but was wisely overruled. He says that two
British soldiers were killed at the Bridge—Shattuck, the town
historian, says three; the difference is accounted for by a dismal
tale which Hawthorne was perhaps the first to print. He derived it,
he says, from Lowell, the poet, who had picked it up, no doubt, in
his short residence at Concord in the spring of 1838, when
"rusticated" here from Harvard College. It may be read in
the Mosses from an Old Manse, wherein is found one of the best
pictures of our peaceful scenery, —so far removed from thought of
HAWTHORNE'S OLD MANSE
"A youth," says Hawthorne, "in the service of the clergyman [Parson Emerson], happened to be chopping wood, that April morning, at the back door of the Manse; and when the noise of battle rang from side to side of the Bridge, he left his task and hurried to the battle-field, with the axe still in his hand. The British had by this time retreated, the Americans were in pursuit; and the late scene of strife was thus deserted by both parties. Two soldiers lay on the ground—one was a corpse—but, as the young New Englander drew nigh, the other Briton raised himself painfully upon his hands and knees, and gave a ghastly stare in his face. The boy—it must have been a nervous impulse, without purpose—uplifted his axe, and dealt the wounded soldier a fierce and fatal blow upon the head."
To a certain extent, Bancroft, in his account of the fight, confirms this tale, saying:
"The Americans acted from impulse, and stood astonished at what they had done. They made no (immediate) pursuit, and did no further harm,—except that one wounded soldier, rising as if to escape, was struck on the head by a young man with a hatchet. The party at Col. Barrett's might have been cut off, but was not molested."
is traditional that when this party, which had been sent to destroy
the military stores at Colonel James Barrett's, two miles to the
westward, came back to the Bridge, alarmed by the firing, and saw
their countrymen lying dead there, one of them with his head laid
open, they were struck with fear and ran on to the main body in the
village, telling of what they had seen. And it was this single
incident, very likely, which led the English officers, and Lord Percy
himself, to report "that the rebels scalped and cut off the ears
of some of the wounded who fell into their hands." Bancroft
indignantly denies this, saying, "The falsehood brings dishonor
on its voucher; the people whom Percy reviled were among the mildest
and most compassionate of their race,"—which is true.
It is no wonder that the British troops on their flight back to Boston that day, pursued and ambuscaded by hundreds and thousands of the aroused militia of Middlesex and Essex counties, should themselves have committed some barbarities,—for their defeat and humiliation were great. They lost in course of the day 273 men and officers,—more than had fallen on that glorious day-sixteen years before, when Wolfe died in the arms of victory at Quebec. The loss of the yeomanry was only ninety-one—a third of the British loss,—while all the trophies and circumstances of victory were on the American side. From that day, the Revolution was begun,—to end only with the creation of a new republic. Concord, as President Dwight said, "prefaced the history of a nation, the beginning of an empire." "Man," he added, "from the events that have occurred here, will in some respects assume a new character; and experience a new destiny." Hence the interest with which the world, from that day forward, began to look on this little town.
Yet the prominence of Concord in the revolutionary century that followed her skirmish at the Bridge and along the Lexington road was in part accidental; for Boston and Virginia were the two foci of the American revolt, and Concord became famous chiefly because it was near Boston. It was otherwise with the literary revolution that began sixty years later, with Emerson for its Washington,—and with results that seem as permanent, and in some sort as important, as those which Washington secured to his countrymen. In 1835, when Emerson's literary career may be said to have fairly begun, America had maintained her political independence, but had lost much of her political principle: she was powerful without moral progress, and without either a profound philosophy or an original literature.
The beginnings of poetry and art were visible, but they were more in promise than in performance. Our political writings, though disparaged by Jeremy Bentham, were coming to be recognized as among the foremost; but we had little else that Europe cared to read,—a few sketches by Irving, a dozen novels by Cooper, two or three sermons and as many essays by Channing.
the stagnation of this shallow pool of American letters, Emerson, in
1836, cast the smooth stone of his philosophical first book,—Nature.
