CHAPTER FOURTEEN. LEXINGTON AND CONCORD
Concord remains and Lexington remains, simply because no real estate boom has yet reached them but Bunker Hill, there is a feeling that apartments would rent better if the musty associations of the spot were obliterated by some such name as "Buckingham Heights," or "Commonwealth Crest;" "The Acropolis" has been prayerfully considered by the freemen of the modern Athens; - whatever the decision may be, certain it is the name Bunker Hill is a heavy load for choice corners in the vicinity.
There are a few old names still left in Massachusetts, - Jingleberry Hill and Chillyshally** Brook sound as if they once meant something; Spot Pond, named by Governor Winthrop, has not lost its birthright; Powder-Horn Hill records its purchase from the Indians for a hornful of powder - probably damp; Drinkwater River is a good name, - Strong Water Brook by many is considered better. It is well to record these names before they are effaced by the commercialism rampant in the suburbs of Boston.
At the Town Hall in Lexington we turned to the right for East Lexington, and made straight for Follen Church, and the home of Dr. Follen close by, where Emerson preached in 1836 and 1837.
The church was not built until 1839. In January, 1840, the congregation had assembled in their new edifice for the dedication services. They waited for their pastor, who was expected home from a visit to New York, but the Long Island Sound steamer - Lexington, by strange coincidence it was called - had burned and Dr. Follen was among the lost. His home is now the East Lexington Branch of the Public Library.
We climbed the stairs that led to the small upper room where Emerson filled his last regular charge. Small as was the room, it probably more than sufficed for the few people who were sufficiently advanced for his notions of a preacher's mission. He did not believe in the rites the church clung to as indispensable; he did not believe in the use of bread and wine in the Lord's Supper; he did not believe in prayers from the pulpit unless the preacher felt impelled to pray; he did not believe in ritualism or formalism of any kind, - in short, he did not believe in a church, for a church, however broad and liberal, is, after all, an institution, and no one man, however great, can support an institution. A very great soul - and Emerson was a great soul - may carry a following through life and long after death, but that following is not a church, not an institution, not a living organized body, until forms, conventions, and traditions make it so; its vitalizing element may be the soul of its founder, but the framework of the structure, the skeleton, is made up of the more or less rigid conventions which are the results of natural and logical selection.
The ritual of Rome, the service of England, the dry formalism of Calvinism, the slender structure of Unitarianism were all equally repugnant to Emerson; he could not stretch himself in their fetters; he was not at ease in any priestly garment. Born a prophet, he could not become a priest. By nature a teacher and preacher, he never could submit to those restrictions which go so far to make preaching effective. He taught the lesson of the ages, but he mistook it for his own. He belonged to humanity, but he detached himself. He was a leader, but would acknowledge no discipline. Men cried out to him, but he wandered apart. He was an intellectual anarchist of rare and lovely type; few sweeter souls ever lived, but he defied order.
Not that Emerson would have been any better if he had submitted to the discipline of some church; he did what he felt impelled to do, and left the world a precious legacy of ideas, of brilliant, beautiful thoughts; but thoughts which are brilliant and beautiful as the stars are, scattered jewels against the background of night with no visible connection. Is it not possible that the gracious discipline of an environment more conventional might have reduced these thoughts to some sort of order, brought the stars into constellations, and left suggestions for the ordering of life that would be of greater force and more permanent value?
His wife relates that one day he was reading an old sermon in the little room in the Follen mansion, when he stopped, and said, "The passage which I have just read I do not believe, but it was wrongly placed."
The circumstance illustrates the openness and frankness of his mind, but it is also a commentary on the want of system in his intellectual processes. His habit through life was to jot down thoughts as they came to him; he kept note-books and journals all his life; he dreamed in the pine woods by day and walked beneath the stars by night; he sat by the still waters and wandered in the green fields; and the dreams and the visions and the fancies of the moment he faithfully recorded. These disjointed musings and disconnected thoughts formed the raw material of all he ever said and wrote. From the accumulated stores of years he would draw whatever was necessary to meet the needs of the hour; and it did not matter to him if thought did not dovetail into thought with all the precision of good intellectual carpentry. His edifices were filled with chinks and unfinished apartments.
He saw things in a big way, but did not always see them as through crystal, clearly; nor did he always take his staff in hand and courageously go about to see all sides of things. He never thought to a finish. His philosophy never acquired form and substance. His thoughts are not linked in chain, but are just so many precious pearls lightly strung on a silken thread.