It made little immediate stir; the denizens of the pool paid small
heed to it, and few of them guessed what it meant. It was written in
Concord, and chiefly at the Old Manse, where Emerson dwelt with his
mother and kindred before his second marriage in 1835, and where
Hawthorne afterward made the house and himself widely known. The
fixing of his own residence in this town by Emerson was due in part
to ancestry, and still more to a perception of the fitness of the
region for the abode of a poet and sage. The same perception, by
Hawthorne, Alcott, Ellery Channing and others,—together with the
important fact that it was Emerson's chosen retreat,—brought those
literary men here. Thoreau, the most original and peculiar genius of
the whole group, was born here, and never had much inclination to
leave Concord, although in youth he talked of adventuring to the wild
West, —Kentucky and Illinois at that time,—whither his friend,
Ellery Channing, afterward did in fact go. Around Emerson, this
circle, with many who only lived here temporarily (like Margaret
Fuller and George William Curtis), or not at all, gathered as friends
and brothers, or else as disciples,—and thus the name of Concord
became associated, and justly, with a special and remarkable school
of thought and literature. Thousands now visit the graves of these
worthies, to which, and to their haunts in life—their walks and
seats and sylvan places of resort,—an increasing host of pilgrims
come year by year.
HENRY THOREAU (1857)
The Arabs have a proverb,—"Though a hundred deserts separate the heart of the Faithful from the Kaaba of Mecca, yet there opens a window from its sanctuary into thy soul." For those who have the true inward illumination, therefore, pilgrimage is not needful; yet to all it is agreeable, and it has been the practice of mankind for ages, and will be, so long as we remain ourselves but pilgrims and wayfarers on this earth. Nasar, the son of Khosrou, who wrote in the time of Haroun Al-Rashid, and called his book The Traveller's Wallet, was not the first, nor Bunyan, with his Pilgrim's Progress, the last, to look on life as a journey; but let us hear what that Persian says of it:
"Man, endowed with intellect, must search into the origin of his existence,—whence he came, and whither he shall go,—reflecting that in this world he is making a toilsome journey, without stop or stay,—not even for the twinkling of an eye,—until he has traversed the measure of that line which marks the time allotted for his existence. For that we are but pilgrims here on earth, God has mysteriously declared."
attraction of Emerson and the rest of the Concord authors, whose
homes or tombs so many pilgrims visit, comes chiefly from the
recognition by them of this search by mankind after the
Infinite,—their insight into the nature and worth of this
pilgrimage of life which all are making. Man loves and seeks
amusement to beguile his toilsome or monotonous journey, —and hence
the pleasure so many take in the lighter and more graceful or
laughable forms of literature. But sooner or later, and in many
persons at all times, what Tennyson calls "the riddle of the
painful earth" is before us all for consideration, if not for
solution. We see that the universe is moral,—even if we cannot read
the moral aright,—and we seek those who can give us "the word
of the enigma," as the French say. Emerson gave it in his
manner, Hawthorne in his, Thoreau in still another way; and these
three Concord authors not only had much vogue in their lifetime, but
are yet more widely read since their death. Others, like Ellery
Channing, found little audience in youth, and time has not yet
essentially enlarged the circle of their readers. With the same moral
view of life which his more successful friends took, Channing, the
poet (who must always be distinguished from Dr. Channing, the divine,
his uncle), had in his style something of that distraction which
Montaigne declares is needful to poets.
GRAVES OF THE EMERSON FAMILY
"The precepts of the masters," says this eccentric Gascon, "and still more their example, tell us that we must have a little insanity, if we would avoid even more stupidity. A thousand poets drawl and languish in prose; but the best ancient prose (and 'tis the same with verse) glows throughout with the vigor and daring of poesy, and takes on an air of inspiration. The poet, says Plato" (and here Montaigne gives his own quaint form to the familiar passage in Plato's Laws), "sitting on the Muses' tripod, pours out like mad all that comes into his mouth, as if it were the spout of a fountain; without digesting or weighing it. So things escape him of various colors, of opposite natures, and with intermittent flow. Plato himself is wholly poetic; the old theology, say the scholars, is all poetry; and the First Philosophy is the original language of the gods."
To this wild rule more than one of the Concord philosophers conforms; there is a perceptible lack of method, even when their meaning is fairly clear. Hawthorne incurs less of this censure than the rest; but he confessed that he did not always comprehend his own allegories, nor know exactly the moral he would insinuate. Emerson goes more directly to his mark; a Frenchman (Chantavoine) has said of him, "In his Essays he is first of all a philosophic moralist, never quite forgetting that he was once a preacher." But, in contrasting him with French writers, Chantavoine admits that Emerson has something which the light and brilliant Parisian essayists lack:
"We are afraid, I suppose, of losing touch with things, if we rise much above them; we do not soar high, content to skim the surface; we distrust those generalities, however eloquent or edifying, which might lead us too far aside. Yet, should we borrow something of Emerson's manner, French criticism, both historical and literary, would gain by it; there might possibly be less ease, less lightness of touch, less glancing wit in our essays; but in return there would be more earnestness and depth in our judgments on men and affairs."
was a reader and admirer of French prose; he did not find much poetry
in French verse. The glancing of his wit was as quick and searching
as that of Paris; but he belongs more to the literature of the world
than most of the French prose authors since Montaigne and Pascal. In
American literature he is unique; so, in his very different way, is
Thoreau; so is Hawthorne; and no American, not even one of these
three, can be compared with any of them on terms of similarity. There
is that in their best writing which puts us upon our best thinking,
and leads us along the upper levels of life. Particularly is this
true of Emerson; Virtue, radiant, serene and sovereign, sways the
realm where Emerson abides, and to which he welcomes his readers, who
become his friends. It was said of Socrates, in a dubious compliment
, that he "brought philosophy down from heaven to earth";
it might as truly be said of Emerson that he raises earth to the
level of divine philosophy. His method in this is purely poetic;
therefore, while in verse he lacks what is usually called creative
power, he brings with him the atmosphere of poesy more constantly
than any modern poet; nor, since Milton, Spenser, and Shakespeare,
has any English poet excelled him in this. To this quality, as well
as to his courage of opinion and his penetrating insight, do we owe
it that he first proclaimed our intellectual independence of the
mother-country, as Franklin, Washington and Jefferson declared our
political independence. There is, indeed, a certain resemblance
between Washington and Emerson which might escape the notice of those
who look chiefly at the totally different work each had to do, and
the diversity of life and opinion which contrasted Virginia and New
England so sharply.
HOME OF EMERSON
It must be confessed that, in 1732, Concord was hardly so constituted as naturally to give birth to Washingtons; indeed, Virginia produced but this one, amid all her great men. The extreme narrowness of Puritan opinion, even when modified by Baptists and Quakers, was not favorable to the rise of men like the great Virginians of the eighteenth century. A milder intellectual climate, a temper less given to disputes about faith and works, election and reprobation, was needful to produce characters so broad, so moderate, and yet so firm, as Washington's. New England did give birth to Franklin, in the very midst of Mathers and Sewalls; but he had to slip away to Philadelphia, in order to grow into his full stature as philanthropist and philosopher. The intolerance of New England deprived us, for more than a century, of the opportunity to produce genius and the gentler forms of heroism. We had the Adamses to set the Revolution on foot, the soldiers of New Hampshire and rural New England to fight its battles; but its noblest leader must come to us from the Potomac, and take us back there, when the long fight was won, to establish our government beside its waters, in sight of his own broad domain. It was not till this century, now declining, that Concord could show an intellectual Washington; and Emerson must be born in Boston, less provincial than our meadowy village, our "rural Venice," as Thoreau called it in times of river-freshet.
Naturally, when men appear on earth of Washington's or of Emerson's stamp, there has been a long preparation for their advent. They are not found among Hottentots or corn-crackers, 'longshoremen or cowboys; but in some long-tilled garden of the human species, where certain qualities have been inbred by descent and betterment for many generations. Poverty may be their birthright, as in the case of that greatest of Washington's successors, Abraham Lincoln, but the experiences that are transmuted by descent into greatness are quite as often those of poverty as of wealth. Self-reliance, veracity, courage, and the gift of command are essentials in the founders and preservers of nations; these are fostered in all new colonies, and therefore were common qualities in New England, as in Kentucky and Virginia, in their early years. But among the planters of Virginia there grew up a form of society, now forever extinct there, in which these high qualities, together with courtesy and breadth of view, were cultivated and flourished to an extent which the Calvinistic rigors and enforced economies of New England never knew. That petty system of inquiring into creeds and points of doctrine which our ancestors brought with them from the Puritan parishes of England, and which was increased here by infusions from Scotland, and the tyranny of ecclesiastical control in Massachusetts and Connecticut, was not wholly unknown in Virginia; but its ill effects were dissipated by the customs of large landholding, outdoor sports, and certain traditions of honor and breeding which the best of the Virginians brought with them from England, and kept up by their habit of frequent intercourse with the mother-country.
It was no sin in Virginia to dance and play the fiddle; the Anglican Church, while prescribing a formal creed, did not concern itself to inquire every Sunday, or every Thursday, into all the dogmatic abstractions of the Westminster Assembly's Catechism, longer or shorter; men's minds were left to take the course most natural to them. But in New England, along with much acute speculation (the best type of which is Jonathan Edwards), there went a morbid conscientiousness, turning its eyes upon inward and even petty matters, and leading to numberless quarrels about Original Sin, Half-way Covenants, Justification by Faith, etc. Concord was less infested by this carping, persecuting, quarrelsome spirit than most of New England; yet the church records, and the collections of old Dr. Ripley, show there was much of it. Emerson declares, and justly, that good sense has marked our town annals: "I find no ridiculous laws, no eaves-dropping legislators, no hanging of witches, no ghosts, no whipping of Quakers, no unnatural crimes." But the spirit which led to these mischiefs in other regions of Massachusetts and Connecticut was all about us; and it narrowed the minds and the opportunities of Concord before the Revolution. It was chiefly in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont, where ecclesiastical domination was less rigid, that mental freedom manifested itself. In the other colonies of the North, wealth and culture were apt to be on the side of England, when our troubles began; in Virginia and the Carolinas, and to some extent in New Hampshire and Maine, wealth took the colonial side.
may call the imaginative force and breadth of the Concord authors
"Shakespearian" for lack of a better word; but there was a
man of singular mental penetration sometimes visiting here,— Jones
Very, of Salem,—who once made a wider generalization—whether
wisely or not. When Very was asked to discriminate betwixt Wisdom and
Genius, he said, "Wisdom is of God; Genius is the decay of
Wisdom"; adding in explanation, "To the pre-existent
Shakespeare, wisdom was offered; he did not accept it, and so he died
away into genius." We had a superior sage here (Bronson Alcott),
who had little of the Shakespearian genius, but much of that mystic
wisdom which every thought older and nobler than genius. Religion was
his native air,—the religion of identity, not of variety; he could
not be polytheistic, as many Christians are, even while fancying
themselves the most orthodox worshippers of the One God. He had that
intense application of the soul to one side of this sphere of life,
which led him to neglect the exercise of intellectual powers that
were amply his. His gift it was, not to expand our life into
multiplicity,—which was the tendency of Emerson, as of Goethe and
Shakespeare,—but to concentrate multiplicity in unity, seeking ever
the ONE source whence flow these myriad manifestations. His friends
used to call him, in sport, the "Vortical philosopher,"
because his speculations all moved vortically toward a centre, or
were occupied with repeating one truth in many forms. He was a votary
of the higher Reason; not without certain foibles of the saint; but
belonging unmistakably to the saintly order. Of course he was the
mock of the market-place, as all but the belligerent saints are; but
he was a profound, vivifying influence in the lives of the few who
recognized his inward light.
A. BRONSON ALCOTT (1875)
Alcott, in his old age,—he was in his eightieth year when the
experiment began,— came the impulse to that later manifestation of
the same spirit which had led Emerson and his youthful friends to the
heights and depths of Transcendentalism. I speak of the Concord
School of Philosophy, which, in the last years of Emerson and Alcott,
and with the co-operation of disciples of other philosophic opinion,
gave to the town a celebrity in some degree commensurate with its
earlier reputation. It began in the library of Alcott's Orchard
House, where his genial daughter, Louisa, had written several of her
charming books; it was continued in a chapel, built for the purpose,
under the lee of Alcott's pine-clad hill, and amid his orchard and
vineyard. It brought to reside in Concord that first of American
philosophers, Dr. W. T. Harris; and it gathered hundreds of eager or
curious hearers to attend the lectures and debates on grave subjects
which a learned body of teachers gave forth. It continued in
existence from the summer of 1879 to that of 1888, when its lessons
were fitly closed with a memorial service for Bronson Alcott, its
founder, who had died in March, 1888. As was said by the Boston wit
of the fight on the 19th of April," The Battle of Lexington;
Concord furnished the ground, and Acton the men,"—so it might
be said of this summer university, that Concord provided chiefly the
place in which St. Louis and Illinois, New York and Boston, Harvard
and Yale, held converse on high topics. Yet Concord gave the school
hospitality, and several of its famous authors took part in the
exercises, —sometimes posthumously, by the reading of their
manuscripts, as in the case of Thoreau.
LOUISE M. ALCOTT
with the events and the literature that have given our town a name
throughout the world, there has flowed quietly the stream of civil
society, local self-government and domestic life; broadened at
critical times by manifestations of political energy, in which
families like those of Hoar, Heywood, Barrett, Whiting, Robinson,
Gourgas, etc., have distinguished themselves. Benefactors like
Munroe, who built the Public Library, Dr. Ripley, who for half a
century filled the pulpit and took pastoral care, and John Tileston,
who brought the public schools to their present useful form; soldiers
of the Civil War, like Colonel Prescott and Lieutenant Ripley, and
hundreds of unnamed soldiers in the battle of life, —women no less
than men,— have given their innumerable touch of vigor and grace to
the ever-building structure of Concord life. Painters of our own have
added color, and sculptors like French, Elwell and Ricketson have
adorned the town with art. And so we pass on into the new century,
with no conscious loss of vital power,—yet with a keen regret for
the great men who have gone from among us.